By Jean Gonzalez
Catholic News Service
ORLANDO, Fla. (CNS) — As the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee’s sixth bishop lay prostrate on the floor of the Pensacola Bay Center, one thing in particular distinguished the episcopal candidate.
His pink socks.
The choice seemed fitting for newly ordained Bishop William A. Wack, former director of André House in Phoenix, because the socks would match the amaranth (a reddish pink tone) zucchetto he would wear as bishop. But it was also a fitting choice for the Holy Cross priest known for his smiling face and jovial, fun-loving nature. As Fr. Robert L. Epping, superior general of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, put it, the smiling priest is known to be “a bit of jokester.”
“These are not the usual descriptives for a bishop, but these are the words you see on his face, and, for those of us who know him, they are the words that make him an effective priest and attractive shepherd,” Fr. Epping said. “We also know a more serious side. He loves people, he loves Jesus, he forgets about himself, he reaches out to bring joy, he serves with gladness not just with duty. … When Pope Francis compared his lexicon for bishops with Fr. Bill’s credentials, he found a perfect fit.”
Thousands gathered to witness the Aug. 22 episcopal ordination of the Pensacola-Tallahassee prelate who wishes to be referred to as “Bishop Bill.” Along with local priests and deacons and 95 members of Bishop Wack’s family, 18 bishops attended the celebration, including Florida’s five other bishops, its one auxiliary bishop, one archbishop and two retired Florida bishops.
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami served as principal consecrator with Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, and Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, of Peoria, Illinois, who also is a member of the Holy Cross congregation, as principal co-consecrators.
“In your ministry as bishop, you are called to be a father and a brother to all, especially to your co-workers, the priests and the deacons,” Archbishop Wenski said in his homily. “But also be especially attentive to the poor, the weak, the immigrants and the stranger; those who are victims of today’s disposable culture and of the globalization of indifference.”
Bishop Wack comes to the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese after serving 23 years in the priesthood. His last eight years were spent at St. Ignatius the Martyr Parish in Austin. There he was known for his work with the poor, the large Mexican community of the parish and his presence on the radio and on YouTube, in which he guided discussions on Scripture and Church teachings.
One of those videos includes the Faith of the Fathers video series, in which he shared the social media stage with his associate pastor and fellow Holy Cross priest Father Dennis Strach. In one particular video about the Holy Cross congregation, the two shared a comfortable camaraderie as they take turns talking about the philosophy, history and personal significance of their beloved religious community whose motto is: “Hail the cross; our only hope.”
“We try through preaching, through our schools, through our missionary activity, with lay people with ordained, with sisters and brothers, all of us are trying to go around the world to tell people and remind even ourselves that in the cross actually is our hope,” the future bishop said of the international congregation founded in France and headquartered in Indiana.
Fr. Strach attended the ordination of his friend and mentor. In an interview prior to the event, he was asked how Bishop Wack reflects the charism of the order.
“(Bishop) Bill exemplifies the heart of the order: family, hope and joy,” said Fr. Strach, who celebrated his first anniversary as a priest in April. “I’m sure he is going to foster community. That is part of who he is. Community and the family of the Holy Cross are important to him. I think Holy Cross is in his blood.”
Fr. Strach described Bishop Wack as a regular guy and a hard worker who eats macaroni and cheese and has an occasional cigar. As an administrator, he described Fr. Wack as someone who is not interested in formalities but is eager to understand what a person is experiencing. The young priest related how in the three-month transition period between appointment and ordination, Bishop Wack would call parishes in the Florida diocese to introduce himself to the pastors.
“He would call up and say, ‘Hi. Can I speak to the pastor, please?’ and a lot of times the person on the other line would say, He’s not available. Can I take a message?’ And he would say, ‘Oh, well, this is Fr. Bill. I’m going to be the new bishop and I wanted to introduce myself.’ And then on the other line you could hear, ‘Oh! It’s the new bishop!’ They would be all excited,” Fr. Strach said with a laugh.
“That’s the kind of person he is. He does want to be known as Bishop Bill. He’s is not disrespectful to the tradition, but he is a person of the people. He is approachable and he wants to listen.”
Gonzalez is on the staff of the FLORIDA CATHOLIC, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach and Venice.