Bishop Kane: ‘I’ve never regretted becoming a priest’

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Bishop Kane: ‘I’ve never regretted becoming a priest’

Bishop Francis Kane is retiring after turning 75. He was named an auxiliary bishop in 2003.
Bishop Francis Kane greets parishioners following Mass at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Rosemont on Feb. 24, 2008. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Kane joins Msgr. Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, in blessing Heather’s House, a home for pregnant women, on May 20, 2011. Bishop Kane is a board member of Aid for Women, the organization that operates Heather’s House. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

In 2003, Bishop Francis Kane was  60 years old and thought he was too old to be a bishop, so when he was told Cardinal George called, he thought it was about a personnel issue in the parish school. 

“Cardinal George said, ‘As cardinal,  I’m telling you that the pope wants you to be the auxiliary bishop here in Chicago.’ I was kind of speechless at first. I was thinking, ‘This can’t be real,’” Bishop Kane recalled. 

“I said, ‘Can I have a little time to think about this and pray about it?’ He said, ‘Well, sure, I’ll be in my office for the next 45 minutes.’ I was just absolutely stunned. I didn’t know what to do,” Bishop Kane said, laughing.

He went over to the church and prayed, came back and said he’d accept.

“Cardinal George said, ‘Well, that’s good, because you’ve taken a promise of obedience now, and the pope wants you to do this.’” 

Then the cardinal invited him down to see him the next day to talk about it.

“He was great when we talked. He said, ‘It’s going to change your life entirely, but it will actually be a great grace in your life. We’ll get through this. Don’t worry,’” Bishop Kane recalled Cardinal George saying. 

Bishop Kane served as associate pastor at St. John Fisher (1969-1975) and St. Nicholas of Tolentine (1975-1979) and as pastor of St. Joseph in Wilmette (1993-2003). He also served as associate director of the Center for Pastoral Ministry (1973-1983); director of the Office for the Ministry of Peace and Justice (1979-1985); and director of the Department of Evangelization and Christian Life (1983-1993).

As one of five children, Bishop Kane said the call from God to become a priest was a subtle one. 

“It was not something that happened all at once. I wasn’t St. Paul being struck down and hearing God’s voice,” he said. “When I was in grade school, there were a number of young priests who were a great influence on me.” 

He also was influenced by the witness of Msgr. Ignatius McDermott, founder of the addiction recovery program Haymarket Center, who was a resident priest at Our Lady of Peace Parish. 

One moment with McDermott sticks in Bishop Kane’s mind. The young Francis Kane had accompanied his grandmother to church for confession and she told him to wait in the pew for her. 

“I was probably about 3 years old,” he said. “It seemed like forever that she was in there. I started to wonder what was going on.” 

The young Francis, holding a small toy  gun, saw three doors for the confessional and opened up the middle one. 

“Msgr. McDermott was hearing confessions and he looked at me and said ‘Bang, bang. I got you first,’” Bishop Kane recalled, laughing. 
McDermott told him to go back to the pew and that his grandmother would be out in a minute. 

“She came out and she was mortified that the priest knew who she was,” he said. “Those were great influences.”

Being a priest hasn’t always been easy. 

“There were times that were up and down, but I think all through it the sense of what it meant to be a priest and to be called to be a priest was something that kind of grew in fits and starts in different ways,” Bishop Kane said. “There were times when I was thinking, ‘Well, maybe I should just leave.’ There were other times I was pretty certain that this was a call from the Lord.”

Much like married couples can question their own vocations during their lifetimes, it is not uncommon for a priest to question like this, he said.

“I think there are very few guys who just sort of sail through as if the voice of God is always with them and calling them,” he said.

Becoming a priest was ultimately what God wanted for him.

“I don’t think getting up in the morning I ever regretted becoming a priest,” he said. “I never felt that way.”

What advice does he have for the new Chicago auxiliary bishops?

“The first thing I’d tell a new auxiliary is, it is important to see yourself as a pastor to the pastors in parishes,” he said. “The other is, realize that you are bringing a larger vision of the church to the people in the pews, that it isn’t just this little parochial community. It’s a much larger church.”

Now that he’s retired, Bishop Kane will take some time to figure out his next steps, but plans to stay in the archdiocese. 

One thing he’s looking forward to is catching up on his reading. He has a bucket list of books to read.  

“Those are things I’d like to do, and read other books,” Bishop Kane said. “I have piles of them.”



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