This is the story of a man of many faces.
Paul Joseph Swain was born on September 12, 1943 in Newark, NY. He was the son of William E. and Gertrude (née Shawcross) Swain. Paul was the 5th of 6 children. He and his siblings were raised by their grandparents.
His grandmother was a seamstress, known for making all the dresses for the Rose Queen and Princess events and his grandfather was a foreman at the Jackson & Perkins Co. packing yards, a short walk from their home. All 6 children had the option to go to college.
As a child, Paul received his religious formation in the Methodist church. He would attend Sunday school classes and Sunday services with his grandparents. In high school, he first aspired to be an attorney and took an interest in the political process. He graduated from Newark High School in 1961.
The prompting of a neighbor whose son was a professor at the school led to his enrollment at Ohio Northern University in Ada, OH where he studied history. He moved to Madison, WI in 1965 and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a master’s degree in political science.
Upon completing his master’s degree, Paul voluntarily entered military service as an intelligence officer in the United States Air Force. This service included time served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War and earned him the distinction of a Silver Star commendation. Paul once shared to a Chamber of Commerce Veteran’s Day Service audience that “(he) left the military after nearly five years. But the experiences shared, not all of which I can or want to talk about, remain with me to this day.” He emphasized that “(t)he casualties of war are not only the physically dead. They are those who remain anguished by the experience, and those who despite their scars have learned to cope. We remember them as well and must insist that they receive the medical and other assistance they need, earned and are owed.”
With his military service completed, Paul returned to Madison where he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin’s law school. In 1974 he was awarded his Juris Doctorate and he began a private practice in law. He would often say that the hardest part of being an attorney was timekeeping as “6-minute increments were hard to keep track of.”
In 1978, Paul became involved with the unconventional and underfunded gubernatorial campaign of a newcomer to the political scene and chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Mr. Lee S. Dreyfus. Paul’s involvement became noticed by Mr. Dreyfus, so much so that upon his election, Governor Dreyfus asked Paul to serve as Legal Counsel to the Governor and Director of Policy.
Nearing the end of his first term and despite popularity among voters, Governor Dreyfus announced that he would not seek a second term. This caused Paul to immediately contemplate his own next professional role. For Paul, the thought of becoming a priest entered his mind and heart in ways such that it would not leave. This of course was rather curious since he was not yet a Catholic.
After receiving instruction in the Catholic faith, the Easter Vigil in 1983 was when Paul was confirmed and received his first Holy Communion at Holy Redeemer Church in Madison. Later that summer, he would enroll at Pope St. John XIII Seminary in Weston, MA as a seminarian for the Diocese of Madison.
On May 27, 1988, Paul was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Madison.
Father Paul Swain held many appointments for the Diocese of Madison, including vocations director, moderator of the curia, priest secretary, and vicar general, a role he would hold for two different bishops. His pastoral work included stints at Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary in Sun Prairie, St. Mary in Pine Bluff, St. Bernard in Middleton, St. Patrick and Holy Redeemer in Madison, and as rector of St. Raphael Cathedral. In June of 1998, Father Swain was elevated to Monsignor when the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II appointed him as a prelate of honor.
On August 31, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as Bishop of Sioux Falls. He was ordained and installed as the 8th Bishop of the Diocese on October 26, 2006, an office he would serve in until being succeeded on February 13, 2020.
The 13 years that Bishop Swain served as spiritual shepherd for Catholics in eastern South Dakota are marked by many highlights, cultural & social changes, and measured responses to changes.
During his time in office, Bishop Swain ordained 33 men to the priesthood and 20 men to the permanent diaconate. He was exceptionally pleased to have each one of these men accompany him as ordained brothers in service of Christ’s Church.
Bishop Swain led the diocese in a restoration of our Cathedral of St. Joseph, elevating this civic and sacred landmark by bringing forth its beauty as envisioned by the original architect. Addressing Mass congregants on the day he dedicated the new altar that was installed, Bishop Swain shared that “(it) is my prayer that this restored Cathedral will be a shining light on the hill outside and in, by the beauty of sacred things and by the beauty of faith lived well, can therefore be a sign of the hope that can only be fulfilled in Christ. And so we invite all to come here on pilgrimage and to seek to satisfy the yearning for the holy, to discover meaning in the midst of trial, even fear, and to experience the peace that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior and friend.”
Nearing the point of his mandatory retirement, having grown fond of and cared for so many of the faithful that he had encountered since his arrival in 2006, Bishop Swain proudly declared himself a “South Dakotan” and announced his intention to remain here in his retirement.
His episcopal motto, confitemini Domini, “give praise to the Lord,” was Bishop Swain’s way of expressing his lived belief that it is not what we do but how we conduct ourselves that matters most in the Christian life.
Paul J. Swain, that 1961 graduate of Newark High School, died Saturday, November 26 at the age of 79. He had been in hospice care.
Bishop Swain was preceded in death by his parents and his five siblings and three of their spouses. He is survived by one sister-in-law.
In lieu of flowers, memorials can be directed to the Cathedral of St. Joseph maintenance endowment at the Catholic Community Foundation for Eastern South Dakota, the Adoration Sisters, or the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House.