In the midst of busy Christmas preparations, Jacob and Marybelle Neary were enjoying some quiet time at home when the phone rang. It was their only son, Holy Cross Father Patrick Neary, with some unexpected news. He had just been named bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota.
“We were very excited and wanted to call everyone,” Jacob said. The appointment was announced at 5 a.m. Minnesota time Dec. 15, by the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington D.C.
During their conversation, Jacob said he assured his son that he had been preparing for this since he committed his life to God and joined the Holy Cross order. “I know his training through Holy Cross has provided him with the expertise to be a superior leader in teaching the Catholic faith as an apostle,” he said.
During a press conference Dec. 15 at the Diocese of St. Cloud’s Pastoral Center, Bishop-elect Neary said he was surprised by the appointment.
“I never expected this invitation, this call, from the Holy Father, from the Church; and I said yes, just trusting in the Lord,” he said.
When Father Neary’s youngest sister, Kathy Neary, received the call from their parents, she said she wasn’t surprised to hear that her big brother had been named a bishop.
“I knew it was a very big honor, but I also know he is able to do anything he puts his mind to, especially in the service of others,” Kathy said. “He is a servant leader and will never forget why he is there and the greater power that helps guide his actions.”
He may be biased, but Jacob said he doesn’t know anybody who could do the job better.
“It is no question that it’s going to be a challenge, but he’ll take on a challenge without a problem,” he said.
Ed Langlois, a member of Holy Redeemer Parish in Portland, Oregon, where Father Neary has served as pastor since 2018, has known him since the late 1980s when they were both studying theology at Notre Dame.
“I was surprised by the appointment only in that I know Father Pat never aspired to or pursued such leadership,” he said. “But after just a few minutes, it made sense. His good sense and kind leadership in the Congregation of Holy Cross had gotten noticed. If the Church is making bishops of people like Father Pat, I am very optimistic about our future.”
Members of St. Joseph Parish in La Porte, Indiana, Jacob said that since the announcement he and his wife have been getting messages of congratulations from people they know — and even people they don’t.
“At church when we went on Sunday, a woman came over and gave us her blessing and wishes for Pat’s success, and neither one of us knew who she was. She knew us, but we didn’t know her,” he said. “So, it’s kind of been like that.”
Growing up, Father Neary was always a leader, his dad recalled.
He once organized a group of kids to protect their street, patrolling the neighborhood with bikes and wagons.
“They called themselves the 8th Street Police, I think they made up badges and everything,” Jacob said.
As a teen, Father Neary delivered what is now The La Porte County Herald-Dispatch newspaper and would regularly help the elderly customers on his route.
“He would not come home for supper, and we knew where he was,” Jacob said. “He’d be visiting one of the older couples on his route. And that’s what he did. He was always like that.”
“For me he was a mentor,” Kathy said. She helped him with the paper route and eventually took it over from him. “He protected and looked out for all of his sisters,” she said. “To this day he will always make time for discussions, visits and advice.”
When Father Neary tells his vocation story, he credits his parents’ faith and example. He and his five sisters grew up knowing that faith and family were important.
“Our parents raised us to take care of each other and taught us that family is everything,” Kathy said.
Family life centered around the parish — Jacob was a lector and a member of the parish council, Marybelle was in the choir and on the PTA for St. Joseph School, which all six children attended.
“We were always involved in the Church. We still are today,” Jacob said.
Though the idea of a vocation to the priesthood didn’t come to him until he was a junior in high school. Father Neary said the seed was planted long before that. Before he was ordained a priest, he wrote in an essay for a newspaper that, looking back, he could see how hard his parents worked to plant the “seeds of faith.”
One of the many gifts Father Neary brings to his new ministry is a talent for listening.
“He likes to listen to people,” Jacob said. “He likes to hear them, not just look at them. He wants to hear them. And that’s important for people to know — that when you’re talking, he’s listening.”
Holy Cross Father William Lies said Father Neary often takes a lot of time on his pastoral visits or in his office, making people feel comfortable.
Father Lies, a native of Little Falls who currently serves as provincial superior of the U.S. Province of Priests and Brothers of Holy Cross, met Father Neary in 1987 in the Holy Cross formation program, and they have become good friends.
“Father Pat is graced with many gifts that will make him a good fit for the St. Cloud Diocese and a blessing for the people and the priests and deacons there,” Father Lies said. “He is a great pastor. His wisdom and wit and his gentle pastoral sensibilities will serve him well in this new role.”
Father Neary also is fluent in Spanish, having studied in Chile during his formation, Father Lies said.
“When he first arrived at his present parish, Holy Redeemer in Portland, Oregon, the local hospital discovered he spoke Spanish, and regularly called on him to be a translator for Spanish-speaking families with hospitalized loved-ones,” Father Lies said. “Father Pat spent countless hours discussing with the families the treatment options and discussing with them their fears.
“It will not take long for the people of the diocese to cherish him, his pastoral grace, his humor, his humility and humanity.”