Shortly before his episcopal ordination, the newest U.S. bishop knelt reverently before a statue of St. Joseph and an icon of the Holy Family toward the back of the Cathedral of St. Paul.
Behind him stood a dozen bishops who would concelebrate the Twin Cities native and Saint Paul Seminary alum’s official start as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Behind them, dozens more stood on top of pews and stretched for a glimpse or a smartphone photo of Bishop Joseph Williams.
“I don’t have a mission statement,” Williams said after his ordination Mass on Jan. 25, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. “I’m here to assist Archbishop (Bernard) Hebda in his pastoral care of this archdiocese.
“All of us have one mission: to go out and proclaim the good news. What is the good news? It’s Jesus Christ.”
Williams credits his family — “that school of charity,” as he refers to it — with instilling that kind of humility in him at an early age. Their example, he says, nurtured the seeds of his vocation right up until his 2002 ordination.
Williams is the third of nine children. His brother, Fr. Peter Williams, Pastor of Saint Ambrose in Woodbury, helped celebrate the bishop’s ordination by serving as a priest-chaplain.
Bishop Williams has 30 nieces and nephews. Twenty-eight of them live within a mile of his childhood home in Stillwater, Minnesota.
He’s brought that same loving dynamic to his ministry, much of which has focused on the local Latino community in Minnesota. Williams is also on the board of trustees for The Saint Paul Seminary and Saint John Vianney College Seminary and has served as chaplain for the Minnesota House of Representatives.
When Williams, who speaks fluent Spanish, refers to “our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters” or his “brother bishops,” he isn’t just spouting Catholic colloquialisms.
He means it.
“I love Jesus and his Church, and I look forward to joining the faithful of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in sharing that love with our neighbors,” Williams said. “Especially the poor and the immigrant.”
Williams becomes the seventh sitting bishop to have graduated from the Saint Paul Seminary. He’s the 36th bishop to graduate from the seminary all-time.
According to church-hierarchy.org data, the 47-year-old is the youngest Latin-rite bishop in the United States.
He takes over for Bishop Andrew Cozzens, recently appointed as the Bishop of Crookston, at a pivotal time for the Church and the world. One of his main early points of emphasis: helping young people discern their vocation.
“’What will you do with your life?'” he said, quoting St. John Paul. “‘What are your plans? Have you ever thought about committing your existence totally to Christ? Do you think that there can be anything greater than to bring Jesus to people and people to Jesus?’”
After sharing these words with a nearly-full cathedral, Williams and over two-dozen family members retired to the church’s Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He gave each of them a blessing and, in the last semi-private moment he might have with them in some time, thanked them for their influence on his journey.
The Archbishop himself could sense this impact on Williams. “Just on getting to know them better over these days I realize they are just such a powerful influence,” Hebda said of Williams’ family. “I would’ve been glad to have them preach today because they shared so beautifully how the Lord works in [his] life and our lives.”
As for the newly-consecrated bishop, he continues to feel this familial bond, stepping into this new stage of his priesthood. “I have a sense of ‘I’m entering into something,’” Williams said. “I want to be part of that, (a) co-worker with [my fellow bishops], always guarding the unity of the Church.”