“A true gentleman,” is how brother bishops described Bishop Raphael Fliss to Fr. Jim Powers while he was out East.
The administrator of the Diocese of Superior attended the bishops’ meetings during Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States.
As news of Bishop Fliss’ Sept. 21 passing circulated, bishop after bishop stopped to share stories and offer condolences. Over and over, they commented on what a gentleman Bishop Fliss was, how kind and sincere.
Fr. Powers shared this story Sept. 30 during the vespers service for the late bishop of Superior. Approximately 100 people – brother priests, Knights of Columbus, deacons, family and friends – paid their respects to the man who served the diocese – as coadjutor bishop and ordinary – for 28 years.
The visitation for Bishop Fliss began at 3 p.m. at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, and continued into the evening.
During the 7 p.m. service, the Diocesan Chorale performed a series of antiphons and hymns, and Fr. Powers, who was ordained by Bishop Fliss in 1990, eulogized the late bishop.
God is “calling us beyond the moment … to understand that truth of death. It’s anything but the end of life,” Fr. Powers said. “Our God has chosen to birth us into eternity.”
Death isn’t something we will understand, he continued. “The best we can do is accept it,” let the Lord help us through it, and come together to support and uphold one another.
He called on everyone to share stories about Bishop Fliss, “not just tonight, not just tomorrow, but as the days, weeks, months go by.”
Then, the priest shared his favorite story.
The first time he met Bishop Fliss, Fr. Powers had applied to study for the Diocese of Superior. He received a note requesting a meeting at the chancery.
Fr. Powers remembers feeling a little hesitant – the last time he met a bishop, it was during his confirmation, and he’d been “slapped” – but he went anyway.
“It was a matter of seconds in the presence of Bishop, that nervousness melted away,” he said.
They chatted for a while, and at some point Fr. Powers mentioned his parents were in the car. He talked them into coming in, and they also met Bishop Fliss.
Sometime later, Fr. Powers was planning to go on vacation with his parents.
With a twinkle in his eye, Bishop Fliss asked, “Are you going to leave them in the car?”
The priest smiled.
“What a kind, what a true gentleman Bishop Fliss was,” Fr. Powers said.
“So many lessons he taught us,” he added, “that lesson of being a true gentleman, a gentle man.”
Even with the struggles of parish closings and difficult decisions, the bishop always exhibited that quality.
“How wonderful if all of us would be remembered at our death as being a gentle man, a gentle woman,” he continued.
During his visit, the pope spoke often of mercy, Fr. Powers observed.
“So often we think of that word as a weakness,” he added. “If anything, it’s one of the greatest strengths possible.”
It is a “great thing to extend that quality to others,” he said.
Others have told the priest when Bishop Fliss spoke with them, “he made you feel like you were the only person in the world.”
That trait, Fr. Powers said, “is something we need to consciously strive to develop in our world.”