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Memorial Mass held for former Duluth bishop Robert Brom

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

On May 23, Bishop Daniel Felton offered a memorial Mass for one of his predecessors as bishop of Duluth, the diocese’s sixth bishop, Robert H. Brom, who served the diocese from 1983 to 1989. Bishop Brom died May 10 in San Diego, where he had served as bishop for 23 years following his time in Duluth. 

Bishop Felton said the May 23 memorial Mass fell on the exact day that Bishop Brom was ordained and installed for the Diocese of Duluth and that the memorial Mass was meant both to pray for Bishop Brom and as a show of unity in spirit with the diocese’s brothers and sisters in San Diego. 

Father James Bissonette, who with Father Richard Kunst had represented the Duluth Diocese at the funeral Mass in San Diego May 17, delivered the homily “to pray for and gratefully remember” the bishop who ordained him in 1988.

Father James Bissonette delivers a homily at the May 23 memorial Mass of Bishop Robert Brom, the sixth bishop of Duluth, who ordained Father Bissonette. Bishop Brom died May 10. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

He said representing the diocese at the funeral was something he and Father Kunst had been honored to do, noting that Father Kunst had kept regular communication with the former bishop until about two weeks before he died. 

Father Bissonette said he had met Bishop Brom right after his installation and ordination as he was in seminary, and he was soon off to Bishop Brom’s alma mater, the North American College in Rome. He said that when the bishop came to the school to visit, he and students from the Winona Diocese, where Bishop Brom had been a priest, told him that other bishops were bringing seminarians in to meet the pope, Pope St. John Paul II. 

“This was not exactly true,” Father Bissonette quipped, joking that it was “barely a venial” and that he was “not sorry. Not sorry at all.” 

He said Bishop Brom had explained to the pope that Father Bissonette’s father had lost his job due to a mine closing, and when the pope greeted him he gave him two rosaries for his parents “and said ‘tell them the pope is praying for them.’ Unforgettable. Thank you, Bishop Brom.” 

“Forming good deacons and priests was very important to Bishop Brom,” Father Bissonette said. “Those of us priests ordained by him still serving — Fathers John Petrich, Joe Sirba, Bishop Peter Muhich and myself — know how much the bishop wanted to provide caring pastors for the flock.” 

He said the bishop’s priestly example and friendship “has had a profound effect on my own priestly service down to the present day.” 

Bishop Brom built the Pastoral Center in its present location, but Father Bissonette said since he was appointed to San Diego before it was dedicated, he never sat at the bishop’s desk. 

“During his time as our bishop, I remember Bishop Brom as focused, firm, and challenging at times,” he said. 

Shaped by Vatican II, he said he knew Bishop Brom “to be an all-in disciple, wonderful teacher, an experienced pastor, and a humble shepherd.” 

He also related the former bishop’s encounter with a saint in San Diego. St. Teresa of Calcutta became ill and was hospitalized, and Father Bissonette said the former bishop told him, “I think the mother of the world is going to die in my diocese.” 

But he said Mass for her “every single day,” and when Mother Teresa recovered, she established a Missionaries of Charity house there in gratitude. She also pressed into his a palm a small cross on a safety pin that she wore, which he used as the altar cross in his chapel and passed on to Father Kunst shortly before he died. “Perhaps bishop knew something we didn’t,” Father Bissonette said. 

Editor's note: This story has been corrected since it appeared in the June 2022 print edition of The Northern Cross.