By: David Earleywine
The church parking lot was already filling up as my family arrived to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. The small, quiet church in Albany, WI was the sister to my family’s hometown parish of St. Rose of Lima in Brodhead. Like a dutiful middle school altar server, I had arrived early (thanks Mom and Dad for making sure that actually happened) to serve my brother’s confirmation Mass. I made my way to the sacristy and got ‘suited up’ (as I liked to call it in middle school) with my server’s alb. As I stood in the sacristry of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Albany, Wisconsin, I remember awaiting instructions.That’s when I first remember meeting him. When I first laid eyes on him, I remember thinking he had a presence about him. He strode into the sacristy with a bright smile and jovial laugh. “Well, hello, I’m Bishop Morlino. Thanks for serving tonight,” he said.
Now, I wish I could tell you he went on to tell the other servers and I something witty (I am sure he did) or that it was the start of a lasting personal relationship between us. That unfortunately, is not how this story goes. However, it was the first time I remember meeting Bishop Morlino. It was also the first time he asked me the question he asked almost every young man of faith: “Have you considered being a priest?” I am certainly not the first person he asked about the priesthood. Nor would it be the last time Bishop would ask me that question.
Unfortunately, the Bishop who asked seemingly every young man of faith “Have you considered being a priest?” was laid to rest today. Bishop Morlino made increasing vocations to the diocesan priesthood a priority. Since 2003, when Bishop Morlino was installed as the fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Madison, over 40 men have been ordained and 24 more are in formation. Bishop loved his time with youth and young adults whether at Camp or in his earlier years teaching at universities.
Bishop Morlino was a staunch supporter of Camp Gray. A self-described teddy bear, Bishop was always invigorated by the joy and youth at Camp Gray. When Camp Gray requested a full-time chaplain for the summer, Bishop Morlino saw the importance of helping form the youth of our diocese and happily obliged. Any camper and staffer of recent years can attest to the joy of having a chaplain readily available to help further Camp Gray’s mission. Bishop also would make trips out at least once per summer to provide staff formation to our summer team. This past year, Bishop even gifted the Camp Gray staff with this piece depicting St. Michael the Archangel, to whom he had a special devotion.
Bishop Morlino was always supportive of Camp and thought highly of our mission. My favorite quote from Bishop came at the Camp Gray Benefit Dinner in 2017 when, prior to blessing the dinner, Bishop Morlino quipped, “The only problem with Camp Gray is that people might confuse it for Heaven.”
A few years after serving my brother’s confirmation Mass, it was my turn to get confirmed.. Back in the humble beauty of St. Patrick’s Church, Bishop arose after communion to address those of us who had just been confirmed. He locked eyes with me and a few of my confirmation classmates and asked us to come up to him. At this point, he discussed vocations and had an interaction with each of us in front of the congregation that sounded something like this.
“Young man, what is your name?” Bishop asked.
“David,” I replied.
“David. That is a good strong name. Have you considered being a priest?” He asked without hesitation.
“Not really,” I replied nervously. The more truthful answer would have been ‘No,’ but admitting that outright to the Bishop seemed like the wrong answer.
“Well, why not?” he playfully countered. ‘Why not?! What do you mean why not?’ I thought as I scrambled to come up with a coherent answer.
Before I was able to answer he put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Maybe this will help you imagine yourself as a priest,” as he took his zucchetto off and placed it upon my head. “Wouldn’t he look good in one of these?” Bishop asked the congregation who responded with a laugh.
Bishop turned his attention back to me. “Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a priest.” He reclaimed his zucchetto from the top of my head. “But at least consider it.”
In this season of Advent, I encourage you to consider what the Lord might be asking of you. Maybe the Lord wants you to spend more time with Him in prayer. Maybe the Lord wants you to consider getting more involved in church. Maybe the Lord is calling you to the priesthood or religious life. At least consider it.
Rest in Peace, Bishop Morlino.
Post-Script: What’s Next?
Many of you (like me) have probably asked the question, “So, what’s next for the Diocese of Madison?” Well over the course of the coming months, a new Bishop will be appointed. The process for how that occurs is depicted in the infographic. There is no set timetable for that appointment. So, what does the Diocese do in the interim? Well, Monsignor. James Bartylla, the Vicar General to Bishop Morlino, was appointed as the Diocesan Administrator.
Under Church law, the Diocesan Administrator is a priest elected by the College of Consultors and who is at least 35 years-old, known to be a man of sound doctrine and prudence such that he can oversee the administrative functions of a Diocese until a new Bishop is appointed and installed.
Please pray for the repose of the soul of Bishop Morlino, all the faithful departed, and the people of the Diocese of Madison.
Eternal rest grant to him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.