Catholic officials near and far, friends, and local priests and religious pointed to the many gifts Archbishop-designate Bernard Hebda brings to his appointment as the next archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington — who, as bishop of Pittsburgh, ordained Archbishop Hebda a priest — noted in a statement that Archbishop Hebda’s appointment as the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis is “a source of joy because of the gifts he will bring to his assignment.”
“Everyone who knows Archbishop Hebda recognizes that he is a gifted and caring person who tirelessly and pastorally serves the Church and her faithful in his ministry,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
He added: “Archbishop Hebda is quick to see the human dimension of any issue, a priestly quality that the people of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have no doubt seen as he has served as their apostolic administrator for the last nine months.”
Archbishop John Myers of Newark, New Jersey, referred to the “God of surprises” in reacting to the appointment of Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who was previously on track to succeed Archbishop Myers.
“Our Holy Father Pope Francis has often said that our God is a God of Surprises,” Archbishop Myers said March 24 in a prepared statement. “Today is surely a perfect example of that.”
He said he was “both privileged and blessed” to have worked closely with Archbishop Hebda over the last two and a half years.
“His tireless, positive approach to dealing with the challenges presented him will be one of the graces that he will share with the people of the Twin Cities,” he said.
‘A gift’ from Pope Francis
Closer to home, bishops around Minnesota welcomed the archbishop whom they have gotten to know at meetings and gatherings of the state’s bishops.
Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba, who was ordained for the archdiocese and was once a pastor in St. Paul and a vicar general of the archdiocese, called the appointment “great news.”
He said he saw “approachability and common sense” in Archbishop Hebda.
“He’s a gift for the archdiocese from Pope Francis,” Bishop Sirba said. “Through the mercy of God, Pope Francis heard the prayers of the people of the archdiocese and is sending them a shepherd, a very loving, good man. He will be someone who will walk with the people and be with them in their needs.”
St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler said it was helpful that Archbishop Hebda has gotten to know the archdiocese over the past nine months he has served as its interim leader, a role he assumed after the June 2015 resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt.
“So far he’s provided caring and wise leadership to the archdiocese as apostolic administrator, and I’m sure he will continue to do so,” Bishop Kettler said.
“He’s got wisdom and seems to have a listening heart,” he added. “With his canonical and civil [legal] background, he’s bringing important gifts to the archdiocese.”
Retired St. Cloud Bishop John Kinney called Archbishop Hebda’s appointment “an answer to the prayers of the people of the archdiocese.”
Bishop Kinney, also ordained a priest for the archdiocese and who served as a pastor and auxiliary bishop in the Twin Cities, said the surprise announcement was “great news, wonderful news.”
“He has a very pastoral presence,” Bishop Kinney said, something that was evident when the archbishop held listening sessions around the archdiocese in October and November. “From everything I’ve heard, he’s done just an outstanding job working with both the priests and the people of the archdiocese,” he said.
‘A shepherd’s heart’
Priests of the archdiocese who have been in a position to observe Archbishop Hebda during his tenure as apostolic administrator are complimentary about what they’ve seen of the archbishop-designate.
Father Steven Ulrick, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus in Medina, said he has been with Archbishop Hebda at various meetings.
“He’s a great guy, a man of faith,” Father Ulrick said. “He has a shepherd’s heart. He’s a wise man with a gentle spirit, and I think that will serve our archdiocese so well.”
He said he’s found the archbishop to be a good listener who wisely guides and leads.
“I appreciate that in him,” Father Ulrick said. “Pope Francis has been good to us.”
At St. Patrick in Inver Grove Heights, pastor Father Robert Hart was “so excited, so overjoyed, so very hopeful” after learning who the new archbishop would be.
“He’s very pastoral and understanding,” Father Hart said, “and since he’s been here for a while he knows what we’re about.
“I like the fact that he knows [leading the archdiocese] is going to be a challenge and is willing to do it and didn’t shy away from the challenge,” he added.
Father Hart noted Archbishop Hebda’s humility may be his best attribute.
“I think he’ll also bring a renewed spirit,” he said, “a renewed sense of trust.”
The leadership team of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul also welcomed the appointment in a statement.
Sisters Jean Wincek, Katherine Rossini and Meg Gillespie, speaking on behalf of their fellow religious sisters and consociates, said, “We look forward to working with Archbishop Hebda as our spiritual leader.”
“Realizing the magnitude of the issues before him and with deep appreciation for his commitment to social justice, we will hold Archbishop Hebda in our prayer, especially during this holy season,” they added.
At the Visitation Sisters’ monastery in north Minneapolis, Sister Mary Frances Reis said she was very impressed by the way Archbishop Hebda responded to people’s comments during the listening sessions.
“I like what he said: that he’ll be happy to serve the priests, religious and empowered laity of the archdiocese,” she said. “He gets it.”
But that wasn’t foremost in her mind upon learning of Archbishop Hebda’s appointment.
“One of the first thoughts that came to my heart when I heard about his appointment was that I was so happy for the priests in the archdiocese,” the Visitation Sister said. “I think he will be a wonderful companion to our priests.”
Visitation Sister Karen Mohan, who was on the archdiocesan planning committee for the Year of Consecrated Life, said she was struck by the way Archbishop Hebda participated in all the events to which the committee invited him without any fanfare.
“I know he was probably squeezing the events into a busy calendar,” Sister Karen said, “but he made time for us, and it was very encouraging. Not only that, but when he came to things like our booth at the Basilica Block Party, everybody felt at home with him.”
One more thought occurred to Sister Karen: “Now I know the pope can change his mind!”
Category: Welcome Archbishop Hebda