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Interim St. Paul-Minneapolis archbishop meets with priests in Rochester

New interim Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, center, walks past Methodist Hospital in Rochester with Deacon John Powers, left, and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, right, following a Mass for priests only at Church of St. John the Evangelist.

The man named interim leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the wake of John Nienstedt's resignation met with Catholic priests in the state at an event in Rochester Wednesday.

Interim Archbishop Bernard Hebda arrived in Minnesota Tuesday evening and on Wednesday joined a few hundred priests gathered in Rochester for an assembly that convenes every two years.

Hebda celebrated Mass with the priests at St. John the Evangelist Church, but didn't address the media as he walked to a downtown Rochester hotel.

Minutes after the bells rang midday at the church, Hebda emerged smiling after celebrating mass and walked with other priests to the Kahler Grand Hotel.

Priests also declined to speak with reporters as they left the church, but the archdiocese later released a statement by Rev. Kevin Finnegan, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina. Hebda "was very encouraging about our future," Finnegan said. "I pray this is a fresh beginning."


In an interview Monday with the archdiocese's newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, Hebda says he'll split his time between the archdiocese and his current assignment in New Jersey, but the archdiocese is suffering so intends to give it the bulk of his energy.

Hebda says he wants to help area Catholics "get back to the point of being the joyful missionary disciples that Pope Francis has asked us to be."

Hebda was appointed as apostolic administrator of the Twin Cities archdiocese by Pope Francis. Hebda has served since 2013 as coadjutor bishop in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.

The Vatican announced Monday that the pope had accepted the resignations of Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche following a controversy over their handling of clergy sexual abuse allegations.

The resignations came just 10 days after charges were filed against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for "failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm" done to the sexual abuse victims of Curtis Wehmeyer, a former St. Paul priest who is serving a five-year prison sentence for molesting two boys and is facing prosecution involving a third in Wisconsin.

Hebda will take on all the responsibilities of leading an archdiocese as apostolic administrator, and will fill the role until the pope appoints a new, permanent archbishop for the Twin Cities. But it's unclear how long Hebda will serve as the temporary caretaker, or when he's expected to arrive in St. Paul.

Some who know Hebda say he's the perfect candidate to hold the archdiocese together in a time of transition.

"He will pour his heart out for the people of the Twin Cities and try to help the healing, try to help the transition, try to help set things up for whomever is going to be your permanent shepherd there," said the Rev. Louis Vallone, a canon law expert and parish priest in Hebda's hometown Diocese of Pittsburgh, "and then he will just move on as he always has, to whatever the church asks him to do next."


Hebda graduated from Harvard University and received a civil law degree from Columbia University. He was ordained as a priest in 1989 after working for a high-profile law firm in Pittsburgh.

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