Persons places and things: the bicycling bishop


By Barb Arland-Fye

On a humid fall afternoon, Bishop Thomas Zinkula coasted to a stop on his bicycle at the entrance of a recreation trail, the designated meeting point for a photo shoot.

Lindsay Steele, The Catholic Messenger’s diocesan reporter, had her camera equipment ready. I accompanied her to offer input about the image we hoped to capture for this year’s subscription drive. You can see the result in this week’s issue.

Barb Arland-Fye
Diocesan reporter Lindsay Steele takes a photo of Bishop Thomas Zinkula for The Catholic Messenger.

Photographing our diocesan bishop as he reads The Catholic Messenger in an out-of-the-ordinary setting has become a tradition. Even more fun than the photo shoot is the brainstorming that goes into deciding the perfect setting. One year, I took a photo of now-retired Bishop Martin Amos in a small village in France; another year, at a physical therapy session and still another year at the barber shop. Lindsay has photographed several of the promos, including one of Bishop Amos reading The Catholic Messenger inside a classroom at Assumption High School and another in the middle of a farm field.


When Pope Francis blessed our diocese with a “baby bishop” after accepting the retirement of Bishop Amos last year, we wondered if our new bishop would agree to our whimsical request. So, last summer our staff — Anne Marie Amacher, Tony Forlini, Nancy Hamerlinck, Phil Hart, Lindsay and me — brainstormed possibilities. We came up with the idea of the bicycling bishop reading his Catholic Messenger. Since he is an avid bicyclist, we hoped that might be the ticket to his approval of our idea.

Game on! The bishop agreed because he could do double-duty: support the diocesan newspaper as its publisher, and get a bike ride in.
Bishop Tom, an Iowa farm boy, athlete and scholar, believes a healthy lifestyle that includes adequate nutrition, exercise and sleep benefits him as a priest and the people he serves. God gives us gifts, the bishop says, including our bodies. Taking care of ourselves is one way to honor that gift. The bishop figures that a healthy lifestyle also contributes to longevity, which means he’ll be able to serve the people of our diocese for a longer time!

His enthusiasm for physical fitness carries over to diocesan headquarters, where a former apartment with second-hand exercise equipment has been transformed into an inviting exercise room for use by staff, retired priests and the bishop. It features a new treadmill, elliptical machine, recumbent stationary bicycle, weights and a bench (in addition to the existing exercise bike and rowing machine).

Bishop Tom said he wanted the retired priests living at diocesan headquarters to be able to use the exercise room, that’s why he opted for a recumbent stationary bicycle. He purchased the new, light commercial equipment with money he received as gifts.

Deacon David Montgomery, the diocesan chief of staff, designed the exercise room based on the bishop’s ideas. The room features framed Scripture passages, too. “There are Scripture passages that talk about health and strength and I thought they would be motivational and encourage people as they exercise,” Deacon David said. The new equipment and the inspirational Scriptures are making a difference. “I was down there the other day and there were four of us in the room at the same time,” Bishop Tom said. Maybe that’s the place for next year’s photo shoot: the bishop pumping iron.

(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at

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