‘He’s a keeper’: Bishop Berg’s family reacts to his episcopal appointment

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

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Jeanne Berg, Bishop Berg’s mother, sits in the front row in between her oldest son, Bishop Berg (left) and her youngest brother, Bishop Joseph Charron, bishop emeritus of Des Moines, (right), at a reception following her son’s episcopal ordination. Behind them are other members of the family. (Photo by Donna Ryckaert)

When one of their own accomplishes something noteworthy in life, neighbors in the close-knit town of Miles City, Montana, like to make a fuss. So when Stephen Berg, the son of longtime residents Jeanne and the late Conrad Berg, was named the next bishop of Pueblo, Colorado, the news spread faster than a Texas wildfire.

“I think everybody is really excited,” beamed Lori Gillette, the bishop’s younger sister who still lives in the community known for its friendly people and wide-open spaces. “It’s really something when a vocation comes from your hometown. If someone becomes a bishop, that’s very special.”

Bishop Berg’s alma mater, Sacred Heart High School, printed a story about his appointment accompanied by a few pictures from an old yearbook. The parish posted an announcement in the church bulletin and a Miles City newspaper published an article.

“Steve becoming a bishop has brought up a lot of memories for all of us,” Gillette says. “People have been very supportive.”

One of the most heartfelt messages came from a 92-year-old woman. Her son, a close friend of the bishop’s, died in a drowning accident when both boys were high school sophomores.

“His mother wants to come to the ordination. All these years later, she remembers him,” Gillette adds. “I think that says a lot about my brother.”

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A young Stephen Berg (far left, back row) joins his Berg clan in this undated family photo. (Photo courtesy of Bishop Berg)

The eldest of their family’s 10 children, Steve and Lori spent a lot of time together walking to school and performing at band concerts and music festivals. She says her older sibling is a great listener who possesses a keen sense of right and wrong.

“When I announced my engagement, he turned to my fiancé and said jokingly — but with a serious undertone — ‘What are your intentions?’” she remembers. “He was protective of us then, and he’s still protective of people in general. He cares.”

Dot Owens was just a young girl when her big brother left home to attend Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. He later graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder, earning a bachelor of music degree in piano performance.

“Steve filled the house with music. That’s one of my strongest memories of him,” she says. “It’s something we took for granted, but now I realize how awesome it was to hear the sound of classical or Christmas music all the time.”

Growing up with nine younger brothers and sisters, the bishop matured into a natural leader.

“But not in a preachy way,” Owens insists. “He led by example. Steve was always a good, decent person, even before he was a priest. I’m just happy everyone appreciates him and thinks the world of him like I do.”

The bishop’s new assignment in Colorado is a perfect fit for someone who enjoys nature and likes the simplicity of rural life, according to close friend Diaz Murray.

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Then-Monsignor Stephen Berg, poses with his mother at a reception following his investiture as a prelate of honor, March 27, 2012. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen / NTC Archives)

The native Texan lived in Miles City for a time and knew the Berg clan. But the rancher didn’t meet then-Father Berg until he bought a property in Henrietta, Texas and began attending St. Mary Church — one of the four parishes assigned to the first-time pastor.

“He juggled Masses at churches in Henrietta, Nocona, Bowie, and Montague and spent a lot of time in the car driving,” Murray says recounting the challenges his friend faced. “He did so much to revive the energy in those communities. We think the world of him.”

His upbringing in Montana gave the pastor empathy for the struggles of rural folks. When wildfires destroyed ranches in the nearby Ringgold, Fr. Berg encouraged parishioners to pitch in and help neighbors.

“He’s good at understanding people’s needs and trying to relate to them,” Murray says. “Ranchers depend on the weather. Fr. Berg was always good about reminding us to be prepared. We don’t know where the road is going, but God is still watching out for us.”

Although he’s lived in Texas for most of his adult life, the bishop remains close to his siblings and visits his mother in Montana often. In recent years, he became more attentive.

“He always kept in close contact with Mom especially after my dad died in 2008,” explains his sister, Chris Ulrich. “He made special trips to Montana even when he was super busy just to spend time with her. He’s always been very sweet to my mother.”

The 88-year-old Jeanne Berg has a strong sense of family and loves all her children.

“But that bond is especially apparent with Steve,” her daughter continues. “When Dad was in the Navy, my mom was alone with Steve a lot. She remembers how he could read (words) as a young child, but he didn’t know what anything meant. He was so smart.”

To maintain the seven-bedroom home built by her husband, the busy mother depended on her older children for help. Lori babysat her younger siblings while Steve did chores around the house with his father.

“They set the pace for the rest of us,” Ulrich admits noting that her brother was never a “slough-off” or lazy. “My mom wants people to know that Steve is a good son who always did what he was supposed to do. In her words, ‘he’s a keeper.’”

See also

Bp-elect-Berg-in-Pueblo-BUTTON.jpgDiocesan faithful will miss Bishop-elect Berg, but rejoice with him in his appointment

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.”

Bp-elect-Berg-Portrait-BUTTON.jpg‘Thy will be done’: Always trusting God’s will, diocese’s Msgr. Berg to become bishop of Pueblo, CO

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.

Bp-Berg-concelebrating-BUTTON.jpgLocal clergy react to Bishop Berg’s appointment

It’s been a banner season for new bishops selected from the Diocese of Fort Worth. The diocese’s own Monsignor Michael Olson was appointed bishop of Fort Worth, Nov. 19, 2013 and ordained and installed Jan. 29; and Diocesan Administrator Monsignor Steven Berg received the papal call to shepherd the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado Jan 15, and was ordained and installed Feb. 27.

Bp-Berg-Vespers-hugs-Bp-Charron-BUTTON.jpgOn eve of ordination, Bishop-elect Berg advised to share his gifts to lead his new flock to Christ

When faced with tough decisions during his years as a pastor and later as diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Fort Worth, Monsignor Stephen Berg knew there was a trusting soul who understood the challenges of ministry. For advice and encouragement he turned to his uncle, Bishop Emeritus of Des Moines Joseph L. Charron, also known to his many nieces and nephews as “Bishop Uncle Joe.”

Bishop Stephen Berg, former Fort Worth priest, ordained and installed fifth bishop of Pueblo, Colo.

Bp-Berg---Bp-Charron-laying-hands-BUTTON.jpgAs his mother, nine siblings, and uncle, Bishop Emeritus Joseph L. Charron of Des Moines, looked on, Stephen J. Berg was ordained and installed the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado, during a Feb. 27 Mass that celebrated faith and family. The crowd filling the 1,600-seat Pueblo Memorial Hall included a large contingent from the Diocese of Fort Worth, where the new bishop was ordained a priest in 1999 and served as a pastor and as diocesan administrator until the ordination of Fort Worth’s new bishop, Michael F. Olson Jan. 29. Pope Francis named the Miles City, Montana, native the next bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo on Jan. 15.

Bp-Berg-w-family-BUTTON.jpgWhen one of their own accomplishes something noteworthy in life, neighbors in the close-knit town of Miles City, Montana, like to make a fuss. So when Stephen Berg, the son of longtime residents Jeanne and the late Conrad Berg, was named the next bishop of Pueblo, Colorado, the news spread faster than a Texas wildfire.

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