Pope Francis named Msgr. Mike Sis, a former pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Center at Texas A&M, as the new bishop of the Diocese of San Angelo on Thursday.
Sis, who currently serves as the vicar general of the Diocese of Austin, will succeed Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer, who submitted his resignation on his 75th birthday in May 2012, according to a press release from the Diocese.
Pfeifer presented Sis as the new bishop Thursday morning, though his ordination and installation is scheduled to take place on Jan. 27 in San Angelo.
Sis received a call from a delegate for the pope in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 2 with the offer for the position.
"At first I thought this was some friend of mine playing a trick on me, and then it became clear that this is real, this is a real call," he said with a laugh.
He took one day to pray and discuss the position with his spiritual adviser, he said, and officially accepted the post on Dec. 3. The diocese chose to hold off on the announcement until Dec. 12 because the day is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a special day to American Catholics.
Sis was born in New Jersey, but his family moved to Bryan when he was 6. He holds a bachelor's of arts degree in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame, a bachelor's degree in theology from the Gregorian University, and a licentiate in moral theology from the Accademia Alfonsiana, Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.
He was assigned to St. Mary's Catholic Center in the summer of 1992, and became pastor in 1993. Sis is known for leading the effort to build a new student center, chapel and activity center, although he gives all of the credit to the students and God.
"I just plugged in and had the role of pastor, but the driving force was God, and the energy came from the students," he said.
The current pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church, David Konderla, nearly grew up with Sis: They attended their First Communion together, went to high school together, and served at St. Mary's together. Konderla took over as pastor when Sis left in 2005, and says Sis was largely responsible for the modern era of growth at St. Mary's. In addition to physical improvements, he brought forth a vision for a student ministry that the students responded well to, he said.
"He's an extremely humble man, an extremely dedicated servant, someone who's capable of tremendously hard and focused work, and who has a great heart for the people of God," Konderla said. "I think he'll be just a tremendous bishop."
In order to be chosen as a bishop of a diocese, one must be a Catholic priest and have a certain level of experience, Sis explained. A committee of four or five bishops sifts through the potential candidates to assess them and presents those names to the pope, who ultimately makes the selections.
"He fits very well with the pope's vision for bishops, which has been people who smell like their sheep, which basically means bishops should be out there with their people and who are serving the people of God," Konderla said.
Sis has never lived in West Texas, and has only traveled to San Angelo twice, so the first thing he'll need to do is listen to church-goers to learn about their needs and goals and to work with them on projects they already have running.
"The Catholic church in that diocese is already strong, faithful, I'm just plugging into something that's a beautiful enterprise," he said. "They already have their goals and their strategic plan in place, so I need to work with that. My main goal is to meet them, listen to them and love them so that I can serve them appropriately."
The San Angelo diocese includes 37,433 square miles across 29 counties in Texas. It has a population of 859,701 people, with 9 percent of them identifying as Catholic.