"You have no idea of the joy in my heart right now. I am thrilled to be your bishop," Bishop Robert Gruss told Catholics in western South Dakota after a 2½-hour ordination ceremony Thursday at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
As the congregation chanted "Veni Sancte Spiritus" (Come Holy Spirit), Gruss was presented to the Diocese of Rapid City with a papal mandate from the Vatican, read by Monsignor Marco Sprizzi. Sprizzi proclaimed that Pope Benedict XVI had found Gruss to be "a suitable candidate ... to feed, to guard, to lead" them as their bishop.
In response, the people of the diocese signaled their consent with applause and a standing ovation.
Gruss lay prostrate on a Lakota star quilt, a gift of Red Cloud Indian School, while his fellow bishops conducted the ancient rite of investiture to the office of bishop that the Catholic Church believes leads unbroken back to St. Peter.
The 55-year-old priest from Davenport, Iowa, had his head doused with blessed chrism oil and was given a ring, a staff and a bishop's hat as signs of his new office. The ring is a sign of his fidelity to the church, the staff, or crosier, signals his new role as shepherd of a flock of some 27,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Rapid City, and the hat, or miter, represents the likeness of Christ as the head of the church. Gruss replace Bishop Blase Cupich, who was named bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, Wash., in August.
Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul/Minneapolis served as the principal consecrator of the ordination Mass, and his homily paid homage to Gruss's choice of "No Greater Love" as the motto for his new ministry as a bishop. Nienstedt's strong tenor voice opened and closed his sermon with a capella song: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have called you, and you are mine."
Nienstedt exhorted the newest American Catholic bishop "to never leave time for prayer undone" and to not let the administrative demands of his new job prevent him from addressing the spiritual needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely and the brokenhearted.
Many of Bishop Gruss's new flock drove hours to attend the ordination, including Jerome Smith, who came from Martin. Smith also volunteered to serve a private dinner for the bishop and his guests on Wednesday.
"I wanted to come just because it's so wonderful, but I also came to work the meal," Smith said. "It's such a great blessing to see the bishops, all the priests and the great spirit of God just poured out on us."
The new bishop celebrated Mass with 25 of his fellow bishops, along with all of the priests from his new diocese and many from his old one, all of whom wore matching vestments for the carefully choreographed service.
In his closing remarks, Gruss professed to be struck nearly speechless by the moving ceremony.
"I can't believe just what happened," he said, before thanking a long list of people for making his ordination so memorable.
One of them was the Rev. Steve Biegler, a friend and classmate of his who was the administrator who ran the daily affairs of the diocese while it was without a bishop for 11 months.
"He is probably the most relieved person in this house today," Gruss joked, before the audience rose to its feet to applaud Biegler for his service.
Gruss also thanked the people who helped form him for his new role as the eighth bishop of Rapid City, including his deceased parents. He struggled to contain his emotions as he spoke of them and noted that they had "viewed this event from a different perspective."
But he reserved his greatest thanks for God. "Who could have written this script except the Lord?" he asked of his path to the priesthood at the age of 38.
He answered his own question, "How in the world did I get here?" with a deeply personal and spiritual reflection on his life.
He talked about beginning a spiritual search 29 years ago during a difficult personal time with a daily prayer that asked one thing: to know the "lived experience" of the love of God. God answered that prayer, he said.
"Falling in love with God decided everything for me," he said.
Gruss said he wants to share that love for the Lord, and the rest of his life, with the people of his new diocese. His goal for the diocese, he said, is that it "come to know the ever-deepening love of God manifested in Christ Jesus."
Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or email@example.com