For the first time in two decades Catholics in the Diocese of Prince George have a new bishop.
On Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Monsignor Stephen Jensen of the Archdiocese of Vancouver as the next man to lead the Catholic faith in northern B.C.
The appointment, which became effective at noon Thursday in Rome, means outgoing Bishop Gerald Wiesner can officially begin his retirement six months after his 75th birthday.
Jensen, 58, is from North Vancouver and spent most of his ministry working in the Lower Mainland. Most recently he served as vicar-general to the Archbishop of Vancouver, where he gained experience in the day-to-day operations of the province's largest diocese.
A priest for 32 years, he spent time in three parishes over the years as well as working with the Catholic schools in the diocese.
"My head is spinning, this is all very new," Jensen said in a phone interview from Vancouver.
He's only visited Prince George once, but is looking forward to his new appointment.
"I've found over the years that there are really great people in the church everywhere, they might have different cultural or economic or demographic experiences but we have more in common than the differences," he said.
Jensen was first told of the appointment more than a week ago, but had to wait for the news to be officially announced in Rome on Thursday.
Although Jensen now holds the title of bishop-elect, it may take up to three months before he's officially ordained and installed in his new role, likely at Sacred Heart Cathedral. There are a few logistical issues that need to be addressed for the ordination, including having three other bishops present to conduct the ceremony.
In the meantime a group of priests from the diocese - known as the college of consultors - will meet in the coming days to elect an administrator to handle day-to-day duties until the new bishop takes office.
Weisner now holds the position of bishop emeritus and no longer has direct responsibility for the diocese.
Father Richard Beaudette, who until Thursday had been the vicar-general in Prince George, said the appointment had been eagerly anticipated.
"Change always requires openness," he said. "We'd become very accustomed to Bishop Wiesner, now we will have a new bishop, so we need to be open to that and what ever he sets as the direction or the main focus for his ministry here."
When Wiesner's term officially came to an end Thursday, so did Beaudette's role as vicar-general. Jensen will appoint a new vicar-general once he's installed.
According to the diocese's website there are about 6,000 Catholic households in the region, making up 19 parishes and 21 missions.
Jensen described his goals for his new job as continuing to promote the gospel, which this year means celebrating the year of faith in honour of the 50th anniversary of the second Vatican council.
"That's the plan for every part of the church, it may look different in different places, but the plan for the church is the same," Jensen said.
The new bishop is expected to travel to the diocese in the coming days to meet with local priests and church officials and get to know his new environment.
"There will be some challenges for him, the main one will be the distances," Beaudette said, noting the diocese stretches from McBride to Masset, to Fort St. John. "He's got a vast territory, lots of driving. He'll have the Pine Pass in winter weather."
Beaudette said he's pleased Weisner can begin his retirement after serving as bishop since 1993.
"We're happy for Bishop Gerry, that he can actually retire now because up until this point he'd still be responsible for the Diocese of Prince George," Beaudette said. "Everyone is delighted for him, now he can get on with his retirement."