Former St. Paul-Minneapolis vicar general calls Archbishop Nienstedt an inspiration
“This is a day of great rejoicing for this local church,” Archbishop John Nienstedt proclaimed to hundreds of lay faithful, bishops, clergy and religious at the start of the episcopal ordination of the Most Rev. Paul Sirba, ninth bishop of Duluth.
During the Dec. 14 ordination ceremony, Bishop Sirba, former vicar general of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, called Archbishop Nienstedt “an inspiration, a guide and a friend.”
“You have introduced me to what the life of a bishop is, and with great grace and generosity of service,” he said to the archbishop.
With a touch of humor, Bishop Sirba related the story of how Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, called to inform him that the Holy See had chosen him to be the next bishop of Duluth.
“It is hard to describe the rush of emotions that myself and I’m sure all of my brother bishops have felt in that split second — from amazement to disbelief to unworthiness to excitement, and to the sudden awareness that my life was about to change, shall we say, in a big way,” Bishop Sirba said.
For his motto, he chose “Fiat Voluntas Tua” (“Thy Will Be Done”). “My motto seemed like the perfect combination of Our Lady’s response as well as Matthew 6:10, the words of the Our Father,” he said.
“Sometimes the life of a bishop will be difficult, as are all of our lives,” Bishop Sirba said. “I know that there will be shadows. Yet, the Scriptures say the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
The making of a bishop
The ordination ceremony at Duluth’s DECC Auditorium was filled with tradition and pageantry.
Knights of Columbus decked in red, white, yellow and purple stood at attention along the walls as the Diocesan Chorale and Orchestra belted out: “This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia!”
A seemingly endless line of white-robed priests streamed into the makeshift cathedral, first bowing to kiss the altar, then taking their place on stage. Others filled rows of stadium seats in a large section up front. An almost life-size bronze and wood crucifix, adorned simply with boughs of pine, dominated the stage.
The choir sang an a capella alleluia as Deacon John Weiske processed to the lectern, raised up the gold-plated book of the Gospels, then blessed it with incense.
Candle-bearing altar servers surrounded Deacon Weiske as he read from Luke 14, a cloud of scented smoke floating above his head.
The Ordination Rite began with a chanted hymn calling upon the Holy Spirit. Priests escorted Bishop-elect Sirba to Archbishop Nienstedt and the two co-consecrating bishops, Peter Christensen of Superior, Wis., and Lee Piché of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as Father James Bissonette, Duluth diocesan administrator, formally requested that he be ordained.
Archbishop Sambi, who traveled from Italy to attend the ordination, read from Pope Benedict XVI’s Oct. 15 letter appointing Bishop-elect Sirba to the Diocese of Duluth.
More photos online
More photos from the ordination may be found HERE
Audio: Bishop-elect Sirba's Press Conference, Oct. 15, 2009
The assembly erupted in applause as Archbishop Sambi lifted high the pope’s letter for all to see.
“Bishop-elect Sirba,” the Italian archbishop said, “today in joyful expectation the people of God in Duluth witness your ordination to the fullness of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. We congratulate you and promise you our spiritual support as you undertake the three-fold office of teaching, governing and sanctifying in the name of the Good Shepherd.”
A call to service
Archbishop Nienstedt began his homily by singing a couple of verses from “Spirit Song.”
Looking directly at Bishop-elect Sirba, Archbishop Nienstedt said: “I know you did not desire this promotion for yourself, and that is a sure sign that this call comes from God. Be assured that the God who calls never fails in generosity to sustain.”
“The noble title of bishop is ultimately a call to service, not one of honor,” he said. “The bishop is called to be concerned about all his people, and especially the least among them.”
He advised Bishop-elect Sirba to turn to Mary, the Mother of God, for help in his ministry and to remain faithful. “The situations you will face in your daily life as a bishop will be varied and unexpected,” the archbishop said, “. . . but have confidence that all will go well if you are true to yourself, true to what you believe, true to what the church proclaims.”
Archbishop Nienstedt later anointed Bishop Sirba with sacred chrism and presented him with the book of the Gospels and signs of his office, including a ring to remind him of his fidelity to the church, a miter (hat) to signify his resolve to pursue holiness, and a crosier (staff) to represent his pastoral duties.
Finally, each of the bishops present welcomed their newly ordained brother with a fraternal embrace.
A foretaste of heaven
“As I look out over all of you in my new diocese of Duluth, I am reminded that this is a foretaste of the eternal banquet in heaven,” Bishop Sirba said at the end of the two-and-a-half-hour Mass.
Then he gave the final blessing — his first as a bishop.
For many in attendance, including Thomas Bersell, a parishioner at Holy Family in Duluth, it was their first time witnessing an ordination. “I found it to have a lot of majesty, a lot of pageantry,” Bersell said.
He added that Bishop Sirba’s appointment fills him with hope for the diocese’s future. “Even though he’s a very elevated person,” Bersell said, “his sense of humor and his appreciation came through so strongly [in his final remarks]. It reflected his humanity.”
Therese Tomanek, a United Church of Christ member who attends Peace Church in Duluth, said she welcomed the opportunity to participate in a tradition of the Catholic Church.
“I was very heartened by the words of the new bishop, who exuded humility and faith and will be an example for all Catholics and all Christians of this community,” she said.
Asked what she would say if she had the opportunity to speak with Bishop Sirba personally, Tomanek responded: “I would express my gratitude that he seems open to embracing people of all faiths and people in his faith tradition who are able to serve in many different ways.”
Marilyn Lassard, director of religious education at Immaculate Heart in Crosslake, said Bishop Sirba is a spiritual inspiration to her. “I didn’t know it would be so exciting to get a bishop, but it is,” she said with a smile.
Karla Igo, a parishioner at St. Joseph in Grand Rapids, brought her 13-year-old son, Spencer, with her to the ordination.
Igo said she was inspired by hundreds of priests and bishops praying the eucharistic prayer in unison. “It made me think of how anywhere in the world priests are sharing the Good News with the same prayers and Mass,” she said.
“Our church is a way we can help one another to find love, compassion, forgiveness and peace,” Igo added. “I believe our new bishop will foster this kind of environment." Catholic Spirit