Although Archbishop Bernard Hebda is new to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, he knows well the importance and value of a Catholic education. Raised in Pittsburgh, he attended Catholic grade school and high school. In the following interview, Archbishop Hebda shares his thoughts about Catholic education, how he’s acclimating to Minnesota, and a few of his favorite things.
Q. What was your initial reaction when you found out you were named Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis?
A. Knowing that the Holy Father was well aware of the challenges that face the archdiocese, I was humbled by this expression of his confidence. I felt honored, moreover, to have been placed at the helm of a Church that has been served by some extraordinary bishops over the past 170 years.
Q. Why were you given the first and middle names that you have?
A. I was named “Bernard” after my father and “Anthony” after St. Anthony of Padua (my parents had been unsuccessfully trying to have children for seven years and succeeded only after completing a St. Anthony novena).
Q. What is the role of Catholic education in our society?
A. Catholic schools serve a number of roles. They certainly serve as a proven way for passing on the faith to our Catholic children. It is in the Catholic school that our children have the opportunity to learn the faith with the same rigor that they learn mathematics or reading and have an extended opportunity to see how our faith has to be part of every facet of human life and learning. Our schools also play an important role in the development of the human person. If we accept what St. Irenaeus proclaimed that “the glory of God is man fully alive,” anything that we do to form our children and help them develop their gifts, whatever they might be, we give glory to God. I am convinced, moreover, that the by-product of this effort is one that redounds to the common good, giving us the tools to build great communities and nations.
Q. What do Catholic grade schools have to offer young parents and their children?
A. Our schools serve as reliable partners for our parents, who are the first educators of their children. They provide environments that faithfully reflect the parents’ values and priorities, environments in which their children will flourish and come to know of a loving God who created them for a purpose. Our schools help our children recognize that they have value.
Q. What is the future of Catholic education? Where are we headed?
A. I am excited by what I see transpiring in our schools, as our parents, who have made the deliberate choice to provide their children with a Catholic education, become more informed about the choices before them and more engaged in creating an environment of learning that will enable their children to be challenged and to thrive. I am delighted to see the extent to which our schools are supported broadly by our Catholic community and appreciated for their distinctive Catholic identity.
Q. You attended Catholic grade school and high school in Pennsylvania. What is your favorite Catholic school memory?
A. My grade school had 1,600 students (God bless the Sisters of Charity!) and I always loved those occasions in which we all came together for the celebration of Mass or reconciliation, or for devotions (the May Crowning was always a highlight). Seeing our Church filled to the brim with my peers gathered around the altar, I always sensed that there was nothing that we could not accomplish if we were offering all that we had to the Lord for his purposes.
Q. Were you a model Catholic school student in grade school? Why or why not?
A. Academically, I was a good student — but I always had lots to learn about self-discipline, focus and leadership. I was grateful that my parents and teachers always pushed me to be more well-rounded.
Q. If you could go back to any age, what age would it be and why?
A. I loved my senior year in high school. I really enjoyed my fellow students, felt part of something much bigger than myself and began to see connections between the different areas of my studies, as well as the link between faith and service. My high school had an integrated humanities program that facilitated all sorts of wonderful connections. I had saved up all of my earnings from an after-school job and, with the help of my parents, participated in a European study program that really helped me to develop a love for the arts and a deeper appreciation of the Christian roots of our civilization.
Q. What is your favorite thing about Pope Francis?
A. I really love the way that he models “loving trust.” He seems to be fearless, and this really helps him in entering into very productive dialogue. I’m so grateful that he’s so genuine.
Q. What was the make, model and color of your first car?
A. I shared a silver ’77 Pontiac Sunbird with my brothers and sister.
Q. You’re new to the Twin Cities. Have you found any good places to eat yet?
A. I unfortunately haven’t found any places that I haven’t liked. I’m really impressed by the breadth of choices available to us in this area. In spite of my 13 years of working in Rome, I don’t have a very sophisticated palate. If you give me anything with tomato sauce or butter and onions, I’m happy.
Q. What do you miss most about New Jersey? (Archbishop Hebda was coadjutor archbishop of Newark before Pope Francis appointed him to St. Paul and Minneapolis in March.)
A. I made some wonderful friends there who were supportive of me in my work in the Archdiocese of Newark. I really enjoyed living in the dorm at Seton Hall University and know that such opportunities are few and far between.
Q. If you had to perform in a Catholic school talent show, what would your talent be?
A. I rode my unicycle in my eighth-grade talent competition, but would now have to have the paramedics on hand … .
Q. What is your favorite liturgical song?
A. When there’s a full church, there’s nothing better than “Now Thank We All Our God.” I’m a sucker, as well, for Polish Christmas carols.
Q. Do you prefer chocolate or vanilla?
A. I was allergic to chocolate as a child (discovered after I won — and ate — a yard-long box of chocolates at our parish festival), so I am partial to vanilla. As they could tell you at the Grand Ole Creamery or Izzy’s or Dar’s Double Scoop, I always get vanilla the first time I try a new ice cream shop — there’s no better way for getting a sense of the quality.
Q. What do you know now that you wish you’d have known when you were young?
A. How quickly time flies and how important it is that we take advantage of the opportunities that God gives to us to love and to serve.