Catholic News Service
St. PAUL, Minn. — Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda said his Holy Thursday appointment to head the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis highlights the connection between his new role and the Eucharist, priesthood and service.
“It’s the Eucharist that brings us together,” he told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper. “The bishop is called to be that source of unity in his local church and where that takes place is at the table of the Lord.”
His appointment was announced in Washington March 24 by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States. It comes nine months after the archbishop was named apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.
Archbishop Hebda, 56, has been at the helm of the archdiocese as it has faced significant challenges, including bankruptcy and criminal and civil charges, since the June 2015 resignation of his predecessor, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche. An installation Mass is being planned for May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
Prior to the March 24 appointment, Archbishop Hebda was coadjutor archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, on track to automatically succeed Archbishop John J. Myers when he retires. Archbishop Myers turns 75 in July; canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope at that age.
Archbishop Hebda has been dividing his time between Newark and the Twin Cities, but made it clear at the onset of his duties in Minnesota that his priority was the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as long as he was its apostolic administrator.
The Pittsburgh native called the archbishop appointment to St. Paul and Minneapolis a shock, because he never seriously entertained the idea of staying in Minnesota, he said, even though many in the archdiocese said they hoped he would.
“I … knew that Pope Francis had already given me responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Newark, so really that’s what I’d been thinking of all along,” he said. “Monday evening (March 21) we had our chrism Mass in Newark, so I was already taking notes about what I would hope to do at next year’s chrism Mass. That was 12 hours before the nuncio called.”
Also shocking, he said, was the short time between Archbishop Vigano’s call March 22 and the Holy Thursday announcement of his appointment.
The urgency, he said, was related to the encouragement Pope Francis wanted to show the archdiocese, he said.
“I think the Holy Father really wanted to show his closeness to the archdiocese, which was going to have to go through the Triduum without an archbishop,” he said. “While that’s still going to happen, because I’m not the archbishop until the installation Mass on May 13, the Holy Father’s action was a great encouragement to me and resolved the unsettling uncertainty that so often reigns in the vacant see.”
The archbishop said much of his role has been consumed by administrative duties. However, he hosted 10 listening sessions throughout the archdiocese in October and November to gather information about the archdiocese’s strengths, challenges and hopes for its next archbishop, and compiled a report for Pope Francis to aid his decision making. A delegate from the nunciature, Msgr. Michael Morgan, also attended some of the sessions, calling them unprecedented in the process of selecting a bishop.
Typically, the nuncio seeks confidential input from some local leaders, including laypeople, Msgr. Morgan said, but never before on this scale. “This is the closest the church comes to direct democracy, you might say,” he said at the time.
Archbishop Hebda said he heard a range of views at the listening sessions that offered insights into the life of the archdiocese, which he expects to aid him as he transitions from apostolic administrator to archbishop. They also help him approach the role with humility.
“Remembering the qualities people had indicated that they would be looking for in the next archbishop, I’m somewhat intimidated to have been even considered for the post,” he said. “I remember at one of the sessions, somebody, after hearing all of the characteristics that people were looking for in their next bishop, said, ‘Basically you want this person to be able to walk on water.’ And somebody else piped in, ‘Well, at least not to drown.’ I’m hoping I can at least tread water and try to respond to those expectations.”
Among the challenges he’ll continue to face is the archdiocese’s bankruptcy, which it entered in January 2015 because of mounting claims of clerical sexual abuse, as well as criminal charges it faces related to a case of clerical sex abuse. Under Archbishop Hebda’s leadership, the archdiocese reached a settlement in December with Ramsey County on civil charges related to the same sex abuse case. The charges were filed simultaneously in June 2015.
“It’s a still long road that’s ahead of us. We’ve been … trying to deal with all of these things in a positive way that reflects who we are as church,” he said. “I suspect that other people would be a better judge for how well we’ve done, but can attest that I have experienced a lot of cooperation and even some affirmation. When we entered into the settlement agreement for the civil charges, for example, I had the sense that many people in the archdiocese thought that we were moving in the right direction even though there’s still much that needs to be worked out.”
Prior to his appointment to Newark in 2013, Archbishop Hebda was bishop of Gaylord, Michigan, from 2009 to 2013. From 1996 to 2009, he served in Rome in the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, which is responsible for canon law, serving for six years as council undersecretary.
He was ordained a priest in 1989 for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a law degree from Columbia University School of Law, and a licentiate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.