On board an airplane this week to Sioux Falls, S.D., where Monsignor Paul Swain will soon begin a new chapter as a bishop, he recalled his arrival in Madison on a Greyhound bus 41 years ago.
"I didn’t know a soul," Swain said of Sioux Falls, just as he knew no one when he arrived in Madison to become a teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin.
"God’s way is very interesting, and if you are open to it, beautiful things can happen," Swain told reporters at a news conference today. "I never expected to be a priest – certainly not a bishop."
Swain, a convert to the Roman Catholic faith at age 39, has been named bishop of Sioux Falls by Pope Benedict XVI, the Madison Diocese announced Thursday.
No date has yet been set, but Swain said his installation as bishop would likely occur in October.
As vicar general, Swain was the top administrator of the Madison Diocese. He also was pastor of three downtown Madison parishes: St. Raphael Cathedral, St. Patrick and Holy Redeemer.
Swain, a Vietnam veteran, practiced law and served as the governor’s legal counsel and policy director in the Lee Dreyfus administration. He said a sense of something missing in his life started him on a spiritual journey that led to his ordination in 1983.
Bishop Robert Morlino said he planned to name two priests to fill Swain’s shoes: one as pastor of the downtown parishes and the other as diocesan vicar general. He hoped to announce those appointments in two weeks, he said.
Swain said it would be tough to leave Madison before a decision on the rebuilding of St. Raphael Cathedral, destroyed by arson in March 2005.
But he reflected that as difficult as it was to lose the historic bulding and parish focal point to a senseless crime, the experience was also an opportunity.
"It brought people to speak about faith and the church in a way they never had before," Swain said. "It touched hearts in a way that helped get me through those days."
Morlino said he hoped to release a decision on the location and facilities of a new cathedral by the end of the year.
Morlino has decried aspects of what he sees as public immorality in Madison, but Swain said he is hopeful about the city.
"Just as downtown Madison is undergoing a resurrection, I think there is a resurrection of spirituality among young people," Swain said.
Another reason Swain said he’s hopeful about Madison is Morlino’s work to make sure that the church’s teachings become part of the public discourse on moral issues.
That’s the approach Swain said he plans to take in South Dakota, where a referendum on a broad ban on abortions is on the Nov. 7 ballot and changes in the death penalty law are being considered in the aftermath of a stay of execution in a controversial death row case.
"A bishop has a responsibility to set forth clearly what the church teaches and that is part of the discussion," Swain said. "We are concerned with the salvation of souls. We are concerned with people and the sanctity of life from conception to death."