MADISON -- His friends in the Diocese of Madison were not surprised to hear that Pope Benedict XVI is elevating Archbishop Raymond L. Burke to the status of cardinal on November 20.
They knew he was destined for great things in the Church.
Fr. Steve Smith, pastor of Christ the King Parish in McFarland, has known Cardinal-designate Burke for 48 years. They met as freshmen at Holy Cross Seminary in La Crosse, Wis.
Father Smith plans to attend the consistory in Rome, as will Madison’s Bishop Robert C. Morlino. Bishop Morlino knows Cardinal-designate Burke as well as the other American being elevated to cardinal, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C.
He stood out
Father Smith recalls that Cardinal-designate Burke stood out even as a freshman in high school in 1962. He said, “Seminarian Raymond Burke had the audacity to stand up before an entire house meeting and complain about the Riki Tiki Laundry — the student-run laundry at Holy Cross Seminary in La Crosse. Even then I should have known that he would never be afraid and never be deterred from speaking his mind about issues.”
Even as a grade school student, Cardinal-designate Burke knew that he wanted to be a priest. But Father Smith said he never aspired to the hierarchy.
“He once told me that his happiest days were when he was the associate pastor at the Cathedral Parish in La Crosse and teaching at Aquinas High School. And he also told me that anyone who wanted to be a bishop was stupid!”
Man of deep faith
Father Smith said of the cardinal-designate, “He is a man of deep faith and deep personal prayer. He is intensely devoted to the Eucharistic and to Our Lady.
“And those knowing only the public figure may not know a man of great sympathy and charity. In our days as Basselin scholars at The Catholic University of America, younger students — stressed at the academic pressures of a highly demanding program — would come to him for words of kindness and encouragement.
“ Those who know the cardinal-designate exclusively through the media do not know the human being that I have known for over 48 years. The Holy Spirit provides great leaders for the Church,” said Father Smith.
Another friend of Cardinal-designate Burke in the Diocese of Madison is Msgr. Felix Oehrlein, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Wisconsin Dells. Monsignor Oehrlein met him through their mutual friendship with Father Smith.
The three of them frequently went on excursions in Wisconsin, including to see plays in Spring Green.
“Our friendship deepened when he was bishop of La Crosse from 1994 to 2003,” said Monsignor Oehrlein. “We spent many pleasant evenings together.”
He and the cardinal-designate also went on trips to Poland and Ireland. Father Smith also traveled with the cardinal-designate.
“He’s a very impressive person,” said Monsignor Oehrlein. “He is a fine intellectual, a linguist, and arguably the best canon lawyer in the whole Catholic Church.”
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Burke to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court in the Catholic Church. In 2008, he was appointed to the office of Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal, a position equivalent to chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Devotion to Mary
Monsignor Oehrlein is very impressed with the wide range of reading the cardinal-designate does, as well as his devotion to Mary, the mother of God.
When he was bishop of La Crosse, Bishop Burke drove Monsignor Oehrlein up to a peak in the La Crosse bluffs. “He said he would build a church dedicated to Mary.”
That was a foreshadowing of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which Bishop Burke built there.
Monsignor Oehrlein is also impressed by Cardinal-designate Burke’s great concern for Catholic education.
Archbishop Burke is proud of his own Catholic education. He was born in 1948 in Richland Center, Wis. After his father died, 11-year-old Raymond moved with his mother and five siblings to Stratford, Wis., a village of about 1,600 people located 11 miles northeast of Marshfield.
The Burkes became members of St. Joseph Parish in Stratford and the children attended St. Joseph School.
“It’s astonishing that of all the bishops around the world, someone, a student from St. Joe’s School and from the Diocese of La Crosse, is a designate to be a cardinal,” St. Joseph School’s current principal, Debbie Johnston, told the Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of La Crosse.
“It is kind of heart-warming to think that he still refers to Stratford as his home base,” she said.
There have been signs on the Stratford city limits saying, “Home of Archbishop Raymond Burke.” Those signs will soon be changed to “Home of Cardinal Raymond Burke.”