St. Paul priest chosen to take over Superior diocese
A Twin Cities priest with a yen for sailing has been chosen to lead the Catholic Diocese of Superior. The transformation began three weeks ago with a phone call from Pope Benedict XVI to Nativity of our Lord Parish in St. Paul. "I got off the pho...
A Twin Cities priest with a yen for sailing has been chosen to lead the Catholic Diocese of Superior.
The transformation began three weeks ago with a phone call from Pope Benedict XVI to Nativity of our Lord Parish in St. Paul.
"I got off the phone and I sobbed for about 15 minutes," said Peter Christensen, 54, the church's pastor and Superior's incoming bishop.
It was not an honor he sought.
"I'm still trying to get used to the idea of being called bishop," the he said. "I was very happy being a pastor."
Now, his flock has grown from 2,000 families in St. Paul to 78,739 Catholics spread across 103 Wisconsin parishes from Superior to River Falls and from Merrill to Hurley.
"I've never had this kind of responsibility before," Christensen said during a Thursday interview in Superior. "I have to translate it into parish experience."
He succeeds Bishop Raphael Fliss, who has been with the diocese for 28 years.
"He has a deep faith and deep love for people," said the Rev. Daniel Dahlberg, rector of Cathedral of Christ the King. "I think he'll bring good leadership."
Christensen sees his role in the diocese as being a pastor to those who lead the parishes.
"One of the gifts I know I have is common sense," he said.
That gift will be called upon in the diocese, which still is reeling from controversy and lawsuits over local sex abuse cases and the February 2005 murders of Dan O'Connell and James Ellison, which a court ruled were likely committed by a Hudson, Wis., priest, the Rev. Ryan Erickson. Carsten and Sally Ellison of Barron, Wis., are seeking damages against the diocese in their son's death. Erickson committed suicide. Court records show the diocese of Superior learned of sexual misconduct allegations against Erickson in 1994 while he was attending seminary before being ordained as a priest.
The bishop-elect agreed that more attention should be paid to priests as they go through seminary. He also favors making names of predatory priests public "within reason."
The mantle of bishop likely won't be passed on until September, Fliss said. After that, the 76-year-old plans to retire in Superior.
"As long as my health will allow, I will be pleased to be of whatever assistance I can to [Christensen] in the ministry that is ahead," Fliss said.