For the past 28 years the San Angelo Catholic Diocese has been under the direction of one man: Bishop Micheal D. Pfiefer. Recently, Pope Francis approved of Bishop Pfiefer's request to retire and it was time to welcome a new leader of the diocese into office. That man: Micheal J. Sis of the Austin diocese. This was going to be a major event.
First, lets me talk a little about Bishop Pfiefer. Bishop Pfiefer is a wonderful person to work with. From day one when I started working at the Standard-Times 10 years ago Bishop Pfiefer greeted me as if I was a member of his flock. It didn't matter that I wasn't Catholic, I was a human being. And he was very media friendly. And by media friendly I mean he loved the media. It's rare these days to have a person in such a high station that gives you virtually unlimited access to whatever you want to see. He was soft-spoken, warm, friendly and remembered my name from the first time we met. He was also generous with handing out blessings even if you were not a member of his flock.
So when word came down from Rome that Bishop Pfiefer's request to retire had been approved by Pope Francis I'm sure there was a little sadness felt throughout the diocese. No other bishop had served the San Angelo diocese for longer than ten years. Bishop Pfiefer served for 28 years. An entire generation of Catholic faithful had known no other leader than Bishop Pfiefer. He was highly visible, very accessible, a rock star among his constituents. And it's now time to say goodbye.
The ordination of the new bishop, Micheal J. Sis, was going to be held at the Junell Center on the campus of Angelo State University. I was a little puzzled by this, thinking it would be held at Sacred Heart Cathedral where the bishop's chair is located. But as I was combing through our archives looking for photos of Bishop Pfiefer's ordination from 28 years ago, I discovered that his ceremony was held at the San Angelo Coliseum and thousands of people were in attendance.
In my mind I was seeing just the local catholic churches coming to greet the new bishop and I completely left out the rest of the diocese. The San Angelo diocese is massive. It covers 37,433 square miles comprising 29 counties in West and Central Texas. Granted, the population is a little sparse in some of those far-west counties. So when I walked into the Junell Center I was amazed at the sheer number of people in the stands waiting to get their first glimpse of the new leader.
Of all the catholic services I've been to over the years they all have one thing in common. They all start with a procession of the clergy. This one was no different except for the fact that it was the longest procession I've ever seen. The Knights of Columbus were hand to offer a salute as all the priests from the parishes in the diocese made their way down the center aisle. A roar came from the crowd as Bishop Pfiefer appeared with the rest of bishops from around the state. Shouts of "We love you" and "We will miss you" were heard as Bishop Pfiefer waved to the crowd. An equally enthusiastic applause was given as the bishop-elect, Michael Sis, made his way down the center aisle.
Not being catholic and the fact that a ceremony like this had not been performed in San Angelo for almost 30 years, many of the proceedings were foreign to me, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Such as the anointing of oil on the head of Bishop-elect Sis and the receiving of his ring of station, mitre (the cool hat that bishops get to wear) and staff. And seeing the tender moment when every bishop walked by and placed their hands on Sis' head and offered a simple prayer over him was a heartwarming scene.
After all the pomp and circumstance of the event the new Bishop Sis was presented to the crowd to thundering applause. Bishop Sis then made his way around the Junell Center blessing the crowd and shaking hands. It was a cool event and, if the Catholic Church sees fit that Bishop Sis should serve for as long as Bishop Pfiefer did, it's not likely I'll see this ceremony performed again any time soon. So three cheers to Bishop-emeritus Michael Pfiefer! Have a happy retirement and good luck. To Bishop Michael Sis, I look forward to working with you!