Following a period of ill health, Finland’s first native-born bishop of the modern era retired early today.. Marking his 72nd birthday, Bishop Teemu Sippo announced the news in a letter to the faithful. Bishop Sippo headed the Diocese of Helsinki, which covers all of Finland, since 2009. He cites his ailing health, worsened by a fall at Christmas time, as the reason for his retirement
The previous sede vacante of Helsinki lasted almost a year, so the appointment of a new bishop of one of the northernmost dioceses in the world could still be some time in the future.
The Diocese of Helsinki was established as the Apostolic Vicariate of Finland in 1920, from territory belonging to the Archdiocese of Mohilev, which then included large parts of Russia. Finland had only just gained its independence from Russia, which was in the midst of post-Revolution civil war.
In the first three years of its existence, an Apostolic Administrator would lead the new circumscription: the Dutch priest, Fr. Michiel Buckx, a priest of the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, or Dehonians. Fr. Buckx would be appointed as the first vicar apostolic in 1923, and was made a bishop as well. He would be suceeded in 1933 be another Dutchman, Bishop Gulielmus Cobben, another Dehonian. When the apostolic vicariate was promoted to the Diocese of Helsinki in 1955, Bishop Cobben continued as bishop of Helsinki. In 1964 he recieved a coadjutor bishop, again a Dutch Dehonian, Bishop Paul Verschuren. He succeeded Bishop Cobben in 1967 and remained in office until 1998, during which period he served four terms as president of the Scandinavian bishops’ conference, the first from 1973 to 1978, and the other three from 1986 to 1998. Bishop Verschuren was succeeded by another Dehonian, but one from Poland this time. Bishop Józef Wróbel served from 2000 to 2008, after which he returned to Poland to become an auxiliary bishop of Lublin. In 2009, Fr. Teemu Sippo, who had served as apostolic administrator following the reassignment of Bishop Wróbel, was appointed as the first Finnish bishop of Helsinki. He was consecrated in the Lutheran cathedral of Helsinki by Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, Bishop Wróbel and Copenhagen’s Bishop Czeslaw Kozon. Cardinal Lehmann had been Bishop Sippo’s thesis advisor when he studied in Freiburg in the 1970s.
Of the 5.5 million inhabitants of Finland, only some 14,00 are Catholic. These are spread over some 340,000 square kilometers and are served by some 30 priests. The Diocese of Helsinki consists of 8 parishes.