The currently longest vacant see in the US now has a bishop. The Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, had been without a bishop since December 2004, but today the Vatican announced that Msgr. Paul Joseph Swain, vicar general of Madison, Wisconsin, has been named to finally succeed Bishop Robert Carlson.
Msgr. Swain has an illustrious biography. He is a convert from Methodism, holds a J.D. law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is a Vietnam veteran and recipient of the Bronze Star. After the war, he served in various posts, including as legal counsel to former Wisconsin Gov. Sherman Dreyfus. In 1982 he entered Blessed (then-Pope) John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, whose specific mission is late vocations to the priesthood. He was ordained in 1988 and will turn 63 on September 12. He is also a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
He will be busy in his new diocese with some very public issues. There is the ongoing debates over pro-life issues, including a recent law that was passed that would ban abortion if (when?) Roe v. Wade is overturned someday. And, more recently, Gov. Mike Rounds, a Catholic, who until very recently refused entreaties to commute the death sentence for a convicted murderer scheduled for this week, at the last minute changed his mind. (The killer had even asked to be executed for the brutal torture slaying and the execution would have been the first in 58 years in that state.) Rounds said it was because of a dispute over the numbers of drugs to be used in the lethal injection.
In any case, while Bishop Blaise Cupich in Rapid City has been carrying the episcopal load for the entire state on these issues, he will soon have Swain to help.
Meanwhile, there are still seven dioceses without bishops: Lake Charles, LA; Youngstown, OH, Birmingham, AL; Salt Lake City, UT; Pittsburgh, PA; Little Rock, AR; and Great Falls/Billings, MT; with Lake Charles now being vacant the longest, since March 2005. In addition, 11 more dioceses have bishops older than the mandatory retirement age of 75 and two more to be added in October. (Ed Peters keeps an excellent listing of dioceses and bishops and retirements.)
Perhaps, this fall we’ll see the pace of new appointments pick up again.
Update: In my headline I made the same mistake that official Vatican press release did, referring to the diocese as Sioux City (which is in Iowa) instead of Sioux Falls.
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