by Joanne Fox
SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) — It may have been the 10th anniversary of the episcopal ordination of Bishop R. Walker Nickless as chief shepherd of the Diocese of Sioux City, but at times, it resembled a family reunion.
All nine of the bishop’s siblings, a few of their spouses, some nieces and nephews were in attendance at the celebration Mass at the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City.
Also present were those Bishop Nickless called “his extended family.”
“As I looked out over the congregation at the cathedral, I saw my biological brothers and sisters, but I also saw my other family,” he said in his homily Jan. 30. “Those were the people of the Diocese of Sioux City whom I consider now, my family.”
Then-Msgr. Nickless was appointed the seventh bishop of Sioux City after the diocese had been vacant for 22 months — at that time, one of the longest periods in the nation.
He succeeded then-Bishop Daniel N. DiNardo, who was named coadjutor archbishop of Galveston-Houston in 2004; he became head of that archdiocese in February 2006 and a cardinal in November 2007.
Bishop Nickless recalled his episcopal ordination Jan. 20, 2006, was a wintry day: “So cold, all of the front door windows at the church were frosted over and I couldn’t see outside.” The milestone anniversary celebration this year was far more temperate with a high of 40 degrees.
Bishop Nickless characterized the anniversary Mass as one of thanksgiving, and took the opportunity for some gentle kidding.
“For me, giving thanks for my 10 years as bishop is all about love — God’s love for me and all that he has given me, unworthy as I am,” he said.
“If you doubt my unworthiness,” the bishop added, “just ask my brothers and sisters. They will tell you what I am really like.”
The Mass also was an opportunity to reflect on the Gospel reading “which reminds us, a prophet is not accepted in his hometown,” the bishop noted.
“I’m just Nick to them,” he said, referring to the nickname his siblings use. “Even when I try to be a priest and bishop to them, they look at me and if they don’t say it, they think it: ‘Really?!?'”
Once the laughter subsided, Bishop Nickless attributed much of his success to his family.
“I couldn’t have made it this far in life without their prayers, their support and most importantly, their love,” he said.
God’s love also has been shown to Bishop Nickless through his parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives and friends.
“That love has also been in all of you, whom I have had the honor of serving as bishop — the priests, deacons, consecrated persons and laity of our diocese,” he said.
The day’s readings from Jeremiah and the Gospel of St. Luke remind us of the mission “we share with Jesus Christ, because of our baptism,” Bishop Nickless pointed out.
“For us, as baptized Christians, we are called like all the prophets to speak for God,” he said. “God does not take excuses.”
He concluded his homily by thanking all for “being prophets for me in my ministry as bishop.”
“Thank you for letting me love you and be a prophet for you,” he said. “May the next 10 years be more of the same for all of us, growing in holiness, and helping each other in our journey of faith.”
His nine siblings all processed up at the offertory. The sisters, visibly emotional, gave Bishop Nickless quick kisses on the cheek and hugs. The brothers, depending on who felt the most comfortable, also provided a peck, but mostly settled for hugs and handshakes.
“We are so blessed to have him in our lives,” said Dan Nickless, who is No. 5 in the birth order. “When you asked for one word to describe my brother, I thought of the word proud, but it’s how I feel when I think of him,” he told The Catholic Globe, the diocesan newspaper.