Sister Ann Venita Britto began pacing at about 10:45 a.m. Thursday. The seniors who enjoy her regular holiday lunches at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church were settling in for their Christmas feast, but the guest of honor had yet to arrive.

The event couldn’t go on without Bishop Stephen Blaire, who turned 75 on Thursday. A birthday celebration was planned, and he arrived about 11:10 a.m., putting a smile on Sister Ann’s face.

“I’m sorry,” he told the audience of more than 100. “I was finishing my retirement letter.”

That letter of retirement, required of Catholic bishops on their 75th birthday, is sent to the Vatican, and it is up to the pope to accept it.

“I wished the pope will accept my letter,” Blaire told Sister Ann after he’d blown out candles on a birthday cake and she asked if he’d made a wish.

Truth be told, Blaire expects to remain bishop of the Diocese of Stockton for another year. Maybe longer.

“All I’m going on is that current bishops my age sent in letters and it’s been a year and a half to two years (before they were replaced),” Blaire said. “There aren’t bishops lined up ready to take over.”

Although he supports the mandatory retirement age for bishops and is ready to settle into a life without the demands of running a diocese, Blaire also is happy to stay on longer.

“We’ll be out of bankruptcy, hopefully next month, so that will be finished,” Blaire said of the financial decision made two years ago in the wake of the cost of settling sexual abuse cases. “I think we’ve pretty much moved through some of the most critical moments of the diocese. The work of the church is never done, but I feel I’ll be handing on a diocese that will be in pretty good shape for the next bishop.”

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