Government liaison recalls meeting Bishop Niederauer

Friday, Feb. 03, 2006

by Dee Rowland

Government Liaison

of the Diocese of Salt Lake City

Director, Peace & Justice Commission

SALT LAKE CITY — I almost missed knowing Bishop Niederauer! In 1994, after ten years of working for the Diocese with Bishop William Weigand, it was my intention to resign and move on to some other position once our new bishop was appointed. He deserved the opportunity to choose his own staff. As it happened, I was en route home from a Holy Land pilgrimage the day he came to Salt Lake for the announcement of his appointment, so I missed meeting him during the formal round of introductions.

Fortunately, Ruth Allen, our receptionist, pointed out to me the next morning that he was probably still at the airport. Hmmm, would it be rude of me to run out and barge in as he waited for his flight back to Los Angeles? I was curious. What did I have to lose? (Remember those good old days, when you could go out on the concourse without a ticket?)

Once I met him, I changed my mind about leaving. He was simply too warm and gracious. The past 11 years of working with him have been a total delight. The Diocese has taken positions on many controversial and sensitive public policy issues but I could always count on him to carefully review and talk through the pros and cons and come to a conclusion that was appropriate to Catholic social teaching.

Some of those sensitive issues were death penalty cases, immigration laws, the morality of war, the sale of part of Main Street to the LDS Church, striking coal miners, and the proposition regarding gay marriage. It would have been much easier to remain silent on any of issues but it wouldn’t have been right. Bishop Niederauer has the ability to articulate the problems and is comfortable and effective with the press.

One of the bonuses of working for him is that at almost any meeting or conference I attend around the country, I encounter priests who had him as a seminary teacher. They inevitably have wonderful things to say about his teaching and his example of spirituality. And of course, I soak that up as if I deserve some credit!

Now, with the announcement of his leaving, I am amazed at the number of community members who are not Catholic who mention their sorrow that he is leaving us, but also their delight in having known him or at least known of his efforts at making Utah a better place to live.

Always cited are his intelligence and his speaking and story-telling ability. To me, the best gift has been his sense of humor. It’s seldom fun to take unpopular positions but he has always had an ability to put things in perspective and draw some obscure quote from his rich memory of literature that lightens things up. Most people who have met him and had a chance for any conversation, consider him a friend. It is an amazing gift and one that will charm the people of San Francisco and make for a smooth transition to an exciting and increased responsibility. We can only thank God for having Bishop Niederauer come to spend the last 11 years with us.

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