God knocking on my door means move to Washington, D.C.
Twenty-six years ago, in the summer or early fall of 1990, I recall arriving at a Lincoln Right to Life meeting and being pulled aside by Shirley Lang prior to the meeting. Mrs. Lang is a pro-life icon in Nebraska and served for many years on the board of the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC).
Shirley had something to tell me and she was very excited about it. "The bishops in Nebraska have created a new full-time position directing the pro-life efforts of the three dioceses … and I think you should apply," she said.
I recall being very excited about the prospect of working full time in the pro-life movement. But I also was hesitant to apply since I had just changed jobs six or seven months prior and wasn’t eager to change jobs again. After much consultation and prayer, and recognizing that such opportunities don’t come along very often, I decided to apply.
Weeks later, after going through the interview process, I received a letter from Jim Cunningham, longtime NCC executive director, offering me the position, starting in early 1991. As I read that letter, I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed and a little afraid at how this would change my life. But I also remember discerning that God was calling me to do something more meaningful with my life. I accepted the position.
A little more 23 years later, I was privileged to be selected by the Nebraska bishops to move from pro-life director to NCC executive director, succeeding Cunningham who had been in the position for nearly 40 years. I thought this new role was where God was calling me to serve for the foreseeable future.
Late last year, however, I was notified about the impending retirement of Richard Doerflinger as associate director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Washington, D.C., and was encouraged to apply for his position. Similar to my situation all those years ago in Lincoln, I was hesitant to apply because of my recent change to become the NCC executive director, but I discerned that this may be God knocking on my door again and to know for sure, I needed to apply.
During the Octave of Easter, the USCCB told me I had been selected as the new associate director. Although the news was a bit overwhelming and scary, many signs gave me great peace that this move was God’s will for me and my wife, Jacqueline.
Although I am excited to see where God is leading me and my wife in this new position and new home, there is certainly some heaviness in my heart contemplating leaving my home state of Nebraska, many family and friends, and the bishops I have served for half of my life.
I want to thank the bishops (current and past) who gave me this opportunity to build the church’s pro-life program and office in Nebraska and for their unwavering support over the years.
I had the privilege of serving three ordinaries in each diocese: Archbishops Daniel E. Sheehan, Elden Francis Curtiss and George J. Lucas in Omaha; Bishops Glennon P. Flavin, Fabian W. Bruskewitz and James D. Conley in Lincoln; and Bishops Lawrence J. McNamara, William J. Dendinger and Joseph G. Hanefeldt in Grand Island.
I want to thank the NCC board members for their guidance and support as pro-life director and as executive director. I want to especially thank Mrs. Lang for seeking me out and urging me to apply for the pro-life director position.
I want to thank the numerous priests who served as diocesan pro-life directors and worked with me over these years. I want to give a very special thanks to the hundreds of parish pro-life coordinators whose amazing and dedicated service are essential to the success of our pro-life efforts in Nebraska. And I want to thank the Knights of Columbus and many other individual benefactors who generously provide financial assistance to the Bishops’ Pro-Life Office and its programs.
The work of the church and the people of Nebraska to proclaim the Gospel of Life will forever be in my thoughts and prayers. As my former pastor used to say to his parishioners, "pray for me, as I will for you, that we merrily meet in heaven!" God bless each of you!
Greg Schleppenbach is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at email@example.com.