So much has happened in my life since the day that the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, called me and told me that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, had named me the new bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud. I never expected this call to come to me. I do trust, however, that it is the Lord Jesus who is calling me.
I first arrived in St. Cloud on Dec. 14 in the midst of a snowstorm. The whole city looked like a Christmas postcard! From the moment I arrived, Bishop Kettler took me under his wing and made me feel quite at home. On the morning of my press conference, I had a delightful meeting with all those who work for the diocese. I was touched by their enthusiasm, humor and level of professionalism.
I was then able to visit the Mission Office and was thrilled to learn of our commitment to collaborate with the Church in Kenya and Venezuela, as I have lived in both Latin America and in Kenya. I was also moved by my visit to the Catholic Charities Emergency Services Food Shelf. Visiting Cathedral High School was another highlight, joining them for Morning Prayer and enjoying some freshly baked scones with the senior administrators and a few lively students involved in campus ministry.
On my last day there, Bishop Kettler and I visited St. Benedict’s Monastery and St. John’s Abbey. What a blessing to have two Benedictine communities and two impressive Catholic institutions of higher learning in one diocese. I will never forget the sung blessing prayed over me and Bishop Kettler by the Benedictine women in their beautiful chapel.
Despite the challenges, there is a zeal and an enthusiasm on display at every level of the Diocese of St. Cloud. I rejoice to see the Holy Spirit setting hearts and souls on fire.
When I look toward the future of the diocese, a number of hopes and dreams come to mind. My first desire is to get to know my new family! I have to learn where places are and rely on GPS to get me there at first. I want to spend time getting to know my brother priests and the faithful they serve in our many parishes. I want to visit the religious communities that serve here. I’ve collaborated closely with permanent deacons over the years and look forward to meeting all of them in our diocese. I will prioritize the recruitment of new seminarians and truly look forward to meeting our seminarians who are in different stages of formation.
After parish life, probably one of the most important missions of our diocese is that of education. I want to support our administrators, teachers and staff who work in our grade schools and two high schools in any way I can. A passion of mine will be supporting initiatives, such as Young Life Catholic Outreach, that help connect our young people with their Catholic faith and with the person of Jesus Christ, especially through prayer and the Eucharist.
The Holy Spirit is clearly leading us to experience a Eucharistic Revival, as the Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives as Catholics. There are so many superb resources at our disposal and already they are being shared in creative ways with the faithful of the diocese. I know that this movement will produce much fruit in the lives of our people.
In my current parish, Holy Redeemer in Portland, Oregon, half of my parishioners are Hispanic, and many speak Spanish. My life has been forever changed by my semester living in Mexico City as a seminarian in college, and I wish to stay close to a people whose faith and devotion, not to mention culture and celebrations, have so enriched my life and my priesthood. And I won’t say no to those families who may wish to drop some homecooked Mexican food by the Chancery on occasion!
I read the superb final summary of the diocesan synod process that took place here and want to work with those involved to decide what should come next. The Holy Spirit has truly spoken through the faithful of this diocese who participated. Now we can act on what has been shared with us, especially having listening sessions for those who feel neglected or excluded by our Church. We are all, in the end, children of God, and brothers and sisters in the Lord.
I also want to remain committed to the process of healing from the sexual abuse crisis. As I said at my press conference, I wish to echo the words of Bishop Kettler who wrote: “I remain committed to assist in the healing of all those who have been hurt, and I hope this is another step in that direction. I am also grateful to the faithful of our diocese for their ongoing prayers and support.”
What will guide me most as the 10th bishop of St. Cloud will simply be the prophetic motto of the diocese: Heart of Mercy. Voice of Hope. Hands of Justice. May God grant me the grace to embrace it and to be faithful to it!
Yours in Christ,
+ Bishop-elect Patrick M. Neary, C.S.C.