Local clergy react to Bishop Berg’s appointment

Kathy Cribari-Hamer

North Texas Catholic

A newly-ordained Father Stephen Berg joins other priests of the diocese in concelebrating his ordination Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral May 15, 1999. (NTC Archives)

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.

In this abundance of riches, diocesan clergy expressed combined joy and regret concerning the two events.

Bishop Olson expressed sadness at his friend leaving, but joy for the people of Pueblo. “I’m sorry to lose Msgr. Berg, but the people of Pueblo are very blessed,” he said. “It’s a good fit. He is earnest, easy-going, and a great listener. This is very important, especially today, to listen to the people and assess their needs. Msgr. Berg and I have gone through a lot together in our lives of ministry. We are seeking the same things.”

Bishop Olson explained that Bishop Berg had followed him in many ways, notably serving at St. Michael Parish in Bedford, St. Peter Parish, and as diocesan vicar general. Bishop-elect Berg was also adjunct spiritual director at Holy Trinity Seminary while then-Msgr. Olson was rector.

“He is a dear friend and brother priest, “Bishop Olson said. “I think the people of Pueblo are very, very blessed. He’ll be missed, but he will always have a home with us.”

Current St. Michael pastor Father John Swistovich remembers being at Assumption Seminary with Bishop Berg.

“We sure could use him in Fort Worth,” said Fr. Swistovich, “but the Diocese of Pueblo is the right size for him, and it is closer to Montana and his family. He is a good team player, and a good Catholic priest.

While Bishop Berg was at St. Michael, he was also instrumental in helping parishioner now-Father Ray McDaniel discern a calling to the priesthood.

Then-Monsignor Berg (center), already a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, joins then-Monsignor Michael Olson (now bishop of Fort Worth), and Father Ray McDaniel (right), who had been invested into the pontifical order earlier that day on Oct. 27, 2013. (Photo by Donna Ryckaert, NTC)

“I was introduced to Fr. Berg by a mutual friend, and he was very helpful and calming to me in my discernment,” said Fr. McDaniel, who now serves as pastor of St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Lewisville. “He was friendly, welcoming, present, and his friendship and wisdom continued throughout my seminary years.” The two also shared a musical background, and, “We played the piano together a few times.

Father Tim Thompson remembers Bishop Berg completing his pastoral year under him while he was serving at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in White Settlement. After the bishop was ordained to the priesthood, he was again assigned to serve under Fr. Thompson as associate pastor at St. John the Apostle Parish in North Richland Hills.

“I got to know him well both in our work relationship and as friends,” said Fr. Thompson, now pastor at Denton’s Immaculate Conception Parish. “He had good ideas and was able to institute them into the nature of the church, and how people operate. He takes people where they are. He doesn’t expect perfection.

“We will regret losing him.”

Another friend, Monsignor James Hart, remembers getting to know Bishop Berg when both were at St. Michael, and again when both worked in the diocesan Catholic Center, as chancellor and vicar general, respectively.

“I was at St. Michael’s, Bishop Berg’s first assignment. We became very good friends. Very close. I have great respect for Steve. I hate to lose him,” said Msgr. Hart, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller.

He added that the people of Pueblo are blessed to have Bishop Berg, and that it’s a “great fit.”

As Diocesan Administrator, Msgr. Berg celebrated the diocese’s annual Eighth Grade Mass May 13, 2013, joined by pastors and other priests from schools throughout the diocese. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen / NTC)

“He said himself that he has never been happier than when he was serving in the rural parishes,” he said. “He has honesty, openness, no guile whatsoever, forthrightness. He sincerely wants to do the good and wants other people to do the good. He is humble. Humility always wins the day.”

Father Jonathan Wallis, diocesan director of Vocations, said he first met Bishop Berg the year before Fr. Wallis entered the seminary.

“When I first met [Bishop] Berg, he taught me about perseverance. This was perfect as I went into the seminary. It was very encouraging and exactly what I needed,” he said.

“Pope Francis has talked about the priesthood of ‘careerism,’ and here we have a man who not once gave the impression he was looking for a higher office. He strives to be a priest and a pastor, and I never heard even once that he had ambitions for more,” Fr. Wallis added. “That’s the kind of men the pope wants to find in bishops, and they have found that in Bishop Berg.”

Father Manuel Holguin, ordained in June 2012, met Bishop Berg at St. Peter while he was a seminarian.

“In Pueblo, he will be a great pastor, and I think he will be able to bring them together — he works in unity, and I think also will be careful to build unity in the Church,” said Fr. Holguin, associate pastor at St. Matthew Parish in Arlington. “Also he has a good relationship with other denominations. He is very open to receive everyone’s opinion. He is respectful, looks for the best for everyone, not only Catholics. But he is also a leader who will maintain the Catholic identity.”

Father David Bristow, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish on Fort Worth’s Near Southside, said Bishop Berg has a gift of leadership and his model is to lead by affirmation.

“I never saw him lead by criticism,” he said. “He has alw

ays used his business experience to the good of this diocese, and it was almost inevitable that he would end up as a bishop. He has the leadership ability and the grace to do it. It actually would have stunned me if they had sent him to a parish.”

Msgr. Berg was invested as a “monsignor” along with four other priests of the Diocese of Fort Worth by then-Bishop Kevin Vann on March 27, 2012, at St. Patrick Cathedral. From left to right are Msgr. E. James Hart, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller; Msgr. Juan Rivero, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Granbury and diocesan vicar for priests; Msgr. Publius Xuereb, pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish in Aledo; Msgr. Berg; and Msgr. Raymund Mullan, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Graham and St. Theresa in Olney, and then-dean of the Southwest Deanery. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen / NTC)

Monsignor Joseph Pemberton, rector of St. Patrick Cathedral, said Bishop Vann made a wise choice when he named then-Fr. Berg vicar general.

“As he carried on, what I could tell was how much he loved the diocese. In a position of authority, he lived that out in a spirit of love,” he said. “There is humility in him. I know he is approaching his appointment as a bishop in a very humble way. He had been ready to go back to being a pastor again.”

Father Jerome LeDoux, recalls how he and Bishop Berg would tease each other.

“We were living two parallel lives,” Fr. LeDoux said, speaking of his work in a parish and Msgr. Berg’s administrative work with the diocese. “So, when I saw him, I would just start asking about the hardships of the office and the burdens one has to bear…. He would get a sour look and then say, ‘Your prayers are in order.’”

Fr. LeDoux, pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, the diocese’s only historically black parish, recalled how Bishop Berg is a prayerful priest.

“And anyone who asks for prayers is a very good person,” said the long-time pastor and native of Louisiana, “especially a person in his capacity.

Fr. LeDoux said that when Bishop Berg seeks out prayer, “he is searching for help from the proper source. From above. Looking for help from the right person — God, the person to whom all of us turn for help.”

“I personally will miss him,” said Msgr. Pemberton. I grew to appreciate him and love him as I saw him in these positions and at the cathedral.

“I always loved what I saw in [Bishop] Berg,” the rector ended pensively, “I always thought of goodness. All I saw was goodness in him.”

See also

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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-w-family-BUTTON.jpg‘He’s a keeper’: Bishop Berg’s family reacts to his episcopal appointment

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.

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-concelebrating-BUTTON.jpgIt’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.