A ‘beautiful’ priesthood for Bishop Hying Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
Bishop Hying and Family
Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison greets a family at the St. Dennis Parish Festival in Madison. This year, Bishop Hying marks his 30th year as a priest.
Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

"It's a call that comes to you through God, obviously mediating through others, and through our experience," said Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison.

In his first year as the fifth Bishop of Madison, Bishop Hying is celebrating 30 years of priesthood.

While now the spiritual shepherd of the diocese, Bishop Hying's journey began like that of many men -- discerning and living out a call to the priesthood.

"Every priest really has a vocation narrative," he said.

Hearing and answering the call

Bishop Hying said that there were four "factors" in his call to the priesthood.

The first was "the example and influence of my parents."

Bishop Hying, who was born in West Allis, Wis., added that his parents had an active prayer life both at home and in the sacraments.

"They both spent a considerable amount of time praying, even when they were busy working and raising us," he said.

As a family, with parents Catherine and Albert and six sons, the Hyings went to Mass during the week, and "we always prayed the Rosary every night after supper, whether we wanted to or not," he said, adding that his parents instilled the importance of prayer into him.

He said there was a "gentle, but beautiful sense of God being at the center of all things."

Another factor was the death of an older brother, Patrick, who died from liver cancer when he was 10, and the bishop was six.

"I understood [death] extremely well," Bishop Hying said, adding it may have provoked in him questions that could be answered later, and it had a "deep impact" on his life.

A third factor was that another brother, John, attended seminary at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee before later getting married.

"Part of his role was to lead me to the seminary," the bishop said.

When he would visit his brother, there, he said "it made a big impression on me".

A fourth factor was St. John Paul II.

"Everything that he said and did had a huge impact on my life. His election [in 1978] and my serious thought about priesthood kind of coalesced."

The bishop often tells the story of being inspired to answer a call to the priesthood, after hearing St. John Paul II speak on the radio while the future bishop was working at a dishwashing job at age 16.

When he made the decision to enter the seminary, and told his family and friends, Bishop Hying said many reacted with an attitude of "Of course you are -- we've known that for years."

Formation and early priesthood

Following graduation from Brookfield Central High School in Brookfield, Wis., and Marquette University in Milwaukee, Bishop Hying attended seminary at St. Francis de Sales.

"Seminary is about ongoing discernment," Bishop Hying said. "Even as you are being formed to become a priest . . . priesthood started to take shape, started to take flesh . . . it went from simply being a beautiful idea to being a concrete way of living out one's life in response to Christ."

He recognizes the priests that he met while at seminary for helping his formation.

"Living with priests, interacting with them up close was extremely formative in helping [discernment and the priesthood] to be a reality."

During his time at seminary, he taught religious education at different parishes and helped with hospital and prison ministry, giving him "pastoral experiences".

As his ordination neared, he was at a Mass, listening to a priest preach when he realized that "a year from now, I'll be doing this every Sunday, indeed, every day."

While panic followed for a short time after that realization, "God put it on my heart at that moment to say, 'don't think about the whole thing, you're just asked to live this [one moment] at a time' and I found great consolation in that."

Bishop Hying was ordained to the priesthood on May 20, 1989, in Milwaukee.

"During that Mass, God was so real to me, I could have reached out and touched him," he said.

His assignments in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee included serving at parishes in Menomonee Falls and Milwaukee.

"In each [parish], getting to know the people, celebrating the sacraments, preaching, teaching the children, being with people in joyful, sorrowful moments of their lives" he found rewarding.

He also did four years of mission work in the Dominican Republic.

"That was a beautiful experience to see the Church in a different cultural context."

He later served as dean of formation and rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary.

Serving as a bishop

Bishop Hying was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee in 2011. He was later installed as Bishop of Gary, Ind., in 2015.

He returned to Wisconsin in 2019 as Bishop of Madison.

Bishop Hying continues to live out his call as a priest, now through the office of bishop.

He's striving to visit every parish and school in the Diocese of Madison in his first year, and as of mid-October, he said he's been to nearly 40 parishes out of nearly 100.

"I really feel my first order of business is to get to know the diocese . . . I don't want to be just a figure, I want to be involved in our parishes, our schools, and the lives of our people."

Advice for discerners

For those discerning any vocation, Bishop Hying said that a "plethora of possibilities" may hinder young people into make a decision in regards to vocation.

"If we're really faithful to God's call to us, those options gradually get narrower and narrower, down to one."

"Don't be afraid to try it," he said, and encouraged young people to talk to vocations directors if they are thinking about a vocation.

"You can't just endlessly go out for coffee and talk about it," Bishop Hying said. "Ultimately, you have to try it."

Discern what your path is, and "boldly go forward," he added.

"If it's not the right decision, God will give you the insight to that before you make a final commitment."

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