Among the 25 bishops and archbishops expected for today’s ordination of Rapid City’s newest Catholic bishop are two men who used to have his job.

Monsignor Robert Gruss, 55, will become the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City during a 1 p.m. ordination at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in a ceremony that is expected to draw about 4,000 people.

Bishop Blase Cupich of the Diocese of Spokane and Archbishop Charles Chaput, who was recently tapped to lead the Archdiocese of Philadelphia after 15 years in the Archdiocese of Denver, are among those on the guest list.

Despite Chaput’s recent appointment to the embattled Philadelphia diocese, he didn’t cancel plans to attend Gruss’s episcopal ordination. Chaput became a bishop here in 1988 at the age of 43 and Cupich ascended to that office 10 years later in 1998 at the age of 49.  Given their start in this small, out-of-the-way diocese with fewer than 30,000 Catholics, both men have gone on to play prominent roles in the American Catholic Church.

Cupich has garnered a national reputation for his duties with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, most recently as its point man on responding to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Chaput was recently named one of seven bishops who will serve as a catechist for World Youth Day next month in Madrid.

Both men have credited the Rapid City diocese with being an excellent training ground, which begs the question of what might be in Bishop-elect Gruss’s future.

At 55, Gruss is beginning his episcopal career later than the other two men, but he entered the priesthood at the much older age of 38. He is described by many in his home diocese of Davenport, Iowa, as a natural leader who may be destined for bigger things.

Ordained in 1994, Gruss is a former commercial pilot who hasn’t flown in recent years but retains his flight physical credentials, something that may prove useful in a diocese encompassing all of western South Dakota. He comes to Rapid City from his duties as rector at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport and recently returned from a stint at the Pontifical North American College seminary in Rome.

Rapid City Catholic Pam Fritz hopes Gruss will stay a long time. As co-chairwoman of the ordination steering committee, Fritz is working on her third bishop ordination in less than 25 years, a task she knows is both exciting and exhausting. 

“Change is hard, but it’s also an exciting time,” Fritz said. “People are really enthusiastic. They’re excited to be part of it.”

Overseeing 12 ordination committees and more than 600 volunteers from across the diocese’s nearly 100 parishes, Fritz and co-chair Stephanie Hurd began planning for the event in December of 2010 – “before we knew when and before we knew who.”

But like most other aspects of life, technological advancements have made the job of planning and coordinating an ordination easier.

“I cannot imagine doing this 10 or 20 years ago without email and texting and cell phones,” said Hurd.

They credit the chancery staff and diocesan chancellor Margaret Simonson with providing the framework for a smooth ordination ceremony.

“Margaret Simonson has kept impeccable records from the first two,” Hurd said. “We’ve thought that when we’re all done with this, maybe we should put together a ‘How to Do an Ordination’ handbook for other dioceses.”

The details of a successful ordination are both big and small: from recruiting bakers who will deliver hundreds of dozens of bars and cookies for two public receptions to transforming the civic center arena into a house of worship for a Catholic mass, complete with moving the bishop’s chair from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to the downtown venue.

They have put a volunteer medical team in place to deal with emergencies and found volunteers to sign for the hearing disabled. A diocesan-wide choir, with members coming from as far away as Gregory and Timber Lake, will perform. An entrance processional for the ordination ceremony will contain more than 100 clerics wearing vestments from both the Catholic faith and others. Nineteen pastors and bishops from other denominations are expected, including Bishop Dave Zellmer of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Bishop John Tarrant of the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota.

Even if the event isn’t flawless, Hurd will remember the “sheer enthusiasm” for the ordination as her favorite memory. “The number of volunteer hours these people have donated from all over the diocese is amazing.”

Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or


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