Excerpts from his article in Vatican II, Forty Personal Stories,
Twenty-Third Publications, 2003, pp. 91-93
Nineteen sixty-nine was a terrible time to be a seminary rector. Everything in the country seemed to be up for grabs, and much of what was in the church as well. Seminarians were demonstrating all over the country for greater freedom and greater say in their preparation for the priesthood. Nobody knew exactly what lay ahead, most certainly not the rector of St. Gregory’s Seminary in Cincinnati….
In a state of chronic panic, I established a committee of faculty and students whose purpose was to build up anew from top to bottom the whole seminary program….
I do recall that one of the committee’s members, who had been a peritus at Vatican II, urged us to set up a course in the council’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” [Gaudium et Spes].He said it was the obvious way to introduce college freshmen to contemporary ecclesial realities.
I volunteered to teach this course. Although I had a degree in theology, I had never done any regular teaching of it before. I had to do lots of reading, since the kind of theology that I had studied in Rome before 1961 was not exactly the kind of theology that lay beneath the council’s teaching….
During the summer of 1969, I spent hours each day reading about the history of the council and about Christian secularity. Here in Gaudium et Spes I was faced with a theological world that was concrete rather than abstract, practical rather than theoretical, oriented toward the world rather than heaven, toward the future rather than the past, toward the community rather than the individual….
That autumn I taught the course for the first time to our college freshmen. Once they got the hand of my teaching methods and of what I expected of them, they loved it. Gaudium et Spes spoke loud and clear to them.
In the process of responding to what my faculty colleague and I had perceived to be the theological needs of the students, I had backed into a whole new theological specialty. It was hard work, not only because of the quantity of reading and study it required, but also because of the effort to understand how these new approaches and new insights could be in harmony with what I had learned before. But it was a wonderful way to prepare to be a bishop. My work in the teachings of Vatican II reshaped my view of church and ministry and revelations and world and gave me excellent spiritual and intellectual equipment for the exercise of church leadership. Nobody planned it that way. Things more or less just happened. But that’s the way God’s providence often works.
As I go about my work in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, I often encounter priests who were my students in their seminary days. It’s not unusual for us to trade memories about our time together with Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium. I am grateful to them for their kind reminiscences and grateful to the Lord for the way in which he has provided for all of us and for his church.