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‘Holy Spirit has led you here today,’ nuncio tells new shepherd of Iowa archdiocese

Archbishop Thomas J. Zinkula swings the censer over the altar during his installation Mass to head the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, at the Church of the Nativity in Dubuque Oct. 18, 2023. (OSV News photo/Barb Arland-Fye, The Catholic Messenger)
Archbishop Thomas J. Zinkula swings the censer over the altar during his installation Mass to head the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, at the Church of the Nativity in Dubuque Oct. 18, 2023. (OSV News photo/Barb Arland-Fye, The Catholic Messenger)

DUBUQUE, Iowa (OSV News) — As Cardinal Christophe Pierre prepared to read the apostolic mandate appointing then-Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula of Davenport to head the Archdiocese of Dubuque, his home diocese, the apostolic nuncio teasingly asked the gathering, “Do you know him?”

Laughter was the response from the 1,000 or so people who filled Church of the Nativity for the new archbishop’s installation Mass Oct. 18.

When Cardinal Pierre asked about the presence of people from the Davenport Diocese, where the new archbishop was ordained a bishop and served for six years before his appointment to the Dubuque Archdiocese, no one spoke up.

“I didn’t know the people of the Davenport Diocese were so silent,” the cardinal joked, looking toward the rows of seats where they sat. “That means you are sad.”

Archbishop Zinkula later evoked laughter when he began his homily with this caveat from Mark’s Gospel: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” The archbishop added, “So I guess we will see how long the honeymoon lasts, me being the home-diocese boy and all!”

Kidding aside, Cardinal Pierre told the new archbishop, “Your entire life has been a gradual and rich preparation for the ministry you are about to undertake.” The preparation began in his formation in the family, continued as he engaged in sports, academics and a law career, and in his ministry as a pastor, a canon lawyer, rector and bishop.

From the beginning of his episcopacy in the neighboring Davenport Diocese, then-Bishop Zinkula embraced Pope Francis’ emphasis on evangelization and later the synodal process that the Holy Father initiated. In doing so, “You have experienced with your people the fullness of deep and careful listening while engaging in communion, discernment of the path on which the Holy Spirit is leading the church,” Cardinal Pierre said. “We are glad the Holy Spirit has led you here today.”

Prior to reading the apostolic mandate, Cardinal Pierre recognized Bishop Richard E. Pates. The retired bishop of Des Moines served as the apostolic administrator for the Dubuque Archdiocese since the resignation six months ago of Archbishop Michael O. Jackels because of health reasons. The congregation applauded in appreciation.

The Dubuque Archdiocese, located in northeast Iowa, serves an estimated Catholic population of 183,586 people and 165 parishes. The total number of priests is 174, which includes 73 active priests, 57 retired priests, 27 religious priests, 15 priests from other dioceses serving in the archdiocese and two priests active outside the archdiocese.

In the mandate on his appointment, Pope Francis praised Archbishop Zinkula for the qualities he manifested in carrying out his episcopal duties in the Davenport Diocese in southeast Iowa. “You have clearly manifested the spirit of a shepherd, qualities which indeed sustain the hope that you are very capable in fulfilling this new responsibility.”

Archbishop Zinkula and Cardinal Pierre exchanged a hug and the cardinal handed the mandate to the new archbishop. He opened the scroll and proceeded into the assembly to show the mandate to the archdiocesan college of consultors and to the rest of the gathering, moving from aisle to aisle and turning from left to right for optimal viewing.

He returned to the sanctuary, took his seat at the bishop’s chair and received the pastoral staff, symbolizing his role as chief shepherd of the Dubuque Archdiocese. It was the pastoral staff of Bishop Mathias Loras, the first bishop of Dubuque, who served from 1837-1858.

Archbishop Zinkula greeted representatives for the archdiocese’s priests, deacons, women religious, youths and other Catholic entities as well as from other faith traditions and local and state governments. Among the representatives were the oldest and youngest priests in the archdiocese, Msgr. Edward Lechtenberg, 98 (ordained in 1951) and Father Jeffrey Frieden, 26 (ordained in 2023).

The archbishop’s commitment to evangelization and to the synodal church as essential to its fruition were evident in his homily. He spoke of his family’s roots in Bohemia, which inspired a pilgrimage in 2016 with some of his siblings.

While there, he learned about the Czech priest, professor and philosopher Father Tomáš Halik.

“I was delighted to hear that he is a mentor/teacher of many young Czechs who have become believers and embraced the faith,” Archbishop Zinkula said. He appreciates Father Halik’s “much more hopeful and positive perspective on the current era.”

“Halik applies Carl Jung’s metaphor of the day to the history of Christianity. Christianity’s long history up to the beginning of modernity represents its morning (youth). This was a time for building institutional and doctrinal structures. Then, in the West, a noonday crisis occurred as Christianity clashed with modernity, secularization and a popular belief in the ‘death of God,’ which is the ongoing phase that we are presently experiencing,” the archbishop said.

“This crisis will continue until it is understood as an opportunity, a path to maturity, a turning point. Turning away from external structures to the very core of Christianity. A noonday crisis can cause people to seek the path to a deeper, more credible and more mature form of church, theology and spirituality, which Halik characterizes as the afternoon of Christianity.”

The synodal process can aid “this journey of conversion and transformation,” he continued. “It is an opportunity to listen more carefully to one another and to the Holy Spirit, to draw closer together as clergy, parishes, diocesan communities and a universal church in a polarized society and church. It is an opportunity to discern the path forward communally and to accompany one another on our journey to the kingdom. … It is time to shift back into apostolic and missionary mode, where we should have been all along. What an exciting and demanding time to be a Christian!”

In appointing Archbishop Zinkula to lead the Dubuque Archdiocese, “the church chose wisely,” said Father Joe Jacobi, a close friend dating back to their seminary days at The Catholic University of America in Washington more than 30 years ago.

“He is a very humble, a very faithful man and also open to where the Spirit is leading the church now. He alluded to that (in his homily during vespers) last night and today,” added Father Jacobi, who is battling brain cancer. A priest of the Oklahoma City Archdiocese, Father Jacobi thanked God and the many prayers that made it possible for him to be present for Archbishop Zinkula’s installation Mass.

The archbishop’s brother Jerry, who is from the Chicago area, was among the many family members in attendance.

“I’m overjoyed. I couldn’t be more proud. He will be a wonderful archbishop,” Jerry told The Catholic Messenger, Davenport’s diocesan newspaper. He described his brother’s humility and humor as important elements of his pastoral ministry.

Barb Arland-Fye is editor of The Catholic Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport.

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