All Monsignor James Pulskamp had to do to get a chuckle at Mass on Saturday afternoon was to greet his St. Eugene's parishioners with, "What's new?"
Those in the know already had read a Press Democrat story that morning saying that Pulskamp will transfer in June from Santa Rosa's Roman Catholic cathedral to become pastor of Star of the Valley church in the Oakmont senior community.
The transfer is one of 22 appointments that Bishop Robert Vasa announced Friday for pastors and assistant pastors at parishes around the Santa Rosa Diocese.
What the 70-year-old Pulskamp emphasized during a brief homily Saturday was that he considered the change an opportunity for him "not to retire but to slow down a bit."
And he said the new appointments mean that the two other priests at St. Eugene's will get the chance to become pastors of their own parishes. The Rev. Fergal McGuinness was named pastor at St. Peter Church in Cloverdale and the Rev. Alvin Villaruel will become pastor at St. Mary of the Angels in Ukiah.
Adorned in a violet-hued vestment, Pulskamp used his Lenten Mass to encourage his parishioners to listen to God. As he spoke, the afternoon sun poured in the stained glass windows overhead — blazing through medieval images of St. James and St. Thomas.
Pulskamp said Vasa had asked him some months ago to consider becoming pastor at Star of the Valley. And he said St. Eugene's incoming pastor, the Rev. Frank Epperson, is bilingual, a skill that will help the parish.
He acknowledged that the changes will impact the roughly 1,800 households that belong to the parish.
"But if we all listen to our God ... St. Eugene's will make a smooth transition," he said.
Some observers have suggested the appointments allow Vasa to reassemble his priests in ways that can better accomplish his goals for the diocese and its 160,000 members. The bishop has been in office since July.
But parishioners focused their reactions Saturday on their love for Pulskamp and their desire to see him continue his ministry at a slower pace.
"He deserves a little bit of a break," said Michael Lazar of Santa Rosa, a parishioner there for 29 years.
"We're just happy he's not retiring completely," said Janice Raitano, Lazar's mother-in-law and a lifetime Santa Rosan.
Jean Moreda, who with her husband, Frank, have been St. Eugene parishioners for 48 years, praised Pulskamp as "a very down-to-earth, nice person."
"We'll miss him," Frank Moreda said. "He speaks our language."
You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or firstname.lastname@example.org.