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Vocations top priority for Pueblo’s Bishop Berg

By Veronica Ambuul and Anna Marie Basquez, Colorado Catholic Herald

PUEBLO, Colo.—Bishop Stephen Jay Berg, former administrator of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, was ordained the fifth bishop of Pueblo by Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila at a packed Memorial Hall in downtown Pueblo the afternoon of Feb. 27.

It was the first episcopal ordination in which Archbishop Aquila was principal consecrator.

Concelebrating the ordination Mass were Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, who had been acting as apostolic administrator of the Pueblo diocese following the resignation of Bishop Fernando Isern in June 2013, and Bishop Emeritus Joseph Charron of the Des Moines Diocese, who is Bishop Berg’s maternal uncle and who ordained him to the priesthood.

Chris McLean/The Pueblo Chieftain

In acknowledgement of the diocese’s large Hispanic population, the readings were proclaimed in both English and Spanish, and Archbishop Aquila began his homily in Spanish.

In his homily, Archbishop Aquila encouraged Bishop Berg to get to know all the priests in the far-flung diocese.

“It is important that you come to know them and love them as Christ loved the apostles,” he said. “They will be your closest collaborators.”

Archbishop Aquila also echoed Pope Francis’ words that bishops and priests are above all shepherds who “should take on the smell of the sheep.”

“As you look upon the faithful and serve them, always remember that they are entrusted to you, but they belong to Christ,” he said.

“We must help the faithful, in their encounter with Christ, receive the teachings of Christ and his Church. In this day and age, it is no easy task,” Archbishop Aquila said.  “We live in times in which people are rapidly rejecting God. You will experience the same rejection that Jesus himself experienced.”

He told Bishop Berg to rely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to carry out the duties of his office.

“At times, we can become distressed and disturbed and think, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ We must always remember that those kinds of movements are from the devil,” he said. “It is only when we approach in confidence the Spirit that we are able to proclaim the truth of Christ in season and out of season.

Prior to the rite of ordination, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, read the letter by Pope Francis on Jan. 15 telling Bishop Berg of his appointment.

“As you go forth from Fort Worth to the Colorado desert-lands, allow yourself  . . .  to imitate the model of Christ, who cried out in the wilderness in order that those who are at a distance may hear and understand, from the loudness of the sound of your voice, the vastness of the thing spoken of,” Pope Francis wrote.

New Bishop of Pueblo elect Stephen Berg hugs his mother Jeanne Berg during his ordination ceremony at Memorial Hall on Feb. 27, 2014 in Pueblo, Colo. (Chris McLean, The Pueblo Chieftain)

Archbishop Vigano also thanked Bishop Sheridan for his “valuable assistance” while acting as apostolic administrator.

After the rite of ordination, Memorial Hall erupted in thunderous applause as Bishop Berg sat in the episcopal chair—known as a cathedra—for the first time. Representatives from around the diocese, including some dressed in native Mexican garb, then lined up to kiss his newly-received bishop’s ring.

In addressing the congregation at the close of Mass, Bishop Berg noted that he had accidentally left his prepared remarks at home and had to speak off the cuff.

He thanked his mother, Jeanne, and his nine siblings, all of which were in attendance along with 15 of his 31 nieces and nephews.

He also acknowledged the burden carried by the priests in Pueblo, some of whom have to travel long distances to tend to several parishes.

“I thought I was a busy pastor when I had four rural parishes,” he said. “Yet I see that some of you have six, seven or eight parishes and missions, and I just want you to know that I will get to know you. I will listen to you and we are going to work together.”

He said that vocations to the priesthood would be a top priority.

“We are moving into the future,” Bishop Berg said.

Paul Harris, who worked with Bishop Berg in the Christmas tree business prior to his ordination to the priesthood, traveled from his home in Austin, Texas, to Pueblo for the ordination along with his wife Marylee.

“They got lucky when he was assigned here,” Harris said of his old friend. “They’re going to enjoy his stewardship. He cares; he listens; he is a very open person.”

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart parishioner Linda Maldonado said that she and her husband and their six children missed work and school to attend the ordination.

“One of my daughters is missing a science fair. We just had to let (Bishop Berg) know that we’re here to serve him in any capacity we can,” Maldonado said. “We’re really grateful to God he sent us a shepherd so quickly.”

Among the prelates attending the ordination were Bishop Paul Etienne of Cheyenne, Wyo., Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., Pueblo Bishop Emeritus Arthur Tafoya, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., and Bishop Michael Olson, who just a few weeks ago was installed as the bishop of Fort Worth.

Bishop Berg was born March 3, 1951, to Conrad and Jeanne Berg in Miles City, Mont. He is the oldest of 10 children and graduated from Sacred Heart School in Miles City. He attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., on a music scholarship and later transferred to the University of Colorado in Boulder. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music for piano performance in 1973 and a master of music degree in piano performance from Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, N.M., in 1975.

Shortly after earning his music degree, he began working for Wolfe Nursery in Fort Worth and rose to the rank of vice president and general manager of Nurseryland Garden Centers in southern California.

However, Bishop Berg felt pulled to the priesthood, and he entered formation for the Diocese of Forth Worth in 1993, attending Assumption Seminary in San Antonio. He graduated with a master of divinity degree from the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio in 1999 and was ordained to the priesthood on May 15 of that year.

Bishop Berg chose “Thy will be done” from the Our Father as his apostolic motto. His coat of arms includes the bluebonnet, which is the Texas state flower, and angel wings on a cross, which is a symbol of St. Cecelia, the patroness of musicians.

The Diocese of Pueblo encompasses more than 48,000 square miles with a population of just under 700,000 people, roughly 10 percent of whom are Catholic.

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