Bishop Kicanas of Tucson retires; pope names Kansas bishop his successor

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson and named as his successor Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger, who has headed the Diocese of Salina, Kansas, since 2012.

Bishop Kicanas, former vice president and former secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has headed the Diocese of Tucson since 2003. He is 76. Canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation when they reach age 75.

Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Salina, Kansas, is seen in this undated photo. Pope Francis named him Oct. 3 to succeed Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who is retiring as head of the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona. (CNS photo/courtesy The Register)

The changes were announced in Washington Oct. 3 by Msgr. Walter Erbi, charge d’affaires at the Vatican’s nunciature in Washington.

Bishop Kicanas currently serves on the USCCB’s Catholic education and communications committees and the USCCB Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs, and is a consultant to the Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs. He has chaired and served on several other USCCB committees.

He is a board member of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC. He also is the former chairman of the board of directors of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency. As bishop of Tucson, he also serves on the board of directors for the Arizona Catholic Conference.

“It has been a blessing to collaborate closely with Bishop Kicanas in addressing key issues of society and the Church that we face in Arizona: issues such as welcoming the stranger in the many immigrants and refugees who have resettled in our state, celebrating Catholic education, engaging our youth in the life and mission of the Church and many more,” said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix shortly after the announcement was made. “I give thanks to God for the privilege of working beside Bishop Kicanas and extend to him my fraternal best wishes as he begins his retirement.”

Bishop Weisenburger will be installed as the seventh bishop of Tucson Nov. 29. Bishop Kicanas will now serve as administrator of the diocese until his successor’s installation.

“We are blessed that the Holy Father Pope Francis has appointed as our seventh bishop in the Diocese of Tucson a caring and loving pastor and shepherd for our community,” Bishop Kicanas said in a statement.

“He will walk with us, listen to us and stand up for us. His many gifts will provide the pastoral leadership we need,” he added. “He will be a collaborative worker with diocesan personnel, interfaith leaders and all those with responsibility in this vast diocese.”

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., and Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger greet women religious following a morning gathering of staff and the well-wishers in St. Augustine Cathedral in Tucson Oct. 3. That day Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Kicanas and named as his successor Bishop Weisenburger, who has headed the Diocese of Salina, Kan., since 2012. (CNS photo/Catholic Outlook, Diocese of Tucson)

Formal announcement from Salina Diocese and from Tucson Diocese

Bishop Kicanas shares photos from the press conference

“I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of a shepherd who has served graciously and generously for many years,” Bishop Weisenburger, 56, said in a statement. “Bishop Kicanas has served in many national capacities for the Catholic Church and is highly esteemed. Knowing that he will continue to reside in our diocese is a great comfort for me and a blessing for our people.”

At a news conference in Tucson the day of his appointment, Bishop Weisenburger said it was his first visit to the diocese. He remarked that after his installation, he plans to travel throughout the diocese offering Mass in more remote areas for people who could not attend the Nov. 29 Mass.

“I am used to traveling long distances,” he said. “I would rather go to them than have them come to me.”

Spread over nine counties and nearly 43,000 square miles, the Diocese of Tucson is the fifth largest diocese in the country by size.

He offered some remarks in Spanish at the news conference and earlier that morning when he was introduced to diocesan staff.

He also stated his support for the plight of immigrants in the country without documents and for the 800,000 youths whose status has been endangered by the elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, unless Congress moves to preserve the program.

“I very much want America for them, but I also really want them for America,” he said. “Their gifts, their talents and their dedication reveal to us the very best of what it means to be an American.”

Edward Joseph Weisenburger was born in Alton, Illinois, Dec. 23, 1960. He spent two years of his childhood in Hays, Kansas, but grew up primarily in Lawton, Oklahoma, graduating from high school in 1979.

Path to priesthood, bishop roles

He attended Conception Seminary College in Conception, Missouri, where he graduated with honors in 1983. He then attended the American College Seminary at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology and master’s degrees in religious studies and in moral and religious sciences. He also studied Spanish in Spain while attending seminary in Belgium.

Facebook Live video Bishop Weisenburger’s press conference


Ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City Dec. 19, 1987, he was parochial vicar at St. Mary Church in Ponca City, Oklahoma, until he was sent to the University of St. Paul in Ottawa, Ontario, where he earned a licentiate in canon law.

When he returned to the archdiocese in 1992, then-Fr. Weisenburger was appointed vice chancellor and adjutant judicial vicar. He also provided weekend parish and prison ministries from 1992 to 1995 and served as an on-site chaplain for rescue workers in the weeks following the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

In addition to chancery duties, he worked in parish and prison ministries from 1992 to 1995, often celebrating the sacraments in Spanish.

In 1996, he was appointed vicar general of the archdiocese. He remained with the archdiocesan tribunal for almost 20 years and served in various capacities including promoter of justice for the sainthood cause of canonization of Fr. Stanley Francis Rother, who was beatified Sept. 23.

He served as pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Okarche, Oklahoma, where Blessed Rother grew up, from 1995 to 2002, and was pastor of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 2002-2012. On Feb. 6, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him bishop of Salina. His episcopal ordination and installation was May 1, 2012.

Bishop Olmsted also expressed his congratulations to Bishop Weisenburger.

“I am pleased to welcome Bishop Weisenburger, who comes to Arizona from my home state of Kansas, and whose love for Christ and commitment to the Gospel are well-known, not only in Kansas but far beyond,” he said.

Outgoing bishop bids farewell

A Chicago native, Gerald Frederick Kicanas was born Aug. 18, 1941. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago April 27, 1967, and for 25 years, he served in various capacities in the archdiocese’s seminary system. In 1984, he was appointed rector of Mundelein Seminary and held seminary postings that included rector, principal and dean of formation at the former Quigley Seminary South.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., smiles during the introduction of Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger as the seventh bishop of Tucson at an Oct. 3 gathering of staff and well-wishers in St. Augustine Cathedral in Tucson. Bishop Kicanas is retiring and Pope Francis named the bishop of Salina, Kansas, as his successor. (CNS photo/Catholic Outlook, Diocese of Tucson)

He was named coadjutor bishop of Tucson Oct. 30, 2001, and his episcopal ordination was Jan. 15, 2002. Tucson Bishop Manuel D. Moreno retired March 7, 2003. As coadjutor, Bishop Kicanas immediately succeeded him as head of the diocese.

At the news conference, Bishop Kicanas said his successor was “a staunch advocate for social justice, caring for all human life from conception to natural death. He is a bishop who has a deep sensitivity and compassion for migrants and refugees.”

Bishop Weisenburger also “understands the struggles of rural communities” and works on behalf of the people facing those struggles,” the retiring bishop said.

“For more than a year, we have been praying for Pope Francis and for the Holy Spirit to send us a loving and caring pastor and shepherd for the Diocese of Tucson. The Spirit has heard our prayers, and then some,” Bishop Kicanas added.

Contributing to this story was Michael Brown in Tucson.