Bishop Sirba’s funeral Mass is Dec. 6; he is remembered as a ‘kind, gentle, faithful shepherd’

| December 4, 2019 | 0 Comments

Bishop Paul D. Sirba of Duluth, Minn., is seen during “ad limina” visits with other bishops at the Vatican March 6, 2012. Bishop Sirba, 59, was at St. Rose Catholic Church in Proctor, Minn., when he suffered a heart attack Dec. 1, 2019. He was rushed to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth where lifesaving measures were unsuccessful. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Kind, gentle, humble, holy.

Those are some of the ways people describe Bishop Paul Sirba of Duluth, who died Dec. 1 after a heart attack at St. Rose in Proctor, where he was living at the rectory. He was 59.

“We thought we were going to be blessed with him for a lot longer,” said Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a close friend who grew to know Bishop Sirba when they served together at The St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul from 2006 to 2009.

The bishop’s funeral Mass will be 11 a.m., Dec. 6 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth. Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis will be the principal celebrant.

“A native son who loved Christ and his Church, he will be missed throughout this archdiocese as well,” the archbishop said in a statement. “A man of prayer and discernment, he will long be remembered for his humble and compassionate Christ-like service.”

Born in Minneapolis and raised in Bloomington by his late father, Norbert, and his mother, Helen, now of St. Paul, Bishop Sirba had three siblings: Father Joseph Sirba of the Diocese of Duluth, John Sirba of Bloomington and Catherine Kelly of Cannon Falls. He served 23 years as a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis before Pope Benedict XVI appointed him bishop of Duluth in 2009.

Bishop Sirba was preparing to celebrate Mass at St. Rose on the first Sunday of Advent when he suffered cardiac arrest. Rushed to a hospital, he could not be revived.

“Our faithful are in shock and they’re grieving, and rightly so, because they loved Bishop Sirba, and he was a very kind, gentle, faithful shepherd,” Father James Bissonette, Bishop Sirba’s vicar general, said in a statement. “I myself am grieving not only because like the other priests of the diocese I lost a good shepherd, but he was also a good friend, and he will be missed greatly.”

Bishop Cozzens said Bishop Sirba wasn’t altogether comfortable with the attention being a bishop brings, but he loved visiting with the people of his diocese and cared deeply for the priests, seminarians and others.

A gentle and well-loved confessor and a practical, down-to-earth homilist, Bishop Sirba radiated goodness, Bishop Cozzens said.

“He had a very natural holiness. It wasn’t flashy, but it was authentic. He was authentically humble, which made him very approachable,” the bishop told The Catholic Spirit.

 Father Tom McDonough, a retired priest of the archdiocese who served at St. Olaf in Minneapolis with then-Father Sirba in their first years as priests, also remained a fast friend. He told The Catholic Spirit that he and Father John Ubel, rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, gathered with members of the Sirba family in St. Paul, including the bishop’s mother, Helen, the night of the bishop’s death, praying and sharing memories. 

 “I think the thing about Bishop Paul was, no matter who he was with, he was 100 percent himself and you felt like he was your best friend,” Father McDonough said, his voice breaking with emotion. “He was so kind and loving and interested in your life.”

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