Monday, September 24, 2007

Bishop Peter F. Christensen, Shepherd of the Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin


Bishop Peter Christensen kneels under the Book of the Gospels
during his ordination Mass Sept. 14 at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
This action, part of the ordination rite from the earliest centuries,
expresses the power of the Word of God over us.

Nary a seat was left in the Cathedral of St. Paul Sept. 14 as the procession of priests and bishops headed toward the altar for the ordination Mass of Father Peter Christen­sen as bishop of Su­perior, Wis.

The 3,000-seat church was filled with family, friends and soon-to-be members of his flock in Wisconsin.

Andrew and Deb­orah Percic and their daughter, Made­line, 5, were among hundreds of families that rated a spot in the reserved seating area for pa­rish­ioners and students of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, where Bishop Christensen had serv­ed as pastor for the last eight years before receiving his new ap­pointment from Pope Benedict XVI June 28.

The Percics, who also are members of St. Charles Borromeo in St. An­thony, said after the ordination that the Nativity pastor was always warm and welcoming.

"I'm amazed at how he's so present," Andrew Percic said.

"There are lots of fine priests, but he is like a shepherd," said Deborah Percic, who teaches theology at the University of St. Thomas. The bishop served as rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary on the university campus for seven years.

"He loves the church and he loves his job and he loves his people. . . . I think Bishop Chris­ten­sen, his norm is love," she said.

Judy Bullard drove to St. Paul from Weyer­hauser, Wis., with a retired priest, and a mother and her young son. They arrived shortly after noon and secured a coveted seat near the front of the cathedral, she said on the shuttle bus from the church to the bishop's reception in St. Paul.

"The time flew by," Bullard said. "It didn't seem like two-and-a-half hours (the length of the ceremony)."

Words of wisdom

Archbishop Harry Flynn served as the presider and principal consecrator, with Bishop Raphael Fliss, retired bishop of Superior, and Bishop William Bullock, retired bishop of Madison, Wis.

Bishop Bullock, a former auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, was the priest who "brought to a head the full vocational calling to become a priest" for Bishop Christensen when the new bishop moved to Min­nesota from his native California.

During the ordination Mass homily, Archbishop Flynn urged the people and priests of Superior to "revere him as a minister of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God. He has been entrusted with the task of bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel and with the ministry and spirit of justice. Remember the words: 'Where the bishop is, there is Christ.'"

He told Bishop Christensen: "A bishop should strive to benefit others rather than lord it over them. He does it by listening and listening and listening. Such is the priesthood of the master. The greater is made as the least, and the ruler is the servant."

He went on to say, "You have done this so beautifully as rector and you have done this so beautifully as pastor. And now you must do this, par excellence, as bishop. . . . As one chosen by the father to rule over his family, be mindful, always of the Good Shep­herd."

Family connections

Bishop Christensen, the longtime good shepherd of Nativity parish, first extended his thanks to the children of Nativity. They are the future of the church, he said, and they prayed for the last-minute arrival from overseas of his crosier for the ordination.

The crosier is a shepherd's staff that signifies the responsibility of the bishop to offer his life for his flock. It was a gift from his Nativity parishioners.

The miter - a tall, pointed ceremonial cap - he wore was a gift from Nativity liturgist Jan Berens and her husband, Bill Berens.

His pectoral cross is a gift from his godparents, Phil and Colleen Kirst. The cross is modeled after the Celtic cross that is on his rosary. He said it reminds him of his Irish heritage and the power of Christ's cross.

The ring he now wears is a gift from his family. It is a symbol that he always be faithful to the promises of love and obedience that he made to God and "all his holy people."

Warm reception

That love, obedience and patience were extended by the newly-ordained bishop and the many people who waited in the winding reception line at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul.

As he stood for hours greeting the well-wishers, a slide show displayed the many faces of Bishop Christensen and his family.

"Peter put together the slide show," said Bibs (Mary) Reville, one of the bishop's three aunts, who are sisters of his late mother, Ann (Forsyth) Christensen. "He is so gifted."

Bishop Christensen is a talented potter, painter and gardener, who designed his crosier, pectoral cross and coat of arms.

Reville said their mother had always thought it would be nice if one of the four girls would become a nun, but none of them did.

"So, all I could think of was that Mother and Daddy and everybody is up there rejoicing," she said, adding that she was certain that her sister was with Bishop Christensen in the reception room.

Joan Harmon, the oldest of the sisters, said that her nephew recently traveled to New Brunswick, Canada, to preside at the marriage of her granddaughter and baptize her son's twin babies. "He said his first Mass with his bishop's cap there," she added.

As family pictures kept appearing on the wall, Harmon pointed out the bishop's parents, Ann and Robert Christensen, and the impish child, now grown, who once was on the cover of Wisdom magazine. Catholic Spirit

Related Stories:
Christensen's ordination as bishop part of God's plan

Related Links:
Photo Gallery
Text of Archbishop Flynn's Homily

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