February 25, 2011

Our New Auxiliary Bishop

Bishop Coyne humbled to become successor to the Apostles

Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne smiles during a Jan. 14 press conference at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. On that day, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop-designate Coyne as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne smiles during a Jan. 14 press conference at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. On that day, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop-designate Coyne as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By John Shaughnessy

As he prepares for his ordination on March 2, Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne has already embraced the advice that he has received from Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein and others.

“The advice they give me is, ‘Don’t change. What has made you successful as a priest and a pastor will make you successful as a bishop. First and foremost, be a pastor. Speak the words that will always encourage people and lift them up.’ ”

As he gets ready to become the first auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 1933, Bishop-designate Coyne finds himself “getting more and more excited.”

“It has very little to do with the day of my ordination,” he says. “It’s more about the work and the opportunity I’m being given to spread the Good News and work with Archbishop Buechlein. I’m encouraged and humbled by the people who are saying, ‘You’re going to be good at this.’ I don’t have all the answers. I need to learn how to be a good bishop, and continue to be a good priest.”

That sense of humility also pervades the one part of his ordination that he is most looking forward to experiencing.

“The laying on of the hands,” he says. “It goes back to the earliest times of the Church when the Apostles laid hands on people to bring them into the Church, to make new Apostles for the Church. It’s a profoundly historical moment, a mystical moment. From the time of Jesus to today, there’s been an unending apostolic succession to call forth the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. To become part of that pantheon of successors to the Apostles—it’s humbling.”

Bishop-designate Coyne shared those thoughts and feelings in an extensive interview with The Criterion. The conversation ranged from his growing up in a Catholic family in Boston to working three jobs to pay for his college education, and from his life as a priest to the difference he hopes to make as the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese.

Here is an edited version of that interview.

Q. Describe your family.

A. “We were a classic Boston Catholic family. The vast majority of people were Catholic. It was just part of the air that you breathed. Everybody had big families. I grew up as one of seven kids. The neighborhood was always filled with kids.

“We grew up in a small house. All the boys were in one room with bunk beds, and the girls were in another room. We were a very close family. We still are. My brothers and I were all altar servers growing up. We always had priests around the house. They were good men. We just had a positive experience of the faith growing up.”

Q. Who inspires you? Who were your heroes and role models, now and when you were growing up?

A. “Growing up, my heroes were John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert. It was just the fact that he was the first Catholic to become president. He had a way with words that called you to social action. People really wanted to do something, to change society, to make the world better. The [Boston] Red Sox were always our heroes, too. We had their posters on the wall.

“Today, I’m inspired by Pope Benedict [XVI]. When you look at his encyclicals and the speeches [that] he gives, he really has a pastor’s heart. It gives me hope in the way we are going as a Church. I’m also inspired by some of my fellow priests. And I’m inspired by the people I meet every day. There’s one woman who is a nurse and a mother of six. She fixes a dinner every Friday night at the parish, and then she gives the food to the homeless. She knows them by name, and they know her.”

Q. What is the most important lesson you have learned from life?

A. “How good God is, and how blessed we are to know him through his Son and the Church.”

Q. What are your interests, now and when you were growing up?

A. “I’m a skier. I have a season pass. I like to work out. I like to get together with friends. And I like to cook. I have a group of priests over every Saturday night, and I cook for them. Growing up, I was very much into sports with my brothers. We used to play hockey, and pick-up basketball in the driveway.

“From the time I was 14, I worked. I worked three jobs to pay my way through college. In the morning, I was a lifeguard at the YMCA. In the afternoon, I worked at the local Sears in the sporting goods department. Then at night, I’d work at Sears or tend bar.”

Q. What was it like being a bartender, and what did you learn from that experience?

A. “I did it for four years in college and two years after college. I also did it for three years when I was in the seminary, for weddings and other events. They let me do it for a little pocket change. People who work in the restaurant business—it’s a hard life. They also were very generous people, good people. They’d come together when someone was in need. There was one waitress in particular. Her husband was in a car accident, and he was paralyzed. She worked and she took care of him at home. Those kinds of people are the hidden saints.”

Q. Talk about your vocational journey.

A. “I was always active in the parish. I was an altar server and a lector. And there were always priests in our house. There was one priest I was close to in particular.

“Father Fred had known me for a while. I wanted to go into the seminary, but he said I wasn’t ready. He knew some of the trouble I was getting into at the time. He encouraged me to go to college. I was disappointed, but I took his advice. It was good advice. I would have been thrown out of seminary if I went in when I first thought about it.

“Through college, I was still connected to the parish. I was involved in religious education and helping in other ways.

“After college, I was tending bar for two years. [All along,] my parents had encouraged me to be a priest. At first, I was doing it to please my parents, to please my family.

The defining moment [in deciding to become a priest] came when I thought, ‘I want to do this because I believe in this. I believe in the Church.’ ”

Q. How have your nearly 25 years as a priest changed you and drawn you closer to Christ?

A. “When I got out of the seminary, I could be an arrogant kind of guy. I had an opinion. I had a bite of sarcasm that could come out. Over time, I lost that edge. I’m more comfortable in being a good listener. I don’t have all the answers. I strive to bring all people to the table and listen to them. I’ve been humbled as a priest as to what has happened in the Church over the past 10, 15 years. I’m more at peace.”

Q. How will becoming a bishop give you the opportunity to increase your efforts to encourage vocations to the priesthood?

A. “I think I’ll be a little more visible in moving around the archdiocese. I’ll try to give a very good image of what it means to be a priest. I grew up with good men who were good priests and happy priests. I want to talk about how fulfilled I am as a priest. It’s one of the best jobs in the Church as well as in life.”

Q. What advice would you give to someone considering a religious vocation?

A. “I would say, ‘Try it out.’ First, I’d say, ‘Look at your life. Are you living a life as the Church says we should live our life?’ If not, then you’re not ready. If you are, then build on that. Come in the seminary and try it. It’s not a failure if it doesn’t work out after one or two years. You’re never going to lose by giving it a shot.”

Q. As a pastor, what is your approach to children in terms of their questions about God and the role he can have in their lives?

A. “I always try to be welcoming and friendly. When I walk past, the 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds all come to the end of the pews, and they all want to give me a low-five as I pass by. I try to present a very positive, loving demeanor to them. I try to learn their names and their families. I tell them, ‘Just remember that God loves you, just like your mom and dad love you.’ ”

Q. What is your approach with teenagers in helping them see the importance of continuing to practice their faith and making God a central part of their lives?

A. “It’s a real challenge. More than 50 percent of the people in our confirmation preparation do not attend church with their families. I try to speak to them and their life experiences.

“I’m always trying to be encouraging, to let them know that God has created each and every one of them. I also try to encourage them into social action. We’re involved in a local soup kitchen in Boston. We go down to Mississippi once a year to help the people still affected by Hurricane Katrina. They come back energized from that experience.”

Q. Talk about your desire to strengthen the faith of young adults?

A. “I think the Catholic Church is such a positive and powerful communion for the good. We have so much to offer people, communities and the world. The new evangelization is an opportunity for us to go out and evangelize in a way we haven’t in the past. People aren’t coming to church as much as they did. By going out to college campuses, by meeting with young people, it’s a really exciting opportunity for me because they are the future of the Church.”

Q. What do you hope to accomplish as the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese?

A. “I really want to work with Archbishop Buechlein, the priests and the people of the archdiocese. I want to do so in a way that they see me as a co-worker with them, a brother who walks with them, to further the work of the Church in whatever way needs to be done. If the archbishop needs me to go out to the parishes and the schools, that’s what I’ll do.

“If listening to my brother priests is where I need to be, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll take my cue from whatever the community needs me to do.” †

Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne

  • Age—52
  • Family—One of seven children of William and Rita Coyne of Woburn, Mass. Uncle of 11 nieces and nephews.
  • Favorite saint—“I’ve always liked the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I think her idea of love of God each and every day, in small moments, is the right way to go. I think that’s how most of us live our lives.”
  • Favorite sports team—New England Patriots. “My family has always been, from the beginning, Boston Patriots’ and New England Patriots’ fans. We can tell you all the stories in their history. My happiest sports memory is their first Super Bowl win. I’m looking forward to seeing the continuance of the rivalry between the Patriots and the [Indianapolis] Colts.”
  • Favorite prayer—“Being a liturgist, I like the official prayer of the Church—the Liturgy of the Hours. I’ve always felt that it’s a good start for the day.”
  • Favorite books, authors—“I’m a voracious reader. I love my Kindle. I read all types of books—thrillers, science fiction, biographies. Right now, I’m reading the Holy Father’s latest book [Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times]. I’m also reading American Grace, a fine book on religion and American culture.” †

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