Catholic Herald staff
A diocesan administrator has been elected to steer the diocese through the transition until a bishop is appointed.
Fr. Jim Powers, pastor of St. Joseph, Rice Lake, and its three cluster parishes, has been the diocese’s vicar general for the past five years. He was elected to the position Friday, Dec. 19, by the College of Consultors, the administrative committee tasked with overseeing administrative functions in the absence of a bishop.
As vicar general, Fr. Powers was second-in-command to the bishop. That position officially dissolved with Bishop Peter Christensen’s becoming bishop of Boise, Idaho. The former bishop’s Presbyteral Council, Diocesan Pastoral Council and other appointments also ended with his leaving.
New council members and appointees will be named by the diocese’s 11th bishop following his installation.
Ordained in 1990, Fr. Powers, a native of Hammond, will celebrate his 25th anniversary in the priesthood in May. He’s served in a number of parishes during that time, mainly St. Joseph, Rice Lake, and St. Bridget, River Falls, with shorter stints in Solon Springs and Webster.
He was also “exiled to Canada” for two years to earn a canon law degree at St. Paul University, Ottawa, Ontario, as he jokingly describes it, and took on diocesan committee and council duties upon his return. He was appointed adjunct judicial vicar and, later, vicar general.
Reading the current mood in the diocese, Fr. Powers sees a lot of uncertainty among laypeople and clergy.
“I think there’s a lot of unknowns,” he said. “It’s been so long since we’ve been without a bishop that no one really knows what to expect.”
The transition following Bishop Raphael Fliss’ resignation was seamless, he observed. Bishop Fliss stayed on to handle the diocese’s administrative affairs until Bishop Christensen took the helm.
“There was no difference in the lives of the faithful, the lives of the priests, really,” he said. “This is new territory for awhile.”
In Fr. Powers’ words, his task is “basically just to make sure the governance and maintenance of the diocese continues until a new bishop is installed. Basically, maintain the programs. In a nutshell, that’s pretty much it. Maintain the work of the church.”
As he takes the temporary administrative function in the diocese, Fr. Powers will continue to serve his parishes in Rice Lake, Birchwood, Dobie and Haugen. He’s unsure how often he will be traveling to the chancery in Superior, and says he plans to “play it by ear.”
“With technology today, one can be connected regardless, whether by cell phone or emails,” he added.
Asked whether he anticipates difficulty in balancing parish duties with diocesan administrative functions, he responded, “I guess I’m hoping not. There’s going to definitely have to be some things I let go of in the parishes.”
But, the priest said, it’s too soon to gauge the effect on his pastoral work.
“At this time, I have no idea how much time and work this is going to entail,” he said.
Also, he observed, people have been running the diocese for more than 100 years, and employees in those offices will continue to do their jobs. Overall, he’s hoping for smooth passage through the transition.
“I’m hoping there won’t be too many serious problems,” he added.
Fr. Powers believes his experience as the bishop’s deputy should be helpful in navigating the coming months.
“I had a pretty good general overview of what was happening in the diocese,” the priest said. “I’m sure that there were issues that I wasn’t brought into fully, but as far as general understanding, bishop and I consulted fairly regularly on some things.”
As he takes on his new responsibilities, Fr. Powers asks the faithful to keep him and the diocese in their prayers, “as they await the hopefully swift guidance of the Holy Spirit” and Pope Francis.
“Light a candle,” he suggested.
The pope usually appoints a new bishop to a vacant see within six to eight months.