More evidence that the best advertisement for the priesthood is a happy priest.
Here’s a nice profile in Crux of William Wack, bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee:
In May, Pope Francis named Wack the sixth bishop of the diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. While less than five percent of the population of his diocese is Catholic, Wack’s missionary zeal makes him eager to change those statistics. Meanwhile, at age 50, he’s the nation’s youngest bishop and quite happy to have been tasked with heading a manageable-sized diocese as his first episcopal assignment.
Wack grew up in South Bend, Indiana, “in the shadow of the dome of Notre Dame,” as he described it in an interview with Crux. Raised in a devout Catholic family by his physician father and nurse mother, he is the second youngest of ten children – eight of whom are boys.
While the family was actively engaged in parish life and he was an altar server as a child, the priesthood always seemed like an unlikely vocation.
“I was terrified of doing anything with my voice,” Wack recalled. While his great uncle was Holy Cross priest, he initially balked at the idea of the priesthood.
“I was willing to clean, set-up, or do anything, as long as I didn’t have to speak,” said Wack. Despite such fears, he eventually enrolled in the college seminary with the Congregation of Holy Cross at age eighteen.
“There, I found my voice,” said Wack. “I found my vocation really.”
After ordination, Wack’s first assignment was as a parish priest in Colorado Springs. It was there Wack learned to “have the smell of the sheep” as Francis has often challenged priests to do. Following three years in Colorado, Wack returned to South Bend where he worked as a campus minister and assistant vocations director.
By his own account, Wack had fully embraced the priesthood – so much so that his joy and his example inspired his brother to enroll in the seminary.
“He saw how happy I was and said that’s what I want,” said Wack. Today, he’s pleased to report his brother is also a Holy Cross priest.
UPDATE: The Crux story (and my original headline) noted that he is the youngest bishop in the United States. Several people, however, contacted me directly and took issue with that. A few mentioned Bishop Stephen Lopes, who heads the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter at the tender age of 42. Others mentioned the newly-minted Shawn McKnight, just named Bishop of Jefferson City at 49. Another reader mentioned Bishop Adam Parker, an auxiliary in Baltimore, who is 45. It’s probably fair to call Bishop Wack “the youngest officially installed ordinary of a diocese”—for now. Stay tuned. Pope Francis seems to like younger bishops. Any appointment at any moment could change everything.
Photo: Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee Facebook page