Bishop Christian Riesbeck takes over the Saint John diocese Dec. 9. Brian Dryden

Bishop ready for Saint John challenge

  • November 24, 2019

OTTAWA -- When Bishop Christian Riesbeck arrives in New Brunswick in December to become the new bishop of the Diocese of Saint John, it won’t be with a set agenda.

But he does have a clear purpose, and it is something he has been doing since he first was ordained as a priest in the Companions of the Cross in 1996. He wants to help people embrace Jesus and let Him into their lives in the best way that he can and at the pace they are comfortable with.

“No, I am not going in with an agenda. They don’t give a checklist of things you must do but allow you to administer to the needs of the diocese,” Riesbeck said in an interview with Canadian Catholic News. “The agenda is the needs of the people in the diocese.”

In these increasingly secular times, one of his passions has been working with youth and young adults.

“When you let Jesus into your life, when people put Jesus at the centre of their lives, it changes everything and puts joy into their lives,” he said.

“We have to introduce people to Christ so they get to know Him. You have to do that one person at a time, you have to appeal to the mind and the heart.

“A lot of young people are looking for community and to belong to something,” Riesbeck said. “You have to build trust and build a relationship so that you can help them create a relationship with the Lord.”

Riesbeck, who has served as the Auxiliary Bishop of Ottawa for the past five years, takes over as bishop of Saint John on Dec. 9 after being appointed by Pope Francis. He succeeds Bishop Robert Harris, who headed the diocese for 12 years before retiring in October at the age of 75, as required by canon law.

Reisbeck, born in Montreal in 1970, has served in Eastern Ontario for most of his time within the Canadian Church and has been directly involved in the Archdiocese of Ottawa since 2011.

He arrives in Saint John at a time that the diocese is undergoing a revitalization effort and where some churches have been closed in recent years. The Diocese of Saint John has 28 parishes, 68 churches and chapels, with a Catholic population of about 115,400 served by 53 priests, two deacons, and 66 nuns. 

It is a region he knows well, as he has family in the area. As for the major challenges in his new post, Reisbeck will only say “there are pastoral challenges everywhere,” but he is eager to meet those head-on.

“I am excited about taking on this mission,” he said. “I have truly been blessed.”

Those who know him and have worked with him are convinced Riesbeck’s enthusiasm for sharing the “joy” of having Jesus in his life will become a defining feature of his oversight of the diocese.

“The people of New Brunswick will come to know him as a dynamic pastor who encourages all to be missionary disciples ready to share his episcopal motto Evangelii gaudium — the ‘joy of the gospel’ — with others,” Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast said in a statement.

Riesbeck attended the University of Ottawa, where he obtained a Bachelor of Social Science in political science. He then earned a Bachelor of Theology from Saint Paul University in Ottawa and a Master of Divinity from St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto. He was ordained a priest as a member of the Companions of the Cross in 1996 and his ministry has included pastoral assignments in Eastern Ontario and Houston, Tex., where he was stationed from 1999 until 2008. 

From 2011 to 2016, he was Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Ottawa and became Episcopal Vicar for Canonical Affairs in 2012. 

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