WASHINGTON (CNS) – Pope Francis has named Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda to head the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Coadjutor archbishop of Newark since 2013, Archbishop Hebda has been apostolic administrator of the Minnesota archdiocese since last June. The pope named him to the administrator post after Archbishop John C. Nienstedt resigned.
Pope Francis accepted the resignations of Archbishop Nienstedt, who had headed the archdiocese since June 2008, and Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche. Both cited the need to step down to allow healing to begin in the archdiocese.
As apostolic administrator, Archbishop Hebda, a canon lawyer, has had governing authority over the archdiocese as it has faced significant challenges, including bankruptcy, which it entered in January 2015 because of mounting claims of clerical sexual abuse. The archdiocese also faces criminal charges related to a case of clerical sex abuse.
Under Archbishop Hebda’s leadership, the archdiocese reached a settlement in December with Minnesota’s Ramsey County on civil charges related to the same sex abuse case. The civil and criminal charges were filed simultaneously in June 2015.
His installation Mass will be celebrated May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
In his first public appearance as archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Archbishop Hebda said that as much as he was surprised by the appointment, he was humbled by the confidence Pope Francis has for him to continue leading the archdiocese, calling it influential and important in the upper Midwest.
“And yet I can assure you that I’m truly thrilled to have been chosen for this service,” Archbishop Hebda said at a news conference in the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he would be celebrating Holy Thursday Mass that evening.
After greeting members of archdiocesan boards, clergy, staff and the press, Archbishop Hebda noted the suddenness of the announcement, saying Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens’ presence was missed. He was visiting Rome with family.
“I’m grateful that he assured me by text (message) that he offered Mass for the archdiocese this morning at St. Peter’s (Basilica) in Rome,” Archbishop Hebda said.
“I found it significant that he offered Mass for the archdiocese and not for me,” he added in jest.
Answering questions about the state of the archdiocese in the midst of bankruptcy and pending criminal charges related to clergy sex abuse, Archbishop Hebda said the archdiocese has been invested in the “important spiritual work and outreach” and that Catholics have responded “as people of faith in a very difficult situation.”
He acknowledged the ongoing work regarding clergy sex abuse issues, which have been the focus in his interim role and will continue to be in the future, but he finds hope in the Triduum, a reminder that “we have a God who can bring Easter victory even out of the ignominy of the cross,” he said.
“As our archdiocesan patron, St. Paul, wrote to Philippians: ‘We can truly do all things through Christ, who gives us strength,’” he said.
Newark Archbishop John J. Myers said in a statement that he has been “both privileged and blessed to have worked closely with Archbishop Bernard Hebda here in Newark over the last two and a half years. And I also can say that I have been doubly blessed because of our strong personal relationship that began when he was a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College.”
“While it may have been difficult for him at times to manage the travel and commitments of serving in two large archdioceses these past months, he embraced this call from the Holy See willingly and prayerfully,” Archbishop Myers said. “His tireless, positive approach to dealing with the challenges presented him will be one of the graces that he will share with the people of the Twin Cities.”
He said the people of the Newark Archdiocese “are truly grateful for all that he has done here since 2013, and he will be missed.”
“The parishioners and general community of the Twin Cities have experienced what the people of Newark already have come to know — a happy spiritual leader who loves people, loves priests and religious, and who loves God and his church,” Archbishop Myers added.
Bernard Anthony Hebda was born Sept. 3, 1959, in Pittsburgh. He holds a master’s degree from Harvard University, a doctor of law degree from Columbia University, and a licentiate in canon law from Rome’s Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelicum.
He studied at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh April 6, 1989. After ordination to the priesthood, he served in several diocesan positions. He was an official at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, 1996-2003, and served as undersecretary of the council from 2003-2009, when he was named bishop of Gaylord, Michigan. He was ordained bishop of Gaylord Dec. 1, 2009.
Pope Francis appointed him coadjutor archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark Sept. 24, 2013.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis covers about 6,200 square miles. Out of a total population of close to 3.3 million, 825,000, or 25 percent, are Catholic.
Contributing to this story were staff members of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.