Very Rev. James PowersAnita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

The news that Pope Francis had named Fr. James Powers bishop of the Diocese of Superior was greeted with joy when he met with the diocesan staff Tuesday morning, Dec. 15, at the chancery in Superior.

“Bishop, we’re really glad you’re with us,” said Dick Lyons, diocesan director of administrative services and finances, at an 11 a.m. press conference.

“What a delight for us,” added Fr. Kevin Gordon, priest of the Bayfield Peninsula cluster and diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy.

Pastor of the Rice Lake cluster of parishes and diocesan administrator for the past year, the bishop-elect’s appointment was announced earlier that morning at the Vatican and circulated to the press by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop-elect Powers will be ordained and installed as bishop Thursday, Feb. 18, at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior. He will lead the 16-county, 15,715-square-mile diocese where 16 percent of the population – about 70,000 residents – are Catholic.

The bishop-elect learned of the appointment while traveling through the diocese Dec. 7. He had no hint of what was coming.

“It was about three miles east of Phillips, heading for Fr. Mike McLain’s funeral, and I think I almost ran off the road,” Fr. Powers said.

The bishop-elect, 62, was born Feb. 6, 1953, in Baldwin. He worked on the family farm and sold insurance before entering the seminary; he was ordained for the diocese May 20, 1990, and holds degrees from St. John Vianney Seminary at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, and St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul. Fr. Powers also studied canon law at St. Paul University, Ottawa, Canada.

He has served parishes in Webster, Scott, River Falls, Solon Springs, Minong and Gordon, among others, and is currently the pastor of parishes in Rice Lake, Birchwood, Dobie and Haugen.

Bishop-elect Powers is the second native son of the diocese to be appointed bishop and the first born here; Bishop Joseph Annabring, who was Hungarian by birth but grew up in Turtle Lake, led the diocese from 1954-1959.

Bishop-elect Powers humbly accepted the congratulations.

“Thanks for your support,” he said. “I just hope and pray … it is the right choice for the diocese at this time.”

The bishop-elect said he’s been praying for nearly a year for the diocese’s next bishop. “This isn’t the answer to my prayer, but hopefully it turns out to be a good one,” he said. Following the press conference, chancery staff gathered for a luncheon celebration.

Reaction beyond the diocese

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki sent his congratulations to the bishop-elect:

“The Archdiocese of Milwaukee shares in the joy experienced by the Diocese of Superior in the selection of their native son, Fr. James Powers, as the 11th bishop of Superior. Pope Francis has appointed a man who has proven himself to be a wonderful pastor and a capable administrator. I look forward to collaborating with him for the good of the Catholic Faithful of Wisconsin.”

Bishop Peter F. Christensen, Bishop-elect Powers’ predecessor in Superior and now bishop of the Diocese of Boise, Idaho, commented:

“It is with great joy that even the Diocese of Boise, Idaho, hears the news of the new bishop for the Diocese of Superior.

“In many ways, this news comes as no surprise, for Bishop-elect Jim Powers is a natural choice as my successor. He is a wonderful pastor, administrator, and proven diocesan leader.

“The long-awaited announcement has created its own Advent story for the faithful in the Superior Diocese. Now it’s time to rejoice and celebrate this wonderful gift.

“My heartfelt gratitude to Pope Francis in making this selection. He has chosen wisely.

Congratulations to the faithful I love and to the friend I now call the 11th bishop for the Diocese of Superior.”