Emeritus Bishop Weigand marks 40 years as a bishop
The following story appeared in the Jan. 29 issue of the Idaho Catholic Register.
Bishop William Weigand, right, with Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, center, and Pope Francis. (Courtesy photo)
Bishop William Weigand, perhaps one of the only priests ordained in the Diocese of Boise to have ever been ordained a bishop, was recently honored in his current home Diocese of Sacramento at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of his ordination to the episcopate.
Bishop Weigand, who went to school in St. Maries, Idaho, and served parishes in Lewiston and Homedale, is currently Bishop Emeritus for the Diocese of Sacramento, where he served from 1994-2008 as bishop. Before that, he was bishop for the Diocese of Salt Lake City from 1980 until he received the call to Sacramento in late 1993.
It was in Idaho where Bishop Weigand first served as a priest. It was serving under an Idaho bishop, Bishop Sylvester Treinen, that he accepted a call to serve nearly a decade in the Diocese of Boise’s mission in Cali, Colombia, and learned many of the administrative skills required to become a bishop.
Now 84, Bishop Weigand assists current Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto on occasion, but spends most of his time gardening, cooking, and studying. He makes a yearly pilgrimage in his travel trailer to northern Idaho where his nephew has a cabin. They fish on Priest Lake, and Bishop Weigand celebrates Mass at Mary Immaculate Parish in St. Maries. Last summer was the first year, after 27 annual trips, that he was unable to go due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Idaho is still in my DNA, especially when it comes to going to the mountains and fishing,” he said, as well as occasionally touching base with priests he served with both in Idaho and in Colombia. Among them: Father Henry Carmona, Father Ron Wekerle, Father Joe Schmidt and his seminary classmate, Father Bill Taylor.
Bishop Weigand, as far as our records show, is one of only two men ordained in Idaho who went on to become a bishop.
The other is Bishop Nicolas Walsh, the first editor of the Idaho Catholic Register, who was vocations director for the Diocese of Boise when Bishop Weigand enrolled at Mt. Angel Minor (high school) Seminary. Bishop Walsh was serving as chancellor for the Diocese and as a pastor at St. Mary’s in Caldwell when Pope Paul VI, appointed him as Bishop of Yakima, Wash., in 1974.
William K. Weigand was born in Bend, Ore. He moved a lot during his boyhood years because his dad was a manager for JC Penney stores. When he was in the seventh-grade, the family moved to St. Maries where he attended and graduated from St. Maries Academy, a school operated by the Benedictine Sisters based in Cottonwood.
During his first year of high school in 1951, he enrolled at Mt. Angel Minor Seminary. He spent six years there, including his first two years of college. He completed his four years in theology at St. Thomas Seminary in Seattle. He was ordained at St. Mary Immaculate Church in St. Maries on May 25, 1963, the first priest to be ordained by Bishop Treinen. “He practiced on me and I always told him that he did OK,” Bishop Weigand said.
His first assignment was the former Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Lewiston, but he was there only a year when Bishop Treinen asked him to come to Boise to serve as vice chancellor of the Diocese under Monsignor Nicholas Hughes who had just been appointed rector of the Cathedral. Bishop Weigand was named Chancellor a year later, at age 28. “I was a little worried about how some of the priests, particularly the older priests, would react but everyone treated me wonderfully.”
The Chancellor Goes to Cali
During the time Father Weigand was serving as Chancellor, Pope Paul VI was asking U.S. bishops to send priests to Latin America, which had lots of Catholics, but few priests.
“They had been relying on priests from Spain and from religious orders, but the Church was asking for priests to work among the poor and to promote local vocations.” Bishop Weigand.
The Diocese of Boise established a mission, St. John the Baptist, on the southwestern perimeter of Cali, Colombia. Father Weigand was the third priest to go there, following closely behind the first, his former vocations director, Father Nicolas Walsh. In promoting vocations, they wanted the people to understand that “being poor is no obstacle to serving the Church.” The mission, which lasted for 30 years, changed the culture of the priesthood from one that relied on foreign-born clergy and those from the upper class “to one that focused on the talent and dedication of the common people,” Bishop Weigand said.
Bishop Treinen asked that his Idaho priests be willing to serve three-year terms. Father Weigand served three terms and part of a fourth, or about 10 years. “Bishop Treinen didn’t want to put too big a burden on the priest volunteers, but I felt it was God’s will that I apply myself.” Looking back on the experience, he sees that decade as the best training ground to be a bishop.
“Being out of the country helped me to appreciate how we serve a universal Church, a worldview that I may not have gained had I stayed in Idaho.” Further, the Idaho mission served about 60,000 people, as large as some dioceses.
“We had a huge challenge to provide religious instruction for youth, to prepare people for Confirmation and marriage. We also established social service ministries that included medical clinics and food pantries. So we had to develop networks of lots of people to help. All these ministries were satellite communities, of sorts, under the umbrella of the parish. It was almost the exact image of a diocese.”
Even though some were suspicious of American priests because of U.S. military incursions in Latin America, the priests were able to win trust because they lived among the people. “They knew that we could go home to a more comfortable life, but that we were there as ministers of the Church without any personal gain involved.”
That was unlike the Marxist groups that were trying to get a foothold in the region. “The leaders of the Marxist movements did not come from the poor. but from the middle class and the universities. They would go back to their middle-class homes at night. While they worked among the poor to try and organize politically, our philosophy was to preach the gospel, presenting the Word of God and the sacraments; telling the people that God loved them in their poverty and that they had dignity as a result of their baptism.”
The mission grew to the point that the Diocese of Boise created a second mission there, St. Mark’s, under the direction of Father Henry Carmona, now pastor at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Pocatello.
After about a decade in Cali, Father Weigand was told by Bishop Treinen that he needed to come home for a break. Father Weigand said he had to decide to leave or stay for good. “I knew that if I came back after a break, I would stay there (in Cali) for the rest of my life.” Thus, his bittersweet departure in 1978 was for the last time as a priest there. He has been back to visit a number of times, the most recent three years ago.
“It’s so gratifying to see that over this 50-year period that the neighborhood where we started was a poor people’s quarter and now it is a middle-class neighborhood. Houses are now three-stories instead of one-story and the parish we started now has four or five priests.”
Local vocations, for which the Idaho priests prayed and worked, have flourished. Now priests from Mexico, Central America and South America come to the United States and to European countries to help with priest shortages in those nations. For example, the Diocese of Boise has several Hispanic priests, including two more, Father Jesús Cruz Hernández and Father Moisés Urzúa Torres, of the Missionaries Servants of the Word, who arrived just this week.
After his return to Idaho, Bishop Treinen sent Father Weigand to St. Hubert Parish in Homedale.
“It was a good ministry, a little lighter assignment, but it was like Cali, on a smaller scale, because of its cultural diversity.” The parish, where he served for nearly three years, also included the communities of Wilder and Marsing. “There was a significant Hispanic population of farmworkers, also a significant Basque population as well as Austrians and Croatians who came to that part of Idaho in 1914-15.”
The Utah Bishop
In November 1980, Bishop Treinen had just returned from a trip. Opening his mail, he noticed a letter from Archbishop Jean Jadot, the apostolic delegate to the United States.
Surprised at its content, he called Father Wiegand. “We need to meet tonight,” he told Father Weigand. The priest knew it was important because Bishop Treinen did not keep late hours, but he wanted to meet Father Weigand that night midway between Boise and Homedale.
They met in a parking lot of a Mexican restaurant on the east side of Nampa. Bishop Treinen read the letter from Archbishop Jadot asking that Father Weigand accept the bishopric in Salt Lake City.
“I didn’t know what to say, other than I would pray about it, talk to my spiritual director and get back.”
However, Bishop Treinen said, the apostolic delegate needed an answer right away. Father Weigand insisted on more time. “I wanted to tell them no, but instead I said I would think about it. I needed three days to consult two or three priests.”
The answer yes, Father Weigand was ordained a bishop on Nov. 17, 1980, at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City.
“I followed a great bishop (Bishop Joseph Federal) who did the hard work of following the Second Vatican Council, so my priority was to finish the implementation of the Council by involving more of the laity in leadership,” Bishop Weigand said.
His second priority: increasing outreach to Utah’s growing Hispanic community, which is where his Spanish-speaking skills came in handy. “I’m quite sure my Spanish speaking was one of the reasons I was called as bishop there.”
Other priorities included promoting vocations among native Utahans and making the diocese financially independent “so that we no longer had to be considered a missionary diocese.” That effort had begun under Bishop Federal who copied the Diocesan Development Plan (DDP) developed in Idaho by Bishop Treinen, now called the Idaho Catholic Appeal.
Finally, Bishop Weigand oversaw a complete refurbishing of the interior of the Cathedral of the Madeleine. The $10 million project, up to that time the largest project in the history of the diocese, also included seismic retrofits to protect the edifice against earthquakes. By the time, Bishop Weigand left Salt Lake City, all but about $300,000 of the debt on the project had been paid.
The call to Sacramento, like the call to Salt Lake City, was not expected, although Bishop Weigand had an inkling that something was in the works.
Out of the blue, he received a call from Archbishop Eldon Curtiss of Omaha. Archbishop Curtiss was a contemporary of Bishop Weigand’s, also born in the Diocese of Baker and just five years ahead of Bishop Weigand at Mount Angel. (For a time, Archbishop Curtiss served at St. Bernard’s Parish in Jordan Valley, Ore., just over the Idaho border and was Bishop of Helena before his call to Omaha.)
Archbishop Curtiss asked Bishop Weigand how he was doing with his liver disease. Bishop Weigand had long suffered from liver disease and would later receive a liver transplant.
The call from the archbishop seemed strange to Bishop Weigand, but it made more sense while he was attending a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting just a few weeks later.
“I was on a coffee break in a crowded hallway when Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan (then the apostolic nuncio to the United States) pulled me aside and said, ‘Pope John Paul II wants you to go to Sacramento.’ It was so loud in there, I didn’t think I was hearing him correctly.”
“I did not want to go. I was quite happy in Utah,” Bishop Weigand said, but obedience often takes precedence over personal preference in the Christian life. He was installed as Bishop of Sacramento on Jan. 27, 1994.
His years in Sacramento included a massive diocesan synod, its first in 70 years. The synod, split into three sessions, was from 2002-06. The second and third sessions were to follow up on the implementation of the initiatives from the 67,000 parishioners who participated in the first phase.
As in Salt Lake, the Bishop also presided over a $35 million renovation of Blessed Sacrament Cathedral. He worked to increase vocations and Catholic education in the northern California diocese.
During this time, Bishop Weigand’s liver disease was progressing. Through all his years of serving as a bishop, he endured ill health, diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a disease that affects the bile ducts and can eventually damage the liver.
The bishop received the transplant in April 2005 and was back to work that October. However, he had been told that the transplant might last but a few years, one of the reasons that Bishop Weigand in 2007 requested that a co-adjutor bishop be appointed to share the increasing workload.
In October of that year, Bishop Jaime Soto, then the Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Orange, moved to Sacramento to begin to share responsibilities with Bishop Weigand. On Nov. 29, 2008, Bishop Soto was installed as Bishop of Sacramento.
Few, including Bishop Weigand, believed that he would still be going strong nearly 16 years after a liver transplant.
“My health is pretty good. My knees give out so I use a cane a bit and my shoulders give out, but, hey, I’m 84. There are people, including many in Idaho, who are quite surprised to learn that I’m still alive,” he quipped.
During pre-COVID times, he assisted Bishop Soto with Confirmations and other duties when called upon. He lives within walking distance of the Chancery so would visit his office at least once weekly to check his mail and visit with staff. Excepting last year, due to the pandemic, he takes his travel trailer to Yosemite National Park and along the California and Oregon coasts. “It has been an amazing 40 years as Bishop and 57 years as a priest. God has been so good to me.”
Recently, Bishop Weigand accompanied Bishop Soto on his ad limina visit to see Pope Francis.
Bishop Soto was so impressed by the interaction between the Pope and Bishop Weigand that he wrote about it on the Diocese of Sacramento website:
“The 40th anniversary of my predecessor, Bishop Weigand, brings back a memory from the visit he and I made to Rome, together with other bishops from our region. During the audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, there was a wonderfully personal moment between Bishop Weigand and Pope Francis. My reflections on that occasion were published on the diocesan website. I take this opportunity to share them again.
After greeting the Holy Father and sharing with him a gift from the Diocese of Sacramento, I introduced Bishop Weigand at my side. Bishop Weigand took Pope Francis’s hand, drew close to him and said, “Somos de la misma edad.” (We are of the same age.) With one hand still clasping Bishop Weigand’s hand, the Pope rested his other hand on their fraternal grasp, giving a sly smile in response, “Entonces, los dos somos jóvenes.” (Then, we are both young.). Bishop Weigand related to the Pope that he had been a bishop for 40 years. The Holy Father rested his free hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Has cargado mucho peso.” (You have carried much weight.) They continued to chat. Bishop Weigand spoke about his many years of ministry in the Archdiocese of Cali, Colombia. To which the Pope said, ”That’s why your Spanish is so good.”
What a blessing to share that apostolic yet fraternal, personal moment between my predecessor and the Successor of Peter. Sharing in that moment made me more appreciative of the relationships that bind us to one another. In that fraternal communion, we are also bound closely to Christ who has called us to love Him and feed His flock. With the renaissance splendor of the apostolic palace around us, the humble, personal, and tender conversation between two brothers who are disciples of the Lord gives substance to the apostolic tradition. As important as are the magisterial teaching and traditions of the Catholic Church, so is the practice of ecclesial communion lived out in the personal ascetic of fraternity. In that sweet moment at the door of the Papal study it was clearly a blessing and a duty. To paraphrase an expression of the well-known Catholic laywoman, Dorothy Day, it is the duty of delight.
God bless you, Bishop Weigand, for you have been and continue to be a blessing for this local Church of Sacramento.”
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