Bishop Michael J. Sis is the sixth bishop of the Diocese of San Angelo, Texas. A native of the neighboring Austin diocese, Bishop Sis served for 13 years in campus ministry at Texas A&M University and for three years as vicar general in Austin. He was ordained a bishop for the San Angelo diocese in January 2014.
Bishop Sis says he considers his most precious treasure to be his personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
How would you describe the Catholic Church in Texas?
It’s alive, active, generous and culturally diverse. The overall direction of the Church in Texas is one of growth and vibrancy. It combines the dynamism of the Sun Belt and the heritage of Texas Hispanic Catholicism, which flavors the life of the Church here in a beautiful way. And we have small towns built by Polish, Czech or German immigrants, which provide a solid base of stewardship and Catholic identity.
What is the first thing that you tell people about the Church in the Diocese of San Angelo?
Visually, it’s the Wild West. It looks like the background of a cowboy movie. The terrain is dramatic with wide open spaces. The skies and sunsets are works of art.
Our diocese covers an area that is larger than the state of Indiana. With 115,000 Catholics, we are 15 percent of the population. We have three Catholics per square mile.
We have 45 parishes and 21 missions. A typical parish community has about 500 families.
We have no Catholic health care institutions and only three Catholic schools at this time but strong youth ministry and catechesis in our parishes. We hope to start a Catholic high school.
How would you describe the conditions in your diocese?
Many of our people struggle financially. Job opportunities are scarce in rural areas. Our diocese does include much of the Permian Basin, the largest U.S. “oil patch,” but jobs there fluctuate with the price of oil, leading to economic instability.
We have many prisons. When you’re in an area with a weak economy, prisons provide jobs. But we need more economic diversity.
Most people live in small towns with strong family values. High-school football is a big deal. Many of our young people do not go to college, and of those who do, very few return to work in their hometown.
How do people live their faith?
Parish life is active. Most of our 68 priests are diocesan. We have relatively few religious priests and sisters. We have a good number of deacons and strong lay leadership, which is encouraging.
The RENEW program has been helpful in creating a vibrant parish life with engaged and dedicated laypeople. Catholic Extension helped pay for this parish-renewal program in our diocese.
We have active “movements,” including Cursillo and the Search and ACTS retreats. All three are built around a basic experience of conversion, which is key in living one’s faith more actively.
How has your pastoral ministry with Hispanics shaped you?
Hispanics have helped me to appreciate the warm, passionate, devotional side of Catholicism. Many live with a deep awareness of their dependence on God’s help. They live with joy, with resiliency, with a strong sense of family, community and fellowship. They have a deep love for the Blessed Mother.
Living, working, breathing and experiencing the Catholic faith in that environment has enriched my own faith, and I now seek to reinforce that in the lives of our people.
Immigration and immigrants have been much in the news recently. How have immigrants in your diocese experienced that?
They are hard-working Christian people with a strong family life and deep faith. That is the kind of people this country needs. Rather than making life more difficult and pushing them away, we should be reforming our immigration system to make it easier to get legalized.
Our immigrant community is very worried about the recent wave of deportations. Just this week U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported many people from this area.
In many families the parents are undocumented but the children were born here. The children attend public schools, but the parents live in constant fear of deportation. They are afraid to go to the police to report crimes. They’re afraid to get a marriage license.
Many will not register in a parish because they don’t want their name on any list. They lack the confidence to get involved in their parish, much less to become leaders. That weakens parish life.
How do the sisters of our U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program help the diocese?
Primarily, they are reaching out with home visits and evangelization. They help Spanish-speaking immigrants connect to the parish.
They held a successful women’s conference in Fort Stockton that encouraged women in their vocations as wives, mothers and Christian women to lead lives of holiness and to have healthy relationships.
What do you value most about Catholic Extension’s support for the San Angelo diocese?
The grants to parishes and for church construction have provided the greatest help. When I walk into many of our churches, I see the plaque on the wall that says, “This church was built with assistance from Catholic Extension.” I’m grateful for that.
The assistance for the formation of seminarians, deacons and lay leaders has been extremely valuable for us as well.
Extension has supported your diaconate program. How important are deacons in your diocese?
We have 74 permanent deacons, 62 of whom are active. They are vitally important in the life of our parishes. Some of those deacons have diocesan responsibilities, but most work in parishes.
For example, Deacon Michael LaMonica in Midland has helped to start a new retreat center. Deacon Mike Medina oversees and trains our volunteers and clergy who serve in prison ministry. And Deacon Clemente Villa is the pastoral coordinator of St. Joseph Parish in Stanton and its mission in Lenorah.
You served for many years in campus ministry at Texas A&M. Along with many other priestly and religious vocations, you are one of two Aggie bishops connected to that campus ministry. What’s in the water at Texas A&M?
Texas A&M has a high level of religiosity among students of many different faith traditions. The values that are promoted by the university — like service, character, self-sacrifice, community, honesty — attract students who want to live those values, and these would tend to be people of religious faith.
The university has active Mormon, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish and Muslim communities; the vibrant Catholic campus ministry is part of the same dynamic atmosphere. Those young people give you hope for the future.
With more than 12,500 members, St. Mary’s Catholic Center is the largest organization on campus. When I was the pastor there, we fostered a strong Catholic identity and regularly invited students to consider their vocations to the priesthood, the religious life and holy marriages. That has paid off and continues today.