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Home : News : Local
12/3/2008
Archbishop Vlazny celebrates 25 years as a bishop
Archbishop Vlazny celebrates 25 years as a bishop
Archbishop Vlazny celebrates 25 years as a bishop

It’s a foggy November Sunday and Archbishop John Vlazny, simply by nature, is purveying sunshine inside an Oregon church.

“May God’s blessings flow down on you like good gravy on mashed potatoes,” says the slim and impish 71-year-old church leader. He’s quoting a nun to the people of St. Francis Parish in Roy, who, he adds, have served him some fine spuds in the recent past. The crowd guffaws.

A summary of Archbishop Vlazny’s 25 years as a bishop may highlight issues dramatic, public or even controversial. He has, after all, been forced to deal with Oregon’s assisted suicide law, discrimination against immigrants, advancing abortion rights and a priest sex-abuse scandal.

But amid and between the news-making events, John Vlazny has always been primarily a pastoral man. He visits churches great and small, blesses schools, tells jokes, gives counsel and hears confessions.

Most Catholics notice that he has maintained joy and faith, which tend to spread to those he meets, if by no other means than his stampeding laughter. And as a priest and a bishop, making disciples has been his central mission.

“The purpose of the church is not to make the world Catholic but to bring the gospel into the world,” he said in an interview in 2006. “We can contribute to make this a more just and loving society.”

During his first press conference in Portland, he told reporters, “Jesus wasn’t sitting around in church.”

The man who would become the joyful archbishop was nurtured in the Midwest immigrant culture of the Great Depression, where the Catholic Church was life’s social and spiritual hub.

In 1937, Chicago was a city of neighborhoods where Catholic churches proudly lifted their steeples above the smokestacks of packinghouses and steel mills.
Chicago was home to significant numbers of Germans, Irish, Poles, Bohemians, Swedes, Italians, Lithuanians, Greeks, Slovenes, Slovaks, Polish and Russian Jews. Among the newest groups to leave their imprint on the urban landscape were African Americans who had come north in search of better jobs and housing as part of the “Great Migration” during World War I, and Mexicans who were putting down roots in South Chicago.

In the 1930s, the city was more a mosaic than a melting pot, yet its Catholic churches and schools were powerful reminders that religion continued to shape communal life for the children and grandchildren of immigrants.

In all of Chicago’s older industrial neighborhoods during the Depression, competition for work remained fierce and there were few unions to protect men and women against layoffs or reductions in wages and hours. In 1937, stockyards workers were just beginning to organize, and on the Southeast Side, Republic steelworkers fought bitter battles with police in what became known as the Memorial Day massacre.

Like so many children of immigrants, the archbishop’s father, John Vlazny, was familiar with the precarious nature of family life. Hattie, his wife, had died suddenly, leaving him and a young daughter, Marcella, alone. He later married Marie Brezina who would bear him a son and a daughter.

The Brezina and Vlazny families had strong ties to the old Bohemian neighborhood known as Pilsen on Chicago’s West Side, and to the Czech community that had formed around St. John Nepomucene Church just blocks from Charles Comiskey’s new White Sox ball park on 35th Street. A successful businessman, John Vlazny was a pharmacist who operated a drug store in a substantial three-story corner building at 18th and Throop streets. But the most prominent structure in the neighborhood was St. Procopius Church, whose steeple could be seen for blocks and whose bells reminded Bohemian immigrants of the churches of their childhood. Built on a grand scale and dedicated in 1883, it dwarfed nearby Protestant churches and missions along Racine Avenue.

As happened in neighborhoods throughout the city, Catholic sisters created hospitals to care for the needs of families, from cradle to grave. St. Anthony de Padua Hospital near Douglas Park, where Archbishop Vlazny was born, had been founded by the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart from Joliet, Illinois, in 1896 and they welcomed “all patients regardless of religion and nationality.”

Despite living in a city of more than three million, families such as the Brezinas and Vlaznys found Chicago to be more like a small town. One of the reasons was the extensive network of Catholic parishes that honeycombed the city. In Bridgeport alone there were 10 Catholic parishes within a mile square radius, each with its own distinctive identity. Although they could easily walk to the German parish of St. Anthony or the Irish parish of All Saints, Bohemian families preferred to worship at St. John Nepomucene where they could hear homilies in Czech as well as in English. This pragmatic solution to the thorny question of language ensured that immigrants felt as much at home in their neighborhood churches as did their American-born children.

For couples such as Marie and John Vlazny, moving out of “the old neighborhood” meant becoming members of English-speaking parishes. The transition was hardly traumatic since all Masses in the days before Vatican II were celebrated in Latin, with devotions in English. Within months of his baptism at the predominantly Irish parish of St. Cecilia at 45th Place and Wells Street, young John Vlazny was living in St. Gall Parish in the Gage Park neighborhood where the Brezina family had put down roots at 5705 S. Troy Street.

In much the same way that chain migration from Europe had contributed to the growth and development of Chicago’s industrial neighborhoods, the pattern repeated itself in emerging residential neighborhoods that were like suburbs of the stockyards. The Vlazny bungalow at 6011 S. Francisco Avenue and the other neat brick homes on the street not only represented the American dream of home-ownership, but they ensured a form of neighborliness that Catholic families had come to value highly.

To move from a densely populated neighborhood such as Bridgeport where homes were heated by coal or wood-burning stoves to a home with radiator heat and gleaming tile bathrooms constituted a high point in the lives of Chicagoans. “Bungalow Belt” neighborhoods such as Gage Park were developed at a time when few families owned automobiles, and yet residents enjoyed easy access to street car lines which took them to work or downtown. For children coming of age, a bungalow’s back yard and the sidewalk in front offered unparalleled opportunities to play without the danger of being hit by delivery wagons. Equally significant, children could walk to school and to church on their own and to the commercial districts with their small stores and theaters.

Although it was located in the city of Chicago, St. Gall Parish had begun as a mission in 1890 and remained sparsely settled for the next 30 years. Parishioners, including the Brezina and Vlazny families, understood the importance of constructing modern church and school quarters and yet decade after decade, it was the school that took precedence. The arrival of the Sister Servants of the Holy Heart of Mary from Beaverville, Ill., in 1924 was perhaps the most important event in the young parish’s history. Through their dedication, enrollment in the school steadily increased and in 1935 an addition was built. Visible to all travelers on busy Kedzie Avenue was the admonition carved in stone, “Teach Me Goodness, Discipline, Knowledge, O Lord.”

St. Gall Parish reflected the Catholic Church’s enduring commitment to education. From the 19th century on, virtually all parishes in the city supported their own grammar schools and in the 1920s, Catholic high schools had begun to emerge on the city’s south, west, and north sides. Another important development was the opening of Quigley Preparatory Seminary in 1918 just a few blocks from Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral. The Gothic structure quickly became a landmark on the North Side and, more importantly, the school of choice for young men who hoped eventually to be ordained priests.

It was no small matter of pride that despite the Great Depression, in 1937, 259 Catholic grammar schools in the city kept their doors open, educating 130,000 students. Significantly, at a time when many children went to work after eighth grade, nearly 6,000 young men and women were continuing their education in Catholic high schools in Chicago. Catholic parents, priests, nuns, and bishops regarded education as an investment in the future, and although money was always in short supply, every effort was made to ensure that Catholic schools compared favorably with public institutions. One of the highlights of Catholic life in Chicago in the 1930s, for example, was the annual football rivalry between Leo High School and the winner of the Public School League for the championship at Soldier Field that drew thousands of spectators.

Sport was an early pleasure in John Vlazny’s life. He still pays close attention to his hometown Chicago White Sox and is able to cite statistics by memory. He recalls listening to the Sox on the radio with his father into the night. More often than not, he hit the sack dejected over yet another loss.

He occasionally “helped” his father in the family drug store, he now jokes. Young John would show up for work, get a candy bar, a comic book, make a milkshake for himself and relax.

On Wednesdays, a day off from the pharmacy, the father would take the family on outings. His mother baked Bohemian treats and served roast pork, sauerkraut, and dumplings for special dinners. A daily fare was soup with her homemade noodles. Guests were almost always invited to stay for dinner. Often, it was Msgr. James Hishen of St. Gall’s, a man who was close to the family and a strong influence on the Vlazny children.

The Vlaznys’ extended family visited often, and one cousin even lived with them for a time. In return, they traveled to Michigan in the summers to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins there.

The grandparents didn’t speak much English. Czech was the language for much conversation during visits.

John Vlazny, Sr. was a religious man who impressed upon his children the importance of the church in their lives.

John Jr. would play priest with his younger sister Marion; she was the server. The pair also created an altar to Mary each May. Years later, Marion (and her husband Dennis) would characterize her brother as someone who took church seriously and yet was fun-loving. He always saw the bright side of things, they said.

Parish histories rarely include the names of women responsible for nurturing vocations to the priesthood, but Archbishop Vlazny can still remember his first-grade teacher, Sister Madeline Sophie, and Sister Mary Magdalene, who was in charge of the altar servers, and he credits Sister Virginia Marie and Sister Mary George as being “influential in my life and vocation.”

Young John, at 18, had just entered the seminary when his father died of cancer. Supportive relatives and neighbors got the family through.

At the time he began his studies at Quigley Preparatory Seminary, St. Gall Parish had begun to experience its greatest growth. Douglas Bukowski, a historian who grew up near the Vlazny home in the 1950s, remembers St. Gall’s as “a League of Nations neighborhood . . . where Poles joined with Germans, Italians, the Irish, and Lithuanians to live together without bloodshed or fisticuffs.” And before long, the parish would have a new church at the corner of 55th and Kedzie Avenue that “pointed to the future, not the Gothic past favored in Bridgeport.”

Dedicated in 1958, when 21-year-old John Vlazny graduated from St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, St. Gall Church was regarded as one of the first modern churches in Chicago after World War II. Nicknamed the “Hishen Hilton,” after the legendary pastor, it symbolized the key role of the Catholic Church in neighborhood life.

Father Vlazny returned from Rome in 1962. He had studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University and been ordained with men who would be lifelong friends, including a Californian named William Levada, who would eventually become a cardinal and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican.

The Chicago Father Vlazny found then had much in common with the city in which his father was born in 1896. Newcomers from Puerto Rico and the Philippines were changing the face of older ethnic parishes on Chicago’s North Side while Mexican families were putting down roots in the old stockyards and steel mill neighborhoods. On the West and South Sides, Irish parishes experienced dramatic racial change throughout the 1960s and the idea of integration remained elusive.

An author recounts in his memoir, Pictures of Home, the spirit of progressive Catholicism that characterized St. Gall’s throughout its history was sorely tested in the 1960s as a result of racial change in neighborhoods to the east. When the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. attempted to march through Marquette Park in the summer of 1966 to dramatize Chicago’s segregated housing market, he was hit in the head with a rock.

Young Father Vlazny’s childhood in one of Chicago’s most multi-ethnic neighborhoods and his renewed appreciation for the universality of the church, thanks to his student days in Rome, stood him in good stead in his various assignments. After a year at St. Paul of the Cross in suburban Park Ridge, he spent five years at St. Clement Parish in Lincoln Park. Now one of the parishes favored by young Chicago professionals, in 1963 St. Clement’s and its surrounding neighborhood was a long way from gentrification. The once fashionable German parish had recently closed its girls’ high school and was faced with the challenge of keeping its grammar school open.

He also served at the minor seminary in the 1960s and 70s.

“We worked together like brothers at the minor seminary,” says retired Archbishop James Keleher of Kansas City, Kansas. “He was always assisting me and making me look good.”

Of all his assignments in the Chicago archdiocese, St. Aloysius in Humboldt Park left a deep impression on the future archbishop. When he arrived in 1968, he found one of the city’s oldest ethnic parishes worshiping in a modern sacred space. Although not as elaborate as St. Gall’s, the new St. Aloysius reflected hope in the future of the parish and the neighborhood. Staying put at a time when Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues were leaving Chicago was no small feat and it spoke volumes about the Catholic Church’s urban roots and commitment to the city. Not only did St. Aloysius take an active role in the East Humboldt Park Conservation Community Council, but the parish worked closely with its Catholic neighbors, St. Elizabeth Hospital, founded in 1887 by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, and Josephinum High School, established in 1890 by the Sisters of Christian Charity.

As much as he embraced parishioners, they adored him. The young adult choir described itself unofficially as the “Vlaznyites,” even giving their Spanish-speaking pastor a “Vlaznyite” t-shirt when he left the parish in 1981 to serve as rector of the college seminary.

At St. Aloysius, Father Vlazny experienced close-up the genius that has been the Chicago Catholic experience — welcoming a new group, in this case Puerto Rican Catholics, while continuing to meet the needs of Poles, Filipinos, Germans and African Americans. Long before it became fashionable to talk about diversity, Catholic parishes led the way. It’s an old old story, and one that the pastor’s parents and grandparents would have understood by heart.

When Father Vlazny left his post as rector of Niles College Seminary in 1983 for a larger assignment, students were noticeably upset by the news.

“He gave me a different perspective of priesthood,” a seminarian said at the time. “Before I had just seen priests in the parish. But now I also see priests as administrators and leaders of a larger community, as people who are more involved in decision making.”

That year, his joy and leadership won him an ultimate kudos. Chicago Archbishop Joseph Bernardin named him an auxiliary bishop.

The new bishop wrote in the Catholic New World newspaper that “care, concern and effective leadership” are essential components for his new position.

While serving as episcopal vicar, Bishop Vlazny worked closely with the Office of the Hispanic Apostolate, using his Spanish, one of a set of languages in which he is fluent. He participated in several caucuses that addressed the variety of needs in ministering to Hispanics in the archdiocese.

“We need to have more clearly defined and identifiable places in Lake County where Hispanics know they can go for all their ministerial needs,” Bishop Vlazny told the Catholic New World, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

He saw the dearth of priests who speak Spanish and so developed lay ministers to give aid.

“Each day it seemed that he had three or four meetings, or presentations, or religious ceremonies; and I would think to myself, why would anyone want to be a bishop?” says Father John Thinnes, who lived with the new auxiliary bishop in the northern part of the Archdiocese of Chicago. “Come 10 p.m. or so as I would be ready to retire, the good bishop would just be getting home, but not to relax. He always had to finish a presentation and/or a homily for the following day. The dedication and the excellence he brought to the work of his ministry was always very impressive.”
As is typical, Bishop Vlazny was able to point out the humor of his new role.

“Being a bishop is like being a grandparent,” he told the Catholic New World. “When you come into a parish for a confirmation or other liturgical function, it is fun and everyone is nice to you, and then you go away and leave the pastor with all the problems.”

It was not long before his dedication and amiability led to yet another mission. There was an opening for a bishop in southern Minnesota, where his pastoral skills would become legend.

When Auxiliary Bishop Vlazny was made Bishop of the Diocese of Winona, Minn. in 1987, members of St. Aloysius Parish in Chicago wanted to show support for their beloved former pastor.

About 75 of the largely immigrant community chartered a bus and made the five-hour trip north for the installation ceremony. The city dwellers had trouble finding the right place, so were late.

When they eventually flowed into the room, they all headed straight for their man, who embraced and welcomed each one warmly. Everyone wanted a photo with the new bishop.

“I never was a chancery person. The Church always has to be missionary,” the new spiritual leader told a reporter then.

Over the next 10 years, he became known for getting out among the people he served — not just to make an appearance for a special liturgy or diocesan event, but to talk with them and listen to them, to teach and be taught by them.

The Diocese of Winona encompasses Minnesota’s 20 southernmost counties and extends the width of the state, bordering Iowa in the south, Wisconsin to the east and the Dakotas to the west. The prairie grasslands of the Great Plains begin there. Rural communities are called Harmony, Blue Earth, Welcome, Magnolia and Good Thunder.

During the homily at his installation in Winona, he talked about the laity’s role in the church. “Your work, my lay brothers and sisters, no matter how tedious or energizing, is a value and an active participation in God’s creative presence among his people today. The involvement of lay people in the ministries of the Church is a marvelously welcome development.”

Their involvement increased under Bishop Vlazny’s governance.

The first order of business for the new bishop was to reorganize and strengthen the diocesan staff. Bishop Vlazny encouraged his workers to be more pro-active and he encouraged collaboration among the various offices. Part-time offices were consolidated, and some service functions transferred to Catholic Charities; some new offices — such as Youth and Family Life — were added over the years in response to diocesan needs.

Six months after his installation, Bishop Vlazny outlined his priorities for the Diocese of Winona in a column written for his diocesan newspaper, the Courier. He placed highest priority on comprehensive pastoral planning, on both the parish and diocesan levels. Faced with a dwindling number of priests to serve a ballooning Catholic population, the influx of minorities, and shifting demographics, the diocese could not afford to sit back and simply hope for the best.

“What,” the bishop asked, “will the face of Catholic southern Minnesota look like in five years? In 10? Without thoughtful planning, things will still happen to us. With planning, we can make things happen.”

Pastoral planning was nothing new — other dioceses had already begun such work — but the genuinely grassroots process designed by the bishop and his vicar general, Msgr. Gerald Mahon, made Winona’s system particularly effective. In this model, lay representatives from each parish in each deanery come together regularly to address church issues.

Bishop Vlazny and his curia also helped teachers and catechists acquire some theological and philosophical foundation.

“He appreciated the phrase that this is the ‘age of the baptized’ and reminded us often that baptism is the primary sacrament of the church,” Msgr. Mahon says. “This led him to call forth the gifts of everyone in leading this local church, and he appreciated the service and sacrifice of all the people involved in parishes across southern Minnesota.”

Another of Bishop Vlazny’s priorities for Winona was to support and strengthen rural life in southern Minnesota. “Farm foreclosures and flight to large population centers weaken our small communities, parishes, schools and threaten family life,” he wrote. “These folks need and deserve good pastoring. The Church must be with them in these troublesome times.”

He started the tradition of the “Harvest Mass,” an outdoor liturgy celebrated on a family farm in a different deanery every year.

Already intent on evangelization, which Pope John Paul had made clear was the definitive mission of the church, he created an office for the mission.

During a presentation to a group in the small town of Albert Lea, the bishop said those who have already heard the Gospel are called to bring the news of God to others.

“We as church do not exist for ourselves,” he told the group.

As pastoral as he was, it became clear that Bishop Vlazny had admirable administrative skills. He quietly managed to expand diocesan ministries while putting the diocese on a sound financial footing. Justice seemed to be behind it all. He saved a priests’ pension plan and improved benefits for diocesan employees.

Much of his work went by under the radar. But in 1994, the bishop generated considerable discussion statewide when he issued a position statement on gambling, such as bingo or other games of chance, as a source of revenue for parishes and schools. He asked Catholics to consider ending all gambling operations in which there had been an “attitudinal shift from recreation to profit.”

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune responded in an editorial that said, “At a time when everyone else seems driven only by a lust for greater gambling profits, the Winona statement is a rare and welcome word of compassion for the victims.”

Within a few years of arriving in Minnesota, he also had to endure the trial of a Winona priest accused of sex abuse of a minor. The accuser eventually was awarded $1 million.

Through that, the bishop persisted in his role as a teacher, presenting workshops, conducting question-and-answer sessions and leading prayer services.
In a weekly radio program that aired throughout the diocese for more than three years, he discussed every aspect of the Church, from its hierarchical structure to its position on abortion, from the significance of its sacraments to its role in shaping public policy.

He condemned abortion and euthanasia, sought greater roles for women in the Church, defended the civil rights of homosexuals, spoke out against the death penalty and urged legislation to assist private education.

He supported the Church’s teaching on women’s ordination and its rules on priestly celibacy, invoked Humanae Vitae in criticizing the contraceptive culture, and called his people to prayer and sacrifice as a way to address the world’s problems.

His convictions tended to deflate those who sought to pigeonhole him as either “conservative” or “liberal.”

He showed himself as a strong supporter of the consistent ethic of life, the seamless garment theme set forth by his friend, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.

“Bishop Vlazny won’t be a single-issue person,” said the secertary of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, noting that the bishop preferred all life issues to be dealt with as one.

Meanwhile, as a bishop, he began a ministry to the wider church. In 1993, he was elected chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization. He would also serve on committees for the North American College in Rome, priestly formation, religious life and ministry, and the third millennium. He’d become a liaison to the National Council of Catholic Women and serve as chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Economic Concerns of the Holy See.

Msgr. James Habiger of the Winona Diocese knew that everyone loved Bishop Vlazny. But he warned that anyone who tried to bully the bishop soon would discover that he is “steel wrapped in velvet.”

In 1997, he was asked by the Vatican to take on a yet larger mission, because church leaders knew his light should shine in an even more prominent place.

The people of the Winona Diocese were happy for him but crestfallen to see him leave for the Archdiocese of Portland, across the country. St. Mary’s University in the hills above Winona even renamed Thomas Aquinas Hall as Vlazny Hall. The kind, evangelization-minded bishop had displaced a doctor of the church, some noted with a chuckle.

After Portland Archbishop Francis George found out he would be leaving to lead the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1997, he made a trip to Cathedral School. He told the students that someone else would fill his position in Oregon. One of the youngsters thought perhaps it might be a straight trade — Archbishop George for Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan.

When Bishop John Vlazny in Winona heard that one, his laugh could almost be heard in Portland. At 60, the jogging bishop said his style was not up to an NBA fast break.

But as the new Archbishop of Portland, he would need all the skills and stamina he could muster.

Now he was spiritual leader of more than 280,000 Catholics, head of the fifth-largest school district in the state with 15,000 students, and the major influence on eight Catholic hospitals and scores of Catholic charities and other organizations. Most daunting of all, he had come to a place where the church is not heeded so much.
But as he had everywhere, Archbishop Vlazny quickly won over the hearts of Oregonians by being himself.

He penned warm thank-you notes after visiting places like small St. Anthony Parish in Waldport. He thanked the people for a beautiful Mass and a tasty supper. At St. Helen Church in Junction City, after a home-cooked meal, the archbishop picked up the accordion and led the audience in “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and the “Beer Barrel Polka.”

Meanwhile, he attended parish meals, Catholic Daugters meetings, graduations, Knights of Columbus dinners, Catholic women’s conventions and the annual tea party to benefit the seminary — all with grace and jolliness. He always was the last one to leave.

There was no mystery as to why this man was chosen for Portland. The state at the end of the Oregon Trail had a legendary percentage of religiously unaffiliated residents. These rugged individuals, the Vatican reasoned, might respond well to the outward focus of a man who really believes the gospel is, at least, a tremendous benefit to society.

In his installation homily in Portland, Archbishop Vlazny urged a welcoming spirit in parishes and asked the laity to remember that their evangelizing mission is intended primarily for activities and relationships outside the church.

Without wasting a moment, the new spiritual leader traveled around the large archdiocese and presided at Masses from Astoria to Medford. He was so popular in Medford that Sacred Heart Parish sold video tapes of his visit afterward.
He would also visit Vietnamese, Korean, African American and Polish churches and get a hero’s welcome.

“We are of all kinds, all sizes and all shapes,” Archbishop Vlazny said in 1998, summing up his ecclesiology. “We have rich folks, we have poor folks, we have smart folks, we have not-so-smart folks. We represent all the marvels of humankind . . . We are all sinners and all saints. But God likes to take us especially when we are at our worst. And he turns us around.”

In Oregon, the challenges started soon for the new archbishop.
Just months before his installation, Oregonians affirmed their choice to make physician-assisted suicide legal. The practice was unthinkable in the Catholic culture of the Midwest.

And things had turned ugly in the campaign, with anti-Catholic rhetoric abounding. Sometimes, the weapons were heftier than words: Not long before he arrived, vandals threw a chunk of concrete through a window at St. Mary Parish office in Corvallis, also defacing signs calling for repeal of assisted suicide.

“Are we so obsessed with personal autonomy and control that we may very well plummet into depths we cannot even imagine?” he wrote. “Many have expressed a dread about what will happen when the power over life and death may be put into the hands of a society that is driven by economics, expedience and efficiency, a society that flees from suffering, weakness or limitations of any kind.”

The archbishop called on the church to redouble its care for the sick and dying. Every lethal prescription, he said, confronts us with our failure to offer compassionate care. The deaths, he admitted, filled him with sadness and shame.

Soon, the archbishop shared a stage with retired Sen. Mark Hatfield at the opening of an assisted-care facility, one of three to start during those years. The new projects constituted the church’s answer to assisted suicide and indicated that this Catholic leader would respond to troubles with common sense and compassion.

One of Archbishop Vlazny’s first acts outside a church venue was attending a right to life rally at the Oregon Capitol. He would go annually and took other chances to speak out for the unborn.

During election years, he let pro-choice Catholic officials and candidates know they held untenable positions. “Catholic politicians can’t have it both ways,” he wrote in 2002. “Actions always speak louder than words.”

As the 2004 presidential election approached, and one of the candidates was a Catholic who backed abortion rights, Archbishop Vlazny put the responsibility back on the shoulders of the dissenting public figures, saying they themselves should refrain from Communion.

“The reception o



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