GARY | The staff at the Catholic Diocese of Gary recently got together and gave their boss an iPad for his birthday Saturday.
The gag for those who don't know the Most Rev. Dale Melczek is that he may have 49 years of sacramental experience under his cincture, but digitally he is a novice.
"There is no computer in the bishop's office," Debbie Bosak, director of communications, confessed. "So when he opened it, he said he is making a resolution to learn new things."
The bishop should have plenty of time for this new assignment. His resignation letter is on its way to Rome.
"I will be 75, and church law requires bishops to submit their resignation to the Holy Father by our 75th birthday. I sent my letter this week through the nuncio (Pope Francis' ambassador to the U.S.) in Washington who sends it on in his diplomatic pouch to the Vatican.
"He doesn't act on the letter immediately. He will begin a process that will lead to the eventual appointment of a successor. It could take a few months or it could even take a year.
"I mentioned to the Holy Father my gratitude to God for the gift of life, the gift of faith in baptism, an essential in my life, and then the call to minister to God's people as a priest and bishop."
Melczek, ordained a priest in 1964 and consecrated bishop of Detroit in 1983, assumed the post as this diocese's third bishop in 1996.
The last 22 years has seen his flock grow to 186,420 church members from 182,115, although a number of urban congregations have dispersed and the religious orders in the diocese declined.
Melczek said that trend is just one example of the challenges and joys he has faced daily.
"In the past, we have had to close a number of parishes. There has been a great population shift in our people. At one time the largest parish was our (Holy Angels) cathedral. Now it is very small.
"But we have more ministry going on than we ever did before. One of the great joys in my life has been working on the formation of deacons and lay ecclesial leaders. They are doing a wonderful job. I think there is more vitality in our parishes and our schools now than ever before, even though we have fewer priests," he said.
Melczek said for the next bishop, "The challenge will be working with the clergy and religious and lay leaders to determine how we should most effectively staff our parishes and keep the schools vital to our faith. We have a larger school population now than we did a few years ago because we have been blessed with (Indiana Choice Scholarship) vouchers. We want to keep growing that."
Looking back on his career, Melczek said, "There are lot of different assignments I've had whether as a parish priest or in diocesan administration. I certainly considered it a great privilege and a big responsibility to direct Blessed Pope Paul II's visit to Detroit (1987). It's just a joy to be able to work with and inspire people to respond to share God's love and to share the ministry with my brother priests.
As for his future, Melczek said, "I will be called to serve the church through prayers and through helping out in parishes, but in a different way, without administrative responsibilities."
Bosak predicts, "He is very dedicated to the church in Gary, so I'm sure he will help out however he can with in the diocese."
Melczek said, "It's been fantastic."