WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Bishop-elect Greg Bittman will be ordained to the episcopacy Sept. 3 at St. Joseph's Basilica.
Bishop-elect Greg Bittman says he feels overwhelmed that he has been called to be a successor of the apostles.
Bittman said that it is one thing to hear that bishops are successors of the apostles and another to realize that now you are going to be stepping into those shoes. "When you're going to be a bishop and you're going to be a successor of the apostles, that's overwhelming."
The Vatican announced July 14 that Pope Benedict has appointed Bittman, chancellor of the Edmonton Archdiocese for the past 12 years, as auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese.
When he is ordained a bishop Sept. 3, he will become the first auxiliary bishop in the history of the Edmonton Archdiocese. He will also be the only auxiliary bishop in Western Canada and Edmonton will be one of only nine Canadian dioceses with an auxiliary bishop.
In an interview, Bittman told the WCR he received an email in early July from Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, the papal nuncio to Canada, to come and see him in Ottawa.
"I knew something was up, but I didn't know what it was," he said.
He met with the nuncio July 9 and his appointment was announced five days later.
Quintana explained to him that his appointment was a call from Jesus and the pope.
"So, after he talked a little bit, then I said 'yes,'" Bittman said.
"I do believe the Holy Spirit works through the bishops and works within the Church. If the Holy Father chose me, I have to believe he was inspired to do that by the Holy Spirit."
Bittman, 51, was ordained a priest by Archbishop Joseph MacNeil in 1996. He attended St. Edmund's School and St. Joseph High School.
He has a diploma in nursing from the Misericordia Hospital School of Nursing and a bachelor of nursing degree from the University of Alberta. He worked as a nurse for several years prior to his ordination.
He also has a master of divinity degree from Christ the King Seminary in Mission, B.C., and a licentiate in canon law from the Catholic University of America.
Bittman has served at Holy Family Parish in St. Albert, Sacred Heart Parish in Gibbons, Our Lady of the Prairies Parish in Daysland, Christ-King Parish in Stettler, and the parishes of St. Agnes and St. Anthony in Edmonton.
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith will be the main consecrator at the Sept. 3 ordination at 7 p.m. at St. Joseph's Basilica while MacNeil and Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto will be the co-consecrators. Collins, who first appointed Bittman as chancellor, will deliver the homily.
Bittman said people sometimes teased him about someday becoming a bishop, but he brushed it aside. "It wasn't on my radar. I've got enough things to think about without wondering whether I'm going to be a bishop or not."
Smith, however, was thinking about it.
The archbishop said he approached the Vatican about the need for an auxiliary bishop for Edmonton.
The archdiocese has grown to become one of Canada's largest dioceses and, with his role as president of Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) taking considerable time, he needed assistance.
However, once the pope agreed to appoint an auxiliary, the normal process for appointing a bishop took over. Smith made suggestions as to who the auxiliary would be as could other bishops. Eventually, three names were submitted to the Congregation of Bishops and the pope decided to appoint Bittman.
Smith was pleased with Bittman becoming the auxiliary.
"He's been my right arm ever since I got here. It has always proven very good to rely on him and to work with him."
The archbishop said he looks forward to Bittman being able to assume new responsibilities, such as performing Confirmations and being an episcopal representative at important functions.
"He is widely known in the diocese as a very good priest, as a man of integrity and someone who is a genuine disciple," Smith said. "Everybody knows him and everybody loves him."
As a bishop, Bittman will also have responsibilities to the national Church through the CCCB and add his voice when the Alberta bishops meet.
Smith said, however, that while Bittman will retain his oversight of the archdiocesan pastoral and administration offices, some of his other responsibilities will likely be lifted.
The new bishop is a hard worker, but he is already over-worked, he said.
Bittman, meanwhile, has been studying the Pastoral Directory for Bishops - what he calls a 200-page job description for a bishop.
"I get inspired by it and I get overwhelmed by the responsibilities and the seriousness of the call to be a bishop."
He has been touched by people's congratulatory notes, "beautiful notes of encouragement" and pledges to pray for him. "I'm just amazed at people's response."