With song, ceremony and spirit, members of the Catholic Diocese of Superior welcomed their 10th bishop, Peter F. Christensen, on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s an honor,” said Virginia Zyla from St. Isaac Jogues and Companions Church in Mercer, Wis., who attended the installation ceremony. “I cried.”
Christensen, 54, takes the mantle from retiring Bishop Raphael M. Fliss, who has been with the Superior Diocese for 28 years. The new bishop’s first words to the gathered parishioners, “It’s good to be here,” were met with thunderous applause.“I think he’s awesome,” said Kathy Kaderlik, secretary for St. Isaac Jogues. She said she was very touched by his uplifting, hopeful message.
Christensen told the audience his working mission statement is: “Show particular affection to all priests and deacons,” and to all the faithful.
“I will stand with you to build strong families in faith,” he said.
The installation marks a new beginning.
“For almost two years, we have waited, hoped, prayed in earnest and speculated with abandon as to my successor,” Fliss told the gathered crowd.
In his final act as bishop, Fliss entrusted the diocese to Christensen.
“I trust you will be as inspired by their lives and enriched by their commitment as I have been,” Fliss said.
Christensen comes to Superior with 22 years of pastoral experience, most recently as pastor of Nativity of Our Lord Parish in St. Paul. Three months ago, he got a call from Rome asking him to become bishop. He recalled he was struck speechless, and the pope’s spokesperson had to ask if it was the right church.
“It’s been a tremendous experience for the whole family,” said Christensen’s nephew, David Johnson. He said he remembers watching his uncle’s ordination 22 years ago.
Johnson said the move to bishop has “been shocking, but very humbling” for his uncle. But, he said, Christensen is “very, very solid in his faith.”
Gene McGillis has seen four bishops installed in Superior.
“Every one was different,” said the former Superior resident who now splits his time between Lake Nebagamon and Florida. He said with Christensen’s background as a pastor, he should be a very down-to-earth, pastoral leader.
“He seemed very kind, easy to talk to,” said Tim Kuehn, deacon for St. Anthony’s in Superior, who met Christensen once. “A servant-leader, that was my impression.”
Johnson said his uncle is also very diplomatic: “He deals with conflict well.”
One thing the new bishop showed Sunday is a sense of humor. As the pomp and ceremony unfolded, his hat slipped off his lap once; he forgot to reach for the crosier at the end of the event; and twice he was forced to turn down his screeching microphone.
“This is all new to me,” he said with a smile just before the final processional.
The installation included pomp and ceremony — from a colorful Knights of Columbus honor guard and American Indian dancers, to the Mass itself with dozens of priests and bishops attending. It also included dedication.
“I’m on the journey with you,” Christensen said. “I look forward to years ahead.” Duluth NewsTribune