Pope appoints priest of Diocese of Superior to be bishop of diocese

WASHINGTON  — Pope Francis has appointed Father James P. Powers, a priest of the Diocese of Superior, and currently its administrator, to be bishop of the diocese.

Pope Francis has appointed Father James P. Powers, a priest of the Diocese of Superior, Wis., and currently its administrator, to be bishop of the diocese. Bishop-designate Powers, 62, is pictured in a Dec. 15 photo. (CNS photo | Janelle Roe, Superior Catholic Herald)

The appointment was announced Dec. 15 in Washington by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the U.S.

A native of Baldwin, Wisconsin, Bishop-designate Powers, 62, was ordained a priest of the Superior Diocese May 20, 1990. He has served as administrator of the diocese since December 2014, a month after Bishop Peter F. Christensen was named to head the Diocese of Boise, Idaho.

Bishop designate-Powers’ episcopal ordination and installation is scheduled for Feb. 18 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Superior.

He said he learned of his appointment while traveling through the diocese Dec. 7. He had no hint of what was coming.

“It was about three miles east of Phillips, heading for Father Mike McLain’s funeral, and I think I almost ran off the road,” Bishop-designate Powers said at a news conference the day of his appointment.

“Thanks for your support,” he said to fellow priests and diocesan officials at the news conference. “I just hope and pray … it is the right choice for the diocese at this time.”

The bishop-designate said he has been praying for nearly a year for the diocese’s next bishop. “This isn’t the answer to my prayer, but hopefully it turns out to be a good one,” he said.

In a statement, he called it “an honor and privilege” to be Superior’s bishop and asked Catholics in the diocese to pray “that I will always be a faithful servant to the people of God entrusted to my care.”

Bishop-designate Powers said he was grateful to the late Bishop Raphael M. Fliss of Superior and Bishop Christensen, and the priests, religious and laity of the diocese who have supported him in his priestly ministry for 25 years.

Born Feb. 6, 1953, he grew up on his family’s farm in Baldwin. He worked on the farm and sold insurance before entering the seminary.

Bishop-designate Powers holds a bachelor’s in theology and a master’s of divinity from St. John Vianney Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul. He pursued graduate studies in canon law at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario.

After his ordination, his pastoral assignments included serving for three years as associate pastor at St. Joseph Church in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. From 1993 to 1994, he was parochial administrator of four parishes in Wisconsin.

For the next four years, he was pastor of St. Bridget Church in River Falls, Wisconsin. In 1995, he was elected to the diocesan priest personnel board and in 1999 was re-elected to the board. In 1998, he served as adjunct vicar general for the diocese.

From 1998 to 2003, he was pastor of three Wisconsin parishes: St. Pius X in Solon Falls, St. Mary in Minong and St. Anthony of Padua in Gordon. From 2003 to 2014, he was administrator of those parishes as well as pastor of St. Joseph Church in Rice Lake.

He was appointed vicar general for the diocese in 2010.

While serving as diocesan administrator, he has remained pastor in Rice Lake and been pastor for three other churches in Wisconsin: Our Lady of Lourdes in Dobie, St. John the Evangelist in Birchwood, and Holy Trinity in Haugen.

In a statement issued in Boise, Bishop Christensen said he heard the news of his successor’s appoint “with great joy.”

“In many ways, this news comes as no surprise, for Bishop-(designate) Jim Powers is a natural choice as my successor. He is a wonderful pastor, administrator and proven diocesan leader,” he said.

“The long-awaited announcement has created its own Advent story for the faithful in the Superior Diocese. Now it’s time to rejoice and celebrate this wonderful gift,” Bishop Christensen said, adding his “heartfelt gratitude to Pope Francis in making this selection. He has chosen wisely.”

“The Archdiocese of Milwaukee shares in the joy experienced by the Diocese of Superior in the selection of their native son, Father James Powers, as the 11th bishop of Superior,” said Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki.

“Pope Francis has appointed a man who has proven himself to be a wonderful pastor and a capable administrator. I look forward to collaborating with him for the good of the Catholic faithful of Wisconsin,” he said in a statement.

The 16-county Diocese of Superior covers 15,715 square miles in the state of Wisconsin. It has a total population of 438,107, of which about 70,000 people — or 16 percent — are Catholic.

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Contributing to this story was Anita Draper in Superior. Draper is on the staff of the Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Superior.