Bishop Reflects on His First
While it hasn’t been quite one year since Bishop Victor Galeone was
ordained the ninth Bishop of Saint Augustine, August 21, he has
experienced a great deal this year that would challenge any CEO of a
major corporation. In the following interview, Bishop Galeone shares his
thoughts with us as he approaches his one-year anniversary.
What have been some of the highlights of your first year as Bishop
of Saint Augustine?
Chronologically speaking, the first highlight in my first year as bishop
here was 9/11. I will never forget that day. It was three weeks to the
day of my ordination and my first diocesan staff
meeting. The events of that day embedded themselves in my mind and I
will remember them until the day I die. “Where was I on 9/11?”
The second highlight was in October where on three separate Sundays, I
dedicated three new worship spaces (churches) in the diocese. Bear in
mind that during my entire 66 years of life, I had never witnessed the
dedication of a church and here I was dedicating three of them as a
The third big highlight were the priestly and diaconate ordinations that
occurred in May. Especially the priestly ordinations. There I was, doing
exactly as we read in the Book of Acts (Acts 13:3) where the disciples
fasted and prayed before they laid hands on Barnabas and Saul. Here I
was doing 2000 years later what was done at the beginning. I found that
The fourth and last highlight of my first year was the bishop’s meeting,
June 13-15 in Dallas. It was there we hammered out a charter that would
effectively deal with past, present, and heaven forbid, any future cases
of sexual child abuse by our clergy. I believe this charter will be
effective and I feel relieved that we can now put this behind us as we
look forward to the future.
What aspect of your ministry as bishop have you enjoyed the most?
One of the more enjoyable aspects of my ministry this year was visiting
the Catholic schools, especially the elementary schools. The half days
that I spent there going from classroom to classroom were a rejuvenating
experience for me. To see the innocence on those little faces, the joy,
the enthusiasm just made me realize that this is what being a bishop is
all about – reaching out to the least of our members and experiencing
first hand the goodness of the children.
The second aspect I enjoyed a great deal was the confirmations. I must
confess that prior to the first confirmation I thought it would be a
very tedious process. However, I found meeting the young people – being
an instrument of the Holy Spirit that filled their souls – a rewarding
and rejuvenating experience for me. I will never get tired of confirming
these young Catholics and visiting with their families afterwards.
What were some of the least favorable
aspects of your first year?
Even before I was nominated and ordained a bishop, I realized there were
two aspects of being a bishop that I would not enjoy. The first was the
administrative aspect of my position and the responsibility that comes
with it. It is not easy making decisions that will affect a person’s
life – their entire future. For instance, should I approve a seminarian
for advancement to the priesthood when the seminary staff raises a red
flag? Ultimately, the buck stops with me and unfortunately there are
times when I have to make a decision that is not a favorable one. No one
likes to be the bearer of bad news.
Correlated with that is enforcing unpopular decisions, whether those
decisions involve directives from the Holy Father, upholding our
church’s teaching, or one from myself. There again, no one likes to be
unpopular, but if something I feel has to be carried out a certain way
then I’m the one that has to enforce it locally.
Coming from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, I know they don’t have as many
miles to cover as you do here – 11,032 square miles to be exact!
What have you learned by traveling the
This diocese is twice the size of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. There
are 4,800 square miles in Baltimore, so distancewise it is a bit
daunting. However, I am grateful for tape decks and educational tapes
that I play on the way to far away parishes. The size is large not just
in area, but for me personally, to be assigned from a parish of 3,800
souls to a diocese of more than 144,000 Catholics was another formidable
part of my coming here.
As you visit parishes in the rural areas are there any aspects
that particularly stand out in your mind?
Surprisingly, whether we are dealing with an inner-city parish like
Crucifixion in Jacksonville or a country parish like St. Francis Xavier
in Live Oak – the people have demonstrated simplicity and goodness. They
are very uncomplicated and there is a disarming honesty about them.
That’s refreshing! The least little thing that I have done people have
been quick to show their appreciation. Perhaps it is that Southern
hospitality that we hear so much about.
You have repeatedly said how grateful you are for what you have
inherited from your predecessor Bishop Snyder. Can you elaborate more on
The first thing that comes to mind is how he led his people by example.
Bishop Snyder is kindness personified. He is a good, good person.
Over the last several months, I have reviewed a number of priest
personnel records because of the crisis involving sexual child abuse by
clergy. It was clearly evident to me that while we know Bishop Snyder to
be kind, he was also firm when he had to call a brother priest to task.
This is one reason our diocese has fared so well with regards to
allegations of child sexual abuse.
St. Paul says that love is patient, love is kind. Kindness is always
tempered with truth and that is the case with Bishop Snyder.
Secondly, I am grateful to him for the staff that I found in place here.
Every one of them, almost without exception, is competent and dedicated
to the Lord and I attribute that to his leadership.
The third thing I would like to highlight is the special outreach
programs that I found in place. The first special program is the annual
Catholic elementary schools and high schools. I have never heard of a
bishop visiting and teaching classes in 50 percent of the elementary
schools every other year. As I mentioned earlier, this was one of my
highlights this year.
The second special program is the quarterly Businessmen’s Communion
Breakfast. He started that, as well. We have approximately 70
exceptional professionals from the legal, medical and business fields
that come together four times a year for Mass and breakfast. It provides
me an opportunity to give a state of the diocese report and to obtain
feedback from them. At first I found it somewhat intimidating to think I
would be rubbing shoulders with these professionals, but now I look
forward to the breakfasts and I am grateful to Bishop Synder for that.
The third special program, is the solid ecumenical relations that Bishop
Snyder fostered in this diocese. It was minimal, as I understand, it
prior to his coming here in 1979, and I hope to continue fostering
positive relationships with other faith leaders.
The fourth point that I am grateful for is the loyalty that I discovered
among the priests – the spirit of camaraderie and brotherhood. It’s not
just on the surface – it is profound and authentic.
And lastly, I am so grateful to Bishop Snyder for initiating the capital
campaign in the closing months of his tenure. I personally find it
distasteful to ask for money – and I think most people do. However, he
saw there were major
projects that needed funding and he knew it would take me three to four
years before I was in a position to inaugurate such an undertaking. He
knew that it had to be done before he left and I am very grateful for
What are some of the challenges that you see for the diocese in
the next three to five years?
Very specifically, I would like to answer that question by referring to
what I said was my objective in my ordination remarks on August 21.
Namely, I want to make Jesus better known, loved and served by everyone
in our diocese. So the challenge is to make that effectively happen from
the pulpit, in our schools and in all the teaching environments.
In addition, all of us, irrespective of our theological persuasion –
liberal, moderate, conservative – must be faithful to what the Lord
expects of us. According to Scripture, our relationship to the Lord is
that of a bride to her bridegroom. In that context one uses the word
fidelity just as a husband or wife are called to be faithful to each
Jesus said, “I am the way of the truth and the light.” He is the truth
and all of us – bishops, priests, religious and laity – must focus our
eyes on Jesus. The closer we draw to him the closer we come to each
other. So the real question in my opinion is are we being faithful or
unfaithful to what Jesus expects of us?
Another challenge facing our diocese is addressing the needs of the
burgeoning Hispanic community. This is especially true in the western
counties of our diocese. There are three counties in our 17-county area
of the diocese that have no Catholic presence. And it is precisely in
these areas that we have a growing Hispanic population with migrant
workers. How do we reach out to them and minister to their needs? Ninety
percent of them are baptized Catholics when they come to us from their
native countries of South America, Central America and Mexico. We must
not forget them and we need to respond effectively.
On a related subject, we need to establish new parishes. Within the next
year I hope to elevate one of our eight missions to parish status. And
finally I would like to help our Catholics develop a better sense of
stewardship. Returning to the
Lord all that we have been given – time, talent and treasure – should be
viewed not as a duty
or burden – but as a privilege. It is just one way we can tell the Lord
how much we love him. If we could get the majority of our people to
dedicate themselves to stewardship, we would have our material needs
taken care of for years to come.
Bishop, in reviewing your challenges for the next three to five
years – there is a lot that needs to be done. How do you expect to
accomplish it all?
Take it one day at a time – one step at a time, one family at a time,
one person at a time. I think that is part of my Latin America
experience. I went down there with the typical Yankee mentality, “Okay
folks, here I am.” A
Messiah complex – I’m going to do it my way and I found out it is much
more effective to meet people where they are and treat them as I myself
like to be treated. Not forcing, but gradually convincing them through
dialogue and different challenges to get them to at least try this. If
it works, fine. If it doesn’t, let’s chuck it. I found that you have to
get them to at least try your idea and when they see that it works; they
won’t want to go back.