ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Moments after her son’s episcopal ordination Jan. 25, Mary Williams, 71, smiled with joy and relief while sharing her hopes as Bishop Joseph A. Williams began his new ministry as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“He stays close to Jesus, continues his devotions to the Blessed Mother and daily brings Jesus to others,” she said.
As to her feelings about the more than two-hour Mass with bishops, priests, religious, choirs and the faithful of the archdiocese filling the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, she said: “It felt like I was in heaven. Except I’m still on earth.”
Williams’ first words to the congregation were simple but profound and dovetailed nicely with his mother’s wishes: “Follow Christ,” he urged, quoting St. John Paul II from an address to young people in Boston in 1998.
“All of us have one mission. We heard it from Jesus today,” said Williams, 47. “‘Go forth and proclaim the good news. What is the good news? Jesus Christ.”
Members of the Williams family filled several pews in the cathedral. Entire sections were marked with signs indicating parishioners of St. Stephen and Holy Rosary parishes in Minneapolis, where Bishop Williams serves a largely Latino community as pastor.
Another section was marked for St. Croix Catholic School in Stillwater, Minnesota, the elementary school Williams attended. About 50 students in sixth through eighth grades attended the Mass with teachers and their principal, Sister Maria Ivana Begovic, a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia, who said it was humbling and a great honor to have a graduate ordained a bishop.
“I think it speaks to the legacy of St. Croix Catholic School, to the wonderful faculty and staff who have served here through the years, and religious sisters,” she said. “I also believe it’s a beautiful reflection on how the faith life of the parish is lived out in the school.”
Pam Berry, a kindergarten teacher at St. Croix Catholic, was with the group. Forty years ago, she taught Bishop Williams when he was in second grade.
“He was one of the well-behaved Williams children,” she said, noting that she taught several of his eight siblings. Currently, nine of the bishop’s nieces and nephews attend St. Croix Catholic.
Two students, John Francis Chavarria, 13, and Lauren Amiot, 14, both eighth graders, told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper, that it was wonderful to witness Williams’ ordination.
“I’ve never been to an ordination before, even for a priest,” Chavarria said, “so I thought it was really cool that I could see a bishop become ordained. And I’m living … the history that’s being made here.”
Amiot said Williams is her best friend’s uncle. “So, I’ve been around their family a lot and they’re just really happy people,” she said. “I’m just so excited to be here.”
“I think a lot of people (at St. Michael) are excited and a lot of people feel a connection to him because the Williams family is so big,” said Father Michael Izen, pastor of St. Michael and St. Mary in Stillwater, who has known the family for years. The parish held a Holy Hour for the new bishop Jan. 24, Izen said.
Shirley Kimmes, a parishioner of St. Mary in New Trier, Minnesota, took a bus to the ordination with about 17 others from her parish and St. Mathias in nearby Hampton, where Williams served from 2005 to 2008.
“I always thought he was going to be a bishop,” said Kimmes, 69, describing him as personable, kind, “there for you no matter what.”
“He’s just a wonderful person and such a holy man,” she said. “He came into our parish when it was really needed, and he brought such holiness with him.”
As parishioners of St. Stephen in Minneapolis, Alberto and Reina Morales, and their son, Roger Morales, 20, said they attended the ordination to support their pastor.
“He has helped us grow in our faith,” said Roger Morales, who took the day off work. “When I saw him on Sunday, I asked him to pray for me, and as he put his hands on my head, I just felt the presence of God. It’s such a blessing to have known him.”
Another St. Stephen parishioner, Roxi Sanaeria, 51, speaking in Spanish, said through an interpreter that she attended to support her pastor.
“He’s been a good priest of our parish and a good guide for everyone there,” she said.
Others attended the ordination to support the local church, accompany a priest being ordained a bishop and even teach others about the faith.
“I wanted to bring my oldest son to witness this,” said Sam Hanson, 34, who took the day off from his sales work with a textbook publisher to drive about 30 minutes with his 5-year-old son, John Paul, from Epiphany in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. “Let him see the Holy Spirit at work.”
Elizabeth Moldenhauer, 71, a member of St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony near Minneapolis, said she wanted to attend the ordination because it fell on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul and she converted to the Catholic faith 33 years ago.
Williams is “a young man from the flock” whom “God touched,” she said. “And he didn’t fall off a horse (like St. Paul), but he has such love for our Lord. And to see him on this special day is beyond beyond.”
Retired Bishop John M. LeVoir of New Ulm, Minnesota, was among the bishops who concelebrated the ordination Mass.
For the four years before his own episcopal appointment and ordination in 2008, he was pastor of St. Michael and St. Mary in Stillwater and became friends with the Williams family. At that time, Williams had been a priest for two years.
“The first thing that struck me was a real joy in the priesthood,” he said of meeting then-Father Williams. “I could tell that he was happy in what he was doing and enthusiastic, and was ready to spread the Gospel. Those are qualities that you need in a bishop.
“I think that through this process, the Holy Father saw that this was a man who would make a very fine bishop.”
Williams’ father, Dr. Gary Williams, 72, said he was overwhelmed with joy for his son and for the archdiocese. “I’m so honored to be his father,” he said.
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Ruff is news editor and Umberger is a staff writer at The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.