When Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba died suddenly last December, the Rev. Michel J. Mulloy was among those who traveled a great distance to attend his funeral.

A priest with more than 40 years of service in South Dakota, it was only the second time Mulloy had been to Duluth.

Six months later, a high-ranking Vatican diplomat called Mulloy and asked him to lead the Northeastern Minnesota diocese. The Rapid City diocesan administrator said he stepped into the chapel in his chancery and immediately thought of Sirba.

"I said, 'I need you to help me,'" Mulloy recalled. "I believe he heard that, and I believe he will. I'm honored to be following in his footsteps because he truly was a wonderful, holy man."

Mulloy, 67, was appointed by Pope Francis to serve as just the 10th bishop in the 130-year history of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Duluth, it was announced Friday.

He will guide approximately 75 parishes, as well as other entities, including schools and endowment funds, after he is formally ordained and installed at a ceremony Oct. 1.

Father Michel J. Mulloy will be the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Duluth.
Father Michel J. Mulloy will be the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Duluth.

"It's truly amazing," Mulloy said, choking up as he took the podium at an introductory news conference. "I give thanks to God for this opportunity. I'm humbled. I'm deeply grateful that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, felt I could take on and handle this responsibility. I think he's a wonderful pope, and I'm delighted that I'm able to serve as one of his confreres in the episcopacy."

Mulloy was born May 20, 1953, in Mobridge, South Dakota, and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1979. He served parishes in the Sioux Falls and Rapid City dioceses before being incardinated in Rapid City in 1986.

He spent most of his ministry in parishes until he received a full-time appointment as vicar general of the Rapid City diocese in 2017. He has led the diocese on an interim basis since last August, when Rapid City's bishop was transferred to another diocese.

"It never really occurred to me that I would be a bishop, especially at this point of my life," Mulloy admitted. "It really was a shock when the nuncio called and asked if I would be the bishop of Duluth."

The Rev. James Bissonette, pastor at St. Raphael Catholic Church in Duluth and St. Rose Catholic Church in Proctor, will continue to lead the diocese on an interim basis as Mulloy wraps up his work in South Dakota.

The dioceses of Duluth and Rapid City, coincidentally, are taking part in an unusual swap. While Mulloy is preparing to move to the Northland, the Rev. Peter Muhich, of Duluth, is headed to the Black Hills, where he will be formally ordained and installed as Rapid City's seventh bishop July 9.

Father Michel J. Mulloy, who will be ordained bishop Oct. 1, places a hand on the arm of Rev. James Bissonette, who has served as diocesan administrator since Bishop Paul D. Sirba's death. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Father Michel J. Mulloy, who will be ordained bishop Oct. 1, places a hand on the arm of Rev. James Bissonette, who has served as diocesan administrator since Bishop Paul D. Sirba's death. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Bissonette said he's eager to help Mulloy transition into his new role. As it turns out, they're no strangers.

Having each served as the interim administrator of his respective diocese in recent months, Bissonette and Mulloy accompanied the bishops of the region on a visit to the Vatican in January. Bissonette, who has cerebral palsy and uses a cane, said he received a helping hand from Mulloy.

"I yanked on his arm all the way through Rome," Bissonette joked. "So luckily, fortuitously, gracefully — we know each other."

The bishop-elect said he has learned to "love where you are and be happy where God places you."

"I feel very welcomed already," Mulloy said. "I just ask the good Lord to lead and guide me and ask for the prayers of the people of the diocese so that I can truly be the shepherd that God wants me to be and can lead this diocese in the way that God wants us to go."