A conversation with Archbishop Cupich

By Catholic New World
Sunday, November 16, 2014

Archbishop Cupich leads a prayer service with employees at the Cardinal Meyer Center, 3525 S. Lake Park Ave., on Sept. 23. The archbishop greeted employees at both the Cardinal Meyer and Archbishop Quigley pastoral centers that day. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

In the weeks leading up to his installation, Archbishop Blase Cupich [pronounced Soo-pich] spoke with Catholic New World editor Joyce Duriga about coming to Chicago.

Catholic New World: Has it settled in that this is your new appointment?

Archbishop Cupich: Yes, but I’m preoccupied with finishing up various details here [in Spokane] and getting ready to move. There’s not a whole lot of time to think about the appointment and the new assignment. It’s just happening. My mother always said you have to go with the flow, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

CNW: You’re finishing up stuff in Spokane and getting ready to move here. How are you preparing for the move?

Archbishop Cupich: Well, of course, there are meetings with various representative groups — presbyteral council, consultors, diocesan pastoral council, finance committee. Then there are some things that were on my calendar that I’m going to honor. They range from things such as going to a small parish near the Canadian border, four hours away from Spokane, for their hundredth anniversary to attending the “Holy Bowl,” which is the football game between the two Catholic schools in Walla Walla and Pasco. Then there’s cemetery Mass on All Souls and a farewell Mass at the cathedral. There are a variety of things that I have on the calendar.

CNW: Your comments on immigration reform have received a lot of play in Chicago. How do you hope to address that issue here?

Archbishop Cupich: I will address it the way I have before. I always work in coordination with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They have an able chairperson in Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, who is an auxiliary bishop in Seattle. For instance, the office in Washington at times has asked me to speak to members of our congressional delegation here, which I’ve done quite frequently.

I think I’m going to continue what I have been doing. To people in eastern Washington, it’s not news that I am interested in and have pursued this issue simply because I’ve written about it steadily. Also I have talked about it on radio programs. It is a surprise nationally because I didn’t have the national perch that I have now in Chicago.

CNW: The archdiocese has a long history of engaging in ecumenical and interreligious affairs. Do you think this should be important for the average person in the pew?

Archbishop Cupich: The final prayer of Jesus is “that they all may be one,” so how could we not make this a priority? I think that’s very important. People sometimes say that Christian unity is not going to happen in the near future, so why invest time in promoting it? But for me that’s not the point.

The point is that we have an obligation to work together as disciples of Jesus because it is the will of Christ, and to give witness to the world which is so fragmented. If we can do something to break down the walls of division among Christians, I think we’re doing something very important for all of society.

CNW: How much time have you spent in Chicago and what do you like about it?

Archbishop Cupich: I’ve been on the board for Catholic Extension for six or seven years. We have two meetings a year there and I’ve always liked Chicago. I especially like the downtown area, and look forward to living at the cathedral. In the past, whenever I had a free afternoon, I enjoyed walking downtown amid the hustle and bustle of life. I like the wide sidewalks where you can take really beautiful walks. Somebody asked me, when I was with my family in Omaha, “What are you going to like most about coming back to the Midwest?” And I said, “Snow days.”


Born March 19, 1949, in Omaha, Nebraska, to Blase and Mary (Mayhan) Cupich. Ordained for the Archdiocese of Omaha, Aug. 16, 1975. Appointed bishop of Rapid City July 7, 1998; ordained and installed Sept. 21, 1998. Appointed bishop of Spokane June 30, 2010; installed Sept. 3, 2010.


College of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, bachelor's degree in philosophy, 1971 North American College and Gregorian University, Rome, bachelor's degree in sacred theology, 1974; master's degree in theology, 1975 Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., licentiate in sacramental theology, 1979; doctorate in sacramental theology, 1987.


Associate pastor, St. Margaret Mary Parish, Omaha; instructor, Paul VI High School, Omaha, 1975-1978; director of Office for Divine Worship, Omaha and chair of Commission on Youth, 1978- 1981; secretary, Apostolic Nunciature, Washington, D.C., 1981-1987; pastor, St. Mary Parish, Bellevue, 1987-1989; president/rector, Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio, 1989-1996; pastor, St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Omaha, 1997-1998; bishop, Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, 1998-2010; bishop, Diocese of Spokane, 2010- 2014.


Served on various committees for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, such as Ad Hoc Committee on Native American Catholics, Committee on Domestic Policy, Committee on Protection of Children and Young People (chairman 2008-2011) and Subcommittee for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe. Also presently serves on Catholic Extension Board of Governors and as chair of National Catholic Education Association.

CNW: You’ve been involved with the National Catholic Education Association for some time and know that the Archdiocese of Chicago has the largest private school system in the country. Some of our schools are struggling and some are flourishing. How can we maintain the effectiveness of Catholic education when it’s sometimes unaffordable to many families?

Archbishop Cupich: It is important that we prudently use our limited resources to help the greatest number of families and children. Decisions about the future can never be about buildings, but as Cardinal George rightly said, it has to be about families and children. I was happy to hear from some of the leaders in Big Shoulders that they feel the same way. They too want to put the emphasis on helping the greatest number of families and young people to benefit from the wonderful tradition of Catholic school education.

CNW: The archdiocese has its ongoing To Teach Who Christ Is campaign to help Catholic schools. What are your thoughts on the campaign and how do you plan to be involved with it?

Archbishop Cupich: The word campaign literally means “going into the field.” That is how I look at the To Teach Who Christ Is campaign. It is about all of us coming together to put our best foot forward to advance the presence of Christ in our midst. He is the one who is leading us and so our response in generosity is simply about living out our Catholic faith.

I have assured the leadership of the campaign that I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work to do my part in seeing that it is a great success. I am confident it will be, as I am confident in the people, religious and priests in our archdiocese.

CNW: As you know we have problems with violence in the city. I know you’ve thought about this and talked with Mayor Rahm Emanuel about this. How do you think that the church can play a role in promoting nonviolence in the community?

Archbishop Cupich: Well, of course there are no easy answers. If there were easy answers they would have surfaced by now. I do think that it will take the resolve of all the leaders — faith leaders, business leaders, elected officials and labor groups — to deal with not only the violence, which is a symptom of deeper social problems, such as unemployment, poverty, lack of education, a feeling of alienation on the part of those who are marginalized and ignored.

So, it’s not a matter of looking at the violence in terms of keeping a lid on it. We have to deal with and address these deep social problems, which enflame passions and kill off legitimate aspirations of people who want a place at the table. We have to make sure that we look at this systemically.

CNW: When Cardinal George came back to Chicago as archbishop he famously told a story where he asked Cardinal Bernardin before he died how he managed an archdiocese the size of Chicago. Cardinal Bernardin responded, “You don’t manage Chicago. It’s unmanageable.” The archdiocese is well known for being a pluralistic local church. How do you think you will tackle managing a place that has been called “unmanageable”?

Archbishop Cupich: I don’t see myself as a manager but a pastor. A shepherd is not the same as a cattle prodder. A shepherd knows the sheep, goes ahead of them, and yet keeps them together by attending to the needs of all. And, I do this as Christ’s vicar, for he really is the Great Shepherd.

So I have to keep one ear to Christ and the other to the sheep. If I do that then I have a better chance of getting it right. That is a lot different model than being a manager.

CNW: What factors did you take into account in deciding to live at the cathedral rectory?

Archbishop Cupich: As I mentioned in my letter to the priests, I have a great respect for the historical significance of the archbishop’s residence and plan to use it for official functions and as a guest house for visitors. A committee will also study the best way to use this grand facility for the mission of the archdiocese.

However, I know I need to reside in a place where I can be most effective in serving the people of God. For me, that means being able to be in contact with folks directly through daily Mass, being with other priests in a communal environment and having easy access to my office and the everyday life of the city.

CNW: You quote a lot from Pope Francis. Were you familiar with him when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires?

Archbishop Cupich: No, I had only heard of him. He had a wonderful reputation. I knew that he had done a lot of work with Aparecida. I had followed some of that, but I never met him or really had any contact with him.

Like everyone else there was a real surprise when he was elected. People who were supposedly in the know indicated that maybe he had reached an age that would make him ineligible. Well, I guess the Holy Spirit had a different criteria.

CNW: How is his ministry shaping yours as a priest and bishop?

Archbishop Cupich: This past year I wrote in America Magazine noting that some people are trying to look at his writings and read the tea leaves. But the pope’s words have to be read alongside his witness. By being himself, by being a follower of Christ, paying attention to the spirit of Christ in his own prayer and action, he’s really witnessing to the work of Christ taking place in our midst. He’s calling me to emphasize the importance of witness over words. I have told people that instead of trying to read the tea leaves about him, they should drink the tea.

CNW: Now, a very important question, how did your family become Bears fans?

Archbishop Cupich: In Omaha there really wasn’t any other professional football team in the region when we were growing up. Also, Chicago and Omaha have always had a very strong relationship, and some of that was built around the packinghouses. Like many immigrants, my grandparents came to Omaha looking for unskilled labor and found it in the packinghouses. Chicago and Omaha were the two big centers for that industry, and there was a good deal of commerce between the two cities. As a Midwesterner, I feel very much at home in Chicago.

CNW: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Archbishop Cupich: I want to thank people for their wonderful messages and encouragement. But, it’s important to keep everything in balance. I’m coming in to really serve the people. I do not want to become a celebrity. I think that is something that I would feel very uneasy about.

I would just ask that people be patient with me. I’m going to make mistakes. I am glad I have people who bring me back to reality.


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