PONTIFICAL LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE IN ONE WEEK
Regular readers of this blog know that last week I took special delight in the naming of my associate pastor at St, Mark’s parish in Dania, Father Fernando Isern, as bishop of the Colorado diocese of Pueblo. While celibates do not give birth to progeny, I hope we can be forgiven for the joy and satisfaction which is ours when someone with whom we have worked or know well is also entrusted with shepherding or assisting in shepherding a local Church. Today someone even closer to me over the years was chosen by Pope Benedict XVI as the next bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming, a huge territory with about 50,000 Catholics in the state.
Father Paul Etienne first came into my life as a graduate of the College of St. Thomas in 1985. He had been a college seminarian at St. John Vianney College seminary on the campus of St. Thomas and had decided to take some time off to reflect on the commitment to celibacy. The Rector then, now Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, called our office at the Bishop’s Conference and said he had a young man who was making a mistake, that he had a vocation to priesthood but needed time. Knowing that we were looking for temporary help for the upcoming 1986 papal visit, the General Secretary at that time and my boss, Monsignor Daniel Hoye and I interviewed Paul and were impressed with his very successful background as a young business man after high school graduation and his academic achievements. Even though he came to Washington wearing “cowboy boots” we hired him and I got to know my co-worker well. He did an outstanding job for the papal visit but hated Washington and its big-city, urban environment. He was from Tell City, a small but very Catholic town along the Ohio River where the public school had been run by the parish and nuns. He was from a close-knit family of six children, faith-filled, loving parents, a small town. When the trip was over, he could not wait to return to Tell City, search for a job, and see how a relationship with a young woman he had met developed. That was November.
In December his older brother Bernie announced that he was entering the seminary and studying for the Evansville diocese where he was living. In the first week of January, Paul called me and said that he felt called again to the priesthood and would be approaching the Archbishop of Indianapolis about entering the seminary. At first I was incredulous, skeptical and challenging, wondering if this was not a reaction to Bernie’s decision. His younger sister had already begun the process of entering the Beech Grove Benedictine community. To make a long story short, Paul entered the North American College that Fall and four years later was ordained the first of the Etienne brothers. I vested him at his diaconate and preached his first Mass in Tell City.
A year later, brother Bernie was ordained, and about ten years after that brother Zach (Zachary) was also ordained for the Evansville diocese. Bishop-Elect Paul has had a good priesthood and has been a much loved and admired pastor of now four parishes, although the last two prior to returning in the summer as pastor of his home parish in Tell City lasted only one year each due to his co-responsibilities as Vice-Rector of Indianapolis’ college seminary program. Sister Nicolette has just finished a term as her community’s Vocation Director and now has returned to her first love, teaching. Brother Richard and sister Angela are the two “normal” siblings who have chosen marriage and each have children. It is going to be hard for this family to say good-bye to Paul who is going quite far away.
One final note. The three priest brothers are avid hunters. For ordination gifts, they gave each other hunting rifles. Come deer season, the boys can be found on their wooded farm behind some blind waiting for a vulnerable deer. I know; I have inadvertently placed a phone call to them only to be greeted by the sound of a rifle going off and told to hang up. I have already cautioned the bishop-elect that if he chooses to go hunting in season in Yellowstone (almost entirely in his diocese) or in the Tetons, he would do well to find out where former Vice-President Cheney (who lives outside of Jackson Hole) will be hunting that day!
Cheyenne’s lucky. They are getting a pastor, not a Church bureaucrat, and someone who will love and lead them.