Bishop Paul Sirba, who has led the Catholic Diocese of Duluth for a decade, died unexpectedly Sunday morning, Dec. 1, the First Sunday of Advent.

According to a statement from the Diocese of Duluth, Sirba, 59, suffered a heart attack at St. Rose Church in Proctor, where he had been living at the rectory, on his way to celebrate Sunday Mass at the parish. He was rushed to Essentia Health St. Mary’s Medical Center where life-saving efforts were unsuccessful. He received the last rites from Father John Petrich and died shortly after 9 a.m.

The new of the bishop’s death was announced Dec. 1 in a message from the Rev. James Bissonnette, pastor at St. Raphael and St. Rose churches and Sirba’s vicar general.

“Our faithful are in shock and they’re grieving, and rightly so, because they loved Bishop Sirba, and he was a very kind, gentle, faithful shepherd,” said Father Bissonnette. “A lot of people felt that and understood that and now are showing appreciation for that. I myself am grieving not only because like the other priests of the diocese I lost a good shepherd, but he was also a good friend and he will be missed greatly.”

Plans are for a vigil to be held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth on Thursday, Dec. 5, 3-8 p.m. and then continuing from 8 a.m. Friday until the funeral at 11 a.m.

Sirba was named the Duluth diocese’s ninth bishop in 2009, succeeding Archbishop Dennis Schnurr.

Under church law, within the next several days a group of diocesan priests called the College of Consultors will convene to choose a diocesan administrator. The priest chosen for this role will take care of the diocese until a new bishop is appointed by Pope Francis. The length of that process is uncertain but it typically takes about a year.

“Our first priority is to pray for and say good-bye to Bishop Sirba until we see him again on the day of resurrection because we are people of hope, and we believe in the fullness of eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ,” added Father Bissonnette.

The outpouring of grief has been felt far beyond the Diocese of Duluth through thousands of social media reactions and other communications.

Sirba was raised in Bloomington, Minn., and attended what is now the University of St. Thomas and the St. Paul Seminary. He received a master of divinity degree from the St. Paul Seminary and a master of arts degree from the Notre Dame Apostolic Catechetical Institute in Arlington, Va.

After his ordination in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1986, he served as associate pastor at the Church of St. Olaf in Minneapolis until 1990; at the Church of St. John the Baptist in Savage, Minn., from 1990-91; as a member of the spiritual formation department at St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul from 1991-2000; as pastor of the Church of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin in St. Paul from 2000-06; and as spiritual director at the St. Paul Seminary from 2006-09.

Sirba was appointed vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt on July 1, 2009, shortly before being named to the Duluth diocese post.

While a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Sirba was a member of several committees including the Priority and Plans Committee, Administrative Committee, and the Catholic Home Missions Committee. He was also an active member of the St. Paul Seminary Board of Directors and the Episcopal Advisory Board for Institute on Religious Life and served as the state chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.

Bishop Sirba is survived by his mother, Helen, of St. Paul, and siblings Rev. Joseph Sirba of Hinckley, John of Bloomington and sister Catherine (Scott) of Canon Falls and their families as well as the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Duluth.

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