The end is in sight for Diocese of Winona Bishop Bernard Harrington, who is expected to retire from his position in September.
In September, Harrington will turn 75, an age at which Catholic bishops are required to submit their resignations.
The confidential search process for a new bishop often takes eight months or more, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In northern Minnesota recently, it took more than a year for a new bishop to be ordained in the Diocese of Crookston, after his predecessor retired.
There's another option for how the Diocese of Winona's leadership transition could happen. Pope Benedict XVI could at any time appoint a transitional bishop, called a coadjutor bishop, said Rose Hammes, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Winona. The coadjutor bishop would work with Harrington and take his spot immediately after the bishop retires.
Harrington is a native of Detroit. He served five years as an auxiliary, or assistant, bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit before coming to the Diocese of Winona in 1999.
Harrington has voiced strong opinions on several hot-button issues during his time in the Diocese of Winona, opposing abortion, gay marriage and the war in Iraq.
The bishop also faced the sex-abuse scandal that hit the Catholic Church in 2002.
The diocese formed a local board of review for sexual misconduct after the scandal hit and launched an online "learning community" for recognizing and reporting child abuse. The diocese also passed audits for compliance with the U.S. bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Another challenge Harrington faced was an ongoing priest shortage. He stepped up recruitment of prospective priests, encouraged lay ministers to play a greater role in parishes and furthered a program of clustering churches, a program in which congregations share pastors.
The diocese has 65 priests for 115 parishes spread among Minnesota's 20 southern-most counties. Five more priests are expected to be ordained this year.
Harrington has been a strong leader and superb administrator, said the Rev. Dale Tupper of Queen of Angels Parish in Austin.
"He's been very fair and considerate, and he listens well," Tupper said. "You couldn't ask for anything more, really."
The Diocese of Winona's three bishops before Harrington came from the Midwest: John Vlazny came from Chicago, and his two successors, Loras Watters and Edward Fitzgerald, came from Iowa.
There has been an increasing trend for bishop appointments to have a regional flavor, but the new Diocese of Winona leader could come from anywhere in the country, said Don Briel, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at St. Thomas University.
A lot of emphasis is placed on the personalities of bishops as indicators of changes they might bring, Briel said, but he discourages reading too much into the personality of the next bishop.
"It's not as if this is going to make a major difference in approach or tone," he said. "The church has a 2,000-year tradition, and it doesn't change quickly in the light of a new leader." Rochester Post Bulletin