From accountant to bishop: How one Notre Dame alumnus became a Catholic leader
Maggie Eastland | Thursday, April 1, 2021
Last Sept., Notre Dame class of 1979 alumnus Bishop Robert Lombardo was appointed bishop over a section of the Chicago area.
Lombardo’s journey to becoming a priest and eventually a bishop began to take shape while he attended the University.
Originally from Stamford, Conn., Lombardo said he decided to apply and attend Notre Dame because of the competitive sports teams, strong accounting program and Catholic character.
“I went to Notre Dame because I’ve always followed Notre Dame sports from the time I was a kid,” Lombardo said. “I was planning and did actually study accounting. Notre Dame had one of the best accounting programs in the country, and I did want to go to a good Catholic school.”
Despite his original intentions to pursue accounting, Lombardo said he began to consider other paths when he was serving as a resident assistant his senior year.
After one of the students in his dorm and his personal friend contracted a fatal case of spinal meningitis, Lombardo said he began to think more about the meaning of life.
“That experience of having someone like all of us at the time, a senior, getting ready to graduate, looking forward to getting married, a family, career, and then all of a sudden, all of that was cut short, gets you to think about life,” Lombardo said. “That’s where the invitation from God started to creep up again.”
He also said the priests on campus were beneficial in helping the students work through the sorrow of losing a classmate.
Even though Lombardo studied accounting for all four years at Notre Dame, he said the invitation from God to become a priest gradually yet firmly influenced him, leading to his current vocation.
“When God intervenes and asks you to do something,” Lombardo said, “the Lord gnaws at you and continues to invite and invite. And then finally, you give in and say, ‘I will give it a try.’ I did. And here I am. Many years later. Now surprisingly as a bishop, which I never would have dreamed up, but God writes straight with crooked lines.”
After graduating, Lombardo briefly worked for Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) before joining the Franciscans and becoming a priest.
Lombardo said he was washing the bathroom floor when received an unexpected phone call regarding his bishop appointment Sept. 6, 2020.
“The whole process is a secret, so I didn’t find out until I got a call on Sunday morning at six o’clock,” Lombardo said. “At first I thought the [Pope’s representative] had the wrong number.”
Lombardo said he thought the 6 a.m. call must have been about his dogs, thinking his new puppy might have been injured by his older dog.
The words of the Pope’s representative on the phone — that he would be a bishop — took Lombardo by surprise.
“There’s nothing that can prepare you for that phone call,” he said.
In his role as bishop, Lombardo said he enjoys working with all the parishes in his section, or Vicariate, of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He said he also works with local hospitals and schools to foster the Catholic faith.
“It’s [the role of Bishop] basically trying to help all those that are in those parishes, schools and institutions that we have to be as effective as they can in bringing people into a closer relationship with Jesus, and a closer relationship to the church,” Lombardo said.
Lombardo said he has met many wonderful people as bishop, despite most interactions since Sept. taking place virtually due to COVID-19.
To the Notre Dame community, Lombardo shares a message about serving others and giving back.
“We’re all very well educated at Notre Dame. We have many ways that we can give back to society, whether it’s doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, all of that is wonderful,” Lombardo said. “But I want people to think about how they can give back to build up the Catholic Church in our own country, or wherever.”