The Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch | July 17, 2018
Last August I arrived on campus like any other student, my car overloaded with what I thought to be the essentials for a new school year. I had finally made it back to college after 40 years as a priest and 21 as a bishop.
My plan to come to Notre Dame began with an invitation from Father John Jenkins, CSC, ’76, ’78M.A., the University president. As my retirement was nearing (I had “reached the age limit,” according to the classic ecclesiastical language), Father Jenkins asked me to spend a semester or more living on campus, doing whatever I wished to do. I’ve spent my adult life as a “wannabe” student, so I quickly said “yes,” then waited about two years for the installation of my successor as bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida, in January 2017.
Bishops on college and university campuses are rare. Church law prohibits a bishop from being absent from his diocese for more than a month without permission from the Congregation for Bishops in Rome. During my service as general secretary to the bishops of the United States, our episcopal conference twice petitioned the Holy See to allow bishops to take six-month sabbaticals precisely in order to go back to school, study Spanish, take refresher courses, update our pastoral theology and so on. Twice in the 1990s the answer was “no.” The reason given both times was that ordination to the episcopacy made the bishop the chief teacher of his diocese and it would not be “seemly” for him to seek continuing education.
Increasingly I had felt a growing chasm between the theology I had learned around the time of the Second Vatican Council and the lived reality of the 50 years since then — and not just in my life but in the lives of the faithful entrusted to my care as priest and bishop. Pope Francis has written and said often that the Church, like the world, is entering a new epoch, and I wanted to understand it and proclaim it better in the time I have left. But I had to wait until retirement to live this dream of finding myself in a circumstance where I could truly go back to school.
Read more here.