DULUTH, Minn. (CNS) — During the May 20 episcopal ordination and installation of Duluth’s 10th bishop, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis confessed that he was “experiencing some envy” over new Bishop Daniel J. Felton getting to minister in northeastern Minnesota.
“It’s not just because Tobies is in this diocese, and not mine,” Archbishop Hebda said, referring to a renowned bakery located in Hinckley. “It’s not just because the bishop of Duluth has an office with the best view of any bishop in Christendom (looking out on Lake Superior). It’s not just because you can find here the most amazing potiza this side of Ljubljana (Slovenia).”
“Rather,” he explained, “it’s because this diocese has a strong connection to my bishop hero” — Bishop Frederic Baraga, a candidate for sainthood given the title “Venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI May 10, 2012, for heroically living the Christian virtues.
Nicknamed the “Snowshoe Priest” and “Apostle of the Great Lakes,” he was the first missionary bishop of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and he also ministered in northeastern Minnesota, the area covered by the Duluth Diocese. He often had to brave Lake Superior by canoe to reach his flocks.
Archbishop Hebda, the principal consecrator, made the comments in his homily during the rite of ordination at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth. Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, were co-consecrators.
Several other bishops were concelebrants, including Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio, and Bishop James P. Powers of Superior, Wisconsin — the diocese across Lake Superior from Duluth — and several priests, including Father James Bissonette, who was serving as Duluth’s diocesan administrator.
Then-Father Felton was named to head the Duluth Diocese by Pope Francis April 7. Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Green Bay June 13, 1981, he was Green Bay’s vicar general and moderator of the curia at the time of his new appointment.
The 66-year-old bishop succeeds Bishop Paul D. Sirba, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who died at age 59 in December 2019 after suffering a heart attack. He had been Duluth’s bishop since 2009.
Bishop Baraga “was an amazing priest and an amazing bishop who selflessly gave of himself in ministry in the most difficult of circumstances,” said Archbishop Hebda, who said he first came to know about him when then-Msgr. Hebda was ordained as the bishop of Gaylord, Michigan, in 2009.
A native of Slovenia, then-Father Baraga came to the U.S. as a missionary in 1830, serving an 80,000-square-mile territory by canoe, boat, horse, snowshoes and dog sled. He was ordained a bishop and named apostolic vicar of the Upper Peninsula in 1853.
When the apostolic vicariate became the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie (now the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan) in 1857, Bishop Baraga served as its first bishop until his death in 1868. His sainthood cause was officially opened in 1952.
His work includes an Ojibwa-English dictionary, which is still in use today.
Archbishop Hebda paralleled the journey of the missionary bishop with that of Bishop Felton, saying: “A faithful and courageous priest travels from Wisconsin to Minnesota to fulfill a great pastoral need and experiences there the Lord’s incredible providential care.”
He recalled the story of how, in 1846, then-Father Baraga had learned of a possible epidemic among the Ojibwe in Grand Portage, Minnesota, set out from Madeline Island, Wisconsin, in a small boat with an Ojibwe guide.
A terrible storm arose, but they were blown over a sandbar and safely into the quiet mouth of what came to be called the Cross River. In thanksgiving, they erected a small wooden cross at the site. Later, it was replaced by a giant granite one, known as the Baraga Cross.
“A bishop must strive to serve rather than to rule, according to the Master’s commandment, ‘Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant,'” Archbishop Hebda said. “‘Be servants of all,’ the pope said — of the greatest and the least, of all but always be servants serving.”
He said the pope always emphasizes two principles bishops must especially follow: Discernment and listening.
As the pope says, discernment is foundational and “born in the heart and mind of the bishop through his prayer when he puts the people and the situations entrusted to him into contact with the Divine Word pronounced by the Spirit,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Only in silence of prayer can one learn the voice of God, perceive the traces of his language and have access to his truth.”
He said it was obvious from his ministry as a parish priest and moderator of the curia in Green Bay, Duluth’s new bishop is a man of prayer and discernment.
“I encourage you moreover to be the listening bishop that Pope Francis desires for his church — Pope Francis says we need bishops capable of hearing the heartbeat of the community and of their priests even at a distance, (to be) apostles of listening, who know how to lend an ear even to what is unpleasant to hear.”
He said Bishop Felton has already distinguished himself as a collaborator and he will have strong collaborators in his new diocese’s priests and deacons, women religious and dedicated laity.
Before the rite of ordination, Archbishop Pierre read the papal bull, officially naming Bishop Felton to Duluth.
“As you begin your episcopal ministry and mission to the people of Duluth,” the archbishop said, “cling to the cross of Christ and proclaim it boldly among your people, for the cross is the instrument of our salvation.”
In his remarks at the end of the Mass, Bishop Felton thanked the pope, the nuncio, all the assembled bishops, priests, deacons, women religious and the lay faithful. He also commented that he planned to learn in coming days the names of all those who worked for seven days cleaning, mopping, waxing, polishing and preparing the cathedral for his ordination and installation Mass.
“This is what it means to be church. I come to serve. I will know you by name to personally say thank you,” Bishop Felton said.
“It’s not about me. And it really wasn’t about us,” he continued. “It really is about praising and giving glory to God, who is the source of our blessing, who is the giver of all of our gifts. And on this day in so many ways, the Diocese of Duluth is so, so blessed.”
“I’m also probably one of the luckiest bishops in the United States, not only to have a great office looking over (Lake Superior), but I’ve got a bishop right across the bridge on the other side who is going to give me all kind of wisdom and all kind of guidance,” he said, referring to Bishop Powers.
He noted that his mother in Appleton, Wisconsin, was unable to travel to Duluth to attend the ceremony, so he would be visiting her over Memorial Day weekend and saying Mass in her parish church — a parish she has belonged to her whole life. He said he was sure his late father was viewing the livestream of the Mass from heaven.
He told members of his extended family who were there: “I love you. We’ve been through thick and thin along the way.”