Young Greg, right, is the eldest of his brothers David (left) and Chris

PHOTO SUPPLIED

Young Greg, right, is the eldest of his brothers David (left) and Chris

September 10, 2012
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Fran Bittman is a woman of unwavering Catholic faith. But when she speaks of her son Greg's vocation to the priesthood, talk inevitably comes around to Fran's mother, Anna Lech.

Every summer, the three Bittman boys – Greg, David and Chris – spent a week or two at the Lech farm near Olds.

There, Grandma Anna made sure the boys said morning and evening prayers every day kneeling next to their beds. She frequently talked to them about matters of faith and prayer.

"None of my boys have left the faith and my grandkids have all been brought up in the faith," Fran says proudly.

As for Greg, "Mom probably planted a heavy duty seed in him for the priesthood."

ONE A PRIEST

"My mom would say, 'You have three healthy boys and one of them should be a priest and it should be Greg.'"

Fran Bittman

Fran Bittman

However, Fran Bittman is a no-nonsense woman herself. Forced to work to help support the family, she became the first female insurance adjuster in Canada and spent 16 years as claims supervisor for the City of Edmonton.

"It was a very interesting job. And I was a heckuva good adjuster," she says. "The work was very stressful. You had to be like iron."

Maybe some of the iron rubbed off on her eldest son, but what strikes her most about him is his kindness – kindness to herself and to others.

KIND TO ELDERS

"He is very good to old people," she says. "And he's very good to me."

One month after her husband Joe, a resilient floor covering contractor, died in 1993 at age 61, Fran was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I've been lucky; it's never happened again." Nevertheless, her son Greg, then still working as a nurse, "watched me like a hawk," keeping his eye peeled for the slightest symptom of the return of cancer.

Greg, she says, "has impeccable taste in clothes – men's clothes and women's clothes. He still buys me clothes. Beautiful stuff!"

Indeed, it would seem that the future bishop was born with an eye for beauty and orderliness. As a young child, when he got dirty he "toddled over to the washroom to get a cloth," brought it to mom and got her to clean him up.

Today, he's a good cook and a perfect housekeeper, according to his mother. "You could eat off the floor."

New father Joseph holds his always smiling baby son Greg.

PHOTO SUPPLIED

New father Joseph holds his always smiling baby son Greg.

The young Bittman boys, however, wanted a dog and eventually they got a miniature poodle named Buffy who met Mom's requirements – a dog that was young, didn't shed and was trained.

"They loved that dog. It ruled their lives. It ruled the home."

A HAPPY CHILD

As a youngster, Greg was quiet, organized and happy. "He wasn't an orangutan kid. Father Greg was a happy child. He always smiled.

"This is one kid who never got into trouble," Fran continues. "He didn't want the hassle."

Although Greg began his seminary education at Christ the King Seminary in Mission, B.C., he returned to Edmonton to finish his training and serve in his home diocese.

The Edmonton Archdiocese badly needed priests and then he would be close to his family, she said. "It was such a hullaballoo when he was ordained because they hadn't had anybody in a while."

That was in 1996. Only four years later, Archbishop Thomas Collins chose Father Bittman as chancellor of the archdiocese.

"Archbishop Collins loved him," Fran says. "His values and Father Greg's are much alike."

During those 12 years Father Greg served as chancellor, many people came to Fran to say her son would someday become a bishop. She downplayed the idea.

She thought that if ever he was appointed a bishop, it would be as an auxiliary to Collins in Toronto. The prospect didn't appeal to her personally. "I don't like Toronto and I don't like travelling."

Nevertheless, when his appointment as a bishop did come, it wasn't a great shock to her. "He's wise, he's intelligent and he makes good decisions."

Her son came to break the news to her.

"It was almost like you were frozen in time. You didn't know what to say. I looked at him and said, 'You know, Greg, I don't know whether I should say I'm really happy or I'm really sad.' Then we both started to cry."

Then, Fran gave her son, the bishop-elect, a hug and a kiss, "something I like to do with all my boys."

Now, more than a month after the appointment was announced, "I am still finding it difficult to realize this has happened. I keep saying, 'Thank you God for the big blessing you have bestowed on us.'"