Archdiocesan leaders praise selection of Bishop Armando Ochoa of El Paso as new bishop of Fresno.

Elation and approbation were among sentiments expressed by archdiocesan officials responding to the Dec. 1 announcement that Oxnard native Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of El Paso, a former auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and one of 26 active Hispanic Catholic bishops in the U.S., has been appointed as the new bishop of Fresno, succeeding Bishop John Steinbock, who died Dec. 5, 2010.

Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, heading the archdiocese’s San Fernando Pastoral Region which Bishop Ochoa led for a decade until he was named bishop of El Paso in 1996, said Fresno’s newly appointed bishop pointed out to him in a phone call last week that the two prelates now have even more things in common: the northern part of the San Fernando Region (in L.A. County) touches the southwestern border of the Diocese of Fresno (in Kern County).

“I’m really delighted because he’s a very, very good bishop and a pastoral man, really concerned about the people and very compassionate and caring,” said Bishop Wilkerson. “Fresno has been given a Christmas gift --- the diocese is really going to enjoy him.”

Msgr. David Sork, one of Bishop Ochoa’s St. John’s Seminary classmates, received a phone call from Fresno’s bishop-elect on the eve of the Dec. 1 announcement in Washington by the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. Msgr. Sork said he is “thrilled” to have his former classmate back in California.

“I’m happy for the people of Fresno,” said the pastor of St. John Fisher Church in Rancho Palos Verdes. “Bishop Ochoa is very pastoral, a good listener and has a very good sense of church. It’s an appropriate appointment because in the border town of El Paso, he was very involved with immigration issues and there are many Hispanic immigrants in Fresno. He will be wonderful for them.”

Another interesting connection, according to Father William Krekelberg, a St. John’s classmate and archivist for the Diocese of Orange, is that Bishop Ochoa was ordained to the priesthood on May 23, 1970, at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral by Cardinal Timothy Manning, who, before he became archbishop of Los Angeles in 1970, was the bishop of Fresno. 

“I’m delighted Bishop Ochoa is coming back to California,” said Father Krekelberg. “He loves the church and he’s always been good with people. He’s easy-going, good natured and easy-to-talk-to.” 

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles said Bishop Ochoa’s appointment as Fresno’s fifth bishop is “good news for his many friends in California.”

“On behalf of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I offer Bishop Ochoa our prayers and support as he begins his new ministry as bishop of Fresno,” said the archbishop, who added that he looks forward to again being in the same state with Bishop Ochoa. Before being named to Los Angeles in April 2010, Archbishop Gomez was archbishop of San Antonio for five years. 

In the El Paso Diocese, Bishop Ochoa has been a regular participant in cross-border Masses over the years, as well as joining in delegations of bishops and other officials visiting the U.S.-Mexico border. He was a concelebrant of this year’s border Mass Nov. 2; Mass is celebrated on each side of the fence dividing the two countries. At the national level, he has served on bishops’ committees on vocations, laity, permanent diaconate, Hispanic affairs and migration.

“The appointment of Bishop Armando Ochoa to serve as the next bishop of Fresno is a great grace and blessing for the people of that wonderful diocese,” said Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles. 

A former priest and auxiliary bishop of the Fresno Diocese, Cardinal Mahony added, “I know that Bishop Ochoa will not only experience the deep faith of the people, but will also share with them his love for Jesus Christ and the Church.

“Bishop Ochoa will bring his special love and concern for the many immigrants living in the Fresno Diocese, and will encourage them as we all continue our efforts to afford them full rights and dignity living and working in our midst.”

Bishop Ochoa is very pastoral, a good listener and has a very good sense of church.---Msgr. David Sork, classmate of Bishop Ochoa

‘Humbled and deeply honored’

In a statement addressed to “my former and new collaborators in the vineyard of the Lord,” Bishop Ochoa, 68, said, “I am humbled and deeply honored that the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI would offer me this new challenge at my age.” He said Archbishop Vigano “broke the news” about the appointment to him when the two men were in Baltimore to attend the U.S. bishops’ annual fall general assembly Nov. 14-16. 

“I am still in the state of shock!” the bishop said. 

“I have been privileged to have worked with and gotten to know you my brothers, here in the border region of El Paso,” he continued. “I am still in awe that you so readily accepted me as your new shepherd. Please know that you all will be in my prayers as we await the commemoration of the birth of the Lord.”

Born April 9, 1943, in Oxnard, Bishop Ochoa attended Catholic schools there, graduating from Santa Clara High School in 1961. After attending Ventura College for a few semesters, he entered St. John’s Seminary College in Camarillo and after graduation continued his studies at St. John’s Theologate.

Following his ordination in 1970, he served as an associate pastor at St. Alphonsus, East Los Angeles (1970-75); St. John the Baptist, Baldwin Park (1975-81); and St. Teresa of Avila, Los Angeles (1981-84). He also ministered as an associate director and co-director of the Spanish-speaking permanent diaconate program for the archdiocese. 

After serving two years as administrator of Sacred Heart Church in Lincoln Heights, he was appointed pastor in March, 1986. In late December that same year, he was named auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and completed his tenure as Sacred Heart pastor June 1, 1987.

Bishop Ochoa served as regional bishop of the archdiocese’s San Fernando Pastoral Region for ten years until April, 1996, when he was named El Paso’s fifth bishop. He observed that because of the diocese’s location at the border, the city serves as “the door, the way through which two cultures come and go,” and said there is a need to work for social justice on both sides of the border.

“A bishop’s heart must be wide open,” he said, “It must be as wide as this great state (of Texas), wide to all who come to the front door of the church.”

The Fresno Diocese, which covers a 36,000-square-mile area, has a Catholic population of about 1.1 million, out of a total population of 2.7 million. A date for Ochoa’s installation has not yet been announced. Bishop Ochoa visited the Diocese of Fresno this week, where a news conference was held Dec. 7 at St. Anne’s Chapel at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in order to introduce the newly appointed bishop.

Msgr. Jim Gehl, pastor of St. Euphrasia in Granada Hills, who was on a Reach-Out Retreat Team with Bishop Ochoa while both were at St. John’s Seminary, told The Tidings the Diocese of Fresno will appreciate their new bishop, who is “a wonderful priest.”

“I went to his episcopal ordination in El Paso and saw first-hand the outpouring of love and welcome he received there,” said Msgr. Gehl, who served as pastor of St. Joseph the Worker, Winnetka, while Bishop Ochoa was San Fernando Region bishop. “I know the Diocese of Fresno will appreciate his presence. He is an experienced bishop open to listening to the people of God. He’s a holy and prayerful man. It’s a great choice.”

CNS contributed to this story.

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