Merced County Native Myron Cotta became Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton in March 2917.
He’s never forgotten the words a nun in his Catholic school said to him growing up.
“Myron, one day you’re going to be a priest.”
His response to the Sister at that time was a smile and just two words, “Yeah, right.”
While he may have responded to the nun with a quick answer, her comment and the words of others who used gentle encouragement stayed with him.
“When people have the courage to bring it up, that stays with you.”
As a boy growing up in Dos Palos, Merced County, Myron Cotta loved his family, enjoyed his friends, and wondered what he would do when he grew up. He attended Mass every weekend at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
He grew up on a dairy farm on the outskirts of town. His family included one brother and two sisters.
He speaks fondly of his family upbringing. “I’m Portuguese, so that comes with an extended family. Cousins, uncles, and aunts, were always around. That was the way I was brought up.”
In his teens, he would occasionally entertain ideas of becoming a priest.
After high school, he put those ideas out of his mind as he pursued a degree at West Hills College in Coalinga.
He also started to move away from the church. “I sort of drifted away from all this.”
Upon graduation from college, he worked at a grocery store in Dos Palos and found his way back to the church.
“I believe God allows us to drift in the process of our lives. But he also permits us to come back.”
Within a few years, he made the decision that would change his life.
He chose the priesthood.
“At my high school reunion, I had already made my decision to enter the priesthood. I shared this with some classmates and they said ‘we had a feeling when you were in school that you might go down this path.”
He entered St. John’s Seminary to prepare for the priesthood in 1980.
Those years in the seminary created strong bonds with his classmates. His class included seminarians from the Los Angeles area who were taken by the strong bond of friendship among the Central Valley classmates.
“One of the Los Angeles seminarians asked those of us from the Valley whether we knew each other before entering the seminary. My answer was no, and I think that’s something special about the Valley. It is a special connectivity.”
He was ordained on September 17, 1987. In Merced County, Father Cotta served as an assistant pastor in parishes in Atwater and Gustine. In Fresno County, he served at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Laton.
He was called back to Gustine following his assignment in Laton where he served at Our Lady of Miracles Church again, this time as Pastor.
Soon, he was called by the Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, the late John Steinbock, to serve as Vicar General. As the Bishop’s right-hand man, the now Monsignor Cotta helped run the Diocese that covers the Central Valley from Merced County to Bakersfield.
He served in that post for two six-year terms and might have considered another assignment when events happened that would ultimately change the course of his life.
Bishop Steinbock passed away in 2010. Monsignor Cotta stayed on as Diocese Administrator in Fresno until a new Bishop was appointed.
In 2012 Bishop Armando Ochoa was installed as the new Bishop for the Fresno Diocese. He asked Monsignor Cotta to stay on for a while to help during the Bishop’s first year in Fresno.
That assignment would run for another two years until he received a phone call from the Papal Nunzio in Washington, DC (the Papal Nunzio is a diplomatic representative of the Pope).
The Papal Nunzio notified Monsignor that Pope Francis was appointing him to the Auxiliary Bishop post in the Diocese of Sacramento.
A few years later in December 2017, he got another call from the Papal Nunzio. This time, he was being asked to accept the appointment as Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton.
He was installed on March 2018 at a service at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Modesto. The church was filled with family, friends, and his colleagues.
“I had a good idea what to expect when I came to the Stockton Diocese,” he said. “We’ve had some staff changes due to retirements and deaths, but we’re off to a fresh start.”
Bishop Cotta welcomes the opportunity to lead the Catholic faith communities in the Stockton Diocese that covers Stockton east to the Motherlode region.
He is a product of the Central Valley and feels blessed to be able to serve in the area he loves.
“At my installation, I spoke about family, friends, and faith. These are important things to me.”
With family, he is grateful to have so many relatives within a short distance from one another in Merced County when growing up.
With friends, he is satisfied with so many of them encouraging him as he responded to his calling to the priesthood.
With faith, he ties it all together back to that nun from Merced County who first told him:
“Myron, someday you are going to be a priest.”
Steve Newvine lives in Merced. He has written California Back Roads, Stories from the Land of the Palm and Pine, available at lulu.com
Steve congratulates the ten winners of this book from a recent contest conducted by MercedCountyEvents.com