A New Shepherd's Crook(ston)
This morning, the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Victor Balke, who turns 76 tomorrow, naming in his stead Msgr Michael Hoeppner, heretofore vicar-general of Winona.
A native Minnesotan, the 58 year-old bishop-elect comes with a background steeped both in parish work and administration, and with a good bit of teaching ministry, to boot. An alum of the Pontifical North American College, Hoeppner is yet another member of the class of 29 June 1975 -- when Pope Paul VI ordained 359 priests to mark the Holy Year -- to be elevated to the episcopacy, and the second US appointee this year to come from the group, which also counts Archbishops Raymond Burke of St Louis, the prefect of the Papal Household James Harvey and Michael Miller CSB, now the coadjutor of Vancouver, among its members.
Possessed of a JCL from St Paul's in Ottawa and a master's in Education from a Winona-area university, the bishop-elect's priestly ministry included a seven-year stint in the triple roles of high school teacher, school administrator and diocesan director of vocations. He served as Winona's judicial vicar from 1988-97, when then-Bishop John Vlazny named him vicar-general.
Following Vlazny's 1997 transfer to the archbishopric of Portland in Oregon, Hoeppner was elected to oversee the diocese during the interregnum before the appointment and arrival of Bishop Bernard Harrington, who subsequently confirmed Hoeppner as his chief deputy.
For the northern diocese of 36,000, Balke's resignation marks the end of an era -- the bishop observed his 31st anniversary in the Northwestern Minnesota outpost earlier this month.
To become the seventh ordinary of Crookston, the bishop-elect must be ordained and installed in the post within four months from his reception of the papal decrees of his appointment. And once he does, another celebration won't be far off -- the diocese marks its centenary on the last day of 2009.