Thursday, October 15, 2009

And They're Off

Alright, gang, habemus hat-trick.

For your Thursday morning, the Pope has named:
  • Fr Fernando Isern, 51, Cuban-born, currently a pastor and high-school president in Miami, as bishop of Pueblo, succeeding Bishop Arthur Tafoya, whose resignation was accepted 19 months after reaching the canonical age of 75;
  • Fr Paul Sirba, 49, vicar-general of St Paul and Minneapolis, as bishop of Duluth, succeeding Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, who was named coadjutor of Cincinnati a year ago this month;
  • and Msgr Robert Evans, 62, parish priest of Greenville, Rhode Island and onetime aide at Washington's apostolic nunciature, as auxiliary bishop of Providence.
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Born in Havana in 1958, Isern emigrated with his family to the States when he was 3. Ordained in 1993, he's served in parish work ever since, taking on double-duty as head of a West Dade high school last year.

Affiliated with the Schoenstatt movement, the Pueblo pick is the second Cuban-American to join the bench in a year, and the community's eighth exile to become a US bishop, a record. Isern is likewise the first Hispanic priest Pope Benedict has elevated directly to the helm of a Stateside diocese Pope Benedict without prior experience as an auxiliary elsewhere.

Coming a month after Colorado's southern diocese settled two sex-abuse suits dating back to the 1970s, the Pueblo move closes out one of two long-open cases in the Denver province -- still remaining is the lengthiest vacancy of all, Wyoming's statewide Cheyenne diocese, which has lacked a permanent head since Bishop David Ricken's July 2008 transfer to Green Bay.

Head of the 110,000-member local church since 1981, Tafoya was the second-oldest active head of a US diocese before this morning's appointment. The longest-waiting among that group remains Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend (read: Notre Dame), who reached the retirement age in August 2007.

Unlike most appointees, Isern is reportedly not on the ground for the traditional Announcement Morning introduction, which is said to have been delayed until early next week.

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Cars were spotted outside the bishop's residence in Duluth yesterday, and with the Northeast Minnesota diocese's priests gathered for their annual convocation, the mix was enough to set the locals abuzz... and, well, now we know the rest.

The fifth child of the '60s to be named an American bishop, Sirba inherits a 72,000-member church where Schnurr left a
significant impact in the realm of priestly recruitment, serving as his own vocation director and growing the diocese's crop of seminarians to 25. Today's move signals Rome's intent to maintain the momentum: ordained in 1986, the bishop-elect served most of his priesthood in the trenches, but did two tours of duty along the way as formation director at the Twin Cities' twin seminaries.

In June, Archbishop John Nienstedt named Sirba vicar-general of the 850,000-member Twin Cities church after then-Msgr Lee Piché's appointment as auxiliary bishop. While that post now falls vacant again, the move is just the latest of what's become a boom of MSP clergy sent to dioceses of their own -- following Bishops Peter Christiansen of Superior, Richard Pates of Des Moines and John LeVoir of New Ulm, Sirba is the fourth Twin Cities product named an ordinary in just the last two years.

With the Duluth presbyterate winding down their aforementioned weeklong meeting some 60 miles from the see city, the bishop-elect will make his first appearance there at mid-morning before a 3pm press conference at the Chancery.

The move will make for at least one unique bishop-priest relationship: Sirba's brother, Fr Joseph, is a pastor in the rural diocese.

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And, lastly, this morning's nod for the Ocean State's at-large diocese will make no shortage of folks in no shortage of places very happy. Not that anyone should be surprised, though; Bob Evans' eventual emergence as a bishop been expected for quite some time.

Over his two years at the Pope's DC house and four-year stint in Rome as head of the North American College's sabbatical program, Evans won a horde of friends and fans for his easy-going, entertaining company. A NAC classmate of Providence's Bishop Thomas Tobin, the bishop-elect returned home in 2007 to be closer to his elderly Mom and take up his second pastorate.

Home to well over 600,000 Catholics (two-thirds of the smallest state's total population), Providence has a tradition of auxiliaries despite the diocese's relatively small size; the last of the bunch, Bishop Robert McManus, was promoted north to Worcester in 2004. Despite the lack of aid on paper, though, Tobin hasn't been completely short-staffed since his 2005 arrival -- his two predecessors and three other retired bishops in residence, all with Rhode Island roots, have been more than eager to help out with Confirmations and the rest.

Its clergy likewise away on convocation, Cathedral Square will celebrate the news at a 2pm presser; in accord with the norms of the canons, each of this morning's picks must be ordained and installed within four months. And, lastly, with the trio of moves now in the can, seven Latin-rite Stateside dioceses now stand vacant, with another eight led by ordinaries serving past retirement age.

As always, statements and more to come.

PHOTO: Brian Leddy/Diocese of Gallup