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Former airline pilot appointed to lead diocese of Saginaw, MI

.- Pope Francis Friday named Bishop Robert D. Gruss of Rapid City, South Dakota, the next bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan.

In Saginaw, Gruss succeeds Bishop Joseph Robert Cistone, who died Oct. 16, 2018 at the age of 69, after a battle with lung cancer. Bishop Walter A. Hurley, bishop emeritus of Grand Rapids, has overseen the administration of the diocese since Cistone’s death.

Gruss, 63, was bishop of Rapid City since 2011, where he led 25,000 Catholics across an area of around 43,000 square miles. In March 2019, the bishop announced the diocese would be celebrating a “Year of the Eucharist” beginning June 23.

A native of Arkansas, he was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa in 1994, after a career as a commercial airline pilot and aviation instructor.

During his seminary formation, Gruss was a student at the Pontifical North American College in Rome (PNAC), studying sacred theology. He also received a master’s degree in spiritual theology.

He was the vice rector and director of human formation at the PNAC from 2007 to 2010, before returning to serve as pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, Iowa.

In 2017, as the bishop of Rapid City, Gruss opened the cause for canonization of Nicholas Black Elk, a Lakota medicine man turned Catholic catechist who died in 1950.

If Black Elk is canonized, he will be the first official saint from the Diocese of Rapid City, according to his biography on the diocese website.

“From a very young age, there was an openness to the Spirit of God in his life,” Gruss said about Black Elk at the Mass for the opening of his cause. “God used a personal invitation from a Jesuit priest to lead this child of God, Black Elk, down a new path to becoming this great disciple in the Catholic faith for the Lakota people.”

Gruss’ installation Mass is set for July 26 in Saginaw.

The Diocese of Saginaw spans 11 counties and 6,955 square miles in mid-Michigan, and has around 100,000 Catholics.

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