Mom’s proud, says Pueblo’s newly appointed bishop

Q & A with Bishop-designate Stephen Berg

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.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash