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CHEYENNE, Wyo.—Catholics from across the archdiocese made their way to Wyoming for the Dec. 9 ordination and installation of Bishop Paul D. Etienne as the eighth bishop of Cheyenne.
The trip was arguably most touching for his parents, Paul and Kay Etienne, who had welcomed their son, home in July as their new pastor at St. Paul Parish in Tell City.
In Cheyenne, they joyfully watched their son be given to the Church in Wyoming.
“If I had been any prouder, I would have popped,” said Kay. “I’m flying so high, and I haven’t even been drinking.”
“It was just an emotional time,” added Paul. “I was very proud of my son, Paul. I am very happy for him. And I think that the people of Cheyenne and the State of Wyoming will be very pleased with our son.”
According to Paul Etienne, this won’t be the last trip that he and his wife make to Wyoming.
“Kay and I will miss him dearly,” said Paul. “And we will definitely be people that will travel to Cheyenne, Wyoming. I’m looking forward to checking the state out.”
“Seeing my brother being made a bishop is beyond words for me right now,” she said. “I’m proud to be a Benedictine sister serving our awesome God in the Catholic Church today. I’m honored that my brother has been called to be a bishop, and that he is so willing to love and serve God as a bishop.”
Paul Etienne was impressed that so many other Catholics from the archdiocese made their way west for the special day in the life of their family.
Father Eric Augenstein, the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, said approximately 50 members of his parish traveled to the ordination.
That was in large part because Bishop Etienne spent nine years as the pastor of the parish, the longest time he spent in any ministry assignment since his 1992 priestly ordination.
Father Augenstein, who began his inquiries into becoming a seminarian when Bishop Etienne was the archdiocesan vocations director, succeeded him as pastor in 2007.
“When I got to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, it was a very healthy, active, vibrant community,” Father Augenstein said. “It was in good shape, and was doing great ministries. It was all very much attributable to him.
“It was unbelievable to see him come to the fullness of the priesthood as a bishop and to be able to experience that with the parishioners who had formed him into a pastor.”
Members of the Flanagan family were some of those parishioners. Gerri Flanagan, now the parish’s business manager, was its secretary during Bishop Etienne’s last three years at the parish.
“When he came, we just had a connection with him as a family right away,” she said. “We’re very blessed to have him as a part of our life and as a friend. We’ve learned a lot in our faith journey from him.”
Aaron and Zach Flanagan, sixth and eighth graders at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in New Albany, were altar servers during the ordination liturgy at the request of Bishop Etienne.
“I was kind of nervous, but really excited,” said Aaron about assisting at the Mass. “I was just kind of speechless.”
In talking about Bishop Etienne, Aaron was tearful.
“I can relate to him a lot,” Aaron said. “He’s a really cool guy.”
“It showed how much he cared about us,” said Zach of how he and his brother were asked to serve at the Mass. “When he was having the most exciting time of his life, he thought of me and my brother to serve for him at his ordination.”
Deacon candidate Jeff Powell, a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, was also on hand for the liturgy.
“It was a ‘wow’ moment, without a doubt,” he said. “It was just awesome over and over. I don’t think that I’ve ever had so much emotion at a liturgy.”
Powell said it was Bishop Etienne’s spiritual leadership that, in part, led him to discern a possible calling to the diaconate.
“He loves being a priest,” Powell said. “He just shows it in so many ways. You can’t help but be inspired.
“His [nine] years there brought all of us to a depth of spirituality that I don’t think that our parish has seen in my lifetime. He was just an amazing pastor in so many ways.”
After serving at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Bishop Etienne spent two years as the vice rector of Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis.
For seminarian Benjamin Syberg, a senior at Bishop Bruté Seminary, it was hard to believe that the priest with whom he had had so many conversations about the priesthood was being ordained a bishop.
“It was just surreal,” he said. “ … They’re so lucky to have him.”
Syberg also spoke about the lasting influence that Bishop Etienne will have on him if, God willing, he is ordained a priest.
“The image of the priest being someone whose heart goes to his people—that is something that he’s always shown to us and talked to us about and lived,” said Syberg. “That is what I will take the most from him.”
Father Robert Robeson, the college seminary’s rector, ministered alongside Bishop Etienne at Bishop Bruté. He was one of more than 40 priests from the archdiocese to participate in the ordination liturgy.
“It was very moving,” said Father Robeson of the Mass. “I was getting all teary-eyed at some points because I know what a great bishop he’s going to be, how good he’ll be for the people of the Diocese of Cheyenne.”
Like Bishop Etienne’s parents, Father Robeson said he was somewhat saddened to see him leave the Church in central and southern Indiana.
“It’s tough to lose him,” Father Robeson said. “But, at the same time, I think it’s good for the Church in the United States and certainly for the Church in Wyoming.”
Sister Nicolette, too, was saddened seeing her brother begin a ministry so far away from her and her family. But she was encouraged by words that he spoke to her.
“I hope Paul continues to be the person God has called him to be,” she said. “I hope he remains faithful to his prayer life. I hope he remembers his words to me
when I told him I wish he wasn’t being taken so far away from us: ‘Nicolette, God’s plan is always perfect.’ ” †