Cathy Joyce / Special to The Bee

Monsignor Myron Cotta was named auxiliary bishop of the Sacramento Diocese. He grew up on a farm in Merced County and has served as a priest in the Fresno Diocese for 26 years.

Sacramento’s Bishop Soto gets second-in-command

Published: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 - 12:26 pm

Bishop Jaime Soto got an assist from the Vatican on Friday when Pope Francis appointed Monsignor Myron Cotta of Fresno as second-in-command of the growing Sacramento Catholic Diocese.

Cotta, who grew up on a dairy farm in Merced County, will officially be ordained auxiliary bishop – or vicar general – on March 25, the festival of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Soto announced at a news conference held Friday at Sacred Heart Parish School in east Sacramento. Cotta, who speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese, will help Soto minister to more than 900,000 Catholics spread over 42,000 square miles in 20 counties to the Oregon border.

Cotta, 60, served as a priest in the Fresno Diocese for 26 years, the last 15 as vicar general. For some of that time, he led the more than 1 million Catholics in the diocese while Bishop John T. Steinbock fought a losing battle with lung cancer, dying in December 2010. Cotta replaces Monsignor James Murphy, who is retiring Jan. 31, as vicar general of the Sacramento Diocese. Murphy has spent 45 years at the diocese, the last five as vicar general. “When the bishop’s away, you’re the one taking his place at the head of his team,” Murphy said. Cotta’s farming background translates well across the Sacramento Diocese, Murphy said.

Soto said he sees Cotta as the “captain of the team of priests, deacons, Catholic school teachers and people involved in charitable works. We will get him on to the highways and byways of the diocese so we can win the game of building the kingdom of God.”

Cotta’s first act was to meet with a confirmation class of seventh-graders at Sacred Heart Parish School. The 26 students were writing seven essays about role models who taught them to make the right judgments. One said she was writing about her mother. Another asked Cotta to name his favorite saints.

Cotta listed St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th-century Spanish mystic, who said, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing make you afraid ... patience gains all things ... God alone suffices”; Anthony of Lisbon, the saint of finding things or lost people and a 13th-century priest known as an expert preacher; and St. Joseph, husband of Jesus’ mother, Mary.

Asked when he decided to become a priest, Cotta said when he was in elementary school, a nun told him, “One day you’re going to be a priest.”

“I said, ‘Yeah, right, sister,’ but in high school the Holy Spirit really started working on me.” In 1987 he graduated from St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, the same school attended by Bishop Soto.

Both clerics thanked Pope Francis. “I’m grateful to his holiness for giving me a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus as an able co-worker in this favored part of his vineyard,” Soto said. “Bishop-elect Cotta is a son of the Central Valley. He knows our people, he knows our land and mountains, but most of all, he knows the Lord Jesus and is eager to share the Lord’s wisdom and charity with others.”

Cotta – referencing Pope Francis’ admonition to serve all people – said, “Pope Francis is definitely challenging us, every one of us, not just bishops, to not cut ourselves off from people ... I am humbled by the faith the Holy Father and the papal nuncio in Washington have placed in me.”

Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072. Researcher Pete Basofin contributed

Read more articles by Stephen Magagnini

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