THE FINAL WORD

Posted July 6, 2018 at 12:00 am

Bishop Muench is ready to pass the ‘baton’

 

By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator 

With a bounce in his step and a twinkle in his eye, Bishop Robert W. Muench expertly guided his replacement past Diocese of Baton Rouge employees, staff, priests and deacons, through four television cameras and a row of seated reporters to the front of the room at the Westerfield Center on the campus of the Catholic Life Center. The bishop has been eagerly awaiting this moment since sending his letter of resignation to Pope Francis on his 75th birthday in December, as required by canon law.  

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Bishop Robert W. Muench says he feels ‘fine’ during one of his last public statements during a press conference to introduce the new bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  Photos by Richard Meek|The Catholic Commentator  

 

“With gratitude to God and to Pope Francis, and with open hearts and open arms we welcome the appointment of Bishop Michael Duca, current bishop of Shreveport, to be the bishop-elect of Baton Rouge,” said Bishop Muench with great enthusiasm during a press conference announcing the appointment of Bishop-designate Michael G. Duca.  

“By nature, person, character, disposition, education and experience, Bishop Duca is eminently qualified for this position as one who radiates the love and joy of Jesus Christ. He brings unique skills, training and expertise in areas of theology, spirituality, canon law, psychology, seminary and vocations ministry, health care, ecumenism and administration.  We look forward to the celebration of his installation on Friday, August 24, 2018, the Feast of St. Bartholomew, at 2 p.m. in St. Joseph Cathedral, Baton Rouge. I extend my deepest congratulations to Bishop Duca and assure him of my personal support of him and to his anticipated ministry to the church in and of Baton Rouge.”  

Bishop-designate Duca appeared reserved and awed by the attention that comes with the job. In his first words to the media, Bishop-designate Duca even mentioned that Bishop Muench had not stopped smiling since the newly appointed bishop arrived in Baton Rouge the night before the 10 a.m. press event.  

Bishop Muench, who had been released from Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center one day earlier after becoming dehydrated during the reception of his 50th anniversary of his ordination as a priest, smiled playfully with those crowded into the room when asked during the press conference how he was feeling.  

“I feel FINE!” he said, grinning and gesturing with his arms held out by his sides. Then, he took the podium and made one of his final public statements as bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

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Bishop-designate Michael G. Duca and Bishop Robert W. Muench face the media together, hours after the Vatican announced the appointment by Pope Francis. 

 

“I feel fine because I have such pleasant memories, deep memories, deep-seated memories and as I mentioned at the (anniversary) Mass before I ran out of water inside of me, as I looked around the congregation, I had such a profound emotional experience of individuals and families and clergy, religious who have been an essential part of the 50 years I’ve had the privilege of being a priest. And, one of the great things about being a bishop emeritus, you’re still a deacon, you’re still a priest and you’re still a bishop, but you don’t have to make the decisions. You don’t get to go to the meetings. So, if you’re worried that I’m going to be lonely, pray for me! I don’t think I’m going to be lonely. And, no one will be pulling harder for Bishop Duca than Bishop Muench!”  

The bishop then talked about the first time he was appointed a bishop in the diocese of Covington, Kentucky, and how he looked to the retired bishop there, Bishop William Hughes, for advice on problems.  

“He’s gone to the Lord, but he had this very deep voice and I’ll never forget him telling me, like when I would go with a difficult problem, he would say, ‘Well, Bob, that’s a very difficult problem. I understand why you find it difficult.’ And, I told him one time, ‘Well, Bill, I hope one day I’ll be able to say to somebody, ‘Bishop, I understand, it’s a very tough problem!’  

“And, that wish has been fulfilled!!!  

“You see, priesthood, is relational; it’s interpersonal. It’s not just about making executive decisions; it’s not just about organizing and planning and trying to bring (things) together. Priesthood is a spiritual privilege.”

Bishop Muench then shared the story of a recent meeting with a woman who said she’d never met a priest in person and how the incident made an impact on him because of how respectful she acted toward him. 

“People are good,” he said. “We’re all made of the same clay and, we all have to try the best that we can. But, when you come to a point, the appointed time, it’s time now to move to the next stage, the next step, but I do so filled with the joy of the love of the priesthood. And, so, I’ll be able to continue as needed. The ministry, the bishop and I were talking about this, of diaconate, of priesthood and of episcopacy, if necessary, but I serve at the pleasure of how Bishop Duca would need me or wish me to help.”  

Bishop Muench stated that the next two months, until Bishop-designate Duca is installed in the cathedra (the chair of the bishop in his church) and takes possession of the diocese, will be a transition period but he is “now in the background” and wanted “everyone to know there is only one diocesan bishop at a time and that bishop is Bishop Duca.” 

“I’ve had 16 years here. I’ve had 28 years being a bishop along with 22 years prior to that being a priest and frankly, being a deacon priest is one of the greatest privileges any of us can have,” said Bishop Muench. “And, with the challenges of being bishop, there also comes great joys, closeness to people, and Sunday at that (anniversary) Mass, as I was looking at the congregation and the people in the sanctuary, it just put inside of me, intangible as well as tangible memories of the joy of priesthood. And, if I can make a commercial, it will be this: For any potential candidates for the Catholic priesthood, think about it, pray about it, consult about it.” </span id=”16″>

From the time he entered the seminary at 13-years-old in 1956, through the 12 years of studying to be a priest and his 50 years as a priest, the bishop said he never had any regrets concerning his vocation.  

“I’ve had long days, I’ve had hard days, I’ve had difficult days. But, there was never an instant in which I wanted to be anything other than a priest,” said Bishop Muench. “Being a Catholic priest means you give up your own personal family, although, obviously, you maintain your family of origin but (you have) the family of the church and the community. How people are so good to us and what it means … to pray with people, privately or publicly, to be a member of their family by extension. This will not cease but it will be in a new situation. And, I welcome this time. It is time for someone younger, with more energy to take the baton, the red baton, Baton Rouge, and to take it down the road.”  

 

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