The auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will be the next bishop in Des Moines, the Vatican announced on Thursday.
Bishop Richard E. Pates will succeed Bishop Joseph Charron, who has retired. Pates, a native of St. Paul who has spent most of his career in Minnesota, will be installed at a mass in Des Moines on May 29 and assume his new duties immediately thereafter.
"It is a particular honor to succeed Bishop Charron, a good friend and a conscientious shepherd and effective leader," Pates said. Charron also came from the Twin Cities archdiocese, as did his predecessor, Bishop William Bullock.
"So I'm the third one in a row that we've sent to Des Moines," Pates said during a phone call, as he was being carted around Des Moines meeting the people he will be working with. He added with a chuckle, "And you know what they say: The third time's the charm."
Pates, 65, is a popular figure in the archdiocesan offices, where he has served in a variety of capacities. He is respected by fellow clergy both inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church, beloved by rank-and-file church members and appreciated by the media for his ability to take complicated doctrinal matters and restate them in everyday language.
Take, for instance, his account of how he learned about his appointment: "I got a phone call saying, 'The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has picked you to be the new bishop of Des Moines.' And I said, 'Thank you.' Well, there was a little more to it than that, but that was the gist of it."
When Archbishop Harry Flynn announced his plans to retire from the Twin Cities archdiocese, some insiders lobbied for Pates to replace him. The Vatican prefers to bring in people from other dioceses, but it's now clear that Pates made the pope's short list of potential appointees.
"I have no idea how they go about this," he said of the process of making the appointments, adding that he has never sent out any hints that he was interested in a promotion. "In fact, when I was named auxiliary bishop, my first reaction was that I was happy being the pastor of a church in Woodbury."
After attending Gregorian University in Rome, Pates was ordained at St. Peter's Basilica in 1968 and returned to Minnesota to serve as an associate pastor of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul. Except for a six-year stint in Washington D.C., he has lived in the Twin Cities, working for the archdiocese, serving as a pastor at local churches or, from 1981 to 1987, acting as rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul. Flynn named him an auxiliary bishop in 2000.
Flynn said he is "delighted" by the appointment. "He is a person of outstanding quality and exemplary administrative ability with a pastoral touch that is sorely needed in the church today. I will miss him."
Archbishop John Nienstedt, who is replacing Flynn, sent his congratulations to the Iowa diocese. "I assure you that he is a wonderful shepherd who will lead you in the ways of Jesus Christ," he said. "He is an approachable and compassionate leader. I truly believe that our loss is Des Moines' gain."
The Des Moines diocese comprises 82 parishes encompassing 92,000 members. While not nearly as large as the archdiocese (650,000 total members), Pates said that many of the issues are the same. He served as the vicar for clergy and the vicar for youth and young adults in the archdiocese, two areas that he intends to make priorities in his new post.
"The importance of young people in the life of the church is probably my No. 1 thing," he said. "I look forward to building a good, strong, vibrant community."
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392