‘I am a pastor at heart’ Seattle's coadjutor Etienne tells press conference

Screen Shot 2019 04 29 at 2 Archbishops Paul Etienne and J. Peter Sartain at a press conference on April 29, 2019. Image courtesy of Archdiocese of Seattle.

The new coadjutor archbishop of Seattle promised Monday to be a pastoral leader to Catholics in Washington state, noting that his ministry will focus on the principles of dialogue and accompaniment, in imitation of Pope Francis.

Archbishop Paul Etienne was welcomed to Seattle April 29, during a press conference hosted by Seattle's Archbishop James Peter Sartain. Etienne was appointed to serve as coadjutor of Seattle earlier the same day. As coadjutor archbishop, Etienne will immediately succeed Sartain upon his retirement.

Speaking to journalists at the archdiocesan chancery, both archbishops spoke of their gratitude to the Holy Father for making the appointment and of their enthusiasm for working together in the coming months.

Sartain said he had looked forward to "this happy news" for some months.

The current archbishop explained that he had presented a request to the pope last September, asking for a coadjutor to help him lead the Seattle archdiocese following several major back surgeries, most recently in 2016, that had taken their toll on him physically.

"As the people of the archdiocese know, six or seven years ago I developed some severe spinal problems," he said.

"Following the last surgery, despite its great success, I began to notice very soon that even though the surgery was successful, my stamina and my energy had not returned to where they were."

Sartain said he began praying and discerning about his future 18 months ago, before concluding that he would likely need to retire earlier than the usual age of 75 and to ask the pope to appoint a coadjutor.

Archbishop Sartain is currently 66 years old.

"I was very grateful that Pope Francis agreed, positively, and set in motion the process which led to the very happy announcement today."

Speaking after Sartain, Etienne described his "excitement" at his new appointment. Since 2016, the Indiana native has served as the Archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska. He said he was notified of his appointment by the apostolic nuncio in Washington two weeks ago and that it had been a "pretty quick transition."

"It is only in the last couple of days that I have begun to allow this new reality to set in," Etienne told the press conference.  "My heart is just filled with a lot of gratitude."

"I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about my entire life journey that got me here," Etienne said, as he paid tribute to his family and also his "family of faith" in his native Indiana, noting that it was the culture of faith in which he was raised, one which made it possible for four of six siblings in his family to enter the religious life or clergy.

The new coadjutor, who will be formally welcomed into the archdiocese on June 7, also reflected on the years he had spent in mission territory and dioceses within the U.S., including in Alaska and Cheyenne, Wyoming, praising the "profound faith" and "generosity" which he had encountered there and which he believes prepared him for his new position.

"I am very grateful to Pope Francis for inviting me to be a part of the journey [of the New Evangelization], and helping to lead the Archdiocese of Seattle," Etienne said, while listing "dialogue" and "accompaniment" as key priorities for him in his ministry.

"Fundamentally, what the people of Seattle need to know is: I'm a pastor at heart."

Both archbishops stressed their eagerness to work together in the coming months, with Etienne saying that he would have to "learn as I go" from the "good mentor" he has in Sartain.

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Sartain said that a decision about the timing of his retirement and Etienne's succession would be made in the coming months.

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