The first Chancery Office was located at 1450 North “D” Street in San Bernardino. Bishop Straling kept much of the organizational structure that the Diocese of San Diego had developed with the northern regional office in San Bernardino. The first priest ordained for the new Diocese was Rev. Tom Wallace, who later would become an Episcopal Vicar.
One of the major challenges facing Bishop Straling was the rapid growth in the population of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. With almost a quarter million Catholics, San Bernardino began as a medium size diocese in the United States. The ratio of Baptisms to Funerals was 4:1 in 1980, indicating above average growth. This dynamic would impact the pastoral life of the Diocese for the decades to come.
Bishop Straling created two new leadership positions in Hispanic Ministry: a Co-chancellor for Hispanic Affairs and an Episcopal Vicar for Hispanic Affairs. These appointments were in response to the disappointment in the Hispanic community that a Hispanic priest was not named as Bishop in San Bernardino.
Another major challenge in the young Diocese was the number of priests available to serve the growing population. In order to encourage vocations, Bishop Straling opened the Junipero Serra House in Riverside. This college level formation house for seminarians allowed the students to remain in the Diocese during the early years of their training.
A new commitment to developing the gifts of the baptized members of the Church began to emerge. Two new schools of lay ministry formation were begun: the Straling Leadership Institute (English) and Escuela de Ministerios (Spanish). Lay ministers began to assume more leadership roles in parishes, including full time positions on the parish staff. New positions such as the Parish Business Manager and Pastoral Associate provided stronger and more effective ministry in larger parish communities.
The Diocesan Pastoral Council initiated a series of planning processes using an annual gathering of priests, sisters and lay leaders to develop new ideas for the young diocese. Bishop Straling gathered his leadership groups to work on diocesan priorities; this included the Priests Council, Sisters Council, Bishop’s Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council. By the 10th Anniversary of the Diocese, the Catholic population had grown to 400,000 people, 92 parishes and 102 diocesan priests.
The ministry of Pastoral Coordinator was established to address the declining number of clergy. This position allows a woman religious, deacon or layperson to be the administrative leader of a parish, supported by a priest moderator and priest minister. Sister Theresa Harpin, CSJ, was the first Pastoral Coordinator in the Diocese assigned to St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Corona in 1989.
In response to a request from Bishop Straling for additional assistance, the Vatican appointed Msgr. Gerald R. Barnes from the Archdiocese of San Antonio as the first Auxiliary Bishop to the Diocese of San Bernardino in 1992. To meet the growing challenges of the young diocese, Bishop Straling initiated a long range Diocesan Planning Process.
Rome announced the transfer of Bishop Phillip Straling to the Diocese of Reno on March 21, 1995. The last priest ordained by Bishop Straling for the Diocese of San Bernardino was Rev. David Andel. The scattered diocesan offices throughout San Bernardino were brought together at a new Diocesan Pastoral Center, located at 1201 Highland Avenue in San Bernardino.
As Bishop Straling left for the Diocese of Reno, the Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Barnes was named as Administrator for the Diocese while awaiting Rome’s announcement of a new Diocesan Bishop. This change of episcopal leadership marked a new stage of development. The youthfulness of the new Diocese had given way to the responsibility of establishing a Catholic presence in the Inland Empire.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.