Laura Keener, Editor
Blue skies, cooler temperatures and a mostly gentle breeze made for a relaxed and enjoyable celebration and launch party, Sept. 30, at the Curia’s St. Mary Park, Covington. The celebration was for Bishop John Iffert’s one year — to-the-day — anniversary. The launch party was for the diocese’s strategic pastoral planning and leadership development initiative “With One Heart” (WOH).
Organized by Deacon Jim Fortner, chief operating officer and Jamie Schroeder, chancellor, with assistance from the WOH Core Team and Planning Commission and members of the Curia staff, the event resembled a backyard family cookout. Hamburgers were donated by JTM Food Group and hotdogs by Bluegrass Meats. Local Catholic organizations and groups provided the sides — potato salad, broccoli salad, fruit salad, baked beans and desserts. These groups included the Catholic Order of Foresters, Cursillo, Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, Knights of St. John, Mustard Seed Community, Parish Kitchen, Regnum Christi, Serra Club of Northern Kentucky, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, That Man Is You! and Walking with Purpose. Dan Walsh, parishioner, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Burlington, provided musical entertainment; Pam Schneider, parishioner, Divine Mercy Parish, Bellevue, made the cake and members of the Knights of Columbus manned the grill.
“They asked me what kind of event I wanted to celebrate my first year anniversary and I said I want hamburgers, hotdogs and potato salad. I hope that you like that cuisine as well because it’s my favorite,” said Bishop Iffert as he began leading attendees in the prayer before meals.
Nearly 300 people attended the event, including Bishop Emeritus Roger Foys, to celebrate Bishop Iffert and to hear his vision for WOH. Bishop Iffert began by sharing some of his many “firsts” as Bishop of Covington — confirmations, ordinations, Masses, classroom visits, parish festivals, etc. (A pictorial exhibit of some of his first year highlights is on display at St. Mary Park through the month of October.) He also recalled that, at the press conference “Weeks after that, I thought I really should have given a better answer than that,” said Bishop Iffert. “What I would like to have said was that there’s no way that I can enunciate for you on that first day a vision or pastoral plan. Because I really believe that God gifts every people with genius … I believe the Diocese of Covington has a genius and that you contain that hope, you have the answer, the ability and the gifts to address every difficulty that the Church faces here in Northern Kentucky today. You all contain all of the resources, have all of the wisdom, all of the knowledge, to address all of those critical problems that we face to carry on the mission of Jesus in the life of the Church. I believe that with my whole heart.”
After being here a year, Bishop Iffert said, he is ready to announce his vision. “My vision is that God has given us together the gifts that we need to be his living mission. My vision is that we would work together to develop a vision that is in service to the entire body of the Church. That we would step outside of ourselves and our own little preferences and our own special interests and we would think about what is best for this group, this Church, this body that lives here in Northern Kentucky and that we would act and decide together.”
Because pastors — the way they preach, the way they welcome, the way they interact with their parishioners — are instrumental to creating a parish that others would recommend to their family and friends, Bishop Iffert said, “I am unapologetic about saying, the first group of people we need to focus on are our priests, who put themselves out there to be leaders, to help embolden them, to invest in our priests the skills for leadership. Our priests are excellent priests. Our presbyterate is filled with good and holy and talented men. And to give them the support to be the leaders that they want to be and that we all know they can be, this is the first and centerpiece of the vision that I want to annunciate here.”
Bishop Iffert said he also wants to empower the laity, to invite the laity to bring the skills that they have developed in all the areas of their life into the life of the Church to assist their priests.
“That’s part of the vision … I want us to be set free from fear …I want a vision of Church that unleashes that potential; that priests and religious and deacons and laity respond free from fear,” he said.
The content of that vision, Bishop Iffert said, “that’s up to us to develop together and that’s what this With One Heart initiative is all about. It’s all about assessing the situation together. Planning together. Accompanying one another with leadership formation together, and working to implement those plans, thanking God for them, reviewing them and then doing it again.”
In closing, Bishop Iffert recognized and praised Bishop Foys for his over 40 years as an administrator both in the Diocese of Steubenville as vicar general for 22 years and as Bishop of Covington for 20 years.
“I want to appreciate Bishop Foys in a very special way,” Bishop Iffert said. “He told me when I got here that he was going to step back for that first year and let me have some time on my own. Now we’re at the end of that year. I hope now that we can invite you back into the active life of the Church. Thank you, thank you so much.”announcing his appointment, a reporter had asked what his vision and pastoral plan was for the diocese and how he had quipped that he had only been here for 12 minutes.
Image: Bishop John Iffert announces his vision for the With One Heart strategic pastoral plan and leadership development initiative, Sept. 30, at St. Mary’s Park, Covington. Nearly 300 people attended the event, which included a celebration of Bishop Iffert’s first year in Covington.