A lot can happen in a year. 

A lot can happen in a moment! 

Last summer, on June 10, 2018 to be exact, I received a call from the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, informing me I had been chosen by Pope Francis to be the next bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. My heart sank as I considered leaving the church I had come to love in Shreveport. I almost did not answer the call. 

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Bishop Michael G. Duca meets his new flock following a two-hour installation ceremony at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge on Aug. 24, 2018. More than 730 people attended the event. Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator

 

I had received a similar call sitting in my office at Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas now more than 11 years ago. It was a different archbishop, but it was the same office and my heart sank again as I was told by the then Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, that I had been chosen by our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, as the next bishop of Shreveport. 

You might imagine that his next words would have kindly asked: “What do you think about this?,” or “Do you need some time to think about this?,” or “Does this fit into your life plan?” But the next words out of the Papal Nuncio’s mouth were simply, “DO YOU ACCEPT?” 

With this simple straightforward question Archbishop Sambi brought the matter into clear focus and asked the only important question. It was the right question, because at that point in my priestly life it was no longer about me, it was about my willingness to accept the will of God in my life. 

I must admit that God prepared me for this profound question. Over my years as a priest of the Diocese of Dallas I had already come to the conclusion that I was not in control of my life. My priestly life had not been anything like I expected. It was a good life, but so different than I had imagined it would be. I remember talking with my vice-rector at the seminary years before my call to the Episcopacy. We discussed what would come next in our lives as priests. Surprisingly, we both said in so many words that if we were asked, we would respond, “Bishop, wherever you need me.” We had not given up, but rather learned to give our lives freely to God in our priestly vocations. (By the way, my vice-rector was Father Doug Deshotel at the time, now bishop of Lafayette.) 

When I received the call 10 years ago naming me bishop of Shreveport, there was only one important question, “DO YOU ACCEPT?” I immediately said, “YES,” not so much at the time to the Diocese of Shreveport, because I knew nothing about it then, but rather to the mysterious will of God. 

So on that Saturday afternoon in June last year, I was again asked by a different archbishop to accept the will of God. The will of God this time was for me to become the bishop of Baton Rouge. As much as I loved the Diocese of Shreveport, there was only one right answer: “YES, I accept.” The same decision that brought me to Shreveport 11 years ago would now take me to Baton Rouge. 

Of course, and I should not be surprised by this, this unexpected change in my life has proven to be a wonderful blessing. I have been received with hospitality and been blessed with the joy of finding a vibrant church with so many dynamic members, lay, clergy and religious, who are actively and creatively proclaiming the Gospel. 

I am encouraged by our clergy’s presence on social media with compelling content and presence. The breadth of media presence we have with our television channel, Catholic Life TV; our newspaper, The Catholic Commentator; and our lay inspired Catholic Radio on the dial at 1380 AM. I still cannot get used to the excitement I feel when I see the Commentator in the grocery stores available to all or tune in to our presence on the radio, TV and the web. 

When people ask me what is the major difference between Shreveport and Baton Rouge I say simply, MORE. 

A larger diocese like Baton Rouge has the same joys and challenges but there are simply MORE joys and MORE challenges. While on vacation this summer I had some time to consider how much more has happened in just one year. A lot can happen in a year. 

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First, there are the challenges of moving. Setting up a house, UNPACKING (still doing this), getting used to traffic again and learning my way around, finding a new set of doctors and the biggest of all to begin again the journey of a bishop to get to know his people, to know his Church. 

For me the best way to know the church is first know the priests. So I committed myself to first of all have a meeting will all 71 of our priests working in the diocese. I did not realize the commitment I was making until I discovered that to complete this task I would be busy most days for most of three months so all the priests could visit with me for an hour. 

It was the best decision I made because in the conversations with my priests I learned slowly about the diocese. Of course during this time I was also beginning my first confirmations, coming up to speed on the finances, trying to visit religious communities. 

Also during my first months we were engaged in the difficult and painful work of preparing a complete accounting of priests who had credible accusations of abuse of a minor. This was underlining every day of my first months here.

During this time I was blessed to discover what a wonderful staff Bishop Muench left in place for me at the Catholic Life Center and the good foundation he left that allowed us to prepare this difficult list and be able to publish it before the end of January. While this work of healing, discovery and prevention continues it was a milestone that I was able to face with the support of our staff and the prayers and encouragement of you, the parishioners of the diocese. 

After Christmas came the daunting task of confirmations, graduations, personnel changes for the priests and end of the year meetings of the many boards on which I sit. I was also able to complete the Dialogue on Race series to better understand racial tension in the diocese and to deepen my understanding of the cultural richness and deep faith our Black Catholics bring to our Catholic family. 

As I look over this past year I realize how many supporting hands go into the work of our diocese. The hands that extend the Charity of Jesus through our Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul Society, local food banks and clothing closets and through your individual hands that reach out to those within arms length of you in your neighborhoods and work. The work of our schools and religious education classes that continue to form our children in the faith. The many lay ministries and associations that allow us to support one another in living our faith. We are blessed with a dynamic Catholic hospital, a growing Catholic university that provides the Theological Education part of our Permanent Diaconate Formation Program, three retreat centers in Baton Rouge, Maryville and Manresa, an array of religious communities that provide ministry and education in all parts of our diocese and an impressive cohort of seminarians preparing to answer our need for priests in the future. 

Of course, as I get to know the diocese better I can see that there are challenges as well. These are coming into focus as I get to know you the people of the diocese and the dynamics of life here in this part of South Louisiana. These will be the focus of a future article in this newspaper in the near future. 

I end this first year renewed and excited about the future. We do have important challenges to face but I am not dismayed because I see all the talent, zeal, creativity and most of all faith that we need to meet any challenge. Let us begin the next year of our journey together with “Hope in the Lord.”