Catholic Sentinel photo
Bishop Robert Vasa has been named to be the next leader of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, Calif.
Catholic Sentinel photo
Bishop Robert Vasa has been named to be the next leader of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, Calif.
WASHINGTON — Pope Benedict has named Baker Bishop Robert Vasa as Coadjutor Bishop of Santa Rosa in California.  

The appointment as coadjutor means that Bishop Vasa, 59, eventually will succeed Bishop Daniel Walsh, 73-year-old current bishop of Santa Rosa, just north of San Francisco. 

The appointment was publicized in Washington Jan. 24, by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

One of Bishop Vasa's key legacies is a retreat center near Powell Butte, which gives youths a place for spiritual gatherings. More than 1,500 people went there last year.

True to his can-do nature, the bishop tended to pull weeds, landscape and do handiwork at the center himself. He also helped move along the construction of the new St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Bend, a project that had been stalled for years.   

Bishop Vasa will arrive in Santa Rosa on March 4. He plans to have an administrator appointed soon while the process of naming a new Bishop of Baker ensues.  

In more than a decade as spiritual leader of central and eastern Oregon's Catholics, Bishop Vasa drew attention for efforts to uphold Catholic teaching in the face of what he considered threats and laxity from inside and outside the church. He had lay ministers sign an oath of fidelity of Catholic teaching and erased the Catholic identity of a Bend hospital where doctors performed sterilizations. He criticized pro-choice Catholic politicians and once warned against a group of schismatics that denied the Second Vatican Council.

He put tens of thousands of miles on his car visiting the people of small churches and missions.

To help fill in gaps because of a shortage of local-born clergy, he worked to welcome priests from Africa. A community of African nuns and various Catholic contemplatives relocated to central Oregon during his tenure. He sought out a prayerful Catholic presence for his diocese.

"He has meant a lot of good things to central and eastern Oregon," says Father Joseph Reinig, vicar general of the diocese. "He has taken a firm stance on many of the things that have affected the church in recent years. He has been a beacon for those who still believe in the church and its mission."

Father Reinig says he will miss his boss. Bishop Vasa, the priest explains, is "one of the easiest men to talk to I've ever met" and "one of the most compassionate men I've ever met."

When named to Baker, the bishop described himself as “common as an old shoe.” He showed a farmer's resourcefulness, soon rewiring the diocesan offices for a computer network himself. He told the Catholic Sentinel he is “hard as nails but a Teddy bear inside.”

He was born Robert Francis Vasa in Lincoln, Neb. on May 7, 1951, one of seven children who grew up on a farm in Weston, Neb. He studied for the priesthood at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver and Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas, and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Lincoln on May 22, 1976.

Bishop Vasa holds a Canon Law Licentiate from the Gregorian University in Rome.

He served the Diocese of Lincoln in various positions, including assistant chancellor, judicial vicar and vicar general, all under Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz. He was also a high school teacher. In 1995 Pope John Paul II named him a “Prelate of Honor” with the title of “Monsignor." He was appointed Bishop of Baker November 19, 1999.

At the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Vasa is a member of the Catholic Home Missions Subcommittee and also serves on the Task Force on Health Care.

The Diocese of Santa Rosa in California includes 11,711 square miles. It has a population of 909,361 people, of whom 169,567, or 18.6 percent, are Catholic. The Diocese of Baker, at about 66,000 square miles, counts about 40,000 Catholics.