Bishop Paul Sirba, the ninth Bishop of Duluth who was remembered as a “beloved” leader of the Catholic faith, has died suddenly at the age of 59.
Tributes flowed in for the bishop after Reverend James B. Bissonette, of the Diocese of Duluth, confirmed that the bishop had died. He wrote in a statement that Sirba’s cause of death is cardiac arrest while at St. Rose Church, in Proctor, Minnesota, on December 1, 2019.
“With sad hearts, we share the following message regarding the sudden death of our beloved Bishop Paul Sirba that was sent out to diocesan clergy and employees this morning and which is being announced at Masses today,” Bissonnette wrote.
“I had the chance to get to know Bishop Paul Sirba when he was at the seminary as our spiritual director. He’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met; a true caring pastor and confessor, always full of joy, and deeply caring,” wrote one man on Facebook, echoing the words of others. “So sorry to hear of his loss, I truly believe when around the man I was looking at a saint.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Bishop Sirba Was Rushed to the Hospital But Didn’t Make It & Bissonnette Wrote That the Diocese Has ‘Great Hope & Faith’ in His Resurrection to New Life
Father Bissonette, who has served as Bishop Sirba’s vicar general, wrote in the message that it was “with an incredibly heavy heart that I must inform you of tragic news regarding our Bishop. Bishop Paul Sirba suffered cardiac arrest at St. Rose Church in Proctor, MN this morning, December 1st.”
The message continued that Sirba “was rushed to Essentia Health St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, where life-saving measures were attempted, but were unsuccessful. He was attended to by Father John Petrich who administered the last rites to him at the hospital. He was declared to have passed away at just after 9:00 A.M. this morning.”
Bissonnette’s words capture the sadness from those who knew Sirba. “Words do not adequately express our sorrow at this sudden loss of our Shepherd. We have great hope and faith in Bishop Sirba’s resurrection to new life, and have confident assurance that he will hear the words of our Lord: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter in the joy of your Master,'” he wrote.
The Bishop Left Behind a Mother & Three Siblings, Including a Brother Who Is a Priest
According to Bissonnette, arrangements for Bishop Sirba’s funeral Mass and burial “will be forthcoming.”
He listed Sirba’s family members in the message. “Please pray for the repose of Bishop Sirba’s soul, as well as for his mother, Helen, and his siblings, Father Joe, Kathy, and John, and their families. Let us also hold each other up in prayer during this most difficult time,” he wrote, concluding:
“Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord …
– And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace …
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God …
– Rest in peace, Amen.”
Sirba’s biography on the Diocese website says he has two brothers: “Father Joseph Sirba (a priest of the Diocese of Duluth) and John (Sue Ann) Sirba and one sister, Catherine (Scott) Kelly. He has 13 nieces and nephews and three grand-nephews.” His father Norbert is deceased.
MPR News confirmed that one of Sirba’s brothers is a priest in the Duluth Diocese.
Sirba, Who Was Raised in Bloomington, Minnesota, Was Ordained a Priest in 1986
According to his Diocese bio, Sirba “was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in 1986.”
“He was raised in Bloomington, Minn., and attended Nativity of Mary Grade School, the Academy of the Holy Angels, the College of St. Thomas, and the St. Paul Seminary,” the bio says.
“He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. Paul Seminary and a Master of Arts degree from the Notre Dame Apostolic Catechetical Institute in Arlington, Va. After his ordination he served as associate pastor at the Church of St. Olaf, Minneapolis, from 1986 to 1990; at the Church of St. John the Baptist, Savage, from 1990 to 1991; as a member of the spiritual formation department at St. John Vianney Seminary, St. Paul, from 1991 to 2000; as pastor of Maternity of the Blessed Virgin, St. Paul, from 2000 to 2006; and as spiritual director at the St. Paul Seminary from 2006 to 2009.”
According to the bio, Sirba “was appointed vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt on July 1, 2009. Bishop Sirba was ordained a bishop on Dec. 14, 2009. For the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Bishop Sirba has served as a Region VIII representative on the Priorities and Plans Committee and as a member of the Administrative Committee; he is a member of the Catholic Home Missions Committee.”
Tributes Flowed in for Sirba, Calling the Bishop a ‘Great Inspiration’
Archbishop Alexander Sample was one of those to offer tribute to Sirba. “I just received this morning the terrible news that Bishop Paul Sirba, Bishop of Duluth, passed away this morning suddenly due to cardiac arrest. Bishop Sirba was one of my closest bishop friends and a member of my bishop fraternity group,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Our group just spent time together at the November USCCB meeting in prayer, mutual support and fellowship. He was a great consolation to me personally. I had know Bishop Sirba for 34 years, and was present at his priestly and episcopal ordinations. He was a great inspiration to me as a young man discerning my own priestly vocation at the time. The Diocese of Duluth has lost a very holy and loving shepherd.”
Sample added, “He passed away on this First Sunday of Advent on his way to church for Holy Mass. As we await the Lord’s coming, this is a powerful reminder that we know not the day or hour of His coming.”
Other people also offered tributes. “Oh no!! So very sad! He was a wonderful man! A huge loss for so many people!!!” wrote a woman on Facebook. “I just can’t believe this. So sad,” wrote another.