When he learned he would lead the El Paso Catholic Diocese about a week ago,
Bishop Mark J. Seitz's first reaction was "Wow."
Monday morning, it was Seitz who easily wowed El Pasoans in his first interaction with members of the diocesan pastoral center in the Lower Valley.
"I'd like to begin by thanking Pope Francis for having the confidence he has placed in me to serve this diocese with so much history. ... Life is full of surprises. I grew up in Wisconsin and entered the seminary in Dallas, thinking I would return in a couple of years -- but I fell in love with Texas," said Seitz, who comes to El Paso from Dallas.
Bishop Armando X. Ochoa, apostolic administrator for the El Paso diocese, introduced Seitz to a room filled with priests, nuns, diocesan staff and members of the media. It was a morning of nonstop smiles for a diocese that has been without an official shepherd for 16 months.
The new and energetic bishop impressed
everyone with a natural charisma, often making the pastoral center crowd break into laughter or applause with his comments, such as "I love Mexican food."
But he also expressed an admirable humility, stating he wants to follow the pope's example in living a simple life. When asked about donating a kidney to a parishioner, he seemed almost sheepish, making sure to note that people have two and we only need one.
And Seitz didn't break a sweat when reporters continuously asked him to speak in English and then translate in Spanish or vice versa. He good-naturedly obliged.
Anita Marta, Spanish editor of the Rio Grande Catholic, felt honored to meet Seitz and hear him share his enthusiasm about coming to El Paso and leading 660,000 Catholics. Formerly the auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, Seitz will fly back Wednesday until he returns for his installation Mass in June or July.
"I can tell he's a people person and that he will be able to relate to our community very easily," Marta said. "He already has it in his mind that we are a diverse community, and I think it's so cute that he said he loves Mexican food but couldn't pick his favorite dish."
She added, "He's going to be a blessing
for the diocese. He has already united us in that room."
Originally from Milwaukee, Seitz was the oldest of 10 children and raised in a traditional church-going family. He said he knew he wanted to be a priest since as long as he can remember and related a story of when he was 8 years old, in a private interview.
"I woke up and was in a thoughtful mood and thought about what I wanted to be," he said.
Seitz said his thoughts ventured from saving lives as a fireman and a doctor to being a priest, and even being all three.
"But then I thought if I were a fireman or doctor, I could save people but they are still going to die. So why not be a priest so that I could save people and they could live forever," he said.
His family supported his wishes but never pushed him and in 1972 he entered Holy Trinity Seminary at the University of Dallas. He earned both bachelor's and master's degrees at the university.
"When I entered the seminary, it was like I was home. I found a whole group of people who shared my ideals. It was one of the best learning experiences of my life," he said.
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