I remember well receiving a phone call from the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, on the morning of June 5, 2007. He said two things in one sentence that would change my life forever. Repeating the words of Jesus to St. Peter, he said, “‘Do not be afraid,’ Pope Benedict XVI has chosen you, Fr. Peter, to be an Apostle of Christ Jesus, and he is asking you to be the next bishop of the Diocese of Superior.” That was seven years ago — the Tuesday morning phone call that forever changed my life.
And now, it’s happened again, this time with a new Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, and a new Holy Father, Pope Francis. Early on Monday morning, Oct. 27, I was minding my own business, eating breakfast at one of my favorite cafés in St. Paul, when the call came in from the Washington, D.C. area code (202). Before I even picked up the phone, I knew what it meant.
I have been in the Diocese of Superior for seven years, and if there was to be a change in assignments, this was about the time it would happen. Sure enough, the Nuncio changed my life once again with the words of this single sentence: “Pope Francis has named you to be the next bishop of the Diocese of Boise.” This time my response to the call had much less drama. I simply said, “I will do whatever the Holy Father asks of me.”
Although not quite the same emotional response as seven years earlier, I know this new assignment will have a profound effect on my life nonetheless. This time, however, I feel so much more prepared. And this is where you come in – you have made me so.
I want to thank you for being the first formator in the making of a new bishop. You have taught me what it means to be a pastor, not just of one parish, but 104. The following are just some of the ways you’ve helped instruct me as your shepherd.
* I must begin by offering my gratitude to Bishop Fliss and my brother priests. Few did I know and those that I did, not all that well. From the beginning, Bishop Fliss has treated me with such a kind and gentle heart, and with others to guide me, I felt more up to the task than prior to arriving. I can think of no other bishop who I’d want to follow, and no other clergy with whom to serve.
* The day I was installed in our Cathedral, various representatives of the local church and staff were introduced as part of the solemn service. I remember well the only standing ovation received that day was for the administrative assistant to the bishop. It gave me hope at the time for a well-respected and talented assistant, but I had no idea just how deserving she was until a short time thereafter.
Pat Wildenberg deserves a standing ovation and so much more for her faith-filled, professional and kindly service to our church. I will be forever grateful for her care within our offices, and especially for the undeserving care she offered to her bishop – me.
* I have witnessed in each faithful member of the Diocese of Superior a strong sense of community that goes well beyond boundaries. You seem to move throughout this diocese as if you were simply one BIG believing family. How often I see you at various parish events far beyond where you normally reside. You have made the 104 parishes seem more like one.
* You know how to make do with few resources – generous in sharing your gifts with others, and willing to offer the helping hand of collaboration.
* You rise from the falls and tragedies of life, having a strong faith that allows you to trust better days are coming, even when others would have long since given up. My beloved parish of St. Patrick’s in Hudson is just one parish that knows well the meaning of these words.
* You have been welcoming of foreigners when our numbers, especially in regard to priests, have been a challenging few.
* You have fervor and commitment for family values, which help to make our parishes and civic communities much stronger.
* You have stepped up to the plate when future financial needs have been made known. This was certainly evidenced by your participation and commitment to “Faith in Our Future” — the largest capital campaign this diocese has ever known.
* Not just at home are you generous, but beyond as well. You have always been extremely caring to your brothers and sisters throughout the world who have requested your help as they face struggles caused by natural disasters and the like.
* You fight tirelessly for the unborn and work hard for the dignity of every human being.
* You smaller parishes have learned to work hard to maintain a sense of community like no other. You have a can-do spirit that is most welcoming to outsiders. And, yes, you little clapboard, fieldstone and brick parishes know who you are!
* As parishes big and small, you celebrate well the anniversaries and yearly festivals of your communities and schools. In doing so, you have also given witness to the deep love, respect and honored memories for your priests, deacons, religious and familiar ancestors. I have enjoyed your outdoor Masses to boot.
* I hope you know you have the best Diocesan Choir in the world!
* As a diocese, you certainly have one of the most beautiful locations on the face of the earth.
* You have educators that are so well prepared and committed to their vocations as they teach your young. And, as you may or may not know, your teachers delight in being in each other’s company – evidenced by their annual gathering at the Fall Conference in Rice Lake. I might add, their participation at Mass is like none other.
* Your 15 Catholic Schools raise the bar for all education within our boundaries – parochial and non-parochial alike.
* I trust you know you have a Chancery staff that works hard for the success and the mission of your parish as well. However, I bet you didn’t know that as a staff they gather every workday for morning prayer, asking Our Lord to bless all that you undertake. They also, as you probably have already figured out, work overtime to make me a better man than I would be if left on my own.
* As members of a diocese, you are seen as a gift to each other. Just think of the thousands of volunteer and service hours you offer to so many other people and their causes. This is especially true with the care we receive from our deacons and religious, to whom I couldn’t be more thankful for the many ways in which they worked alongside me.
* Another obvious gift within our diocese is our own Catholic Charities. It is one of the top 10 in the United States; with a budget of $20 million, they offer care to many who otherwise would be disenfranchised from our society. To past leaders and boards, we are so proud.
* I have also come to believe you have the best youth in the world. I’m honored to have been witness to thousands of the Confirmations of our young these past seven years. They have given me tremendous hope for our future as a Church. And how proud I am of the increasing number of young men and women now preparing for their vocations in the service of Our Lord in His Church.
* You have been supportive and encouraging of me, trusting in the path that was set out for us as we journeyed here together. I thank you most of all for this!
And the list goes on and on ….
Perhaps the words of the Apostle Paul, as he wrote to the Church in Philippi, say best what remains left to be spoken from my heart:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart” Philippians 1:3-7.
Can I now ask a favor? Will you pray for me as the next chapter of my life begins to unfold? With every new assignment throughout my life, I have been truly blessed. But transitions are sometimes hard. As one bishop wrote recently, “It’s harder to transplant one’s heart than it is to unpack one’s suitcase.” How true this is, and for this reason I would appreciate your prayers.
May I understand even more the truth of the words chosen for the back of the Mass card that will be used at the Installation ceremony in the Diocese of Boise. They are the same words used on the back of the Mass card at my ordination ceremony seven years ago. Once again, I think they are appropriate and, hopefully, with your prayers will become even more lived as my own.
Reflection on a Life of Faith
by Edith Stein
Whatever did not fit in with my plan did lie within the plan of God. I have an ever deeper and firmer belief that nothing is merely an accident when seen in the light of God, that my whole life down to the smallest detail has been marked out for me in the plan of divine providence and has a completely coherent meaning in God’s all-seeing eyes. And so I am beginning to rejoice in the light of glory wherein this meaning will be unveiled to me.
God bless you all – you will be missed. With love, I will remain yours in Christ Jesus,