Bishop-elect Father Gary Franken sees God’s providence in the circumstances of his appointment as the new Bishop of the Alberta Diocese of Saint Paul’s.
He told The B.C. Catholic that during the pandemic he found himself the primary caregiver for his elderly parents in Vancouver. He was only able to accept the position in Alberta because pandemic restrictions started to ease up and his parents were able to transition to residential care.
He said that his family members have responded to the news that he will be moving to Alberta with hearty congratulations, and they all wonder what the future will hold for him in his new ministry.
When he got the call from the papal nuncio, Father Franken admits, “there is no way around it, I was shocked.”
Over the years he has been teased about the possibility of this happening because so many of his predecessors as Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Vancouver have gone on to be bishops – including his predecessor Father Joseph Nguyen as well as Bishops David Monroe, Richard Gagnon, Stephen Jensen, and Mark Hagemoen. Still, he was very surprised.
His parishioners at St. Anthony’s in West Vancouver tell him they are excited about this opportunity, but he recognizes some sadness mixed with the congratulations.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Father Franken has not lived outside the Lower Mainland for any extended time since he attended university.
Like all pastors, Father Franken knows the emotional experiences that come with being transferred to a new parish, but the prospect of moving to a new diocese and province seems more daunting.
Still, he is in good spirits and is excited to start this new chapter in his vocation.
He’s particularly looking forward to attending what is affectionately known as “bishop school” in Rome later this year. There he’ll receive training developed to help bishops better live their vocations and adjust to the ins and outs of the office. There are usually 100 to 200 bishops from around the world in attendance.
One of the greatest joys he has experienced since receiving the news has been the fraternity he has found among other Canadian bishops.
“I have found the transition from priest to bishop very welcoming,” he said. “A good number of Canadian bishops have called me.”
Of special note have been his conversations with Saint Paul’s retiring Bishop Paul Terrio, who has been getting him up to speed about his new diocese. Bishop Terrio is leaving St. Paul’s a tight ship and Father Franken is grateful.
“Everything seems to be fine,” he said. “There is no news of any major issues that are crying out for ready attention.”
Despite the stress and excitement of such a big move, Father Franken has maintained his good cheer:
“I guess I can say with a smile that I have been stuck in a few too many Vancouver traffic problems as of late,” he said. “So I am looking forward to some rural driving.”
He sent thanks to everyone who has kept him in their prayers and said he will “remain a person of prayer all the more so through this.”
The Diocese of St. Paul’s covers a large territory of 156,000 square kilometers inside the ecclesiastical province of the metropolitan Archdiocese of Edmonton. It is home to 20 parishes, 21 missions, and approximately 105,000 Catholics.
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