TUCSON, Arizona — In an online message to Catholics of the Tucson Diocese, retired Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas announced he has to undergo open heart surgery “on or near” Jan. 7 “barring a COVID spike.”

“Recently I learned that I had some serious issues with my heart. Quite a surprise!” he wrote in the message, posted Dec. 20 on the website of the Tucson Diocese’s online news outlet, New Outlook.

“It is estimated that the surgery will take about six hours followed by some five to seven days in the hospital and a six-week recovery at home,” the 80-year-old prelate said. “I have confidence in my doctors and their prognosis.”

He noted that Tucson Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger, who succeeded him as head of the diocese, “has been a great help in offering whatever is needed for my recovery.”

“I ask for your prayers that all will go well and I can return to be of help to Weisenburger and all in our beloved Diocese of Tucson,” Kicanas said. “While obviously this is not something I expected or desire, the surgery needs to happen. I know I can count on your prayers which I am confident will see me through.”

Kicanas headed the diocese from 2003 to 2017, when he retired at age 76. He turned his resignation in to the pope when he turned 75 as canon law requires. On Oct. 3, 2017, the pope accepted his resignation and named Weisenburger to succeed him.

“My greatest joy has been the opportunity to serve for these past 20-plus years in our Diocese. You are the best and have always been a great support,” Kicanas said in his message to diocesan Catholics.

The retired bishop is a former vice president and former secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He currently serves on the USCCB’s Catholic education committee and has chaired and served on several other USCCB committees.

Kicanas has been chairman of the board of directors of the National Catholic Educational Association since 2018.

He is a board member of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC. He also is the former chairman of the board of directors of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency.

At its annual media conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in June 2018, what is now called the Catholic Media Association named Kicanas the recipient of the association’s Bishop John England Award.

Presented annually, the award recognizes publishers in the Catholic press for the defense of First Amendment rights, such as freedom of the press and freedom of religion. It is the CMA’s highest award for publishers.