Priests admire Bishop-elect for authenticity, ‘keen sense of humor’

Many priests of the Archdiocese of Denver have fond memories of the new auxiliary bishop from their time as seminarians.

“I remember on a couple of occasions, he made fun of himself, if he should ever become a bishop, but he was doing it in a way knowing that he thought he would never become a bishop. Just to see that sense of humor and for me to recall that now…the beautiful irony of him now actually having been named a bishop by the Holy Father.”

This anecdote by Father Sam Morehead, pastor of All Souls parish in Englewood, seems to be a common one between the seminarians and priests who had the privilege of studying under Denver’s new auxiliary bishop, Bishop-elect Jorge Rodriguez. As former vice rector of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Bishop Elect Rodriguez has played a crucial role in the formation of many seminarians and now-priests of the Archdiocese of Denver and beyond. Father Morehead is but one of the countless priests who have been impacted by Bishop Elect’s sense of care for the people and what Father Morehead called a “keen sense of humor.”

Morehead entered seminary in 2005, and lived on the same floor as then Father Rodriguez for his first year.

“In the classroom setting, he taught fundamental theology and he also taught Mariology — the study of our Blessed Mother,” Father Morehead told Denver Catholic. “To see, in that setting, a priest who was obviously in love with his priesthood, who was passionate about forming young men to be priests…I was inspired by the example of a man who loved the best of academics but also wanted it to be relatable to the people. I could always see him consciously doing that.

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As former vice rector and current theology professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Bishop-elect Jorge Rodriguez has formed close relationships with many seminarians, and now priests, of the Archdiocese of Denver. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

“He always had homilies that were well-prepared, directed towards us and robust in content,” Father Morehead continued. “I saw the care that he took in preaching to us at the seminary and his desire to want to inspire us.”

Be it in the classroom, church or the cafeteria, Father Rodriguez was a man of integrity and intense love during his time as vice rector. Father Mason Fraley, parochial vicar at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Northglenn, attended St. John Vianney from 2009-2016, and he recalled that one afternoon after a big seminary lunch prior to a vacation, he had to walk through the kitchen to get to his car in the parking lot.

“I was surprised to find [Father] Rodriguez alone in the back, wearing an apron and washing the dishes, unbeknownst to the larger seminary community,” Father Fraley said. “Maybe nobody had been assigned to wash dishes that day, or the men assigned had forgotten, but [he] rolled up his sleeves and did what needed to be done. He didn’t gripe or blow a trumpet before him, he just stepped into the breech.”

His hidden act of condescension — the vice rector doing the dishes — struck me as such a dignified expression of holiness. It is in the little things like this where a man — and a priest’s — true colors are revealed —almost in secret — that the love of God and the desire for holiness are born in others.”

Upon first meeting Bishop Elect Rodriguez, Father Fraley’s first impression was that he was an “honest, hard-working, trustworthy man who loves God in a hidden way.”

“His hidden act of condescension — the vice rector doing the dishes — struck me as such a dignified expression of holiness,” he said. “It is in the little things like this where a man — and a priest’s — true colors are revealed —almost in secret — that the love of God and the desire for holiness are born in others.”

Bishop-elect Rodriguez’s influence also spreads well beyond the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Denver. Father Brian Hess serves as associate pastor at Our Lady of the Mountains parish in Jackson, Wyo., and became close with then Father Rodriguez during the second half of his Theology studies at St. John Vianney from 2009-2014. In addition to the formal academic setting, living in a house with the vice rector afforded Father Hess the chance to see him in an informal setting as well.

[…] It’s nice to know that I have in [the auxiliary] bishop a father who has known me long and well over the years.”

“I saw a genuineness in him,” Father Hess recalled. “His love of everything — academics, the Church and us, the seminarians, was always easy to see. Whether you were working with him in a formal setting or sitting around a patio campfire with him, you felt cared for.”

As a priest, Father Morehead is excited at the prospect of having an auxiliary bishop who, like Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, was integral in the formation of so many of the archdiocese’s current priests.

“Bishop Elect Rodriguez has been centrally involved in the work of forming the priests for our archdiocese humanly, spiritually, intellectually and pastorally, which then, of course, is for the good of the people,” Father Morehead said. “In as much as the Church is first and foremost a family, it’s nice to know that I have in [the auxiliary] bishop a father who has known me long and well over the years.”

COMING UP: A shepherd after Christ’s heart

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On Aug. 25, I had the joy of announcing that Pope Francis had named Father Jorge Rodriguez as the next auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Denver. In this column, I would like to introduce the faithful to the bishop-elect in a deeper way, as he will help me shepherd you.

Bishop-elect Rodriguez and I first met in 1998. Archbishop Chaput asked me to meet with him as I was trying to put together the faculty for the new St. John Vianney Seminary, of which I was the rector. In the 18 years since that time, I have seen that he is a man of deep faith and prayer, and that his friendship with Christ is what sustains him through the challenges of life. Both his relationship with Jesus and his knowledge of the faith are precious gifts that he brings to us as a bishop.

St. John Vianney, who is the patron saint of parish priests, captured the essential nature of friendship with Jesus when he said, “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” When he was asked at his introductory press conference about how the Church could address declining Mass attendance, Bishop-elect Rodriguez applied this same truth. He said that the Church must work to form more people as true disciples of Christ — men and women who are willing to drop everything to follow Christ.

During his time at the seminary, I noticed another quality that will serve Bishop-elect Rodriguez well in his new ministry – patience. Inevitably throughout the academic year, a seminarian would struggle to overcome a habit, hit a spiritual roadblock or wrestle with understanding one of the truths of the faith. This did not deter then Father Rodriguez. He patiently and kindly would meet them where they were at, challenge them, and help them grow intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. He knew how to form both the heart and the intellect of the men.

By all accounts, Bishop-elect Rodriguez has continued to generously and patiently teach the faith to the parishioners of Holy Cross Parish in Thornton, and I know he will continue to do so as a bishop.

The final gift that Bishop-elect Rodriguez has that I’d like to share with you is also best expressed in a quote from St. John Vianney, who said, “The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you.” As the archbishop, I visit many parishes and hear from the faithful about their concerns. I have seen that Bishop-elect Rodriguez already knows these concerns quite well because he is able to draw close to both the Spanish and English-speaking communities of our archdiocese. He is a priest who serves
his people, calling them to holiness.

Bishop-elect Rodriguez, as a native of Mexico, is an immigrant to the United States. He is fully acquainted
with the Mexican culture and Spanish is his first language. Our archdiocese is over 50% Hispanic and he is well-known among the Hispanic community as always willing to go the extra mile for the care of the faithful. He is a compassionate shepherd and will be so for those he serves throughout the archdiocese.

I am grateful to God the Father for the gift of an auxiliary bishop who will help me in my mission of teaching, sanctifying and leading the faithful of northern Colorado. As Jesus said, “The harvest is abundant but the
laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Lk 10:2). We have asked, and God the Father has given us Bishop-elect Rodriguez. Let us give thanks to God for his generosity and ask him to pour out his grace upon our bishop-
elect. Let us also continue to pray for vocations, constantly going to the door of “the master of the harvest”
and asking him to send laborers after his own heart.