Most Reverend William Skylstad | University of Portland

Most Reverend William Skylstad

The cheerful Bishop Skylstad — bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, since 1990, and previously bishop of the Diocese of Yakima from 1977 until his appointment to Spokane by His Holiness Pope John Paul II — is a renowned pastor, eloquent environmental defender, and able servant of the Church Eternal; from 2001 through 2007 he served as vice president and then president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Church's premier administrative body in America. Long a good friend to and welcome guest at the University of Portland, he is renowned on The Bluff not only for his personable and passionate talks here about the stewardship of God's creation, but especially as co-author of the famous Bishops' Pastoral Letter on the Columbia River, which was publicly announced for the first time here at the University.

Born in 1934 in Omak, Washington, Skylstad grew up on the banks of the Methow River, which feeds the mighty Columbia. "I remember the constant roaring of the river as the waters made their way to the sea," he has written, "a sound that calls to my mind a line from St. Francis of Assisi, praised be my Lord by our sister the water...We used the Methow's water not only for drinking but for irrigating our apple orchard and alfalfa field, and for swimming and rafting, and for catching the immense salmon. I remain today filled with awe and appreciation of this wonderful gift and treasure in our midst, the flowing waters of life."

At age fourteen Skylstad headed to the seminary, and then to the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Spokane in 1960, and then studied at Washington State University while serving in a parish in Pullman. He then was principal of a high school seminary school in Colbert, Washington, where he was also pastor of Saint Joseph Parish. In 1974 he was named pastor of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish, in Spokane. Two years later he was named chancellor of the diocese, and in 1977 he was elevated to the bishopric by His Holiness Pope Paul VI. His more than three decades as a bishop have given him a fluency in Spanish and far more expertise in tumultuous times for Catholics and financial turmoil than he ever expected; as USCCB president he also became nationally known for his passionate opposition to abortion and devotion to the Madonna.

In his native Pacific Northwest, however, Skylstad will perhaps be best remembered for his gentle and personable character, and for his crucial role in the writing and promulgation of the Columbia River Pastoral Letter, the first to ever be issued collectively by the bishops of Portland, Seattle, Baker, Boise, Helena, Spokane, Yakima, and Nelson (Canada). "We are responsible for the land on which we live," Skylstad wrote. "We have a sacramental view of the universe, which means human accountability for the fate of all. We have a consistent respect for life, which means all life. We are devoted to the common good. We understand the requirement of equitable use of the earth's resources. We insist on the option for the poor, which gives passion to our quest for a sustainable world. We believe in authentic development, which means progress that respects human dignity and the limits of material growth. We are mindful that the earth is the Lord's. So the question for us is always: how can we live in harmony with God's creation? Our work is to promote justice in our land and reverence for God"s creation; thus we can contribute to the holiness of our time."