VATICAN - (22 November 2011) It was announced this morning that Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Capuchin friar Father Donald Lippert as bishop of Mendi in Papua New Guinea. The fifty-four year old Capuchin friar will be the third bishop of the Southern Highlands diocese, which was established forty-five years ago.
Bishop-elect Donald was born in Pittsburgh, PA, on June 12, 1957, to Donald and Elaine (Unites) Lippert and was baptized at St. Basil Church in Carrick. When he was a year old, his family moved to Beechview and became members of St. Catherine of Siena Church, where he attended the parish school for his elementary education. He graduated from South Hills Catholic in 1975. He would go on for his college education first at the University of Pittsburgh, then Duquesne University and eventually St. Fidelis College in Herman, PA.
He was invested in the Capuchin habit in 1979 and made temporary profession on July 20, 1980, at St. Conrad Friary in Annapolis, MD. He attended the Washington Theological Union where he earned a Master of Arts degree in theology. Brother Donald made perpetual profession in 1983 and was ordained to the priesthood on June 8, 1985, after serving as deacon at San Miguel Parish in Utuado, Puerto Rico. After an assignment in vocation promotion, he served as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Conway, PA. In 1989 he became parochial vicar of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Parish in Washington, DC.
In 1994 Father Donald was assigned to serve on the formation staff at Borromeo Seminary in Wickliffe, OH. Prior to taking up his teaching responsibilities, he attained a Master of Arts degree in philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. Father Donald would serve at Borromeo Seminary until 2002 when he was named the Director of the Spanish Catholic Center in Washington, DC.
In 2004 he was elected Vicar Provincial of the Capuchin Province of St. Augustine and served as executive secretary at the provincial headquarters in Pittsburgh. In 2007 Father Donald took up his current assignment in Papua New Guinea, where he became a lecturer at the Catholic Theological Institute in Port Moresby. Until this episcopal appointment he has also served as guardian and director of post-novitiate formation at the Capuchin Friars College in Bomana. He was elected to the vice provincial leadership council one year ago.
The bishop-elect’s mother, Elaine, died in 2004, and his father, Donald, died in 2010. He has two younger brothers, Douglas and Dennis, both of the Pittsburgh area.
The Vatican announcement was made as the Capuchin friars of the Vice Province of Papua New Guinea were gathered for their annual assembly in Mendi. The bishop-elect succeeds two Capuchin predecessors: Archbishop Steve Reichert, who was appointed archbishop of Madang in late November 2010, and the late Bishop Firmin Schmidt, who became the first bishop of Mendi in 1965 and served for thirty years. He died in 2005.
The Diocese of Mendi is located in the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea and was erected as a prefecture apostolic in 1958 and a diocese in 1966. The most recent statistics (2004) show there are 72,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Mendi. Capuchin friars arrived in the Southern Highlands in 1955. Papua New Guinea is the eastern half of the world’s second largest island and is immediately north of Australia.
The bishop-elect joins four other active Capuchin bishops affiliated with the Pittsburgh-based Capuchin Province of St. Augustine: Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Archbishop Stephen Reichert of Madang, PNG, and Bishop William Fey of Kimbe, PNG. Archbishops Chaput and Reichert are members of the Capuchin Province of St. Conrad, based in Denver, CO.