|Photo by Donna Ryckaert|
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.
Notably, an eclectic crowd of ordinary people filled the pews at Fort Worth’s St. Patrick Cathedral; one of them, distinctively garbed in overalls, would later line up to embrace the young priest, and then kneel before him, requesting a blessing.
Rows of three brothers, seven sisters and spouses, dabbed their eyes as they knelt during the liturgy, and a full procession of nieces and nephews brought forward offertory gifts past the altar rails, all the way to the bishop’s chair. They presented them to the celebrant, who, not coincidentally, was their uncle, Bishop Joseph Charron.
“It was sort of heart-stopping,” Father Berg said, afterward.
This year that priest becomes the fifth bishop of Pueblo, Colorado, and the retrospection of his first ordination foresees the sort of person he is and the caring shepherd he promises to be for the Diocese of Pueblo.
Ordaining Bishop-elect Berg Feb. 27 will be Archbishop Samuel Aquila, metropolitan of the Denver Province; principal co-consecrators will be Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, and Msgr. Berg’s uncle — Bishop Joseph Charron, bishop emeritus of Des Moines.
The announcement of Bishop-elect Berg’s appointment came Jan.15, and “My family was elated,” he said. “I hadn’t been able to tell them, of course, until, pretty much the moment of the announcement. All my siblings have been my supporters, going through a lot of things, preparing for the move, finding the letters of support that we shared with each other over the years. They’re very happy.
“We were all surprised,” the bishop-elect said. “I did tell my uncle, Bishop Charron. He’s my spiritual director, so I shared the news with him. He did not seem surprised, and said I would make a good bishop, that I had done a good job for Fort Worth.
“My mom is quietly happy about it. We miss Dad — he died five years ago. Of course Dad is well aware of this, but we’d like for him to be here with us right now. Mom is doing really well. At 89 she is very much connected to all her children and grandchildren. My 27 nieces and nephews are very happy. I’ve done seven of their weddings — Catholic weddings — and of course, now I’m a bishop!” he grinned.
“My mom’s youngest brother was a bishop and now her oldest child is a bishop,” he added. “She knows not only the joy of the office but also that it can be at times a difficult road. Mom is realistic about it, but she’s quite thrilled.”
Bishop-elect Berg was appointed vicar general for the Diocese of Fort Worth in 2008, moderator of the curia in 2010, and diocesan administrator in 2012, when Bishop Kevin Vann was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Orange, California.
So, last year, “When I was notified Michael Olson would be bishop here, I was so happy about that! I knew Michael, and I knew that he knew our diocese, and I know something about his capacity, his generosity, competence, and leadership on a real level.
“When I was home at Thanksgiving with my mother and my family members, I was really relieved from the previous 12 months,” he explained. “I was elated, and connected.”
It was a few weeks later, on a Monday morning, when Msgr. Berg got “the phone call.”
“The Papal Nuncio said, ‘I have an important communication to share with you from the Holy See. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has appointed you Bishop of Pueblo.’”
In this photo from the 2013 DCYC, Msgr. Berg chats with teens from St. William Parish in Montague where he had earlier served as pastor.
“Well, I’m still getting my mind around it, thinking, ‘Does he really know who he’s talking to?’ I didn’t know how this connected,” he said. “But I think you have to start, in a certain sense, to accept it — and of course I did accept it.”
The new bishop-elect said he felt immediately at peace.
“It was, ‘God is behind this, and of course, Pope Francis, somehow, picked me out. This is the Holy Spirit.’ One has to learn a different methodology, in a certain sense, but one has to remain who he is, and just allow the Spirit to grow, inside. So that’s been the process of my reaction.”
Another immediate reaction he had when the nuncio called him was that, somehow, he was going into a place that fit — he had lived in Colorado before, as an undergraduate student at the University of Colorado, and he has experience in rural ministry which helped prepare him for leading a rural diocese.
From 2002 to 2008, then Father Berg was pastor of four rural North Texas parishes: St. Mary in Henrietta, St. Jerome in Bowie, St. William in Montague, and St. Joseph in Nocona. After the announcement of his appointment, he revisited all those parishes, to say goodbye. “It was very meaningful for me to see them again,” he said, “because that was one of the happiest times in my life. I did respond to and learn from rural ministry. So that part of all of this seems to fit.”
Bishop-elect Berg said that the hardest part about accepting the new assignment is leaving the people of Texas.
“I did choose to live here, 30 years ago, and I came back to be a priest here, because of the people,” he said. “There is something unique about Texans.”
But, he does love the flavor of Southern Colorado, says the bishop-elect.
“I love the extra altitude,” the new bishop-to-be said. “You can see the stars at night. I think it’s a beautiful land with beautiful people.”
Regarding the appointments of bishops for both Fort Worth and Pueblo, Bishop-elect Berg said, “We’ve got somebody here in Fort Worth, Michael Olson, who knows the diocese, and is an exceptionally fine man. He has the energy you need to run a diocese this size.
“In the same way that Fort Worth fits him, I think, and pray, that Pueblo fits me. Fort Worth got a wonderful bishop — the best one that was available — and I got a great place too.”
With humility, Bishop-elect Berg said, “People are very kind in the complimentary things they are saying about me right now, and I really appreciate that. I listen, and I know I have to hear it — it’s part of the transformation that God has in store for me, and there’s some growth, you know.
“I think the only thing I can say is, I accept this, but it’s not something I’ve accomplished. It was the Holy Spirit — that’s the only way it makes sense.”
For his episcopal motto, Bishop-elect Berg picked “Thy Will Be Done,” from Mary’s response to God in the Gospel of Luke, and from the Lord’s Prayer.
“I think on a very basic level that motto says for me what I hope for my episcopacy, and for my people in the Diocese of Pueblo,” Bishop-elect Berg concluded.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
As 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.
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.