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John Huebscher to retire after 29 years with WCC Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
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Kim Wadas and John Huebscher are pictured at a retirement party held for Huebscher in Madison. (Catholic Herald photo/Mary C. Uhler)

MADISON -- John Huebscher says that the Catholic Church has “always been tugging at my sleeve.”

“I’ve always been interested in the Church,” he said in an interview prior to his retirement this month as executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC), the public policy voice of the state’s Catholic bishops.

“I even thought about entering the seminary,” he said. In fact, his pastor encouraged him to visit the seminary in Milwaukee in 1967 and he met the rector in his office.

Huebscher decided not to study to be a priest, but years later, he sat in the same office now occupied by the archbishop of Milwaukee, then Rembert Weakland, when he was being hired as executive director of the WCC.

Government experience

Huebscher began working for the WCC in 1987 as its associate director. Prior to that, he spent 14 years working in state government as a legislative aide in the state Senate and as a legislative liaison for the Department of Health and Social Services.

He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earning a bachelor’s degree in education with an emphasis in history and political science in 1972, and a master’s degree in educational administration in 1979. He also holds a certificate in Religious Studies from Edgewood College in Madison.

At one time he had considered becoming a parish director of religious education (DRE) and served as a catechist at St. Dennis Parish in Madison.

However, he also thought about becoming a lobbyist. One of the lobbyists he knew at the Capitol, Kirby Hendee, had a brother-in-law who was a priest in the Diocese of La Crosse, Fr. Tom Finucan. “We had coffee and Father Tom listened to my story. He told me, ‘When you have a gift, the Church has a way of using it.’”

Hired by Chuck Phillips

By the 1980s, Huebscher had met Charles “Chuck” Phillips, then the executive director of the WCC. Phillips was the first executive director when the WCC was formed in 1969.

Phillips was looking for an associate director. “I applied and got the job,” said Huebscher. Phillips told him he hoped to “groom” his successor.

“For five years I got to watch how Chuck did his job. That was immensely valuable. He was a man committed to the faith,” said Huebscher.

In 1992, Phillips retired and Huebscher did succeed him as director. “His final gift to me was that he said, ‘I’m not going to hover after I retire.’ He called me a few times a year and we visited for lunch, but otherwise he let me do my job.”

Witness to the faith

The idea behind establishing a state bishops’ conference was to “witness to the values of the faith in the public square and to do it in a way that reflects well on the Church.” One legislator told Huebscher, “I appreciate that you elevate the conversation” in the state Capitol.

Huebscher has dealt with many issues in over 28 years working for the conference. He is proud of helping with the development of the parental choice program in Wisconsin. “We were part of a coalition,” he said. “People learned that Catholic schools were well-run and didn’t cater to the rich. I’m proud that we didn’t make it about anything bad about public schools. We’re partners, not adversaries.”

During state budget debates, the WCC always emphasizes programs that help the poor and vulnerable, he said. “We’ve had good relationships with other faith communities. We’ve worked together on issues such as the definition of marriage.”

The WCC works with legislators from both sides of the aisle. “Most Catholics understand that the Church should talk about issues and values but draw a line on endorsing candidates,” he said.

Difficult issue

One of the most difficult issues he has addressed is the sex abuse crisis in the Church. “That issue has been very painful,” he said. “To sit and listen to the pain victims and their loved ones endured is hard. We all have to be sensitive to the practices that led to this crisis that shouldn’t be repeated.

“We have made progress. I think we’ve all learned something from it,” he said, noting that “every generation of Catholics needs to be vigilant.”

Church of vitality

Huebscher served as president of the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors and represented them as an observer member on the Domestic Policy Committee of the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) and in a similar capacity on the USCC’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

From this experience, Huebscher believes the Catholic Church in the United States is “a Church of vitality.” He saw one example when he attended the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) convention in New Orleans in 1987 with St. John Paul II.

“I walked into the Superdome and saw Catholics of many backgrounds. I thought, Wow! This is really something. We are all drawn together by the same faith; catholic does mean universal. The Church transcends time and distance. We can make a difference in the world.”

In his work on the national level, Huebscher said “we shared what we did in Wisconsin and learned from others” on such issues as pro-life, health care, immigration, and faithful citizenship.

Accomplishments

Besides working with the state Legislature, Huebscher has also met with Catholic Church leaders, convening Catholic school superintendents, Catholic Charities directors, finance officers, attorneys, and other groups to keep them abreast of issues.

Huebscher has written a regular “Eye on the Capitol” column, published in the state’s diocesan newspapers. The WCC has kept up with the evolution in technology through its website and Facebook page.

He feels good about starting “Catholics at the Capitol,” a gathering held in Madison every two years, inviting the faith community to learn about what’s happening in Catholic social teaching and public policy issues. The next one is scheduled for 2017.

Huebscher has enjoyed working with many bishops in his 28 years with the WCC. “They are very supportive and appreciate the conference staff’s work. Board meetings have always been helpful and affirming. The faces have changed, but the support and affirmation have not. I’ve been very grateful for that.”

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, current president of the WCC board, said, “The bishops greatly appreciate John’s 28 years of service to the Catholic Church in the state of Wisconsin. He provided a thoughtful and insightful presence to the issues addressed by the WCC.”

Huebscher and his wife, Marirose, have a daughter, Jenny; a son, Stephen; and two “darling granddaughters.” Besides his previous work as a catechist at St. Dennis Parish, Huebscher also helps at Luke House in Madison, which provides a community meal program.


Kim Wadas to succeed Huebscher

MADISON -- Kim Wadas will succeed John Huebscher as executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC). She has served as associate director for education and health care with the WCC since 2007.

Wadas, an attorney, earned a law degree from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from Marquette University.

While at Marquette, she was an Ignatius Scholar and a participant in the Les Aspin Center for Government’s Washington Internship Program. In that capacity, she spent nine months as a congressional intern. She also worked on the staff of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups.

In hiring WCC staff members, Huebscher said one of the important things is that they care about the Church. “It’s certainly true of everyone here, including Kim,” he said.

Huebscher was great mentor

Wadas said the WCC staff will miss Huebscher. “He is a valuable source of information with so much institutional knowledge and he analyzes things so well.” She said that he “has been a great mentor. You couldn’t ask for better.”

Of her new position, Wadas said, “It’s a big responsibility to represent all five dioceses, institutions, and people throughout the state. I’m definitely honored and excited.”

Jumping into work

Wadas will jump right into work as executive director. The state Legislature reconvenes soon, and there have been committee hearings being held.

She will be preparing Faithful Citizenship materials for the upcoming election and setting a date for the next Catholics at the Capitol in 2017. Plus the WCC will be hiring a new associate director.

Wadas is a member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Madison, where she is a lector and a catechist. She serves on the Advisory Board of Directors of St. James School in Madison.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, president of the WCC board, commented, “We have come to appreciate the talents of Kim Wadas during her nearly eight years with WCC. We are confident she will continue to provide the same thoughtful and informed representation that has marked the WCC’s advocacy in the past.”

 
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