Hometown priest returns as archbishop

Barb Arland-Fye
Archdiocese of Dubuque Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula at Press Conference about his appointment to the Archdiocese.

By Barb Arland-Fye


DUBUQUE, Iowa — Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula teared up during a news conference July 26 announcing his appointment as 11th archbishop of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, where he began his priesthood 33 years ago.

The press conference at the Pastoral Center in Dubuque began a few minutes late and seemed like a homecoming as the archbishop-elect exchanged hugs and chatted with clergy and laypeople he knew before being ordained bishop of the Diocese of Davenport six years ago. 

Pope Francis appointed Archbishop-elect Zinkula to his new post, to which he will be installed on Oct. 18 in Dubuque. During the press conference, he teased the gathering of familiar faces, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know. You thought you got rid of me. But I’m coming back to haunt you!”


Kidding aside, he became more reflective, sharing how he had been following the prayer that the faithful of the archdiocese were praying: “A prayer as we await a new archbishop.” When the apostolic nuncio, Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre, informed him of the appointment, “I began praying that prayer,” Archbishop-elect Zinkula said. “I have been praying that I will be the kind of bishop the archdiocese needs and wants: a priest of deep and true prayer, a teacher of loving heart and firm resolve, and a shepherd of joy and peace who desires above all to do God’s will.” His episcopal motto is, after all, “Thy will be done.”

He asked all the clergy and laity to continue to pray for him and the archdiocese and he promised to remember all of them in his prayer as well. “This is a bittersweet moment for me. … It will be hard to leave the diocesan community in Davenport with whom I have journeyed for the past six years and who basically taught me how to be a bishop.”

“I am nonetheless overjoyed,” he said, choking up, “to receive the appointment to return to my home diocese to serve as the 11th archbishop.” After taking a moment, he quipped, “Gosh I didn’t think I would tear up at all!”

Returning to his home archdiocese, where he was born in 1957 – an Iowa farm boy who went on to become a lawyer before discerning a call to the priesthood – he said, “It will be humbling and interesting to add the role of spiritual father to my relationship with my fellow archdiocesan priests who have been my brothers and friends for so many years.”

He thanked all of the archbishops whose ministry touched his life and he expressed appreciation for the “excellent ministry” of his immediate predecessor, Archbishop Michael Jackels, and for Bishop Richard Pates who “graciously and capably” stepped in for a number of months as the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator.

“I hope that my being a native son and priest of the archdiocese will make the transition somewhat quicker and easier. Having served the archdiocese in various assignments as a priest for 27 years, I know it quite well. I am looking forward to becoming reacquainted with the people of the archdiocese that I already know and getting to know many more of the faithful. I want to hear and share their joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties.”

“He is one of ours. The transition will be easier for us,” said Father Dustin Vu, priest chaplain for Loras College in Dubuque. “Praise God for that! He’s well-loved here. It’s kind of like family again,” added Father Vu, who met the archbishop-elect in 2004, when Father Vu was ordained to the priesthood.

“It’s certainly an answer to prayer,” said Father Dan Knepper, a retired archdiocesan priest. “I was happy when I saw the announcement.”

“I was very happy to have Pope Francis send him back to us,” said Msgr. Thomas Toale, the archdiocese’s vicar general and moderator of the Curia. “We are very grateful he is back home. He is one of us.”

“He is a loving listener,” said Msgr. Russell Bleich, a retired priest who previously served as regional vicar and knew then-Father Zinkula very well. He “leads from the front, he leads in the midst and he leads from behind.”


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