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Archbishop emeritus still sowing seeds for the Lord

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

DUBUQUE — After being chief shepherd of the more than 200,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Dubuque for almost 20 years, Archbishop Emeritus Jerome Hanus, OSB, stepped down in 2013 with a clear and simple plan — to return to the life of a monk.

“When I said yes to being a bishop, I said, ‘I have to give myself heart and soul to this’ and I did, but I always said once I’m finished with this, if I have any life left in me, I want to go back to the monastery,” reflected the archbishop, a member of the Order of St. Benedict.

Archbishop Hanus was in Dubuque recently to visit with friends and colleagues in the days leading up to a Mass celebrating his 50th anniversary of being ordained a priest. The liturgy was celebrated May 15 at St. Raphael Cathedral. In an interview, the 76-year-old prelate recalled the circumstances leading up to his retirement and then described the years since he has returned to Conception Abbey, the Benedictine community in Conception, Missouri, that he now calls home.

“The transition from being archbishop to going back to the monastery was rela­tively easy,” he said. “Obviously it was a big change because the level of public events went down from 10 events in a week to none, so I don’t carry my ­iPhone around with me in the monastery because … I don’t need to be reachable by the phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I leave the phone on my desk.”

Deciding to retire

Archbishop Hanus’ final official act as leader of the archdiocese was to participate in the installation of Archbishop Jackels, a ceremony in 2013 that took place at Nativity Church in Dubuque. The event also involved Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and Archbishop Emeritus Daniel W. Kucera, OSB.

“I handed the reigns over to Archbishop Jackels on May 30 at 2:07 p.m.,” remembered Archbishop Hanus. “The transition was very smooth. It still took a lot of work on the part of many people.”

Archbishop Hanus began preparing for retirement in 2012 because of a health issue that had been causing severe pain in his chest.

“I had been struggling with polymyalgia rheumatica for three years,” explain­ed the archbishop. “You feel like you’re having a heart attack. The first time I experienced it was in 2011. I went to the emergency room and they said, ‘No, you’re not having a heart attack,’ but they couldn’t find what was wrong.”

Eventually, doctors found the correct diagnosis. In the meantime, Archbishop Hanus communicated his wish to retire in writing to officials at the Vatican, indicating that he’d be willing to continue on through 2012, which was the 175th anniversary year for the archdiocese. In February of 2012, he was involved in a serious car accident, which further solidified his decision. In March of that year, he traveled to Rome as part of the “ad limina” visits all bishops must make to the pope periodically. While there, he met with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., who was in charge of the bishops’ congregation in Rome. The cardinal forwarded the resignation letter on to Pope Benedict XVI. An answer came in May 2012 that the pontiff had accepted the resignation, but it would have to wait until another archbishop could be appointed. In early 2013, Pope Benedict himself resigned.

After Pope Francis was elected in March 2013, Archbishop Hanus got big news during Holy Week. “As I returned to the sacristy after the Chrism Mass, my cell phone had a call from the Papal Nuncio, so I took the call and he said, I’m happy to inform you that Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Jackels from Wichita to be the archbishop,” he said.

The public announcement came April 8, 2013. By then, staff at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center had already helped Archbishop Hanus prepare for the move. In January, the archbishop’s family members had helped him sort through his personal items. After a few more farewells, he drove off for the last time June 10, 2013, following a blessing in the pastoral center parking lot in Dubuque.

“Ora Et Labora” (Pray and Work)

Since retirement, Archbishop Hanus has resumed his dedication to the rule of St. Benedict. The saint devised a rhythm for monastic life centered on work and prayer that has endured for 1,500 years. The Nebraska native who grew up on a farm is no stranger to this life, having taken his first profession of vows as a monk in 1961. After being ordained to the priesthood in 1966, Archbishop Hanus served as Abbot of Conception Abbey for 10 years (1977-87). He was appointed bishop of St. Cloud, Minnesota, in 1987, before being installed as archbishop of Dubuque in 1994.

“I was so happy to be back at the monastery where I had left 25, almost 26 years previously,” he said. “I love the regular schedule. Typically, I get up at 5 o’clock. Get ready for morning prayer. We have the first Divine Office at 6 a.m. and then spiritual reading. At 7:15 a.m. is morning prayer and then breakfast. And then I would get regular work.”

For about a year, Archbishop Hanus used his work time to organize his writings, papers and other items — he has about 2,000 homilies stored on his computer from all his years in ministry. In the fall of 2014, the abbot asked him to teach at the seminary, which is connected to the monastery. There are 50 monks in residence at Conception and 100 seminarians from 12 different dioceses in the United States. The small town near the abbey has a store and about 20 households, but little else. The farmland surrounding the monks’ home and two man-made lakes provide a tranquil setting to contemplate, study and pray.

The archbishop, who holds master’s degrees in theology and Christian ethics, as well as a licentiate in theology, teaches an elective to the upper classmen in the fall. The courses include “Catholicism in the United States” and “Priestly Ministry Through the Ages.” In the spring, he is part of a team that teaches a course titled, “Christian Living and Theology” to the freshmen and all new students. “It’s kind of unusual for them to have an archbishop for a teacher,” said Archbishop Hanus. “I can teach not just from books, but from experience.” During the school year, the archbishop teaches formation courses to about 70 candidates for the diaconate and their wives from the Des Moines and Kansas City, Missouri, dioceses. During the summer, he helps with the formation classes for deacon candidates from the Diocese of Salina. The classes here are about Christian morality, Catholicism in the United States, and the writings of Pope Francis. Archbishop Hanus, a person who has always been interested in technology, has integrated it into the classroom, and is aiming to do more with teaching online in the future.

“I use Power Point for all my classes and I learned how to use You Tube,” he said. “I’ve gotten more into social media, but also other kinds of media.” Outside of the classroom, Archbishop Hanus’ passion for gardening helps feed his fellow monks, seminarians and visitors to the abbey. During his first year as archbishop in Dubuque, he began a garden. He was known for growing horseradish and mint, and then enlisting the help of supporters to create homemade toppings and jellies that were sold for charity. These days, he continues to exercise his green thumb.

“Last year I had 150 tomato plants,” said the archbishop. “I will have 150 this year also. I had two dozen basil plants, so I make quarts of pesto and we freeze it because the seminarians love it on their pasta and the monks love it on their pasta too.”

Gardening has played an important role in his life for a long time now. “People ask, ‘do I miss anything about being archbishop?’” said Archbishop Hanus.

“The thing I miss most is after I would get done at the office at 5 p.m. I would go home and I would get into some grubby clothes and I would go in the garden and pick some fresh tomatoes, maybe some basil and parsley, onion and make myself a pasta dish. That’s what I miss about being archbishop, which has nothing to do with being archbishop, but that was a way to relax after a day of maybe some intense work and I didn’t have many evenings like that except during the summer when you didn’t have the confirmations, especially July and August …”

The archbishop stays active with the local Knights of Columbus Council that meets at the seminary. He also assists with Masses at a nearby convent for Benedictine nuns and fills in when necessary during liturgies at some of the parishes surrounding the monastery that are staffed by priests from the abbey.

Looking back, forging ahead

Archbishop Hanus enjoyed reconnecting with people during his recent visit to Dubuque and taking in some of the changes that have occurred since his departure.

“I’m very pleased with what is happening in the archdiocese,” said Archbishop Hanus. “I’m very pleased with the leadership that Archbishop Jackels is doing. I think he brings a fresh perspective and fresh gifts to the archdiocese … “I’m happy that (Archbishop Jackels) is our archbishop … I pray for him everyday. I pray for the people of the archdiocese. I pray for the priests and others in leadership positions. I’m very proud of what God has accomplished through our ministry… I think that over the years we’ve established wonderful practices and policies, but more important, we have wonderful people that are exercising leadership and service in the archdiocese.”

Archbishop Hanus was ordained on July 30, 1966, and celebrated his first Mass the next day. On July 30-31, Archbishop Hanus’ younger brother Leo and his wife Lorraine, along with his other two brothers and four sisters and their families, are coming to Conception Abbey to celebrate his golden jubilee. His brother and sister-­in-law are also celebrating 50 years of marriage and will renew their vows that weekend. There will be a Mass, banquet and probably even some fishing.

The archbishop, although retired, has kept up on current events in the church, and urges people to be willing to change when necessary no matter where they are in life.

“Be open to change,” he said. “The pope has made a lot of changes in regard to the marriage tribunal and issues of marriage. He’s challenging us to understand marriage in a very profound Christian, Catholic way. Anybody who has the opportunity to meditate, for example, on chapter four of his new document ‘The Joy of Love’ (should do it). Chapter four is a powerful document, not only for married couples, but for anybody living in community. It works for us in the monastery too.”

In reflecting on the church today, the archbishop echoed the Gospel mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Let’s value one another,” he said. “Let’s cherish one another for the gifts that we have and for the gifts that we are.”


Photo: Archbishop Emeritus Hanus preaches during a Mass to mark his golden Jubilee on May 15 in Dubuque.