Friends say pope chose well in naming Rojas a bishop

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, August 14, 2011

When the announcement of two new bishops for the Archdiocese of Chicago was made June 13, there was one group of people who were not surprised to see the name of Bishop Alberto Rojas included: his friends and former colleagues at University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary.

“We all thought he would be a good choice,” said Father Michael Fuller, a priest of the Diocese of Rockford who was Bishop Rojas’ classmate when he was studying for the priesthood and later his colleague at the seminary. “When he was transferred out (to Good Shepherd Parish in July 2010) all of us were saying it was to give him time in a parish before they make him a bishop.”

Bishop Rojas will be Cardinal George’s vicar for Vicariate III, which takes in the West Side of Chicago and some areas of the near Northwest and near Southwest sides. He also will be the liaison to Hispanic Catholics.

And from Fuller’s perspective, the Holy Father couldn’t have chosen better.

Bishop Rojas, who was in charge of Hispanic Ministry Formation at Mundelein, is a “very warm, open and generous sort of man,” according to Fuller and other classmates and friends. He hasn’t been very active in church politics and isn’t a “climber,” Fuller said.

“A bishop is someone who is to lead, to shepherd, to care for souls,” Fuller said. “He’s got the qualities.”

Father Christopher Ciomek, who was a year behind Bishop Rojas in their seminary days and is now associate dean of formation and director of Chicago seminarians at Mundelein, said that Bishop Rojas will likely go even further.

“He will eventually leave Chicago and get his own diocese,” said Ciomek, who, like Rojas, came to Chicago from his home country after starting seminary studies. “He will be a good bishop because God will be with him. I know that for sure. There are a number of people praying for him.”

That’s likely a comfort to Bishop Rojas, who has said he doesn’t feel qualified to be a bishop.

“The first movement of spiritual life should be humility. No one is qualified to do this,” Fuller said.

Ciomek and his seminary classmate, Father Marco Mercado, said that Rojas has the soul of an artist. He paints — one of his paintings of Our Lady of Guadalupe hangs in deacon chapel at Mundelein — and plays the guitar and sings. That fits with Bishop Rojas’ own memories of joining his parish choir as a boy, and later singing in the choir in minor seminary.

Mercado, now the archdiocesan director of Hispanic ministry, was pastor at Good Shepherd Parish in predominantly Mexican Little Village immediately before Bishop Rojas. He said he was pleased last year when it was announced that Bishop Rojas would take the reins at the parish.

Now, as Bishop Rojas takes up his episcopal ministry, Ciomek said he expects that some of his habits will serve him well.

“He is very well organized,” Ciomek said. “If you went to his office or his living room, you would see that everything is in its place.”

He also managed to lead a balanced life at Mundelein, Ciomek said, with enough time for prayer and exercise and relaxation in addition to teaching, meeting with students and doing his own academic work — he was working on a doctorate, with a planned thesis on how to improve formation for Hispanic ministry.

Over the years, Fuller and Bishop Rojas have travelled together on vacations, and both enjoy getting outdoors and hiking in area state parks. They often go to movies together, too, Fuller said, enjoying everything from summer blockbusters to more fine arts-oriented fare.

In an interview, Bishop Rojas acknowledged that he had a harder time fitting everything in as pastor of Good Shepherd, forgoing even a regular trip to visit his mother in Mexico.

Perhaps one advantage to his appointment will be more control over his schedule, said Fuller.

“He’s always constantly doing something more than he should be,” he said.

Bishop Rojas has always been well-liked by students and colleagues, his friends said. That’s one of the things Fuller said he would tell people about him.

“I would say, as soon as you meet him, you’ll like him,” Fuller said. “He’s very involved in whoever he’s talking to. He genuinely wants to listen and understand what they are saying. He will be very personable. He takes the time to listen to people.”

Bishop Alberto Rojas

Born: Jan. 5, 1965, in Aguascalientes, Mexico
Came to Chicago: August 1994, to enter Casa Jesus
Ordained: May 24, 1997, after graduating from University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
Parents: Fidel Rojas, now deceased, and Maria Cruz Garcia
Siblings: Sixth of eight children