Bishop Duca  to lead  diocese  

By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

The sixth bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge was greeted with applause, smiles and hugs as he approached the podium for his introduction to the people June 26, just hours after the Vatican announced the appointment by Pope Francis.  

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Bishop-designate Michael Gerard Duca speaks to the media as well as priests, deacons and staff of the Diocese of Baton Rouge after being introduced as the sixth bishop for the diocese. Bishop-designate Duca is currently the bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport. Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator

 

Bishop-designate Michael G. Duca replaces Bishop Robert W. Muench, who is retiring after 16 years. The two bishops arrived together, with Bishop Muench handling much of the introductions for the press event, which contained a variety of emotions from both men, who had clearly formed a special camaraderie.  

“I was completely surprised by this appointment and while I am sad to leave the good people of the Diocese of Shreveport, I immediately accepted the appointment without reservation as I see this as the will of God in my life and, I guess by extension, the will of God in the life of the Diocese of Shreveport and Baton Rouge,” said Bishop-designate Duca to the dozens of priests, deacons, diocesan employees and members of the media packed into the Westerfield Center on the campus of the Catholic Life Center.  

Bishop-designate Duca has been bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport for the past 10 years, his first bishop assignment. A native of Dallas, Texas, Bishop-designate Duca was ordained a priest in 1978 for the Diocese of Dallas. After serving in several parishes in that diocese, he served as rector of Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, Texas from 1996 to 2008.  

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport, with a Catholic population of 40,000. In contrast, the Diocese of Baton Rouge has a Catholic population of 227,052.  

“I have to tell you I’m not clear about the ‘why me’ part,” said the bishop-designate. “I have to admit I have been surprised or puzzled by most of the pastoral assignments I have received over my life. But, no matter how quick I had to move, or how unprepared I felt or overwhelmed or humbled, in every case, when I embraced the assignment, without reservation, I found the joy and blessings I know now that God intended.”  

Bishop-designate Duca then broke down in tears in recalling the special bond he had developed with the people in Shreveport, saying, “I fell in love with those I served, and I also found that in every case, I discovered the goodness in the people of God.  

“I intend to do no less here in Baton Rouge,” he continued. “And, I will give myself to you as your bishop and the work before us to build the kingdom of God, here in this portion of south Louisiana.”  

Though the geographical area of the Diocese of Baton Rouge pales in comparison with that of Shreveport, 5,513 square miles versus 11,129 square miles, the bishop-designate inherits a much denser population concentration that includes 64 church parishes, one Catholic university, 31 schools, 51 diocesan priests, 56 active permanent deacons and more than 100 combined religious brothers and sisters. In his first public address, the bishop-designate said he is committed to supporting those who serve in the church.  

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“I look forward to meeting the priests and deacons of the diocese and also the diocesan staff,” said Bishop-designate Duca. “But, at the end, the priests, deacons and lay leaders of the parishes and institutions are those that I want most to be seen as in solidarity with. They are the ones we, the Catholic staff, are here to support because they are the ones, the outreach, that touch the people of God.”  

Bishop-designate Duca, a self-described foodie, said he anticipates “hitting the ground walking” as opposed to “running” when he officially takes possession of the diocese because “there is a good organization, a good structure, a good spirit in the church” in the Baton Rouge diocese. He also mentioned an acquaintance in Shreveport, whose brother is a priest in Baton Rouge and stated that the Baton Rouge diocese has “the best group of priests in Louisiana.”  

“That was very encouraging and Bishop Muench has given me the same kind of encouragement and so I come with a great enthusiasm and excitement,” he said. “And, I’m anxious to meet all of you over the next years of my life as a bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.”  

In a nod to his Texas roots and the large Spanish-speaking population in his home state, the bishop-designate made a statement in Spanish, “especially now when things are so uncertain for so many people.”  

“Basically, what I said was that I want them to know that they are part of our family, we are one church and I can say that openly because I know that this is a city of much diversity,” he added. “When I moved to Louisiana, I thought that I would have shrimp and seafood in my freezer, more than I could eat. I moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, and ended up with meat pies and tamales, which have been a great gift. But, I first experienced in Shreveport, the diversity of culture and influence throughout this whole Louisiana state.  

“It’s a wonderful diversity, and I know we have Vietnamese, African-American; we have other cultures that are here all around, and I just want to say, we all have to consider that we are one family and when one part of the family suffers, we all suffer, and we need to have that kind of unity together.”  

Bishop-designate Duca then referenced a speech made at the recent U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting “about the importance of being close to one another” and getting to know each other and each other’s struggles. 

“We need to get close to (the poor) to understand their lives because in the end, we all want the same thing,” he said. “So to our brothers and sisters that don’t speak English, I want them to know that they are part of our family. If I could say this in Vietnamese, I would, but that’s way beyond me and I’m not going to try to say it in south Louisiana because I would mess that up, too.” 

In follow-up questions, the bishop-designate acknowledged that the transition from “the north to the south” will not be an easy one, saying, “I’m in way over my head here.” 

“I don’t even know enough to know how much I don’t know about south Louisiana to be worried about how much I don’t know,” he added. “Culturally, I know that I’m in a different place so I have to learn the culture and the way people interact. ” 

“I know that there’s north Louisiana, there’s south Louisiana and there’s New Orleans.”  

But he also emphasized the universality of the church, saying “even though there may be a great difference in culture, there is one church language, you might say, the language of the Mass, the language of the sacraments, the language of prayer. So we start off together with that.”  

Bishop-designate Duca is tentatively scheduled to be installed on Aug. 24 at 2 p.m. at St. Joseph Cathedral.