It’s hard to believe that as of Feb. 14, I will have completed one year as the Bishop of St. Cloud. In many ways, it feels like three days. I never thought that in my 32 years of priesthood,I would one day become a bishop. I often joke that I avoided being int he company of bishops as a priest, but now I can’t avoid them because I’m one of them!
When I finally spoke with Papal Nuncio Cardinal Christophe Pierre on Dec. 5 last year (after having blocked his phone calls on Dec. 2, 2022, assuming it was spam), I was in shock and felt emotionally overwhelmed. While part of me did not want this, the deeper part of me felt that the Lord Jesus was calling me to step out in faith and to accept his call.
There is a steep learning curve in becoming a bishop. They don’t provide you with a manual or training videos to better learn your role. For example, when all my “bishop’s gear” arrived at the Chancery right before my ordination, I had no idea how to wear most of it. When does one wear the black house cassock as opposed to the pink liturgical cassock, and how do you put on the sash? When do you put on and remove the mitre and when do you carry the crosier (pastoral staff)? I just kept asking tons of questions of Bishop Kettler and he turned out to be a superb mentor.
People often ask me what I most enjoy about being the new bishop here. Hands down, it is being with my people, whether at Mass or at parish and diocesan events. I enjoy celebrating confirmations, especially the moment when I anoint young people on the forehead with chrism oil, and then look them in the eye and say, “Peace be with you.” I feel that the people of this diocese are truly my brothers and sisters whom I am called to shepherd with love and compassion.
The greatest privilege for me would be ordaining men to the diaconate and to the priesthood. It is then that I feel my closest connection to the Apostles, for the gesture of the laying on of hands by the bishop at ordination was handed down to us from them.
A particular grace has been spending Fridays visiting my priests where they live and minister. I ask them where they grew up, what sports and hobbies they have enjoyed over the years and how they discerned their call to the priesthood. I always leave their presence feeling inspired after hearing their stories and getting to spend time with them.
I feel truly grateful to the lay men and women who work for the diocese and are part of the Curia, as we call it. They are amazingly talented, faith-filled and zealous to carry out the work entrusted to them by the Lord. It is a joy to closely collaborate with all of them.
As a Holy Cross religious, I also feel an affinity with all the religious who serve in our diocese: the Poor Clares, the Crosiers, the Benedictine men and women, the Franciscan women and the Vincentians, who hail from India. The charism and spirituality that each religious order brings to our diocese is leaven for us all.
While I’ve never had a busier schedule in my life, deep down I feel grateful and at peace. I now feel at home here. If I could summarize what I have experienced so far, I would echo the words of Dag Hammarskjold, a former U.N. secretary general, who once wrote, “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes!”
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Patrick M. Neary, C.S.C.