Manz marks 15 years as a bishop

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, February 27, 2011

When Father John Manz became a bishop on March 5, 1996, he had been pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish’s congregation of 5,000 for 13 years, and he was doing what he loved.

“I spent a long time as a parish priest,” said Bishop Manz, who served as an associate pastor at Providence of God, 717 W. 18th St., and St. Roman Parish, 23rd Street and Washtenaw before being named pastor at St. Agnes of Bohemia, 27th Street and Central Park. “That’s still what I enjoy the most, going out and doing confirmations and other celebrations. It can be tiring, doing 60 or 70 confirmations a year, but once I get there, I enjoy it.”

All three of Bishop Manz’s former parishes are in Vicariate III, the area of the archdiocese which has been his responsibility since he was ordained a bishop.

Still, Bishop Manz said, it can be harder to get to know people as a bishop responsible for 60 parishes than it is as pastor of a parish, even a very large parish.

Native of the city

A native of the Northwest Side, Bishop Manz attended St. Matthias School in the Lincoln Square neighborhood before his family moved to the suburbs and he attended St. Martha School in Morton Grove. From there he went to Quigley North Seminary, Niles College and Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake.

He started his involvement with Hispanic ministry while in seminary, first learning Spanish from the sisters who cooked in the kitchen where he worked at Niles College and the landscape crews he worked with in the summers, then spending six months at an archdiocesan mission in Panama.

After he was ordained, he served at primarily Latino parishes, leading his mother to tell a Catholic New World reporter in 1996 that when coworkers told her she had a call from a man with a Spanish accent, she knew it was her son.

Manz served as the cardinal’s liaison to the Hispanic community, until Bishop Gustavo Garcia- Siller was ordained in 2003. He assumed that role again when Bishop Garcia-Siller was appointed Archbishop of San Antonio in November 2010, and took responsibility for 17 new parishes in a vicariate realignment. He also took on the role of administrator for Vicariate IV in June 2010, when Bishop Thomas Paprocki became bishop of Springfield, Ill.

The new parishes simply bring Vicariate III in line with the number of parishes other vicariates have, said Bishop Manz. Under Bishop Placido Rodriguez, his predecessor in Vicariate III and Bishop Manz, roughly 25 parishes closed in Vicariate III as the population of the West Side changed from largely Catholic ethnic European to largely non-Catholic African-Americans, he said.

That brings up one of the most painful times of his tenure as a bishop, the consolidation of 10 West Side parishes into four in 2004 after a two-year discernment process.

“We tried to do it right, but it was still very difficult,” Bishop Manz said. “There were probably some people who were hurt by it. There are probably still some people who are upset.”

In addition to Hispanics and African-Americans, Vicariate III includes two large Polish congregations, at St. Hyacinth Basilica and Holy Trinity Polish Mission, and smaller pockets of other ethnic groups.

Window to church

For Bishop Manz, the episcopacy has provided a window to the larger church, beyond the parishes and beyond the archdiocese. One of the best pieces of advice he got in “bishop school” (then held at Notre Dame University, not in Rome) was to join a committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to get to know people better. Bishop Manz has served on the Committee for Migration and Refugee Services and the church in Latin America, among others. As part of his work, he has traveled widely in Latin America and among migrant workers in the United States.

“You meet a lot of wonderful people in some very difficult circumstances,” he said.

Teaming with bishops

He also lauds Cardinal George for the good relationships he has fostered with and among the auxiliary bishops in Chicago, making them feel they are working as a team.

Bishop Manz did not expect to have any of the experiences he had as a bishop. When Cardinal Joseph Bernardin told him of the appointment, Bishop Manz said he was surprised, and not necessarily pleasantly.

“I asked him how long I had to think about it, and he looked kind of taken aback,” Bishop Manz said. “He told me 24 hours. So I thought about it and I couldn’t think of any good reason not to do it that wasn’t basically selfish, so I said yes.”