Following the 2019 death of its longtime leader and sudden resignation of his chosen replacement, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Duluth finally expects to have a new bishop in place next month.
The Very Rev. Daniel Felton, a longtime pastor in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, was appointed by Pope Francis to serve as just the 10th bishop in the 122-year history of the Northeastern Minnesota diocese.
"I can't wait to get out to the parishes and to the schools," Felton said during an introductory news conference Wednesday. "I'm a pastor at heart. It's what I live to do; it's what I love to do. The more I can be out of the field with our pastors and lay leaders and all the folks that are part of this diocese — that's where I want to be, that's where I want to be leading and that's where I want to be shepherding."
Felton, 66, has served as vicar general and moderator of the curia in Green Bay since 2014. He was ordained a priest in the Green Bay diocese in 1981 by Bishop Aloysius Wycislo.
Felton's assignments have come throughout northwestern Wisconsin, including Holy Innocents in Manitowoc, St. Raphael the Archangel in Oshkosh, and St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc. He also served as director of affiliate affairs for the Catholic Telecommunications Network of America.
Felton's episcopal ordination and installation as bishop of Duluth have been set for May 20.
"I only just met Bishop-elect Felton, but I already know him to be a man of faith who has many gifts that he is bring to us, and I think I can speak for everyone in the Diocese of Duluth when I say we look forward to getting to know him and he us," said the Very Rev. James Bissonette, who has led the diocese on an interim basis for the past 16 months.
Felton succeeds the late Bishop Paul Sirba, who died suddenly in December 2019.
The Rev. Michel J. Mulloy was scheduled to be ordained and installed as the 10th bishop in Duluth in October, but resigned following an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor in the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota.
Felton, whose parents Carol and Ken owned a retail glass shop, grew up as the oldest of five children in the Green Bay area. He attended St. Edward School in Mackville and Appleton West High School.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and psychology from St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin; a master’s degree in theology from St. John University, in Collegeville, Minnesota; and a licentiate of sacred theology and a master’s degree in social communications from the Gregorian University in Rome.
Felton serves as a member of the diocesan College of Consultors, Presbyteral Council, Bishop Advisory Council, Personnel Board, Diocesan Finance Council, St. Norbert Board of Trustees, and Silver Lake College Board of Directors. He is also a member of the National Advisory Council of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Felton credited his family, parishioners in Wisconsin, fellow church officials and, most significantly, God, for the opportunity to lead the 10-county diocese that includes more than 44,000 Catholics and 71 parishes.
"Today, I give glory and praise to God for my new family," he said. "For all of you here in the Diocese of Duluth, you are my family. We're already family in the sense that we're all beloved sons and daughters of the Father. We're all brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. We're all bound together by the divine love of the Holy Spirit."
Felton's appointment comes as Catholics are celebrating the holy Easter season. He said he actually learned of his selection from the Vatican over the Palm Sunday weekend, so a decision was made to hold off on announcing his appointment until after many of the festivities were completed.
The new bishop also acknowledged the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. When his father died last May, the family had to hold a funeral with just 10 people, and his mother had to move into an assisted living facility that remained on full lockdown for many months.
While the pandemic forced many people out of the church pews every Sunday, Felton said there is now optimism as more parishioners are able to return. He said churches have also had to get creative to reach people in their communities and beyond, offering services such as livestreaming, which may continue well into the future.
"I think it's a time of great opportunity," he said. "Every challenge has its blessing that goes with it."
This story was updated at 5:14 p.m. April 7 with quotes and additional information from a news conference. It was originally posted at 1:03 p.m. April 7.