‘You will never be far from my heart’

Curia staff gathers at cathedral to celebrate Bishop-elect Felton

Bishop-elect Daniel Felton blesses diocesan Curia staff with a missionary cross at the conclusion of a farewell Mass in his honor April 22 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. The cross was presented to him by Bishop David Ricken, following a tradition that began when he was appointed bishop of Cheyenne, Wyo. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

GREEN BAY — Following Bishop-elect Daniel Felton’s homily at a Mass of celebration on Thursday, April 22, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, the church bells began to chime. The noon signal provided extra pause for reflection about the message delivered to diocesan Curia staff who had gathered.

The liturgy not only provided an opportunity to celebrate Bishop-elect Felton, who on April 7 was announced as the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., but for many to say goodbye. During his homily, Bishop-elect Felton explained he will spend a week in retreat as required for a new bishop. He will then return to Green Bay prior to his ordination as a bishop and installation on Thursday, May 20, in Duluth.

“I will be here after ordination. I will come back and that’s when I’m going to move,” he said, referencing more opportunities to bid farewell.

“It reminds me of that country song, ‘How will I miss you when you never (won’t) go away,’” he added, drawing a laugh.

Bishop-elect Felton opened his homily with song. He then shared some recent humorous inquiries he has received.

“Ever since the announcement that I was going to be going to Duluth to become their next bishop, there are two questions that I have been asked over and over again by people in Duluth, by people back here in Green Bay, by the media in Minnesota, by the media here in Wisconsin,” he said. “The first one is, ‘Are you going to become a Viking fan?’”

Bishop-elect Daniel Felton delivers his homily during a farewell Mass April 22 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

He explained that he has received some advice about his football fandom in the form of reminding Viking fans about the absence of Super Bowl victories by the franchise, but said he didn’t “think that’s a good idea.”

The second common question he received was, “Where were you when you got the call from the nuncio, who called on behalf of the pope?”

Bishop-elect Felton openly shared in his homily that when the papal nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, called about the appointment on Palm Sunday weekend, he was dealing with the pain of a kidney stone at the time.

In the days that followed his “yes” response to the Holy Father, Bishop-elect Felton said that he was engaged in ongoing conversation with the Holy Spirit. Like Moses, who was told by the Holy Spirit, not to be afraid, he said he “stuttered,” questioning  his worthiness and limitations.

“How can this be? I’ve lived my whole life in northeastern Wisconsin,” he said. “I spent my 40 years of priesthood in the Diocese of Green Bay. How can it be? I’m going to a place, a diocese, where I don’t know anybody. I don’t know one soul.”

He explained that he eventually arrived at a point where he surrendered to the Holy Spirit.

“Holy Spirit, I have no control over any of this. I’m all in. I’m all yours,” he said.

However God guides him through the years, “I can do some good things for the people of Duluth,” he added.

Bishop-elect Felton stood front and center near the altar where, nearly 40 years ago, he was ordained to the priesthood. He told those in attendance that he wanted the celebration to be a “Mass of thanksgiving for all of you.”

During his conversations with the Holy Spirit, “You came across my mind and heart,” he added. “This call didn’t come from the nuncio on Palm Sunday. This call has been marinating itself for years, as we made our way: ‘What is the mission of our diocese?’ ‘What is the vision of our diocese?’ ‘What are the values we want to instill?’”

Bishop-elect Felton also spoke about the call to missionary discipleship. He said that all ministries and efforts implemented in the diocese contributed to him saying “yes.” He wanted a Mass of thanksgiving for the Curia because they have “given me, as a person, as a priest, as a pastor, an opportunity to be a bishop. Even though there will be geographic distance between us, you will never be far from my heart,” he said.

His homily closed with song: “The Spirit of God is upon us. He has anointed us.”

The cover of the Mass program featured a drawing of “Bishop-elect Dan” by 5-year-old Elijah Daniel Stepanek, the son of Joel Stepanek, a friend who served in youth ministry at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Manitowoc, when Bishop-elect Felton was pastor. Joel now serves as vice president of parish services for Life Teen International. Bishop-elect Felton told The Compass that Elijah, whose middle name is in his honor, draws a picture prior to prayer in the morning. He chose to create the image complete with a mitre and crozier.

Bishop David Ricken offered a blessing over Bishop-elect Felton. He then blessed a missionary cross, continuing a personal tradition. Bishop Arthur Tafoya of the Diocese of Pueblo, Colo., blessed a missionary cross for Bishop Ricken when he was appointed to the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo. Bishop-elect Felton then blessed the congregation with the cross.

“I love you, I will miss you every day and I will pray God’s blessings upon you,” he said.

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