TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) - Thursday was Bishop Daniel Thomas's first full day on the job. Emilie Voss sat down with him to learn more about his plans as head of the Diocese of Toledo.
Bishop Thomas comes to Toledo from Philadelphia, where he was an auxiliary bishop following 18 years in Rome. He is familiar with a lot of the challenges the Toledo Diocese is currently facing.
“I myself am out there with the people, and I hope they would see me, please God, as someone who is inviting them back to the Church, to Christ, and to the practice of their faith,” the bishop said.
He is the new leader for the more than 319,000 Catholics in the 19 counties the Toledo Diocese covers. He hopes to be able to grow the local parishes, but he also knows the burden does not fall solely on him.
“Each Catholic, each person, living their life as a disciple of Jesus…that's what's going to bring people back to Christ and the Church,” he said.
The 55-year-old bishop grew up in a Philadelphia suburb and knew from a very young age the path he would follow in life.
“I first thought of being a priest at seven years old,” he said. “Always, there was this sense of wanting to be a priest in my heart and my mind. And that was nurtured, first, through my parents, through their love and their faith, second through the priests and people of my parish, and third through the people in the Catholic schools I attended.”
One of the biggest challenges facing the Catholic Church is an aging demographic. Bishop Thomas says his model for reaching out to the next generation comes partially from what he learned his first day in Toledo: The day his appointment was announced, he spent time with high school students at Central Catholic and asked them what they want to see in their new leader.
“There were some wonderful responses,” he said. “They said, ‘Bishop, we want to see you. We want you to be with us. We want you to speak so we can understand, and we want you to be Christ for us.”
According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, in 2012, it was estimated that more than 12.2 million people worshipped in an independent or nondenominational church – up more than 50 percent from just four years earlier.
When asked how the Catholic Church competes with these non-traditional and non-denominational churches, the bishop said:
“I would say we're competing with ourselves. The best way to say it is: If we're being the best we can be, then there is nothing more we can do. So my task as the shepherd and bishop of the diocese is to call ever single person to be the best Catholic they can be, and the best disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Many northwest Ohio residents are concerned about elementary schools struggling to stay open at local parishes.
“We have to be realistic that sometimes, because of wanting to give the teacher a just wage, and wanting to keep the parish afloat, the parish can't completely support the school,” Bishop Thomas said.
He has been following what other dioceses are doing to keep schools running in similar situations. Some have become charter schools, others have formed foundations to support the school.
“There are institutions and other groups who have formed a foundation – they're not even Catholic – in order to keep Catholic schools open,” he said. “So I think if we value it, we'll find new and different ways to keep them open.”