By S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - Last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced that Greg Schleppenbach, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, has been hired to replace associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities Richard Doerflinger after he retires at the end of April.
“It’s humbling to succeed a pro-life giant like Richard Doerflinger,” Schleppenbach said in an official statement. “But I come to this position with confidence in God’s amazing grace and a heart filled with passion for His precious gift of human life. I am grateful for the honor of serving the bishops of Nebraska for so many years and am equally grateful for this opportunity to now serve the bishops of the United States.”
After a transition period through the month of May, Schleppenbach will officially assume his new position May 16, though he said he would be available to help Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Bishop Joseph Hanefeld of Grand Island and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln in finding and training his replacement.
“One thing I can say: It was clearly God’s will that I was approached 25 years ago to apply for the new position that the bishops had created as pro-life director of the three dioceses,” Schleppenbach said. And it has been clear that He has called me into this position as well.”
Schleppenbach has served the Nebraska Catholic Conference for more than 25 years. He was the state conference’s Pro-Life Director for most of those, becoming Nebraska’s Catholic voice on issues such as abortion, stem cell research, and end-of-life issues.
In September of 2014, Schleppenbach took over as executive director following a nationwide search by the Archdiocese of Omaha, the Diocese of Grand Island and the Diocese of Lincoln. In that role, he oversaw public policy lobbying activities and communicated important policy matters to Catholics and other like-minded citizens throughout Nebraska.
Looking back on those years, Schleppenbach can see how each experience prepared him for the national role he will soon undertake.
“I learned not only the issues that I am dealing with now at the federal level, but also the Church’s teachings on the dignity and sanctity of life that are necessary to do this job,” he reflected. “I think that the executive director position in particular has really prepared me for more intensely understanding and being involved in lobbying and public policy work at a higher level.”
A press release issued by the USSCB stated that Schleppenbach is, “known for his skill in coalition-building and is well respected by diocesan pro-life directors and state Catholic conference directors.”
Newlyweds of about two years, Schleppenbach and his wife, Jacqueline, share histories of faithful pro-life work and service to the Church. Washington D.C. was her home for 25 years prior to their marriage, but Schleppenbach noted the blessings that came from her living in his native Nebraska for a while.
“She got to know my mother, my siblings, and my life in Nebraska, which she would not have been able to do if she had never lived here,” he said.
Those who have been actively involved in Nebraska’s pro-life movement offered hearty congratulations for Schleppenbach.
“While the pro-life movement in Nebraska will miss Greg’s strong leadership, we are happy for him and Jacqueline as they depart on this new venture,” said Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director, Nebraska Right to Life. “We know Greg’s many talents will be appreciated by the USCCB and we wish them godspeed as Greg moves to the national pro-life scene.”
Lieutenant Governor Mike Foley offered similar sentiment.
“Congratulations to Greg on his new calling to serve the church and pro-life cause in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “His work has helped make Nebraska one of the top pro-life states in the nation. In his new role, he will be an asset to the USCCB and the pro-life movement nationally.”
Emeritus Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz said he thought Schleppenbach is “an extremely talented man who has done wonderful and exceptional work for the pro-life cause here in Nebraska” and is “well-suited to do the work he has been hired to do for the USCCB.”
He added, “It is a loss for us that he is leaving the great work he has been doing here, but I am sure he’s going on to greater and better things for the larger good.”