As bishop emeritus, Bishop Bullock remains active Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Thursday, May. 13, 2010 -- 12:00 AM
Bishop Bullock stands next to the sign for the office of
Bishop William H. Bullock stands next to the sign for his office. (Catholic Herald photo/Pam Payne)

MADISON -- As he approaches his 30th year as a bishop (he was ordained a bishop on August 12, 1980, in St. Paul, Minn.), Bishop William H. Bullock, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Madison, remains active, especially in teaching and preaching.

In an interview, he reflected on his life as bishop emeritus. He was appointed Bishop of Madison on April 13, 1993, on his 66th birthday. He reached the age of 75 in 2002, but Pope John Paul II waited until May 23, 2003, to accept his resignation and appointed Bishop Robert C. Morlino as the next Bishop of Madison.

Although originally from Minnesota, Bishop Bullock now considers Wisconsin -- specifically the Diocese of Madison -- as his home. He has arranged to be buried in Madison at Resurrection Cemetery in a section of graves for the next 12 Bishops of Madison.

"But when the new cathedral is built with a crypt, I am to be buried there," he said. "I always kid the priests that it will be easier for them to visit me when they come to the cathedral for Chrism Mass, ordinations, and other diocesan events. I wink at them and say, 'I'll leave the light on.'"

Active as bishop emeritus

Bishop Bullock continues to be very active as bishop emeritus. He celebrates Mass at 12 noon most Mondays at the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center in Madison. He presides at Confirmations, gives talks, and attends parish and diocesan events.

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"When Bishop Morlino can't be at church dedications or parish anniversaries, for example, I represent the diocese," noted Bishop Bullock.

He is also involved in giving spiritual direction to some priests, religious, and lay people.

He has performed three weddings in the past year and spent time in preparation with the couples.

That's all in addition to daily Rosary, celebrating daily Mass, and praying the Liturgy of the Hours -- "which I love," he says.

"As I rise each day, I thank God for bringing me to the light of a new day and I promise praise to Him for his goodness and offer my life in daily Mass and prayer for the Church," he said.

In good health

Having recently celebrated his 83rd birthday, Bishop Bullock says his physical and mental health are both good.

He admits to having had "a bout or two with arthritis and some aches and pains that come to the body as I multiply my years, but I am well and alert.

"I interact with priests and people and try to keep an active sense of humor. I see life more as 'mostly sunny' rather than 'partly cloudy,'" he said.

How he is remembered

Bishop Bullock thinks he will be remembered most for being a "strong, clear administrator." He thinks it's intended as a compliment more than a criticism. "Some regard administration as not being very spiritual, but being pastoral is what it is all about," he said.

He explained that the strength of any administrator is twofold: "1) As an on-going decision maker, he must have a clear vision of what he wants and expects beyond immediate or 'right now' decisions; 2) He must also have heart for those he serves. Administrative situations/decisions should be presented, explained, and offered with clarity so the people know what is expected of them."

He also added that "communication is the heart of being a good administrator, of being a good shepherd. They go hand in hand. I had a phrase I used often with the priests: 'You may not always like or agree with what I do, but you will always know what I am doing.'"

Role of bishop

When Bishop Bullock was first ordained a bishop in 1980, he said in his remarks what he wanted to be as a bishop: "The word bishop means overseer from the Greek. For me this means the bishop must look and see in three basic areas: 1) Look up to those in the local Church he serves to find those who are brighter and more gifted than himself and invite them to share their talent with the local Church; 2) He looks across to those with whom he walks in common pilgrimage to the Father and the Kingdom of Heaven; 3) He looks down to those who are hurting and in need, extending a hand to help them and a heart to hug them.

"In that way he can truly be a good servant, a good shepherd, a good leader. If you do look up and down and across, you can form the Sign of the Cross with and for your people.

"I shall remit to God's judgment how well I have lived these. I know God will forgive me where I knowingly or unknowingly may have closed my eyes or hardened my heart. But in God's love, He will also see how I truly wished to live out the words of my Episcopal motto: 'Grace, Mercy, and Peace' (1Timothy)."

Looking ahead

As bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Madison, Bishop Bullock hopes that he will remain in the minds and hearts and prayers of the priests, religious, and laity.

"I also know that at 83, I have more years behind me than ahead of me. As I continue the journey to die to myself, I'm conscious that the next 'big thing' I will do in my life is die. And every fiber of my being wants to do that well. Why? Because life is too short and eternity too long to do it any other way. I am filled with joy, gratitude, and a special peace as I live out my final years. A happy watchword is 'Let us pray for one another' or in Latin 'Oremus Pro Invicem.'"


Bishop Bullock's residence is a suite of rooms on the third floor of the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Center. There he also has a chapel and small library combined named St. Anne after his mother.

He notes that the Church says that the bishop emeritus of a diocese is to have his own chapel. His chapel includes an altar, tabernacle, and icons of our Blessed Mother, Jesus The Teacher, St. Raphael and Tobias, The Annunciation, St. John Chrysostom, St. Anne, and one unique icon of 84 images about one inch square in size of Mary.

His predecessors

Bishop Bullock paid tribute to his predecessors, Bishop William P. O'Connor and Bishop Cletus F. O'Donnell, each of whom served as Bishop of Madison for nearly a quarter of a century.

"The burden of starting a new Diocese of Madison in 1946 fell to Bishop O'Connor. He had to gather into one new diocese counties previously a part of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Diocese of Green Bay, and the Diocese of La Crosse. He did it well," said Bishop Bullock.

" Bishop O'Donnell built on that solid foundation and had the burden of implementing the Second Vatican Council. Those were not easy days; there were many departures from the ranks of our priests and Sisters and a lot of upheaval with regard to interpretations of the provisions of Vatican II. Bishop Cletus O'Donnell did it well."

His years as bishop

About himself he said, " My task for the 10-plus years I was Bishop of Madison was was to expand offerings of the diocese, establish new offices, provide for our priests and people, begin a program for deacons, and gather the various offices and place them under one roof.

"Consultation with priests and laity and religious on what they saw as needs was my task. We developed a Committee overseen by Msgr. Daniel Ganshert, a 10- year long range plan. The Holy Name Seminary closed in 1995 and our building was renovated. I believe today the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center serves all parishes well in the diocese.

"We as a diocese owe much to all who worked to implement this plan: priests, religious, and laity. We owe a special thanks to Bishop Paul J. Swain, now Bishop of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Greg Keller, who guided the day by day development of the offices. I had a personal hand in the renovation of the Bishop O'Donnell Holy Name Memorial Chapel. We have the first stained glass window in North America of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and we also have one of the Apostolate to the Handicapped, thanks to Msgr. Thomas Campion," said Bishop Bullock.

Following him as Ordinary of the Diocese of Madison in August of 2003 was Bishop Morlino, former Bishop of Helena, Mont. "His task was to develop in more specific ways the 'teaching Church,'" noted Bishop Bullock. "Bishop Morlino loves to teach and is very good at it. He is chair of the Bioethics Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which offers information and guidelines in regard to human life issues."

Still involved

Bishop Bullock is still involved in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Region VII, and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference. As bishop emeritus, he is not a voting member, but he can attend and speak at the meetings.

Bishop Bullock believes the Church "must look for ways to serve the dignity of all people, of each person, especially the poor, the marginalized, the married, the single, priests, seminarians, deacons, and the unborn."

He and other bishops emeriti have a wealth of experience to share and much to offer the Church.

Bishop Bullock said he is looking forward to celebrating his 30th anniversary as a bishop with family and friends, as well as with the priests and people of the Diocese of Madison this summer.

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