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Pope Francis has named Bishop Paul D. Etienne, leader of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., since 2009, the fourth archbishop of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.
Prior to being installed as a bishop in Cheyenne, he served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for 17 years.
The appointment was announced on Oct. 4 in Washington by Msgr. Walter Erbì, Chargé d’Affaires, at the Apostolic Nunciature to the United States, which is the Vatican’s embassy for America.
On the day of the announcement, Archbishop-designate Etienne was introduced at a press conference in Anchorage where he had traveled to meet with the archdiocese’s outgoing shepherd, Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz.
At the same time that Archbishop-elect Etienne’s appointment was announced, it was also made known that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Archbishop Schwietz, who submitted a letter of resignation last year when he turned 75, the retirement age for bishops set by the Church’s Code of Canon Law.
In remarks made at the press conference, Archbishop-elect Etienne spoke about how the mission given to him embodies a desire Pope Francis has for the Church’s bishops.
“Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, really means it when he says that he wants bishops to travel to the peripheries to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ and God’s love to strangers,” he said. “With today’s appointment, he is sending me among you, in the name of Jesus Christ, as your new archbishop, to be your servant and shepherd. I humbly accept this commission, with great gratitude to Pope Francis.”
It was a commission, though, that Archbishop-elect Etienne said he needed to consider in prayer before accepting. When he was told about the appointment by a nunciature official on Sept. 24, he asked for time to pray about it.
“He graciously gave me the night to pray, which is all I could do, because I sure did not sleep,” Archbishop-elect Etienne said.
As The Criterion went to press, a date for the installation of Archbishop-elect Etienne had not been announced. Until his installation, Archbishop Schwietz will continue to lead the Archdiocese of Anchorage as apostolic administrator.
Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin praised Archbishop-elect Etienne in comments about the appointment.
“In naming Bishop Etienne to the metropolitan see of Anchorage, Pope Francis has chosen a man after his own heart,” Archbishop Tobin said. “Bishop Paul loves Jesus Christ and wants to make him known. He also loves with a shepherd’s heart the people who have been entrusted to him. In his ministry, we see a gift of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to the Alaskan people.”
In being sent from the Diocese of Cheyenne to the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Archbishop-elect Etienne will go from serving a relatively small amount of Catholics of one geographically immense diocese to another.
The Diocese of Cheyenne comprises almost 100,000 square miles, taking in the entire state of Wyoming where some 56,000 Catholics live. The Archdiocese of Anchorage, on the other hand, is spread out over more than 138,000 square miles where more than 27,000 Catholics live. This year, the Anchorage archdiocese is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding in 1966.
Archbishop-elect Etienne comes from a family where service to the Church has been a hallmark for decades. He has two brothers who are priests of the Diocese of Evansville, Ind., and a sister who is a member of the Benedictine Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove.
His parents, Paul and Kay Etienne, are members of St. Paul Parish in Tell City, where Archbishop-elect Etienne grew up. He was serving as pastor of St. Paul Parish at the time of his appointment as bishop of Cheyenne.
He had previously ministered as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany and St. Simon the Apostle and St. John the Evangelist parishes, both in Indianapolis. Archbishop-elect Etienne also served as archdiocesan vocations director and vice rector of Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis.
Benedictine Sister Nicolette Etienne, interim principal of Holy Name School in Beech Grove, said her brother and the Archdiocese of Anchorage are a perfect fit.
“I think the people of Alaska are blessed to have my brother, and my brother is blessed to have the people of Alaska to serve,” she said. “I think the state of Alaska will fit my brother’s soul. He loves the outdoors.”
Sister Nicolette noted that Archbishop-elect Etienne “was a little in shock” when she first spoke with him about the appointment.
“But he wants to do God’s will,” she said. “It’s in his heart. It’s in his soul. He wants to put his heart and his soul into God’s people wherever God leads him.”
Father Zachary Etienne, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Evansville, felt sure that God would lead his brother beyond the Cheyenne Diocese. His appointment to lead the Archdiocese of Anchorage is a bittersweet one for him and his family.
“As a family, we’re excited,” he said. “And Paul is excited, and that’s a good thing. We hear it’s beautiful up there. We all knew he wouldn’t be in Wyoming for a long time, but we were hoping for closer rather than farther away.”
Father Bernard Etienne, vicar general of the Evansville Diocese and pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Evansville, believes his brother has “mixed feelings” about leaving the Diocese of Cheyenne.
“But he has an open heart to whatever the Lord and the Church are asking of him in serving the people in Alaska,” he said. “He just has this real sense of surrender that his life is not his own, that he will go wherever the Lord and the Church lead him.”
At his press conference, Archbishop-elect Etienne admitted that being so far away from his family in Indiana has been “a tremendous challenge” to him since being appointed bishop of Cheyenne seven years ago.
“Then and now, I ended up saying that if it is God’s will for me to serve far away from my roots, then I should indeed say ‘yes,’ ” Archbishop-elect Etienne said.
Sister Nicolette added that her brother’s prayerful spirit will help him take on the mission given to him by Pope Francis.
“He’s a very prayerful person,” she said. “He takes everything in prayer. I know that while transitions are never easy, his soul is at peace because it rests in God and the Blessed Mother. If we all walked with that disposition, we’d all be at peace and ready to serve at any time.”
Archbishop-elect Etienne expressed that desire to serve the faithful in Alaska at his press conference.
“I will give you my all,” he said. “I love the Lord. I love being a priest. I love the Church and the vision of the Church’s full potential which is being charted by Pope Francis.
“Please be patient and pray with and for me as I come to know you, and know that from this moment I will be your humble servant who loves you with the heart of the gentle Shepherd.”
(Criterion assistant editor John Shaughnessy contributed to this article.) †