Wednesday, January 15, 2014

For Rome, Fort Worth's Become Fort Knox – Metroplex VG Berg to Pueblo

Live On-demand from Pueblo Chancery, the Appointment Day presser introducing Bishop-elect Steve Berg....

For the record, the last time a diocesan administrator was snapped up before completing his mandate came in early 2010, and likewise involved Texas as the interim overseer of Austin's rising church, Msgr Michael Mulvey, was named to Corpus Christi.

As for the last time two priests of the same diocese were made ordinaries within two months – or anywhere near as close – however... anyone got a guess? The house is stumped.

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6.15am ET – Lest it wasn’t already clear, Fort Worth, the eyes of Francis are upon you.

There's a new bishop in town... Again: for the second time in two months – indeed, for just the second time in the entire 45-year history of the northwest Texas church.

A fortnight before its first native son ever to be named a bishop takes the reins of the booming fold of 750,000 in the western Metroplex, at Roman Noon the Pope named another of the diocese’s key figures, Msgr Stephen Berg, 62 – Fort Worth’s vicar-general, then administrator through the 14-month vacancy now reaching its end – as bishop of Pueblo.

At the helm of the diocese comprising Colorado’s southern third, the Montana-born nominee succeeds Bishop Fernando Isern, the Miami-bred Cuban exile who was granted an early resignation last June at age 54 for publicly unspecified health reasons. (See, when the players deign to drag a simple, decent, hard-working pastor who's spent his whole life in the Caribbean and South Florida across the country, dropping him into a place where bursting pipes made for part of his arrival due to sub-freezing temperatures, the odds are fairly stacked against things ending well.)

Then as now, the stats illustrate the challenge: while Berg’s new charge has less than a tenth of Fort Worth’s Catholic population (70,000), Pueblo covers some 48,000 square miles, a turf twice the size of the diocese he leaves behind. For purposes of context, Fort Worth’s land area alone is roughly equivalent to that of the Republic of Ireland. Despite the name, meanwhile – and until today, two Hispanic bishops in a row spanning over three decades – Pueblo's Latino bloc is only said to number about a quarter of the diocese; by contrast, to the north Hispanics have comprised a majority of the 600,000-member Denver juggernaut for several years.

A quiet, kind, consistent and über-diligent sort who studied and taught music, then worked for several years as a for a national retail nursery chain, rising from store manager to vice-president before entering seminary, the episcopacy is literally in Berg’s blood. The bishop-elect’s uncle, Joseph Charron CPpS, was the "revered" head of Iowa’s Des Moines diocese from 1994 until his early resignation in 2007 due to an inflammatory arthritis that inhibited his ability to serve.

After his 2008 appointment as vicar-general of Fort Worth, and then as diocesan administrator, today's nominee – ordained a priest by Charron in 1999, when Berg was 47 – kept a parish assignment amid the diocese's extraordinary growth. In addition to the two full-time posts, he's remained an adjunct spiritual director at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, now enjoying its largest enrollment in four decades. (In his interim capacity after Bishop Kevin Vann's September 2012 transfer to Orange, the bishop-elect is shown below leading the groundbreaking of yet another new church last August.)

This Wednesday’s nod is just the latest in what’s become a historic cycle of moves over the last 16 months which have spotlighted the ecclesial eruption of the North Texas Metroplex – now the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area, whose Catholic population between its two dioceses has mushroomed from some 350,000 in 1990 to nearly 2 million today... and all in a Lone Star State where (with an unprecedented cardinal – now likewise vice-president of the US bishops – leading the way) the faithful have suddenly become Texas' largest religious body.

With the ordination of Bishop-elect Michael Olson – Berg's predecessor as vicar-general of Fort Worth – as the hometown shepherd two weeks from today, right alongside that of the celebrated Aggie Mike Sis in San Angelo two days earlier, Pueblo Chancery's already announced that its bishop-elect will be ordained and installed with unusual speed, the rites slated for February 27th. The traditional Appointment Day presser is slated for 10.30am Mountain time.

On his arrival for good, Berg will be the first bishop to be ordained by Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who returned home to Denver as metropolitan 18 months ago this week.

With today's nod, six Stateside Latin sees remain vacant, with another four led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age of 75. As Pueblo wasn't the longest-standing vacancy – that distinction continues to be held by Wichita, whence Bishop Michael Jackels was named archbishop of Dubuque last April – the rapid action on the file is likely due to the presence of the diocese's northern neighbor, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, as apostolic administrator since Isern's retirement.

As ever, more to come.