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Our new archbishop hopes to emphasize evangelization
Hazel Whitman

Related editorial, page 4

By Hazel Whitman

Of the Sentinel

The new Archbishop of Portland is a 60-year-old Chicago native of Czech ancestry, who speaks Spanish, French and Italian, worked in Hispanic parishes for 13 years, jogs daily and wants to be a blessing for the church.

Archbishop John Vlazny, bishop of Winona, Minn., for the past 10 years and a priest for 36 years, was named this week by Pope John Paul to be the 10th Archbishop of Portland.

Archbishop Vlazny succeeds Archbishop Francis George, who now heads the Chicago Archdiocese. The pope this week also named Bishop Alexander Brunett of Helena, Mont., as Archbishop of Seattle. Archbishop Brunett, a native of Detroit, succeeds Archbishop Thomas Murphy, who died June 26.

Laughter and smiles dominated a press conference Tuesday at the archdiocesan pastoral center, during which the new Archbishop of Portland met the press and members of his new staff.

'I come among you as a priest, a brother and hopefully a friend,' said Archbishop Vlazny, who has earned advanced degrees both in this country and in Rome. 'I am a man of faith. I hope to be a shepherd guiding you as we take this journey of faith.'

He said he's looking forward to touring the archdiocese in the days and weeks following his 3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, installation Mass in the Cathedral. In January, the archbishop will celebrate regional Masses in six areas of the archdiocese. Priests and religious of the archdiocese will gather to pray with the archbishop on a separate occasion in January.

When asked about his goals for the Portland Archdiocese, Archbishop Vlazny said he will use his 'Type-A' personality and ability to delegate to continue building upon his experience as a bishop in the southeastern Minnesota college town of 25,000, sited on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Revealing his intellect, humility and sense of humor in front of a row of television cameras and reporters, Archbishop Vlazny said that the church is more than the bishop. He plans to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ, adding, 'This isn't the Vlazny show.

'I love the church and I believe deeply in the teachings of the church,' Archbishop Vlazny said.

When asked about other plans, Archbishop Vlazny expressed a desire to use his ability to speak Spanish to bring together English and non-English-speaking worshipers more fully. He said Hispanics were a great blessing to him, and originally he was one of the few priests in southern Minnesota who spoke Spanish.

'We come together to encourage one another,' Archbishop Vlazny said. 'The primary goal of the church is to go and make disciples.'

He's taking that to heart, explaining that he is changing his motto from 'Grant us peace' (adding with a grin that it's not that he's 'against peace') to 'Go and make disciples.'

He also hopes to continue bringing more laity into church leadership as he did in Winona.

'This is the age of the baptized,' Archbishop Vlazny said. 'Jesus wasn't sitting around in church . . . . I can't be just satisfied that I'm preaching the Gospel just sitting in church. I'm still learning. I'm sure you are going to teach me more '

Archbishop Vlazny said receiving the news of his appointment brought a range of emotions.

'I have my roots firmly planted in the soil of southern Minnesota,' Archbishop Vlazny said. 'I have mixed feelings, but I must say that I am thrilled.'

Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner introduced Archbishop Vlazny to the media. Bishop Steiner said he is pleased to welcome the new leader.

Those who know the new archbishop speak highly of him, including Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Lyne, who was ordained by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin on the same December day in 1961 as Archbishop Vlazny.

'We go back a long way,' Bishop Lyne said. 'You're getting an outstanding man. He's a very bright man. I think you will find him a very kind and understanding man.'

Bishop Lyne predicts that Archbishop Vlazny will be a consultative leader and up to the challenge of running an archdiocese with a population that exceeds 282,000.

'He has a nice way of listening to people, although he is strong and definitely knows what he wants,' the bishop said. 'He will get along with both the clergy and the laity.'

While folks here began learning about their new leader, the faithful in Minnesota began realizing they will have to say goodbye.

'He's a tremendous person to work with; he has so much energy,' said Father Michael Hoeppner, vicar general for the Diocese of Winona. 'His love for the church is always evident, as is his love for the people of God. He certainly will be missed here . . . . You're blessed to have him.'

Winona Diocesan Chancellor John Vitek, who has known Archbishop Vlazny for a decade, also expressed confidence in the new archbishop.

'We'll miss him,' Vitek said. 'Your people will find Archbishop Vlazny is a bishop of the people. He loves people.'

The chancellor also said that Archbishop Vlazny has shown a deep interest in respecting cultural diversity.

Portland's chancellor Mary Jo Tully said she is delighted with Archbishop Vlazny's selection. She knew him as a Chicago priest.

'It's wonderful to have a bishop come in and already know that he's warm and friendly,' Tully said. 'I'm looking forward to working with him again.'

Father Chuck Leinert, vicar for clergy in the Portland Archdiocese, agreed.

'I think he's wonderful,' Father Leinert said. 'I was delighted to hear him talk and be so personable.'

Portland Vicar General Father Paul Peri also spoke highly of Archbishop Vlazny.

'I'm impressed that he's been a pastor, is fluent in Spanish and involved in evangelization,' Father Peri said. 'He's excited about the church, and I think that's important.'

Portland University President Father David Tyson said the new archbishop will bring a strong pastoral presence and gregarious style with him.

Established as the Archdiocese of Oregon City in 1846, the Portland Archdiocese received its present name in 1928. It covers western Oregon, from the Cascades to the Pacific, and includes 282,593 Catholics in a population of 2,725,000.

Archbishop Vlazny at a glance

John George Vlazny, son of the late John George Vlazny and Marie Hattie Brezina Vlazny, was born Feb. 22, 1937, in Chicago. He attended St. Gall elementary school there.

He later studied at Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago and in 1958 received a bachelor of arts degree at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill.

He studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, earning a bachelor's degree in theology in 1960 and a theology licentiate in 1962.

Subsequently, he also earned master's degrees in the classics from the University of Michigan and in education from Loyola University in Chicago.

In 1961, he was ordained a priest for the Chicago Archdiocese at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. He then served as associate pastor in five parishes from 1962 to 1979.

He also was on the faculty of Quigley Preparatory North, later merged into Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary, during this same period. And from 1969 to 1979, he was dean of studies at Quigley North.

Archbishop Vlazny was president of Chicago's Presbyteral Senate, 1976-77. He also was a diocesan consultor and member of the Diocesan Clergy Personnel Board.

From 1979 to 1981 he was pastor of St. Aloysius in Chicago. He also served as rector of Niles College Seminary, 1981-83.

In 1983, he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Chicago, where he served as episcopal vicar for Lake County and Northwestern Suburban Cook County.

He was installed as the sixth bishop of Winona on July 29, 1987.

In 1993, Archbishop Vlazny was elected chairman of the bishops' Committee on Evangelization. Currently, he is member of several bishops' committees, including those on the North American College in Rome, priestly formation, religious life and ministry, and the third millennium.

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