A look back: 1993 - Present

This is the third in a series of articles that takes a look back at the history of the Diocese of Pueblo on the occasion of the 75th anniversary. In December, having already reviewed our history in the first three issues of the year, we will look to the future and hear from senior staff about exciting plans to move us forward.

Bishop Arthur Tafoya launched into these last 25 years of the diocese keeping in mind administrative simplification and consolidation, along with the hope of making the Catholic Church in southern and western Colorado a dynamic sign of Christ’s presence in the new millennium. The old Victorian mansion, which was the home of the bishop of Pueblo since the time of Bishop Willging, had been sold and Bishop Tafoya moved to simpler quarters. Most of the diocesan offices were relocated to the former school building of Sacred Heart Cathedral. That, along with the move of Catholic Charities to downtown, all the diocesan offices were now on the same campus. The Our Journey Together pastoral plan of the 1980s, was followed in the years 1993 to 1998 by a second diocesan pastoral plan called Sharing Our Gifts.

Bishop Tafoya established the Pueblo Catholic Diocese Foundation in 1995 to function as a resource to ensure the support of a variety of Catholic agencies and ministries. In 1996, in a move that has had a significant, positive impact on the diocese, a program for the permanent diaconate was begun to provide formal training for men interested in serving their communities as clergy outside the priesthood. In the Jubilee year of 2000, the first 11 permanent deacons were ordained.

The diocese began to experience the revitalization of Catholic education at this time, as well. The Shrine of St. Therese in Pueblo, opened its doors to students after 30 years, joining St. John Neumann in Pueblo along with communities in Durango and Grand Junction, to offer parochial education. Bishop Tafoya, instated the Called to Serve pastoral plan in October of 2001, which was in place for the next eight years.

During these years, there were hills and valleys in the history of the diocese. We lost Holy Cross Abbey and St. Scholastica Academy in 2002 but a new parish was established in Pueblo West and many other parishes, such as Canon City’s St. Michael, renovated and built new facilities. Bishop Tafoya traveled to Rome for his “ad limina” visit in June of 2004 prior to the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005. Shortly thereafter, the new Pope, Benedict XVI was appointed. It was a time of change in the global church, as Pope John Paul II had served for over 25 years.

The year 2005 was also the year of Bishop Tafoya’s 25th Episcopal ordination anniversary. Over the course of his 25 years, he tackled tough issues ranging from AIDS, to abortion, to stem cell research, and many other social issues. Bishop Tafoya shepherded the diocese through these tough times while bringing increased focus to ministries such as lay ministry, prison ministry and Hispanic ministry. There was much celebration and he was inducted into the Pueblo Hall of Fame at this time.

As always, there were things to mourn and things to celebrate. In 2008 both the parishes of St. Patrick and Our Lady of the Assumption in Pueblo were closed, but at same time hundreds of people across the diocese celebrated the Rite of Election. On June 14, 2008, Bishop Emeritus Charles A. Buswell passed away at the age of 94. Bishop Buswell was born in Oklahoma, went to Catholic school as a youth and attended seminary in Missouri. After which, he entered the American College in Leuven, Belgium. He was ordained to the priesthood on July 9, 1939 and was appointed bishop of Pueblo by Pope John XXIII on September 30, 1960. He served as bishop until fully retiring in 1980.

The next five years were marked by many events. In 2008, Pueblo watched as the steeple of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart caught fire after being hit by lightning. Bishop Tafoya was moved by the generosity of children in the area who approached him with change from their banks to help with repairs. It was a time of extreme financial crisis for the entire country. Unemployment hit a 15 year high and the housing market crashed. Social service organizations, such as Catholic Charities, were taxed to their limits. In response, Bishop Tafoya, in March of 2009, launched a new pastoral plan: Evangelization, Worship and Spirituality, Lifelong Catechesis, Justice and Peace, and Stewardship. After ensuring this new plan was in place, on October 15, 2009, Bishop Tafoya tendered his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI. His resignation was officially accepted and a new bishop, Fernando Isern, was appointed bishop of Pueblo.

LookBack 150pxFather Fernando Isern, a Cuban-born priest of the Archdiocese of Miami, was appointed fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo on October 15, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. He went on to be installed later that year on December 10, 2009. Bishop Isern made significant contributions to the Church of Pueblo during his tenure. He initiated perpetual adoration at the Shrine of St. Therese and provided an outstanding example of faithfulness through his own habit of adoration. He oversaw completion of and transition to the new pastoral center, and he shepherded the gradual expansion of pastoral and administrative services from the chancery staff to the priests and parishes of the diocese. In his short time in the diocese, Bishop Isern made pastoral visits to all 53 parishes and 44 missions across the 48,000 square miles of the diocese. He brought the fruit of his listening to the priests, deacons, staff and people of the parishes back to the Diocesan Pastoral Council and deaneries. These initiatives stand as a continuing legacy of his leadership. Bishop Isern resigned due to health concerns on June 13, 2013. Almost simultaneously, in an historic move, we saw the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, quickly followed by the appointment of Pope Francis on March 13, 2013. Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Colorado Springs Diocese was appointed apostolic administrator of the diocese until the time a new bishop could be put in place. He served as administrator from 2013 until early in 2014, when Stephen J. Berg, was installed as the fifth Bishop of Pueblo on February 27, at Memorial Hall in Pueblo.

Berg 150pxBishop Berg was born in Miles City, Montana, the oldest of 10 children. His father was a rural mail carrier and his mother’s chosen profession was nursing, but she was a mother first. Bishop Berg journeyed through a career in music, earning an undergraduate degree in music from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a master’s degree from Eastern New Mexico University. While pursing his music career, he took a job with a nursery chain, Wolfe Nurseries, located in Fort Worth, Texas. Bishop Berg eventually found he had an affinity for the nursery business and enjoyed it, so when the opportunity came to either pursue his doctorate in music or stay in business, he stayed. Bishop Berg had a successful career in the nursery business. But, in his words, “I thought I had sufficient success, but I realized that there was something missing and my life was not heading yet to fulfillment or happiness. I felt a call from God to do something more meaningful with my life.” He began talking with his uncle, Bishop Joseph Charron, about seminary and ultimately was ordained into the priesthood in 1999. He served 15 years as a priest of the Diocese of Fort Worth, six of those years spent as pastor of four rural parishes in North Texas: Henrietta, Bowie, Montague, and Nocona. Eventually Bishop Berg went to work directly for the Diocese of Fort Worth as vicar general and the moderator of the curia, then as administrator of the diocese when Bishop Kevin Vann was moved to the Diocese of Orange, California. He served in that capacity for nearly 11 months before receiving the call around Christmastime in 2013 to come to Pueblo.

Since his installation, Bishop Berg has spent a significant amount of time with the people of the diocese. He has traveled our vast geography extensively and has made concerted efforts to identify how we can grow as a church family. In this third year of his service as bishop of Pueblo, he is preparing to communicate a new strategic plan that will lead us into a new era as “Catholics of Southern Colorado, missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, evangelizing a diversity of cultures by proclaiming the Gospel, celebrating the sacraments, and promoting justice and charity, in service to the people entrusted to our care.“