The passing of a good shepherd

Reflections on a mentor; a friend and a true guide

BY FRANK DAVIED | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. APRIL 14, 2018

No community should botch its deaths. On March 24, a wonderful leader within the faith community of the Pueblo Diocese died, and it could profit all of us more to fully receive his spirit.

How do we do that?

Bishop Arthur N. TafoyaBishop Arthur N. TafoyaIt can be helpful for us, I believe, to highlight those places where his life, his energy and his leadership more particularly helped steady us in our faith and helped us to use our own gifts more fully to serve God.

Who was this man?

The Most Rev. Arthur Nicholas Tafoya, D.D.

I was lucky enough to have had him as my bishop when I ministered here in the Pueblo Diocese as a Franciscan priest. He was a good mentor, and I needed one.

I had just finished 10 years of preaching retreats and was new to the diocese. I had a few rigid views on what was wrong with the world and how to fix that -- views rooted more in personal immaturity than in prudence, views in need of a lot of leveling out.

He was a guiding hand not just for me, but for many others.

This was still a time when the church as a whole was struggling for a deeper maturity, itself. The church was always engaging the reforms of Vatican II, wondering whether it was going too far or not far enough, and reeling at the same time from the radical cultural and sexual changes of the late 1960s.

Change was everywhere. Nothing, church-wise or otherwise, was as before. We were still a pioneer generation ecclesiastically in need of another leader.

He led us well; nothing too daring, nothing reactionary, just good, steady, charitable leadership that helped us, among other things, be more pastorally sensitive, more ecumenical, less self-absorbed, less clerical, more open to lay ministry involvement, and more sensitive to the place of women.

He kept things steady but inching forward, even when properly honoring the past.

Among his many gifts, three qualities of his leadership, for me, particularly stand out as a challenge for all of us to live out our own discipleship more deeply.

First, he could live with ambiguity and not panic when tension seemed everywhere. He was not frightened or put off by polarization and criticism. He sorted them through with patience and charity. That helped create space for a more inclusive church, one within which people of different temperaments and ecclesiologies could still be within the same community.

He kept his eyes on the big picture and not on the various sideshows and skirmishes that so easily deflect attention away from what's important. Good people carry tension so as to not let it spill over unnecessarily onto others. Good leaders put up with ambiguity so as to not resolve tensions prematurely. He was a good person and a good leader. He cold be patient with unresolved tension.

Second, he understood the innate tension that comes from our baptism, wherein we are perennially torn between two loyalties -- that is, the tension between being loyal to the church and its dogmas and rules on the one hand, and being loyal at the same time to the fact that we are also meant to be universal instruments of salvation who radiate God's compassion to everyone within all the churches and the world at large.

Here's one example of that: In the face of a very messy and painful pastoral situation, I once phoned him asking what I should do. His answer properly interfaced law and mercy: "Father Frank, you know the mind of the church, you know the canon law, you know my mind, and so you know what ideally should be done here. . . . But you also know the principle of Epikeia, you are standing before the pain of these people, and God has put you there. You need to bring all of this together and make a decision based on that.
"Tell me afterwards what you decide and then I'll tell you whether I agree or not."

I did make a decision, and phoned him afterward. He didn't agree or disagree with me, but he thanked me for doing what I did.

Finally, as a faith leader, he understood the difference between catechesis and theology, and he honored and defended the special place of each of them. Cathechesis is needed to ground us, theology is needed to stretch us. He understood that.

As a former rector of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Santa Fe, N.M., as well as vicar general to the late Archbishop Robert Sanchez of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, he wasn't threatened by theologians or liturgists and generally came to our defense when we were attacked.

One of his pet sayings when one of his priests or deacons came under scrutiny or attack was simply: "They're theologians! They speculate. That's what theologians do. They aren't catechists."

He always offered an equal defense for his different ministers and those involved in ministry.

In church parlance, a bishop, an archbishop, a cardinal or a pope is considered a prince of the church. He was that, a prince of the church . . . not because the church appointed him as such, but because he had the intelligence, grace and heart of a leader, a pastor, a good shepherd.

Frank Davied, who lives in Pueblo, is a writer, poet, spiritual mentor and a specialist in the field of liturgy, music and spirituality. He has been pastor, preacher and teacher. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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