He was the running bishop. That’s how I first came to know of Bishop Melczek. I grew up on 2nd Street in Royal Oak, Mich. He lived closer to 6th Street about a half mile down the road. His standard route took him along 4th Street. When I was younger, we would see him jogging along and my parents would point him out, “That’s Bishop Melczek, our auxiliary bishop.” To the end, Bishop Melczek never stopped running the race – physically and spiritually.
Bishop Melczek kept himself physically fit. He stopped by the gym almost every day. When I visited him in hospice care, the nurse told me that some patients at age 83 are skin and bones, but Bishop Melczek was fit and still had muscle. This was also true of Bishop Melczek in his spiritual life as he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus.
In the New Testament, there are several references to running, as an image of our faith journey. In Hebrews, we read: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1)
By the time I entered seminary for the Archdiocese of Detroit, Bishop Melczek had moved to Gary. Over the years, I came to know Bishop Melczek through common priest friends in Detroit. I was always struck by his good nature and encouraging demeanor.
When I came to Gary as bishop, he could not have been more welcoming and encouraging. I came to appreciate more fully the great gifts and fine service he provided to the diocese. I could write pages about that – and yet as I write this, I am compelled to share less about his grand accomplishments (and there are many). I am drawn rather, to reflect on the simple kindnesses, the wise advice, and regularly seeing him praying before the Blessed Sacrament in our Holy Spirit Chapel at the pastoral center.
To keep our eyes fixed on Jesus does not mean we have blinders on. The more we gaze upon him, the more he gives us “peripheral vision” to see the needs of others. Bishop Melczek certainly saw the needs of others throughout the diocese and worked to share the love of Jesus. He sought to heal the wound of racism, feed the hungry, educate our children in the faith, serve those in need – and the list goes on.
Saint Paul begins his valedictory remarks in his second letter to Timothy by returning to the image of finishing the race as his end draws near: “For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” 2 Tim 4: 6-8
Bishop Melczek ran the race of life with his eyes fixed on Jesus. And throughout his life and towards the very end, Jesus kept his merciful eyes fixed on ♰Dale Joseph Melczek. The best tribute we could give to Bishop Melczek is to run our race of life with eyes fixed on Jesus. Jesus will then give us his eyes to serve the needs of others. We will never be perfectly fit, but the beauty of our faith is that Jesus is perfect and is there to pull us across the finish line of life as we entrust ourselves to His love and mercy.
Less than a week before he died, Bishop Melczek and I exchanged voice messages as I was getting ready for a bishops’ retreat we would normally attend together. I found a way to save that final voicemail he left for me. Honesty, I’ve listened to it over a dozen times, just to hear his voice and his goodness: “…all I really want to say is that I am so grateful for your many, many, many kindnesses and that the Holy Father gave you to us and thank you so much and God bless. Have a great retreat. I’m sure it will go well … Be aware that you are in my prayers and thank you so very, very, much. God bless.”
That was classic Bishop Melczek: grateful, prayerful, encouraging. Thank you, ♰Dale Joseph Melczek. Thank you for being a true shepherd who loved his flock. A tireless servant and a compassionate pastor. A hopeful and caring leader. And to me – a dear brother bishop and friend. We pray that you are among the “cloud of witnesses” now cheering us on as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus in this life, awaiting life everlasting with all the saints and holy angels.
The Most Reverend Robert J. McClory
Diocese of Gary