WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Paul F. Russell, currently apostolic nuncio to Turkey and Turkmenistan, to be an auxiliary bishop of Detroit.
A native of Massachusetts who was raised in Michigan, he was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston in 1987 and entered the diplomatic service of the Vatican in 1997.
After several assignments to the apostolic nunciatures in a number of countries, including in Africa, he was named charge d’affaires in Taiwan in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI. In 2016, Pope Francis appointed then-Msgr. Russell to his current post and named him an archbishop the same year.
His appointment was announced in Washington May 23 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S.
“We are deeply grateful to Pope Francis for appointing Archbishop Russell as auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit, and we are similarly grateful to Archbishop Russell for accepting this new ministry,” Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said in a statement.
“We are particularly glad to welcome Archbishop Russell home to Michigan, where he grew up and first heard the Lord call him to the priestly vocation,” he said. “Having served the church all over the world, Archbishop Russell brings to the Archdiocese of Detroit a valuable perspective of the universal church and our mission to make joyful missionary disciples of all nations.”
Russell will retain the title of “archbishop” while serving as auxiliary bishop.
He will be the 31st auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit’s history and joins four other active auxiliaries, Bishops Gerard W. Battersby, Arturo Cepeda Robert J. Fisher and Donald F. Hanchon, who in October turns 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to submit their resignation to the pope.
Like all auxiliary bishops, “my task is to assist Archbishop Vigneron as the chief shepherd of the Archdiocese of Detroit,” Russell said. “I’m open to serve however he’d like me to serve.”
Russell will begin his service to the Archdiocese of Detroit July 7, when he will be welcomed to the archdiocese during a 2 p.m. liturgy of welcome and inauguration of ministry at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
While he has never served as a priest or bishop in Michigan, Russell retains deep ties to the state.
Born May 2, 1959, in Greenfield, Massachusetts, to the late Isabelle Fitzpatrick and Thaddeus Russell, Russell spent the majority of his childhood in northern Michigan after moving to Alpena with his mother and sister when he was in third grade.
Although he returned to the Archdiocese of Boston to pursue the priesthood, being ordained June 20, 1987, Russell said he has always considered the Great Lakes state home.
“I am so happy with Pope Francis’ decision to send me home and look forward to serving as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit and immersing myself in the mission and ministry of the local church in southeast Michigan,” he said in a May 23 news release.
Russell said he is “thrilled” to be returning to his roots after spending the majority of his 35 years in ministry as a member of the Vatican’s diplomatic service, serving as a representative of the Holy See in apostolic nunciatures in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Turkey, Switzerland and Nigeria, as well as leading the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Taiwan.
On June 3, 2016, Russell was consecrated a bishop in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley.
His co-consecrators were Vigneron and Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland.
In fact, Russell said, he’s known Detroit’s current archbishop for nearly 30 years, since the time Vigneron was working in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State under then-Msgr. (now Cardinal) James M. Harvey, and Russell was personal secretary to Boston’s cardinal-archbishop.
The two first met in Boston, when Vigneron accompanied Harvey during a visit to the Massachusetts archdiocese.
“Actually, it was Father Vigneron who recommended me to Msgr. Harvey as a potential candidate for diplomatic service,” Russell told Detroit Catholic, the archdiocesan news outlet, in an interview prior to the public announcement of his appointment. “We have been friends since that time.”
As a seminarian, he worked at the Archdiocese of Detroit’s CYO camp in Port Sanilac, Michigan, where he got to know two other future Detroit priests — including another future auxiliary bishop — Bishop Fisher and Father Zaorski, with whom he retains close friendships, he said.
Russell even served as co-consecrator at the episcopal ordination of Fisher and Battersby in 2017 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
“Those friendships have been really important to me over the years — not just Bishop Fisher and Father Zaorski, but other priests of Detroit with whom I’ve become friends,” Russell said.
Detroit has always been close to Russell’s heart — in a literal way, even. The pectoral cross he wears as a bishop originally belonged to a Detroit priest in the mid-1800s, a relative of a cousin’s wife.
“My cousin’s wife’s family name is Van Antwerp, and her father was the mayor of Detroit (in the late 1940s). She had a great uncle, Msgr. Francis J. Van Antwerp, who was vicar general of the Detroit diocese in the late 1800s,” Russell said.
“He was a special type of monsignor who was able to dress as a bishop, even though he wasn’t a bishop, and he wore the miter and pectoral cross,” he added. “She gave me that cross, and I’ve always had it with me.”
At his own episcopal ordination in 2016, Russell wore that pectoral cross — a special moment for him.
“That’s why I say Detroit is always close to my heart,” he said. “That’s the story behind it.”
Contributing to this story was Michael Stechschulte, editor-in-chief of Detroit Catholic, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Detroit.