The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Former Arkansas bishop appointed to Seattle

Archbishop-elect Sartain is leaving Joliet, Ill.

Published: September 25, 2010   

A former bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock has been named the archbishop of Seattle.

Pope Benedict XVI accepted Seattle Archbishop Alex J. Brunett's resignation and appointed Bishop J. Peter Sartain of Joliet, Ill., as his successor.

He will be installed as Seattle's ninth bishop Dec. 1.

The changes were publicized in Washington Sept. 16 by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

It was the first time in the history of the Diocese of Little Rock that one of its bishops has gone on to become an archbishop.

Archbishop Brunett, who was named to Seattle in 1997, is 76 years old. Under canon law, bishops must submit their retirement at age 75.

Archbishop-elect Sartain, who is 58, has headed the Joliet diocese since 2006. Before that he was the bishop of Little Rock for six years.

  • 'My jaw dropped in surprise, but I also felt great joy'
    Click here
  • A native of Memphis, he was ordained a priest in 1978. He earned a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (The Angelicum) in Rome. After returning to the United States, he served at several parishes in Memphis and as director of vocations, chancellor, moderator of the curia, vicar for clergy and vicar general in the Diocese of Memphis. He was the diocesan administrator from September 1992 to May 1993.

    On March 6, 2000, he was ordained and installed as the bishop of Little Rock. During his time in Arkansas, Archbishop-elect Sartain served in various positions with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, including a member of the Administrative Committee and chairman of the Committee on the Home Missions.

    Seattle was established as a diocese in 1850 and created an archdiocese in 1951. It comprises 28,731 square miles of the state of Washington. It has a population of 5.2 million people, with 579,500, or 11 percent, of them Catholic.

    The Archdiocese of Seattle's new spiritual leader introduced himself to the media Sept. 16 as a priest who "loves being a pastor" and who regularly goes through three large baskets of prayer intentions from his people.

    "I love being a pastor," Archbishop-elect Sartain told reporters gathered in a chancery meeting room, "and so I look forward to my ministry as shepherd of the Church in the Archdiocese of Seattle."

    While noting that he has only visited western Washington twice before -- for a meeting and to go salmon fishing -- he said the "Gospel that I'm sent here to proclaim and the sacraments that I'm sent to celebrate here are the same (as in the Midwest)."

    "Jesus is the same in every place; all of you are beloved to God and so all of you are also beloved to me," he said.

    He described his leadership style as striving to listen to all points of view, and then following it with prayer. He said collaboration is important because it gives him the knowledge he needs to be able to make a decision while providing him with "the best possible input from those who are in the field, from those who have expertise in a particular area."

    Then "I do my best to submit all of that in prayer so that ultimately what the Lord wants is what I want," he said.

    During the media conference, he fielded questions about the issue of clergy sexual abuse of children, including a Sept. 16 statement from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests claiming his alleged inaction in cases of alleged predator priests in the Joliet Diocese.

    Responding that he wasn't at liberty to discuss ongoing cases, he called clergy sexual abuse of children a "heart-wrenching" tragedy, and said he has always sought to meet with victims during his time as a bishop, and to properly screen seminarians. "I've been very vigilant in the preparation of our priests, and likewise very open to the suffering of the victims," he said.

    Asked about his views on immigration reform, Archbishop-elect Sartain, who speaks Spanish, said legal ways must be found to help undocumented immigrants so that enforcement doesn't separate families caught in situations not of their doing.

    "The Church also recognizes ... that governments have the right to protect their borders," he said.

    The archbishop-elect said he seeks to relate as best he can to the lives of the people he serves.

    One practice he started in Arkansas is to invite the faithful to send him their prayer intentions.

    "I have three huge baskets of intentions in my chapel right now," he said, noting it has helped him feel spiritually drawn to the people. It's a way for him to express his love for them, he said, and also to hear about their lives.

    Interesting facts

  • Bishop Sartain's tenure in Arkansas was the shortest length of service in diocesan history.

  • He was the sixth bishop of Little Rock.

  • He was the first priest of the Diocese of Memphis to become a bishop.

  • He is the youngest archbishop in the United States.

    'My jaw dropped in surprise, but I also felt great joy'

    Phil Fredrich, parish manager at St. Bernard Church in Bella Vista, and his wife traveled to Seattle last week for vacation and got to see first hand the U.S.'s newest archbishop.

    "Vacations sometimes offer unexpected surprises. This was the case for me and my wife, Hope, last week on a last-minute planned trip to Seattle. We stayed at a downtown hotel within walking distance of the famed Pike Street Market, and on the second day stumbled upon the Josephium, an old hotel that was refurbished to house low-income older adults and those trying to get back on their feet. On the first floor was a chapel church that was home to the three-week old parish, Christ Our Hope. On attending the early morning Mass there the next morning, I became acquainted with the pastor, Father Paul Magnano, who explained the mission of the newly formed parish.

    "The next morning's Mass was preceded by the announcement by Father Magnano that the Vatican had just named a new archbishop for Seattle, and Father Magnano said that his new Arkansas acquaintances would be pleased to hear that his name was J. Peter Sartain.

    "My jaw dropped in surprise, but I also felt great joy. After Mass Hope and I later ran into Father Magnano at Starbucks and assured him that the archdiocese was indeed fortunate to get such a fine man as their new archbishop. Father told us that there would be a Mass of Thanksgiving later that morning at the Cathedral, which we attended.

    "The Mass was a beautiful and joyous celebration with the Cathedral choir and many priests of the archdiocese present to greet their new shepherd. Bishop Sartain in his remarks was very humble at his appointment and noted that he intended to emphasize that Jesus is the center of all things and that prayer should be central in our lives. We were so fortunate to be able to greet Archbishop-elect Sartain at the end of Mass, and he seemed just as surprised to see us. We wished him well in his new position and assured him of our prayers. As we had to go back to Arkansas the next day, it was the perfect way to end a surprise trip with a surprise ending."

    Please read our Comments Policy before posting.

    Article comments powered by Disqus