Bishop Robert Gruss takes leadership of Rapid City Diocese

In a laying on of hands ritual, Archbishop John Nienstedt, archbishop of the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese, calls down the Holy Spirit on Bishop-designate Robert Gruss during his ordination to the episcopate July 28 in Rapid City, S.D. Bishop Gruss, who previously served as a priest of the Davenport Diocese, is now the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City. Bishop Martin Amos, to the left of the archbishop, served as a co-consecrator during the ordination Mass.

By Barb Arland-Fye

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Ordained eighth bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City in a Mass that included a Lakota purification ritual, Bishop Robert Gruss declared, “I am thrilled to be your bishop.”

More than 20 bishops, dozens of priests and deacons — including two bishops, 23 priests, five deacons and four seminarians from the Davenport Diocese — were present for the July 28 ordination of Bishop Gruss. Walking in procession and dressed in white vestments, the clergy created a ripple effect as they entered the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Native American deacons from the Rapid City Diocese, along with their wives and Lakota lay ministers, led the congregation in a purification ritual. As one of them sang “The Song of the Four Directions,” the others fanned smoke wafting from small bowls containing sweet sage atop burning coals. Through the ritual, all who had gathered asked God to cleanse, purify and bless them as they acknowledged their sinfulness and proclaimed God’s mercy.


As Diocesan Administrator Father Steven Biegler led Bishop-elect Gruss to the cathedra (the bishop’s chair) for the ordination rite, the assembly chanted “Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit).”

“The Holy Spirit really came down. I had goose bumps!” said Rita Cunningham, a member of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, where Bishop Gruss served as pastor and rector for the past year.

Vatican representative Msgr. Marco Sprizzi read the letter of appointment from Pope Benedict XVI, who called Bishop-elect Gruss “a worthy successor” to Bishop Blase Cupich, now of the Spokane Diocese. The assembly voiced its consent: “Thanks be to God.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt, principal consecrator, approached the podium and sang the opening of his homily: “I have loved you with an everlasting love … I have called you and you are mine …” which paid tribute to the soon-to-be bishop’s motto: “No greater love.”

The archbishop spoke of a bishop’s promise of obedience, “which always involves a true listening to the other … listening with one’s heart out of love” as the bishop-elect had noted during vespers the night before. Other advice focused on maintaining spirituality and never sacrificing prayer, even in the midst of many demands. Support parishes and Catholic schools, the archbishop said, and don’t neglect ministry to the poor and marginalized. Be pastorally attentive to those not yet gathered into the fold of Christ.

Archbishop Nienstedt questioned the bishop-elect; then the assembly prayed for him through the intercession of the saints as he lay prostrate on a star quilt which a Lakota elder made. Afterwards, all the bishops participated in the laying on of hands, calling down the Holy Spirit on Bishop-elect Gruss. Among them were co-consecrators Bishop Martin Amos of the Davenport Diocese, who has become a good friend of the new bishop, and Bishop Samuel Aquila of the Fargo, N.D., Diocese. Bishop Emeritus William Franklin, who ordained Bishop Gruss to the priesthood 17 years ago in the Davenport Diocese, served as honorary co-consecrator.

The Book of the Gospels was placed on the new bishop’s head as a reminder that he accepts the yoke of the Gospel of which he is called to proclaim and preach. The archbishop anointed him with Chrism, a symbol of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual blessings poured on the new bishop in his ordination to the fullness of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. He received the Book of the Gospels and the signs of his office: a ring that reminds him of his fidelity to his bride, the Church of Jesus Christ, a crosier (staff) that recalls his responsibility as spiritual shepherd of the Church, and miter (bishop’s hat) representing the dignity of his office.

Bishop Gruss took his place on the cathedra and all the bishops, in procession, offered him a sign of Christ’s peace and a welcome to the Holy Order of Bishops. The assembly gave the new bishop a standing ovation. He smiled modestly in response.

Among those witnessing his ordination was Bishop Gruss’ sister Christine Severson of Wisconsin. “It’s just an awesome experience. I couldn’t be more blessed to have him as my brother and privileged to be here. I couldn’t be happier for him. He puts his whole heart and soul into his faith.”

She’d previously suggested to her brother that someday he might be a bishop. But he dismissed the possibility. In fact, in closing remarks, Bishop Gruss said: “I can’t believe what just happened.”

He thanked numerous people for their presence and influence in his faith journey, and poignantly expressed appreciation to his deceased parents. “They’re viewing this celebration from a little different perspective,” he noted, pausing to maintain composure. “They instilled a wonderful faith and love of God in me.”

His sister and others in the assembly wiped tears from their eyes at the heartfelt expression of gratitude. Bishop Gruss also paid tribute to his brother priests from the Davenport Diocese who “helped me become the priest I am today.”

And he gave thanks to “almighty God and to Jesus in his own self-surrender and to the Holy Spirit who gave me strength and courage to say ‘yes.’”

Thirty years ago he’d arrived in Davenport to fly a plane over the Quad-Cities to report traffic jams. Now he’s a bishop in South Dakota. “Who could have written this script besides the Lord?” he asked.

The script was in the making 29 years ago when he realized he wanted a closer relationship with the Lord. That desire inspired a faith journey that has led to the episcopate.

“This is the greatest desire of God: to give each of us a deep, heartfelt experience of his love us personally through Jesus Christ. A person in love with the Lord will do anything for him. His love for me and mine for him is what guided me,” Bishop Gruss said.

Peg Dvorak of Immaculate Conception Parish in Colfax was deeply moved “when he spoke of the great love that God has for him and for all of us. It’s hard to know if I was crying for happiness for the people of South Dakota and Bishop Gruss, or out of sadness because we’re losing him.”

Father Hai Dinh, parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, said the bishop’s ordination “reminded me of my own ordination. It inspired me a lot.”

Bishop Amos said the ordination Mass “brought back memories of my own ordination as a bishop. You realize what a powerful experience it was.”

For Bishop Emeritus William Franklin, the ordination of Bishop Gruss “was super special because he was one of the young men I ordained to the priesthood. It gave me special joy to be a part of his ordination as bishop.”

Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, who ministers in the Muscatine and Columbus Junction parishes, served as a gift bearer at the ordination Mass and said the experience was amazing.

Bishop Gruss’ greatest quality entering his new ministry, she believes, is “his spiritual depth. He is such a person of prayer and it flows out in his words and actions. It is so heartfelt.”

Bishop Gruss reflects on gifts he is receiving

(Editor’s note: The following excerpts are from a reflection Bishop Robert Gruss gave July 27 during Vespers at Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rapid City, S.D.)

Father Steven Biegler in his article in the current issue of the West River Catholic speaks so well of the many gifts that this great diocese is giving me as I begin my ministry as their shepherd. I want to highlight a few:

• A marvelous and dedicated chancery staff (I have already experienced this).

• Faithful and dedicated priests with a great spirit of fraternity (I look forward to being a part of this spirit of fraternity).

• Humble and dedicated men and women religious who pour out their lives for the greater glory of God.

• The vibrant faith and wisdom of our permanent deacons (and their wives).

• The resilient faith and warm hospitality of the people of western South Dakota.

• The humble and deep spirituality of the Lakota people.

• The beautiful love of Mary among the Hispanic people.

I graciously accept these gifts with humility and love, with open hands to treasure and not to possess ….

Fr. Biegler also stated in his article: “Yes, we will be blessed by our new shepherd.” My thoughts went to the question: “What are the people of this diocese receiving?”

• A man who loves the Lord and who is compelled to share it with others.

• A man who loves and cherishes the priesthood.

• A man who loves people and is open to learning from them.

• A priest dedicated to the service of this beautiful Catholic Church and her traditions.

• A man who enjoys the company of others, but also values his time alone with himself and with God.

• A man who loves the beauty of his surroundings.

• A man who is excited about learning how to be your bishop.

Catholics share memories of Bishop Gruss’ service in the Diocese of Davenport

More memories of Bishop Gruss’ service

Bishop explains his coat of arms

More ordination photos

Former classmate says new bishop has a shepherd’s heart for all

Diocese of Rapid City makes visitors feel like angels

Video: New bishop blesses the people after ordination Mass

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