Catholics may be surprised to learn that many U.S. bishops describe their lives as both all-consuming and satisfying, a priest-researcher said in a presentation Jan. 15.

“These are guys who generally get up very, very early in the morning, pray about two hours every day and work about 10 hours a day,” said Father Stephen Fichter, a research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., which conducted the survey. They “just really do some interesting things and there are a lot of difficulties that they’re dealing with all the time.”

Father Stephen Fichter

A priest of the archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, Father Fichter explained the results of a 2016 survey of active and retired U.S. bishops in a talk at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. He told 35 attendees, including graduate students and faculty members, about the methodology, respondents and information gathered in the first formal survey of U.S. bishops.

The survey is the subject of a 2019 book published by Oxford University Press, “Catholic Bishops in the United States: Church Leadership in the Third Millennium,” which he co-authored with three other researchers.

The survey updates information gathered in an informal 1989 survey to create a comprehensive study, accurate current profile and examples of experiences in the role and ministry of U.S. bishops, Father Fichter said.

CARA is a national, nonprofit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church.

Of 429 surveys sent, 213 recipients responded. They included bishops ministering in the Latin and Eastern rites. (Most U.S. Catholics — and most Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — belong to Latin Rite parishes.)

Respondents included “ordinary” bishops, who head a diocese or archdiocese; auxiliary bishops, who assist ordinary bishops; and retired bishops. The average age of the active bishop respondents was 66.

The survey, Father Fichter said, indicated demographic changes: Of the 126 Latin Rite ordinary bishop respondents, 97 percent were born in the United States, while of the 33 Latin Rite auxiliary bishop respondents, 76 percent were. (Due to the foreign-based nature of their churches, Eastern Rite bishops are more likely to be born outside of the U.S. than those in the Latin Church.)

The majority of active bishops described themselves as theologically moderate or moderately traditional, while smaller numbers said they were moderately progressive.

The average workday for respondents was 9.8 hours. On average, bishops sleep 6.5 hours per night — 2.1 fewer hours than the average male their age, Father Fichter said. Bishops spend an average of 108 minutes per day in prayer. Overall, 97 percent are either somewhat or strongly satisfied with their life as a bishop. They find most satisfaction in the sacraments and liturgy, sharing the Gospel and working with people. Their greatest hopes are in youth and laity.

Topping their list of concerns and challenges are limited numbers of available priests, difficulty reaching people, secularism and religious freedom.

Respondents weren’t asked about the clergy sexual abuse crisis because the survey was conducted before the issue came to the forefront with the 2016 start of the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation into clergy abuse and coverup by Church officials, Father Fichter said.

The talk was part of St. Mary’s University’s Cardinal Virtues presentation series, which aims to foster conversations around faith and culture and how they come together, said university President Father James Burns, who gave comments before Father Fichter’s talk.

“We hear a lot about what laity and more recently clergy have faced, but we haven’t had this in-depth look at bishops,” he said. “I think it’s helpful for the general population but also Catholics to understand who their bishops are.”

Aleksandra Denisora, 37, a St. Mary’s adjunct faculty member, said she attended to learn more about what the Catholic community beyond the university, as well as the bishops, are thinking. She said she was surprised by the bishop respondents’ average age.

“Bishops just coming into their position at 66, how long are they able to work without being tired and working to the full capacity?” she asked.

The survey and the book offer a realistic snapshot of bishops today, Father Fichter said in an interview following his talk.

“I think that has great value … and I would also hope that the bishops themselves would read the book to see how they compare to their other brother bishops, what their struggles and concerns are,” he said. “I would hope that the laity would read it for understanding of who the bishops are. … I would hope this would humanize the episcopacy.”