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THIS WEEK: A new leader for 133,000 Catholics

Bishop Louis Tylka now leads the Peoria Diocese, as well as Quad City Catholic churches and schools

PEORIA, Ill. — Bishop Lou is ready for work.

"I have my own limitations, I have my own sinfulness, I have my own self-doubts," he admitted.

But that doesn't mean he's not ready to lead.

"That sense of inadequacy is certainly overcome by the Grace of the Spirit who gives me the guidance necessary and the Strength each day to do what the Lord has asked me."

His Excellency, the Most Reverend Louis Tylka, who doesn't mind being called Bishop Lou by parishioners, is now the ninth Bishop of the Peoria Diocese of the Catholic Church, in charge of the Catholic faithful in 12 central and western Illinois Catholic vicariates including the Illinois Quad Cities.

"There's a lot of hope, a lot of energy across the parishes of the 26-counties," said Bishop Tylka on "News 8 THIS WEEK with Jim Mertens".

You can listen to our entire interview with Bishop Louis Tylka on THE CITIES PODCAST.

Since June 2020, Tylka has been co-adjutor bishop with the right of to succeed Bishop Daniel Jenky when Jenky turned 75-years old.

That happened March 3, 2022.

Now Bishop Tylka will lead a Church emerging from two years of COVID restrictions.

"So, in many ways, the experience of the pandemic has invited people into a deeper experience of faith and perhaps, for some, has even opened it up for them as a new possibility in their life."

His first mass as bishop was held Sunday, March 6 at The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria.

"My brothers and sisters, in beginning this period of Lent, we look forward to celebrating this Easter the life giving mysteries of our Lord's suffering, death, and resurrection," he told the faithful during the "Rite of Election" service where newly converted Catholics are welcomed into the Church.

It seemed appropriate as Bishop Tylka began his service as Bishop.

An end to the pandemic restrictions

Bishop Tylka, born and raised in Harvey, Illinois, will now lead 132,000 Catholics in 157 parishes stretching from the Quad Cities to Peoria and eastward.

"So, in many ways, the experience of the pandemic has invited people into a deeper experience of faith and perhaps, for some, has even opened it up for them as a new possibility in their life."

The restrictions meant hardships for people of all religions who were separated from loved ones, isolated during life-changing events like wedding and funerals,

"We gained and awareness of how much we need each other, how much we have to care for one another, how much our human nature wants to be with other people."

And it forced some to be more introspective,

"That helps you step back and ask the bigger questions: what is my purpose, who am I, and who does God want me to be."

Falling membership, growing concerns

Bishop Tylka also leads a Church that is facing challenging enrollments, not only in the Church pews but in the classrooms across the parish.

Rock Island's Alleman High School reportedly saw a 24% drop in enrollment to start this school year even though the Diocese saw a "very healthy climb" in elementary school enrollment.

Bishop Tylka says a comprehensive study is more than halfway through to determine the best course for the Diocese's schools.

"So they have hopefully a good plan so they can grow the school for the future and make it sustainable and, most importantly, keep it true to the mission of its Catholic identity," he said.

But he also says he as confidence the Church can still grow its school populations.

"Absolutely, absolutely."

"We will have to look at our schools and evaluate them, each of them, whether it's the six high schools or whether it's the 36 grammar schools that are in the Diocese."

You can watch "News 8 THIS WEEK with Jim Mertens" Sunday mornings at 10 on WQAD News 8.