While touring his new diocese, Pueblo Bishop-designate Stephen J. Berg, 62, spoke by phone to the Denver Catholic Register while en route from Pueblo to Alamosa Jan. 15, the day the former administrator of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, was named to his new post.
How did you learn you had been named a bishop and what was your reaction?
I received a call the Monday before Christmas from the nuncio. He said he had an official communication from the Holy See and I’m saying, “Yes, Archbishop.” He said – I can’t remember exactly how he said it – “This is to inform you that you have been appointed as bishop of Pueblo by our Holy Father, Pope Francis.” My first reaction was. “I don’t know where this coming from!” I was really taken aback. Also, I was already thinking about Pueblo. I had a sense of peace.
I’d been through Colorado before, I studied music here. I’m from eastern Montana and I know the rural areas. I did say, “Yes!” (Laugh.) That was my reaction. I couldn’t say anything about it through the Christmas holidays; that was very difficult for me. I’m relieved that I can now. I’m starting to take it all in.
You attended the University of Colorado in Boulder, how do you feel about returning to Colorado and do you have friends or family here?
I feel great about returning to Colorado. I’ve always wanted to be closer to my family, which is mainly located in Montana, Washington state, some parts of northern California and Oregon. I have nieces and nephews in Denver and I have friends in Denver.
You became a priest after having taught music and working in the corporate world. What made you enter the priesthood?
Through those years I had a couple of experiences where I went and spoke with different priests and a sister about entering the priesthood and I was encouraged to do so. I eventually went to the (episcopal) ordination of my uncle, Bishop Joseph Charron in St. Paul, Minn., in 1990. I realized when I saw (his ordination) that I could do a lot more with my life. So I made the move to enter the seminary to see if that would work for me, and it did. Semester by semester I felt called. The other side of that story is that Bishop Charron, my uncle, is the one who ordained me to the priesthood for the diocese of Fort Worth.
Prior to attending your uncle’s episcopal ordination, was he influential in your considering the priesthood?
He’s always been encouraging. He’s really guided me through my priesthood. My uncle is a very holy man and has been close spiritually to all his nieces and nephews.
When you became a priest, did you ever think you would be named a bishop?
No. (Laugh.) I was happy to be a priest. When I became a pastor I thought that was what I was born to do—I was the happiest. I had four parishes and I felt there need be nothing more for me. The surprise was when Bishop Kevin Vann asked me to move back to Fort Worth to be his vicar general. He had asked me to move twice before but I resisted because I loved my parishes. I never expected to be vicar general, which I’ve been for four years, and then diocesan administrator (the last year), which I also never expected.
You’re originally from Montana, why did you enter priesthood formation in Texas?
The corporate headquarters for the business I worked for was in Fort Worth. I had connections in Texas both with music and with friends, and felt that’s where God found me and that’s where I needed to enter the seminary. I knew the local Church there, I knew the priests and seminarians.
What is your schedule while in Pueblo?
I’ll be here through Thursday (Jan. 16) and return to Fort Worth on Friday (Jan. 17). The ordination will be (in Pueblo) on Feb. 27. Right now I’m on the road to visit the parish in Alamosa, with Msgr. (James) King (apostolic administrator delegate). We’ll do the parish visitation, which is normal for this time of year. Tomorrow I’ll be doing the same sort of work back in Pueblo with the deanery there. I’m driving through a little bit, seeing the land and talking and listening to the people.
Do you have any special hobbies or interests?
I’m a pretty good reader. (Laugh.) I like history. I will also occasionally read crime novels. And I still practice the piano; that was my major (in college). I have a beautiful piano; it’s a Mason & Hamlin concert grand and that will be moving with me.
Colorado has a high Hispanic population, do you speak Spanish?
I speak fairly good basic Spanish. I’ve already spoken with several people at the diocese. I’m practicing my Spanish. I think they were OK with my Spanish. I won’t say I’m fluent, but I have a basic working knowledge. I’ve had Spanish ministry in all of my assignments. One Spanish parish I administered, Holy Name of Jesus, had 4,200 Hispanic parishioners.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’m just really happy. (Laugh.) I’m very happy. I’ve met with Archbishop (Samuel) Aquila and Bishop (Michael) Sheridan and they have been very reassuring. I’m really looking forward to working with them. I’ve met with the staff here Pueblo and they’re wonderful. We celebrated Mass at the cathedral. I greeted the parishioners, they were very generous in their hospitality and in their welcoming. I’m very happy and looking forward to getting this phase done correctly and then getting down to work.
Are your parents still alive?
My dad passed away five years ago. My mother is 89. I have 27 nieces and nephews, and I would say we’re a very close family.
What did your mom say when you told her your news?
She’s very pleased and very proud. She has a brother who’s a bishop and now she has a son who’s a bishop.