By Romi Carrell Wittman –
2015 Tucson Founders Award Honoree – Bishop Gerald Kicanas
Bishop Gerald Kicanas was in Rome when he got the news via Facetime.
“It was a big surprise,” he said of the moment Suzanne McFarlin, executive director of Greater Tucson Leadership, told him he’d been selected to receive a 2015 GTL Founders Award. “I’m very honored and very proud of our community.”
The GTL Founders Award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated significant long-term community involvement and accomplishment, and who has helped shape Southern Arizona in a positive way.
Kicanas has been a fixture in Southern Arizona since 2001, when he was named Coadjutor Bishop of Tucson. He became Bishop of Tucson in 2003. Prior to coming to Tucson, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. He worked as an associate pastor and held various offices within the seminary system of the Archdiocese of Chicago, including rector, principal and Dean of Formation at Quigley Preparatory Seminary South and rector of Mundelein Seminary.
Born in Chicago, Kicanas considers Tucson his adopted hometown. “I feel very much at home here,” he said. “I’m proud to be a Tucsonan and I want to keep doing the work that needs to be done.”
Kicanas’ work is multifaceted. From human rights issues both at home and abroad, to improving the quality of life for the less fortunate, to acting as a leader and role model to his followers, Kicanas embodies the very definition of a GTL Founders Award recipient.
Over the years, he’s dedicated himself to the Hispanic community and immigration reform. At the risk of alienating millions of Catholics, Kicanas testified on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops before the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Enforcement. He supports executive action on immigration because it would help more than 1 million people currently with illegal status and keep millions of families together.
When hundreds of immigrant women and children apprehended in Texas were being flown to Tucson and dropped off at the Greyhound bus station in downtown Tucson, Kicanas recognized the urgency of the situation and mobilized humanitarian efforts to provide clothing and food.
As a longtime board member and past chairman of the national Catholic Relief Services, Kicanas has worked with local, national and international Catholic institutions and structures to promote human development.
Kicanas has weathered controversy over the years. When he arrived in Tucson in 2001, the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church was all over the news. Under Kicanas’ direction, the Tucson Diocese set precedent by drafting comprehensive policies regarding the handling of sexual abuse cases, now considered a national standard. Looking to find a humane way to handle the sexual abuse litigation and keep the diocese functional, Kicanas took an unprecedented step of having the diocese file for bankruptcy. This allowed the diocese to maintain day-to-day operations through the settlement process. Kicanas has continued to devote himself to stewarding the diocese, righting past wrongs and regaining the trust of the people in the Catholic Church.
Steve Lynn, a retired Tucson Electric Power executive and one of the people who nominated Kicanas for the GTL Founders Award, said Kicanas is an easygoing leader more comfortable digging into policy papers than basking in the spotlight. He addresses problems by first listening to what people need, then developing a solution.
“You cannot be in his presence and not feel the humility and caring of the man. You cannot engage him in conversation and come away feeling down or disheartened. Why? Because he is one of the most positive, optimistic and gentle souls you will ever meet,” Lynn said.
Jannie Cox, retired CEO of Carondelet Foundation, said she’s known Kicanas for many years and has seen the positive effect he’s had on the community. “I can attest to his leadership and his commitment to a vibrant, prosperous and peaceful community,” she said.
Kicanas’ work is not yet done, nor will it likely ever be truly complete. The next issue Kicanas would like to address is the revitalization of Cathedral Square, which has fallen into disrepair. “It’s currently a blight and embarrassment to the diocese,” Kicanas said. He wants to see it restored to its former glory and provide a focal point for the downtown area and an opportunity for people to take pride in their city.
When asked how it felt to be named a Founders Award recipient, Kicanas deflected much of the credit to those around him. “There are many people who contribute significantly. This award is a tribute to them,” he said.