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Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese Introduces New Bishop-Elect

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Sandra Averhart
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WUWF Public Media

The Pensacola-Tallahassee Catholic Diocese is getting a new Bishop. Pope Francis has appointed Bishop-elect William Wack to the position.

Bishop-elect Wack comes to the local diocese from Austin, TX, where he has been pastor of St. Ignatius Martyr Parish for the last eight years. He replaces Bishop Gregory Parkes, who was installed as Bishop of St. Petersburg in January of this year. 

Before a room of diocese administrators gathered at the Pastoral Center in Pensacola, Msgr. James Flaherty shared the news.

“With gratitude to Pope Frances for his appointment of our sixth Bishop, it’s my joy to welcome Bishop-elect William Wack of the Congregation of the Holy Cross to the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee,” said Msgr. Flaherty. “His varied pastoral experiences will serve him well as he begins his ministry as our bishop. Bishop-elect Wack, welcome home,” he said to applause.

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Credit Pensacola-Tallahassee Catholic Diosese
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Pensacola-Tallahassee Catholic Diosese
Bishop-elect William A. Wack, who's been appointed to become the next Bishop of the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese.

“I’m thrilled to be here, and I’m hoping that this will be a long tenure,” said Bishop-elect Wack, immediately addressing concern about how long he might stay in the region, given the diocese has had five bishops since 1975. “So, there’s some anxiety about that perhaps about will this person be here for a while.”

Wack says he’s planning on staying, although he notes it’s out of his hands.

Another notion he quickly addressed is whether he’s coming into the diocese with a pre-set agenda and plans to make changes right away. He says he first wants to take some time to learn about his new community.

“That doesn’t mean that I’m just going to sit back and watch everything happen, but it does mean that I need to learn from the diocese,” clarified Wack. “I need to learn from you all. I need to learn the customs and traditions of this place and then, slowly hopefully to with your help, with the help of a lot of advisors, to kind of put out not an agenda, but a program. And, I understand you have a pastoral plan that’s already there, so we’ll follow that as well.”

Wock says the last week and a half has been pretty dizzying, including a sleepless night traveling Sunday night from Texas to the Florida, for his first-ever visit to the state and the city of Pensacola.  

Anticipating the question, he shared the humorous story of how he received the news of his appointment. Setting the scene, he was trying to fix the church air conditioner when he received the call.

“And, that’s when he said ‘hello, this is the nuncio, Archbishop Christophe. Do you know who I am,” Wack began “I said “hello, hello, I can’t hear you. And he announced himself again, and I said yes, I’m outside trying to fix the air conditioner, who is this please and how did you get my number?” As the laughter in the room subsides, Wack recalled the Archbishop saying “what I’m about to say to you will change your life.”

At that point, he says he fell to my knees. But, hearing the words in slow motion, he was still in disbelief and he recalled that the archbishop had to repeat it several times.

Wack, who turns 50 years old in about a month, is originally from South Bend, Indiana. He’s from a family of ten, including two girls and then eight boys in a row. He describes himself as the 9th child and 7th son.

He was ordained to the Priesthood in 1994, and his youngest brother is also a priest and also a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a religious order of priests.

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Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
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WUWF Public Media
Bishop-elect Wack meets with other members of the clergy after he's introduced as the next Bishop of the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese.

Wack is a sports enthusiast, mainly team sports, and loves the University of Notre Dame, although he jokingly vowed not to talk about the iconic institution. But, that might be difficult, given he grew up nearby, earned two degrees there, including an undergraduate degree in government and international relations and a graduate degree in divinity. And, he points out that his family has long ties to the institution.

“My grandfather taught there from 1927 – 1961,” Wack explained. “My father went there, some of my uncles and when it was opened to women, some of my aunts. And, I was graduated from there twice. I’m in the movie Rudy. I’m probably the only bishop-elect in the movie Rudy.”

Wack says he’s not sure, but he may be the only bishop (bishop-elect) actually from South Bend, although he points out that many have come out of Notre Dame. And, while he’s happy to get this prestigious post, he claims he never had such ambitions.

“I’ve only wanted to be a priest, and, that’s the highest calling I can imagine,” Wack proclaimed. “That’s why I kind of joke about it. But, I was really serious with the nuncio; I said ‘can I still be a priest?’ And he said, of course you are. You are a priest forever. So, it’s nothing I ever aspired to.”

What he loves most about being a priest is liturgy, the sacraments, and preaching; and with 46 nieces and nephews across two generations, he also enjoys working with children and young people and encouraging them in the faith.

Wack will be ordained a bishop and he’s to be installed as the Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee in a ceremony scheduled for Aug. 22.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.