An avid runner, Fr. Bittman takes part in the annual fun run for the Foundation of St. Joseph Seminary and Newman Theological College.
Some people saw it coming. But even they were surprised when they learned in mid-July that Father Greg Bittman had been named auxiliary bishop of Edmonton.
"I could see this," said Father Sylvain Casavant, a member of the formation team at St. Joseph Seminary and a friend of Bittman since they were seminarians together more than 20 years ago.
Bittman has done "an admirable job" serving in the demanding job of chancellor for 12 years, he said. "I could see him called to help the Church in a greater capacity as bishop."
Likewise with Josée Marr, Bittman's executive assistant for those 12 years. When Archbishop Thomas Collins was moved to Toronto, she and her co-workers speculated on who Collins' successor might be.
They knew it was unlikely that a local priest would be named archbishop, she recalled. But looking at Bittman, "You entertain the idea that he would be a good guy to do this type of ministry."
"We just thought, 'If it happens, it's not going to be with us.'"
The first part of Marr's prediction did come true – Bittman was named a bishop – but not the second part – no one, it seems, anticipated him becoming an auxiliary bishop.
"We're happy that he's staying here," she said.
Marr describes the new bishop as a good problem-solver who is collaborative and easy to work with.
Fr. Greg Bittman is seen with his nephew Brad after giving him First Communion.
Sometimes, a priest transfer into a new parish will lead to tensions, she said. Bittman's pastoral sense is often of great assistance to the pastor and chair of the parish pastoral council in working through issues.
His approach, she said, is to get to the bottom of the issue – "to get to the essence and go from there."
Delia Waldock worked with Bittman for nearly 10 years as director of the Office of Canonical Affairs and the Alberta Regional Tribunal and then as vice-chancellor.
"Out of that grew a very good friendship which remains today," Waldock said in an interview from her home in London, Ont.
"He works very well collaboratively with people and he has a gift for recognizing and nourishing the gifts in others."
The new bishop, she said, has "a very strong sense of someone who is there to serve" and he has "an enormous capacity for work," work that he does well and thoroughly.
Bittman's human side also wins Waldock's favour. "He has a wonderful sense of humour and he can laugh at himself."
Socializing with Frs. Marc Cramer and Michael Schumacher.
When you're working through a complex or trying issue with him, "you know that at some point you're going to be able to stop, take a deep breath and find something to laugh about."
As well, when Waldock was suffering through an extended illness, Bittman was there. "He was always so helpful to me and so considerate."
Not only did he visit, but he made sure Waldock had the things she needed. "He made life for me a lot easier through his care for me."
Canon lawyers, she said, often bear the criticism that they are more concerned with law than with people's needs, she said. "He understands the line between being pastoral and upholding Church teachings. He walks that line very well."
On occasion, she said, when there is a problem in the process of finalizing an annulment and fully preparing people for a second marriage, Bittman will go out of his way to remove any roadblocks so that the marriage can take place as planned.
Prior to becoming chancellor, Bittman served in parishes in St. Albert (Holy Family), Gibbons, Daysland, Stettler and Edmonton (St. Anthony-St. Agnes).
In Daysland, Patricia Loesch, the long-time sacristan, said Bittman was well-liked and there was disappointment when he was transferred to Stettler after only two years.
"He had these twinkly eyes and this quick smile," Loesch said. "He was wonderful. He was shy and he wanted to do everything right."
As pastor, Bittman made no "big stirs" and implemented no big changes, she said.
Based in Daysland, Bittman also served the parish in Heisler, where Florence Sommer found him to be "a very brilliant, a very spiritual man" who did good work with the young adults of the parish.
Bittman came to town shortly after Sommer's husband had died and she found the new priest "very easy to talk to. He was like a son to me."
Fr. Greg Bittman following his graduation from nursing school in 1981.
After only one year in Stettler, Bittman was called to the city to serve as chancellor.
"They took him away," said Linda Dean, parish secretary for 39 years at Christ-King Parish. "I guess we're not going to get him back now, are we?"
"He was such a good priest," Dean continued. "I didn't think he should be stuck in an office."
During that year, Bittman had to close parishes in Veteran and Coronation. "I think he did it all tactfully," Dean said.
It has been 22 years since Sister Annata Brockman worked closely with Bittman.
At that time, Bittman was a seminarian who served as a group leader and catechist in the RCIA program Brockman ran at St. Joseph's Basilica.
"Even then, he worked effectively with the basilica RCIA team in a leadership role," she recalls. "I could always depend on him and he was always prepared."
Now whenever she sees him at events, "He has always come over to say 'hello.'"
Bittman is humble and prayerful, has a spirit of service and is friendly, she said. "Almost always, he's smiling."
Roma Newcombe was bridesmaid at Bittman's parents' wedding, is his godmother and taught him Grade 10 French at St. Joseph's High School.
Newcombe describes him as "just a super kid." He was soft-spoken, never argued and was a good student. "What is there not to like about him?"
The retired teacher says she is still waiting for an opportunity to take out her hard-working, conscientious godson to celebrate his 50th birthday, which occurred a year and a half ago.
Lawyer Tim Mavko is another friend of Bittman's from St. Joe's. The two took their girlfriends on dates together, were both on the student council and together recorded a "silly and crazy" video for Newcombe's French class.
"He was very polite, a friendly fellow" with a dry sense of humour, Mavko recalls.
He had no idea during those years that Bittman would become a priest, let alone a bishop. "That was not on the radar."
The bishop is not all work and no play. He enjoys 15-to-20 km runs with Marr, her husband Mike and several others every Saturday morning. He has a black belt in karate, enjoys scuba diving, and he and Casavant take in the occasional movie.
"He likes action movies," like Star Wars and Star Trek, Casavant said. But even there, the effects of work intrude.
"I'll watch the whole show," says Casavant. "He'll watch half of it with his eyes closed. At the movies, he's so tired."