The Rev. James Bissonette has been elected to serve as leader of the Diocese of Duluth until a new bishop is appointed by the pope, it was announced Wednesday.
Bissonette, pastor at St. Raphael Catholic Church in Duluth and St. Rose Catholic Church in Proctor, was named diocesan administrator after Sunday's sudden death of Bishop Paul Sirba. Under church law, Bissonette was chosen by a group of diocesan priests called the College of Consultors.
Bissonette served as vicar general to Sirba, who suffered a fatal heart attack while heading to Mass at St. Rose on Sunday morning. Sirba, 59, had been bishop for almost exactly 10 years.
As administrator, Bissonette will exercise many obligations and powers of the bishop until a successor is installed.
“I am humbled that the priest-consultors have placed their confidence in me to serve as diocesan administrator,” Bissonette said in a statement. “I ask prayers that I may fulfill my duties well. I also ask prayers for the faithful of this local church, that we might faithfully live the Gospel as we await the Holy Father’s appointment of the next shepherd for the flock in Northeastern Minnesota.”
Bissonette previously served as associate pastor of Blessed Sacrament in Hibbing and as pastor of St. Mary in Marble, St. Francis in Carlton, Immaculate Conception in Cromwell, St. Philip in Saginaw and St. James in Duluth, as well as a previous tenure as pastor of St. Rose. He served as vicar general to both Sirba and his predecessor, Bishop Dennis Schnurr, and has served the diocese as judicial vicar, chancellor, and on the priest personnel board.
A new bishop will need to be appointed by Pope Francis. The diocese said there is no timeline for that to occur, but the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reports that "it often takes six to eight months — and sometimes longer — from the time a diocese becomes vacant until a new bishop is appointed.”
The Diocese of Duluth includes more than 56,000 Catholics across a 10-county region of Northeastern Minnesota. It has 75 parishes, as well as other entities including schools and endowment funds.