On May 7, 2015, Oblate School of Theology presented Honorary Doctorates to Liberation Theology Founder, Gustavo Gutierrez, O.P., and to former Oblate Superior General, Bishop Wilhelm Steckling.
Below is the Text of OST President Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s remarks delivered to the audience prior to the presentation of the honorary doctorate to Bishop Steckling. We express our thanks to Fr. Rolheiser for making his speech available for publication here.
It is my privilege and pleasure to introduce to you Bishop Wilhelm, Guillermo Steckling, and highlight why Oblate School of Theology is bestowing an honorary doctorate on him. I want to do this in three brief parts:
I want to share a little background on this life.
I want to share a little about his leadership inside the Oblate Congregation
Finally, I want to highlight more particularly why OST is honoring him with an Honorary Doctorate
So first …. Who is Bishop Guillermo Steckling?
Guillermo Steckling was born in Werl, Germany. He joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1966 and was ordained to the Priesthood in 1974.
He then served as a missionary in Paraguay until 1992, when he was elected as an Assistant-General to the General-Administration of the Oblates in Rome.
He served in that capacity until 1998, when he was elected Superior-General of the Oblates. He served in that role admirably for twelve years, providing quiet, solid leadership which helped both expand and consolidate Oblate missionary outreach, while opening missions in several of the poorest countries in the world.
He completed his term as Superior-General in 2010 and returned as a missionary to Paraguay, serving as the Superior of the Scholasticate in Asuncion.
Less than a year ago, Pope Francis named him as Bishop of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. He comes to us from there.
Second – a little background on his leadership in our Oblate Congregation
I had the privilege of serving on our General Council in Rome for six years with Guillermo as our Superior-General. I also had the privilege of living in the same house and community with him during those six years.
I want to highlight some things about his leadership, both in its substance and its style. First, substance:
When Guillermo was elected as our Superior-General he replaced Marcello Zago, who wasn’t easy to replace. Marcello was bigger than life and in a good way. He was charismatic leader who worked 24 hours a day and had a major new idea every hour. He did a lot of visioning and did some writing for John Paul II, and, as our Superior-General, took the Congregation to many strategic parts of the world. But those successes had a downside. By the time Fr. Zago completed his time as Superior-General, all that expansion had stretched our resources dangerously thin. So when Guillermo became our Superior-General he inherited a congregation that was very much alive and very strategically-placed, but one that had also over-reached and needed to consolidate some things. As well, he also replaced a legend, a charismatic figure as big as life. No easy tasks!
And he did both tasks exceptionally well. He provided a quiet, strong leadership that helped to consolidate us and also take us to some new places. Interestingly: During his leadership the Oblates opened several new missions, and they were opened because they were in the poorest parts of the world. The needs of the poor trumped our need to consolidate.
Guillermo’s years of leadership were characterized by 3 things: By solidifying our provinces, delegations, and communities, he helped make us a stronger congregation; by solidifying our communities internally in terms of prayer and hospitality to each other, he helped make us a more prayerful and hospitable congregation; and in new outreach to the poorest of the poor, he helped make us a congregation more in touch with the poor.
That was the substance of leadership. What was its style? Leadership style is also substance, as Pope Francis is showing us. Sometimes how we do things has as much impact as what we do!
How did Guillermo do things as our Superior-General? His leadership was very much characterized by three things: he listened – always listened and spoke last; He was gentle and patient – handled everyone with understanding and gentleness, he never broke the bruised reed; and he was always calm and steady – “this is to be expected, this comes with the territory, this too will pass;” a model of servant-leadership – he did away with the “head table.”
And why, more particularly, are we are honoring him with an honorary doctorate?
To put it in one line: Oblate School of Theology is honoring him for his role in leadership in the Oblate congregation, but especially for his dedication and service to the poor, to whom he has given his life, both in rural barrios and in Roman offices.
As a young man, Guillermo had a vision of himself as a missionary – but his vision of this was of himself working with the poor, on the ground, in the barrios, wearing khakis and a sweatshirt, taking on the “smell of the sheep”. And for the first years of his missionary life, that’s what he did, he lived and worked with the poor; but, as the old saying goes, life is what happens to us while we are planning our lives. He got called to Rome by the Oblate community and he spent the next 18 years of his life there, serving the poor, but in a place far away from the smell of the sheep, in Roman offices.
But, as I shared, he did serve the poor there: always ensuring that we were seeing things through the prism of the poor.
Finally, after 18 years, he was released and happily returned to work with the poor in Paraguay but that was soon interrupted by a call from Pope Francis to become a Bishop in a diocese that was experiencing a lot of struggle. And again he left the barrios of the poor, this time for an episcopal office. But, again, ultimately, he did this for the poor.
St. Paul said: “I can live with lots and I can live with little, but always it is for the same reason, to serve Christ.” Guillermo has also, in his life, his words, and his commitments, has recast those words to say: “I can live in the barrios and I can live in an ecclesial office, but always it is for the same reason, to serve the poor.”
And so, Bishop Guillermo … for your selfless leadership in the church and in the Oblate Congregation,
For providing a model of servant-leadership,
For providing a model of how someone can serve the poor, no matter where circumstance takes them,
For providing a model of what the word OBLATE means which we, here at Oblate School of Theology, can show to our students and can use to challenge ourselves,
And, most of all, for your selfless serving of the poor for nearly 50 years,
Oblate School of Theology is proud to bestow on you the highest honor we can give, an Honorary Doctorate of Pastoral Leadership.
(Some Photos courtesy of Michael Parker)