‘God prepared me for this’ | Bishop Zinkula shares his journey to the priesthood

Anne Marie Amacher
Bishop Thomas Zinkula speaks to young adults during a Theology on Tap session June 9 at Armored Gardens in Davenport.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — “Get to know the Church better and give it a chance,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula told a group of young adults during a Theology on Tap session June 9. He said the average age at which a young person makes his/her decision to stay or leave the Church is 13. “When I was 13, I never thought of making that decision. I didn’t have a lot of life experience. I didn’t know the Church enough to make that decision,” he said.

A young adult asked the bishop how the Church is different from when he was younger. He said in the past people were expected to belong to a church — no matter what faith group. “Now it’s not cool. People follow the crowd and leave without an informed decision.” He said it does not help that the secular media tends to present the Church in a negative way. “People are walking away without getting to know the Church. Give God a chance,” he said.

To open up the evening of questions on an outdoor patio at Armored Gardens, someone asked if the bishop had any secret talents. “I don’t have any talents,” Bishop Zinkula joked. He said that when he was growing up outside of Mount Vernon, Iowa, his grandfather lived next door. “We would sit outside and visit with him. He taught us to twiddle our thumbs. I can do it both ways,” he laughed while demonstrating his “skill.”


Another person asked about his calling to the priesthood. He said he “never thought of the priesthood,” but when he was in high school, he received a letter from the archbishop of Dubuque regarding that vocation. “I still have it. It’s yellow by now.” But that is not what led to his calling.

Bishop Zinkula said he was practicing law and knew God was calling him to do something else — to be of service to others. So he volunteered with young people through United Way. Although he enjoyed his work and volunteer service, he knew that was not what God intended for him.

In October 1985, Bishop Zinkula said he woke up in the middle of the night and felt a calling to the priesthood. “My heart was on fire. I had never thought about it before. There were no voices, no visions.” Afterwards, he began attending daily Mass. Two months later, he met with his former pastor who had become vicar general and connected the future bishop with the vocations department. “That next fall I was in seminary…. My whole life God had prepared me for this. There was no wasted time.”

Another question dealt with placement of the tabernacle. The bishop said the tabernacle’s placement depends on various factors, which may include the church building’s construction. During the Mass, he said, “the focus is at the altar,” not on the tabernacle.

Regarding a question about other faiths, Bishop Zinkula said Pope Francis encourages learning from other faiths. While Bishop Zinkula was studying at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he had many occasions to meet people of other faith traditions from Orthodox to Eastern Rite to Episcopalian to Jewish and more. “We would visit other seminaries. We got to know other traditions. If you know your own faith tradition, you will appreciate other faiths.”

A young adult asked the bishop to identify his favorite saint. “Thomas,” he said, and named the different saints named for Thomas. His favorite St. Thomas is St. Thomas More, a very successful English lawyer.
Someone asked Bishop Zinkula what he does in his free time when he is not “bishoping.” The bishop said he likes to bicycle, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, cross-country ski, read, be with family and friends, hike and travel. As the one-hour session wrapped up, he stayed longer to meet with young adults.

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