Fr. Paul D. Etienne, the bishop-elect of Cheyenne, is an Indiana outdoorsman whose vocation was nourished by a faithful mother and relatives in the priesthood and religious life.
Fr. Etienne, 50, will become one of the youngest Catholic bishops in the U.S. when he is installed as Bishop of Cheyenne on Dec. 9. The Indianapolis Star reports that he celebrated his final Masses as pastor in his two parishes in Perry County, Indiana where he has been assigned since July.
The bishop-elect earned a business degree at a Minnesota college and struggled to resolve his doubts about his vocation during his studies at the Gregorian in Rome.
His resolution became firm in 1990, two years before his ordination.
The priest explained that while in Rome he sensed God speaking “within the depths of my heart.”
“It was as if I was able finally to bring my will into line with God's will for me," he said, "and the priesthood was something that I wanted for myself. And life changed for me.”
He and his brother Bernard, who is also a priest, have maintained a 145-acre tract just north of Tell City, Indiana as their retreat. On hillside land that was once heavily logged, they have planted oaks, clover patches and a thousand pine trees to make the area hospitable for rabbits, turkeys and deer.
The brothers also built a small pond as a water source for the game and for a place to fish.
Fr. Etienne told the Star that caring for the land takes a lot of investment with “little to show for it at first.”
“Preaching is a lot like that,” he explained.
He and his brother have visited the forest for years on Sunday afternoons and Mondays. They had intended to build a retirement cabin on the land, though Bernard believed his brother would be appointed a bishop someday.
"I have thought that he had a target on his back for quite a while,” Fr. Bernard told the Star. “I wasn't ready for it to happen yet. I wasn't ready for the dramatic change that this was going to be in our relationship.”
Two of the brothers’ six siblings are also in religious life. Their mother, Kay, had felt a call to the religious life but desired a family more strongly. On a pilgrimage to Lourdes, she asked God to give her a husband and a family and she would devote her children to His service.
Her brother was a priest and her sister was a nun. This uncle and aunt brought many other priests and nuns to Fr. Etienne’s grandparents’ home in Tell City for meals and fun.
"They came to family gatherings. They played softball with us when we were growing up. They played football with us. They played cards with us. And when we got older, they drank with us," Fr. Etienne told the Star. "It was just very human experiences with them. It wasn't just them presiding over the sacraments of the Church."
Archbishop of Indianapolis Daniel M. Beuchlein told the Star that he had submitted Bishop-elect Etienne’s name as a candidate fit to become bishop.
"I think the outdoorsman part probably caught the papal nuncio's interest," Archbishop Buechlein said. "They were looking for somebody like that for Wyoming."
Bishop-Elect Etienne said a friend has given him a new fly rod for trout fishing in his new home.
“I can’t wait,” he told the Indianapolis Star.