January 16, 2014
|Bishop Sheridan, bishop of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colorado, congratulates Bishop-elect Stephen J. Berg on his appointment as bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado. (Photo by of Peter Fecteau/The Colorado Catholic Herald)|
Margarita Luna greeted the news with mixed emotions. On Jan. 15, Pope Francis named her friend, Monsignor Stephen Berg, the new bishop of Pueblo, Colorado.
“I’m happy for him but sad for me,” said Luna, who assisted the newly appointed bishop-elect when he was pastor of St. Mary Church in Henrietta. “I think he will be a wonderful bishop, but our diocese will miss him.”
The pastoral associate worked closely with then-Father Berg when he was in charge of four parishes in the Northwest Deanery of the Diocese of Fort Worth from 2002-08: St. Mary in Henrietta; St. Jerome in Bowie; St. William in Montague; and St. Joseph in Nocona. She remembers him as a caring, concerned pastor — qualities that became even more evident when large wildfires raced through the rural North Texas area in January 2006. Forty homes were destroyed in Montague County alone as a 17-mile long fire burned between Ringgold and Nocona.
“He worried about his flock,” Luna said, recalling how every Mass announcement after the tragedy asked if any family was in need. “The area was affected badly, and the community came together to help. He was there physically, spiritually, and emotionally for the people.”
Bishop-elect Berg, 62, who has served as diocesan administrator since December 2012, is the second priest from the Diocese of Fort Worth to be appointed a bishop — both in the last two months and in the diocese’s 45-year history. On Nov. 19, Monsignor Michael Olson was named the fourth bishop of Fort Worth — he was ordained Jan. 29.
With unusual speed, Bishop-elect Berg’s ordination will take place Feb. 27 with Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila serving as consecrating bishop. He succeeds Bishop Fernando Isern, a Cuban exile who grew up in Miami and was granted early retirement last June because of health reasons. Covering the southern and western parts of Colorado (nearly half of the state), the Diocese of Pueblo is geographically huge, covering 48,100 square miles but sparsely populated. Parishes are separated by distance, with some quite isolated. Approximately 63,714 Catholics live in the area and comprise about 10 percent the population.
During a Jan. 15 press conference introducing him to the Diocese of Pueblo, Bishop-elect Berg told the faithful in his new diocese, “You will have all I can give.”
Growing up in the “wide open spaces” of Miles City, Montana, his six years as a rural pastor in North Texas, and time spent at the University of Colorado in Boulder while earning a bachelor’s degree in music, are factors that bring together the best times of his life and “all fit together,” he said.
|Bishop-elect Berg addresses the staff of the Diocese of Pueblo at a press conference Jan. 15 shortly after he was announced as that diocese’s fifth bishop.|
“When Pope Francis appointed me Bishop of Pueblo, I knew my life had changed. In one sense, the consolation was the word Pueblo,” Bishop-elect Berg said, referring to the area’s geography. “I don’t know why this happened. I can only put it in the hands of God.”
The soon-to-be-ordained bishop is looking forward to traveling and learning about his new diocese.
“I will learn and … listen,” he promised. “I ask you to be patient with me, to pray for me, and to laugh with me.”
The priesthood is a joyful ministry, and Pueblo is beautiful country with beautiful people, Bishop-elect Berg continued, adding “for some reason, mysteriously, God has prepared me for you and you for me.”
Ordained for the Diocese of Fort Worth on May 15, 1999 by his maternal uncle Des Moines Bishop Emeritus Joseph L. Charron, Bishop-elect Berg served in several parishes, including St. Michael in Bedford (1999-2001), St. John the Apostle (2001-2002), and St. Peter the Apostle (2008-2010).
Contacted by the North Texas Catholic, Bishop Charron said he is confident his nephew will shepherd his people with love.
“He is by nature a people person and a humble person,” he said. “After 25 years of episcopacy, I know what this awesome office demands of a person. I pray he will receive the strength and courage he will need throughout the years.”
Retired since 2007, the prelate will serve as one of his nephew’s principal co-consecrators in Pueblo.
|Bishop-elect Berg was ordained to the priesthood by his uncle, Bishop Joseph Charron of Des Moines, May 15, 1999.|
“Today uncle-Bishop Charron is so proud of his nephew,” he gushed. “This is a proud day for our family and a gifted day for the Diocese of Pueblo!”
Byanka Peffers, business manager at St. John the Apostle, was the bookkeeper when Bishop-elect Berg served as the parish’s parochial vicar. She remembers the pastor, the late Monsignor Charles King, relying on the assistant pastor’s past work history in horticulture to help with the rectory’s rose garden.
“I think it’s wonderful he was named bishop, but I’m sorry he’s leaving us,” she said. “He is a very kind and humble person who was inspirational to me. I liked the way he treated people.”
Parishioners were told of the appointment during morning Mass.
“I was surprised — but not that he didn’t deserve it,” Peffers clarified. “I just thought once our bishop was named, this diocese was off the radar for a while. We’ve had two priests become bishops now. We must be doing something right.”
In 2008, former Fort Worth Bishop Kevin Vann appointed then-Father Berg diocesan vicar general, and in 2010, he expanded the priest’s duties to include diocesan moderator of the curia. At the recommendation of Bishop Vann, Pope Benedict XVI named him a Prelate of Honor, granting Fr. Berg the title of “monsignor” in March 2012. When Bishop Vann was named Bishop of the Diocese of Orange, California, the 10-member Diocesan College of Consultors selected Msgr. Berg as diocesan administrator, a position he held until Bishop Olson was ordained Jan. 29.
“I personally am happy for Msgr. Berg and the Diocese of Pueblo. His ministry as pastor, vicar general, and administrator of the Diocese of Fort Worth during the time of sede vacante (absence of a bishop in the diocese) has prepared him for his new assignment,” Bishop Olson said. “At heart, Bishop-elect Berg is a good priest, a kind man, a true Christian, and a wise leader.”
Still groggy with sleep, Sylvia Mendez looked down at her phone at 5 a.m. and saw a surprising post from a Vatican blogger. The St. Peter the Apostle business manager started following his Twitter messages when the diocese was waiting for a new bishop.
“It said that Fr. Steve Berg was appointed bishop in Colorado, but I wasn’t sure that was true,” she said. “The name wasn’t spelled right.”
Thirty minutes later, the information was confirmed, and Mendez recited her morning Rosary for him.
“I think it’s a loss for the diocese but God is placing him in a spot that’s perfect for him,” says the business manager, who was a member of Msgr. Berg’s formation team at St. Peter’s when he was a seminarian working at the parish. “I know this is a big change, but when God calls, we must do his will.”
Those who witnessed the priestly ordination of Stephen Berg, May 15, 1999, may recall the tender familial atmosphere that was present in the church. The new priest at that time recalled the ceremony as having been “solemn, elegant, and graceful,” yet, for most observers, the liturgy’s warm spirit surpassed the majestic nature that is a signature quality of ordinations.
Margarita Luna greeted the news with mixed emotions. On Jan. 15, Pope Francis named her friend, Monsignor Stephen Berg, the new bishop of Pueblo, Colorado. “I’m happy for him but sad for me,” said Luna, who assisted the newly appointed bishop-elect when he was pastor of St. Mary Church in Henrietta. “I think he will be a wonderful bishop, but our diocese will miss him.”