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TYLER, Texas (LifeSiteNews) — More than two months after Bishop Joseph Strickland received an apostolic visitation from the Vatican, which has been speculated to be related to his outspokenness regarding the moral and doctrinal controversies in the Church, many of the faithful in his diocese are still rallying behind him and unconditionally supporting him. They come from diverse backgrounds but they have in common their love for the Church and the Catholic faith. Here are some of their stories:
Jason Stern and his family left behind their lives in Minnesota to go to Winona, Texas. Moving to the Diocese of Tyler, and particularly to Veritatis Splendor, a Catholic community in Winona that has received the bishop’s blessing, meant for them the opportunity to raise their family in a strengthened community in which they all strive together for sainthood.
Currently, Veritatis Splendor has a chapel named in honor of the Holy Family where they can receive the sacraments and a retreat center named after Pope Saint John Paul II. The community also has plans to build an oratory. Families from various parts of the country have found their home in Veritatis Splendor.
“We moved here to strengthen and to grow deeper in our Catholic faith. My main responsibility as a husband and a father is to become a saint, to get to Heaven one day, to help my wife become a saint, to get to Heaven one day, and help my kids become saints, to get to Heaven someday, and that is why we moved here,” Stern said.
He wants to plant deep Catholic roots in his children to then “send them out in the world to be the light amongst the darkness in our culture.”
It was Stern’s wife who, in 2020, showed him articles about Bishop Joseph Strickland for the first time. At that time, Stern had not even heard about Tyler.
“We just fell in love with his being bold in speaking the truth with love and humility,” Stern noted.
Stern and his family left many things behind, such as relatives, neighborhood, and business. Nonetheless, in Minnesota they were not fulfilled in their Catholic faith.
“When I hear about Bishop Strickland being disciplined or removed or whatever they are considering, it just breaks my heart … it makes me tear up just to think. He is one of the reasons we moved here. Obviously the Holy Spirit is Who led us here, but he played a big part in that,” Stern said.
Stern described Bishop Strickland as “the shepherd that a lot of people crave” but “can’t find.” Stern also highlighted how accessible and relatable the bishop is to his flock.
“I know a lot of people have reached out to him personally, me included, … just letting him know that we love him and to keep going boldly and courageously in the truth and pointing us back to Jesus Christ, like he does with everything,” Stern said.
A convert from Anglicanism, Foster Lerner moved to Tyler in June 2022 to complete his residency in Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Texas at Tyler. He and his family are parishioners of Saint Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, where Lerner also directs the church choir.
When the news about the apostolic visitation that Bishop Joseph Strickland received on June 24 came out “there was a huge outpouring of support for the bishop,” Lerner said, “there was a whole week of special Rosary meetings at the cathedral and the chapel attached to the cathedral. I was able to attend some of them,” he added.
According to Lerner, “Bishop Strickland is the apostle in our midst,” and his ministry is “one of simplicity and clear teaching of the Gospel.” “He has a very simple presentation for the people that he ministers to.”
Lerner’s chief concern is that if Rome decides to remove Bishop Strickland, the Diocese of Tyler would lose a great bishop, whom Lerner describes as a “faithful son of Rome.”
“The greatest saints that the Church recognizes were men and women who were put through an intense test and yet were faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I think that we may be coming to that moment for the bishop where he is asked to lay aside all for the Gospel, and I think that he will not be found wanting,” Lerner said.
Sarahi Martinez is an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Tyler. She is a parishioner of Saint John the Evangelist in Emory, which belongs to the Diocese of Tyler. She is also involved in Saint John Paul II Campus Ministry, which helps students live their Catholic faith while they attend college.
Martinez said that after she learned about the apostolic visitation Bishop Joseph Strickland received, she was worried and wondered whether he was going to be removed.
According to Martinez, it was her parish priest who comforted her and other parishioners.
“If things are meant to go a certain way, it will. But honestly, all we can do is pray for him, pray for our bishop and our clergy, that God guides them,” Martinez said.
Martinez sees Bishop Joseph Strickland as someone who “says what needs to be said.”
“I know he highlights the Eucharist a lot,” Martinez said, “he doesn’t shy away from speaking about pro-life,” she added.
Lauren Thompson is a native of Houston, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. She recently got married and is expecting a baby in January. Thompson and her husband moved to Tyler, Texas, where they are parishioners at Saint Joseph the Worker.
“It was like providence. A month after we got married, Kyle got a job opportunity, and so, we were able to move here,” Thompson said.
A factor that influenced Thompson and her family to move to Tyler was the presence of Bishop Strickland in that diocese.
“I really think Tyler is probably the easiest place in America to be a Catholic right now,” Thompson said.
During her teenage years, before fully embracing the Catholic faith, Thompson had many questions, and after searching for answers, she found Truth in the Catholic Church. She describes the doctrinal confusion in the Church as “scandalizing.” Thompson said she thinks that Bishop Strickland’s faithfulness to the teachings of the Church is what has gained him the support of so many young Catholics.
“I think that he genuinely believes the faith, which, you know, some religious leaders, I don’t know that they do, or how they would genuinely believe the faith and say things that are so confusing,” Thompson said.
Thompson highlighted how Bishop Strickland “cares about his flock,” “the spiritual lives of the people that he governs,” and how “he doesn’t want to lead them astray.”
“I think he truly does love the people of East Texas. He loves his laity, and he doesn’t want us to be confused. He wants us to just know the Truth and love Jesus,” Thompson said. “He wants you to just be able to go to church and believe what the Church has always taught,” she said.
According to Thompson, Bishop Strickland uses his “limited spare time” to be with his flock in the Diocese of Tyler.
After she learned about the apostolic visitation the bishop received, Thompson feared him being removed.
“I worry that he would be taken away from us and be put under somebody […] who just does not seem to really love his flock,” Thompson said.
Michael McCann is an English teacher in Bishop Gorman Catholic School, a parochial middle and high school in Tyler. McCann is originally from Canada. He came to the United States in October 2022 with his wife and four children, attracted by the Catholic community Veritatis Splendor.
“We knew that it [Veritatis Splendor] was growing and that it was vibrant, which is very much so,” McCann noted, “If it is growing here, and the bishop approves of it, well, that must be a good bishop. He must be one who wants to care for the faith of his flock,” he added.
McCann highlighted Bishop Strickland’s “pastoral approach to leading his flock.”
“He not only blessed our home, but then he sat down and had dinner with my family, played with my children for several minutes, and now he knows them by name and by sight,” McCann said. “As we are having dinner, he mentions to my wife and I that he wants to be a true shepherd and smell like the flock,” he continued.
McCann compared this approach to that of our Lord while He was on earth.
“If you send Bishop Strickland an email, he will reply to it, which for me was absolutely earth-shattering. That has never been my experience with any bishop that I have ever encountered,” McCann said.
Bishop Strickland’s apostolic visitation was a surprise for McCann. He noted that as soon as the news reached the ears of the faithful in Tyler, many of them organized daily gatherings for about two weeks to pray the Rosary in the cathedral, and Masses were and are still offered all over the diocese for the bishop.
“We are all praying for him incessantly and I speak for many people when I say that we will do whatever we can to help him, spiritually or materially,” McCann said.
The idea that Bishop Strickland could be removed concerns and grieves the faithful of the Diocese of Tyler, but according to McCann, “the will of God must be paramount.”
“We must trust that everything that happens is for the best. Many saints have said that everything that happens is for the best. It is the will of God, whether we realize it or not, whether we can explain it or not,” McCann said.
McCann noted that the most important thing is that God’s Will be done and that this Will, should be always in the “forefront” of their minds. Nonetheless, he remarked that the faithful of Tyler are standing behind their bishop.
“We are all united in prayer behind Bishop Strickland. And, not only in prayer, although prayer is the most important, but from prayer comes action, and we are ready and willing to take to the streets if need be. Bishop Strickland may not want that. He is a very humble man. He may not want to be the center of attention in such a way, but if it came down to us marching down and meeting someone in the streets and saying we are standing in front of our bishop or behind our bishop, we would do that,” McCann said.
Pledge your prayers for Bp. Strickland HERE