The Priest and the Bishop

by Father Rothell Price, Moderator of the Curia

When I first saw Msgr. Michael Duca, he struck me as an affable fellow. He brought to mind this passage from ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, “… a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself.” The sight of him was not a moment of comedy or derision, rather it was an encounter of joy and gladness. His Gospel joy radiated out from him, in spite of his nervousness. The gift and wonder of his episcopal dignity engendered hope and joy. There was a certain light in his eyes, a certain energy about his demeanor, and a certain inspiration in his person. Bishop Duca was not nearly as round and plump as Old St. Nicholas, but he was every bit a bringer of spiritual blessings and gladness.

I think this spiritual joy was the hallmark of my relationship with him over these past eight years. He constantly held up the bright light of his episcopal motto, “Hope in the Lord.” The spiritual torch he held aloft certainly was a constant source of inspiration and fuel for me. I have learned so much from him. Above all, I learned to “protect the mission of the Gospel.” This exhortation of his reminds me of the solemn dignity and hope of receiving blessed ashes on Ash Wednesday. On that day, we hear the Gospel call and challenge to, “Turn from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

For me, having worked so closely with Bishop Duca over the years, I have an extensive list of impressive things about him. I’ll share a few.

Listening: He has this amazing ability to be still and focus in totally on the person with whom he is engaged. He listens with his heart and soul, as well as his eyes and ears.

Compassion: He is always deeply concerned to do that which is spiritually advantageous to the person on the other end.

Love for his priests: His concern and goal has always been to do and permit whatever serves to strengthen each priest’s vocation. This was never a neutral compromise on his part, rather it was always his chosen goal for each of his priests.

Love for his people: Bishop Duca loved being with people. He never missed a parish reception, and he was usually among the first to arrive and one of the last to leave. Following the exhortation of Pope Francis, Bishop Duca was happy to take his place in front of the flock, behind it, to the left and right of it, and certainly in the midst of it as need dictated.

Soft touch: He taught me to engage people in the gentlest way possible. This is a skill I am continuing to learn and practice. In this soft touch, he makes me think of the golden rule stated in its positive form, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Discerning: Bishop Duca has an amazing capacity for looking at every person, circumstance and concern from all possible angles. He also is fantastic at striking that life-enriching balance between work and play. He is a man of God who knows how and when to work hard and when to rest in the Lord.

Passionate: Who does not know that Bishop Duca, Sicilian that he is, loves to cook, feed people, feast on fine food, (the spicier it is, the better he likes it), and good wines? It was an annual wonder to watch him become a teenager again at the sights, sounds and tastes of the Texas State Fair and the State Fair of Louisiana.

Bishop’s rallying cry in difficult times is, “It’s a great life…” to which I was to respond, “If you don’t weaken.” He always knew that his strength resided in the Lord Jesus. I think this was his paraphrase of St. Paul, who said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Twas the Night Before Christmas, ends on this note: “But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.” As Bishop Duca drives away from Shreveport, I know he will say with nostalgia about the Diocese of Shreveport and anticipation about the Diocese of Baton Rouge, “Hope in the Lord.”

It has been my distinct joy and honor to serve as his Vicar General and to be one of his “dinner and a movie” buddies. Our great loss is the Diocese of Baton Rouge’s great gain! What a gift we have had! •

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