Catholic leaders reflect on the ministry of Archbishop-elect Zinkula


The Catholic Messenger asked various leaders in the Diocese of Davenport two questions:

  1. What are the hallmarks of Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula’s episcopacy in the Davenport Diocese?
  2. What is your lasting impression of Archbishop-elect Zinkula?
Deacon Agnoli

Deacon Frank Agnoli, diocesan director of Liturgy and of Deacon Formation:

  1. Under Bishop Martin Amos, as a diocese, we were turned inward, appropriately — attending to the abuse crisis, bankruptcy and its aftermath. Bishop Zinkula turned our gaze back outward — emphasizing mercy, evangelization, care for creation and accompanying those “on the peripheries” (especially immigrants and others who many in the Church would write off). He has challenged us to become a more synodal, more Catholic (in every sense of that word), Church.
  2. One who “smells like the sheep” (and not just because he’s been on RAGBRAI!) — who loves and journeys with the flock, who is humble and compassionate, who is open and welcoming, who listens; who “fears not” to go where the Spirit leads and who lives his motto: Fiat voluntas tua! (“Your will be done”).

 Amy Novak, president of St. Ambrose University in Davenport:

  1. Novak

    Bishop Zinkula’s leadership of the synodal listening process leaves a lasting legacy for the Diocese of Dav­en­port. His emp­a­thetic en­gage­ment with all communities in the synodal sessions, distilling that information into tangible actions to help build a more welcoming Church, and his development of focus areas for the next three years offers us a powerful roadmap for building vibrant Church communities to carry out the Gospel work in the world.

  2. Joy! His passion for building the body of Christ through his courageous commitment to a grace-filled encounter of all persons, particularly those on the margins, was a powerful witness to our entire St. Ambrose community. We will miss his storytelling, his good humor, humility, joy and the hope he had for all people and our larger Church.

Patrick Schmadeke, diocesan director of Evangelization

  1. Schmadeke

    There are the “big” things that leave an institutional stamp: Vision 20/20, the Laudato Si’ Action Plan, the document on accompanying sexual and gender minorities, the implementation of the Synod on Synodality, and the three years of building on the synod that have come from listening sessions. Then there are the “little” things, the human things, the personal touch that stay with a person. He would much rather be with people than be in a meeting, to the point that meetings often took on the flavor of “being with people.” At the end of the day, he’s just a farm kid from Iowa. He is a pastor that smells like the sheep. I don’t know anyone who could be as busy or carry as much responsibility as he did. He did it with grace, poise and openness to the Spirit. His motto is “your will be done” and he is an example of it every day.

  2. His openness to the Spirit. When beginning a process of discernment he is always sure to say, “I don’t know where this is going.” We live in an age of strategic planning, measuring results and empiricism. These have their benefits. But we can’t predict ahead of time where the Spirit may lead. This takes courage and it brings others along the process of discernment with him.

Deacon Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities:

  1. Ferris

    Archbishop-elect Zinkula’s episcopacy was marked by a willingness to listen to those he encountered on the journey, which regularly took him to the margins. He accompanied immigrants to ICE check-ins, broke bread with LGBTQ Catholics, traveled to India to give the Dalai Lama the Pacem In Terris Award and made legislative visits to advocate on issues such as passage of the Global Child Thrive Act. He led a deacon-formation class to the southern border and continued his commitment to visiting the imprisoned in our diocese.

Our Laudato Si’ Action Plan, one of the first in the country, is the result of his appreciation that we need to be in right relationship with God, with neighbor and the created world.

  1. Archbishop-elect Zinkula served with great passion and humility and it was an honor to serve on his staff. In my role as director of the Social Action Office, it was encouraging to know that social ministry was important to him. I will miss seeing him every day but am grateful that he will now be our neighbor to the north.

Emily Pries, Archbishop-elect Zinkula’s executive secretary:

  1. Pries

    He never misses an opportunity to be “among the people.” He made it a priority to go to places that others might not go, to seek out and minister, like Jesus, to those who are on the peripheries. He honored his roots and has always been humble, down to earth. He understands that life is messy and that humans, including himself, are fallible.

  2. His strong faith and joyful hopefulness have been inspiring and uplifting, as I have worked alongside him as his executive secretary for the last six years. I am grateful for his kindness, his gentle leadership and his faithful shepherding. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide and bless him as he guides the people of God for many more years.

Father Ken Kuntz, retired diocesan priest:

  1. Fr. Kuntz

    I think Bishop Zinkula will be remembered for promoting synodality in our diocese. He truly wanted to listen and to learn how people felt about being Church and how the Church could be more inviting and welcoming.

  2. As a priest, I felt Bishop Zinkula was very caring and concerned about our priests. He once said to a troubled priest, “I care more about you than you care about yourself.” Bishop Zinkula called every retired priest on Christmas Eve and he often visited priests in nursing homes or in the hospital. He took the challenge of placement of priests very seriously and tried to assign priests in places where they could thrive. He was always willing to listen in a kind and positive way.

Miguel Moreno, diocesan director of Multicultural Ministry:

  1. Moreno

    Since his arrival in the diocese, Bishop Tom has been open to dialogue, open to new challenges and always willing to support evangelization initiatives, especially those that bring the Gospel to the peripheries. He precisely promoted the creation of the Evangelization office in the diocese, with the desire to unify all pastoral forces. Among other initiatives, he led Vision 20/20, Emmaus Project, the Diocesan Synod and the planning of concrete goals for the coming years, putting our attention in this first year on Welcoming and Belonging. He forged the pastoral path for our diocese. Now, specifically in the Multicultural Ministry office, he supported having two full-time people in the office. Thanks to his leadership, we will have three Hispanic religious sisters soon working in our diocese. He supported not only increased pastoral agent leadership but also the activities, programs and conferences that the office has been able to carry out under his episcopal ministry.

  2. God has blessed the archbishop-elect with joy, a sense of humor, vision and motivation to carry out his ministry. On numerous occasions, I received words of encouragement from him, especially when obstacles seemed overwhelming. It has been a personal blessing to have him in the diocese these six years. He will continue to use his talents within the Archdiocese of Dubuque. He will continue to make the Fiat voluntas tua.

, member of the diocesan Review Board and Pastoral Council:

  1. To

    Evangelization was front and center during Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula’s episcopacy. He took Pope Francis’ call from “The Joy of the Gospel” seriously. He constantly reached out to those on the peripheries, listened with an open mind and heart and asked all the faithful to do the same. His actions and priorities were geared towards building a living, loving Church and were a response to our Christian mission, which is not to act as gatekeepers but to joyfully accept God’s love and to bring Christ to others by being Christ to others.

  2. I will most remember Archbishop-elect Zinkula’s humility, his devotion to his brother priests and to his flock and his pastoral approach of kindness and mercy. He was not afraid to seek the counsel of experts or to listen to opposing views. He took on many unpleasant tasks and did not shy away from criticism. In times of crises, he was steadfast and sincere. And, from what I witnessed, he truly welcomed all. 

Father Dominic

Fr. Nguyen

, parochial vicar of Des Moines County parishes:

  1. He is a gentle shepherd with the “smell of the sheep.” He loves to spend time with people. He would pay all of his attention to those who are conversing with him. He is very close to his priests.
  2. I will remember his gentleness, sincere humility and closeness to me as a seminarian and priest. He is a true spiritual father to me in my priesthood. I will also remember how he treated my family and people, both adults and children, in my hometown in Vietnam with sincere respect and gratitude. While it is sad to see the Archbishop-elect go, I am sure the Dubuque Archdiocese is receiving a good shepherd.

Sister Jan

Sr. Cebula

, president of the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton:

  1. (1): Having two “rounds” of listening sessions, first for Vision 20/20 and then for the Diocesan Synod in which all the people of God were invited to participate. (2): The example of going to the peripheries; having Mass in prisons, accompanying immigrants, international travels, etc., even riding RAGBRAI.
  2. Bishop Zinkula is an example of what Pope Francis means by being a person of encounter. Bishop Zinkula is genuinely interested in each person and listens with curiosity. He is humble and has a good sense of humor.

Sister Johanna

Sister Rickl

, president of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Davenport:

  1. I think the bishop has consistently demonstrated a commitment to being with and listening attentively to those on the “periphery” of society. His willingness to meet people where they are and as they are, is essential to nurturing the honest dialogue necessary if church leaders are to truly accompany individuals and groups in their real life challenges. The commitment of the diocese to the Net Zero emissions goal is a very important component of the Church’s call to join others working to safeguard our common home, Planet Earth, for future generations. The prayer, study, listening and discerning that went into the recently released document on pastoral accompaniment of sexual and gender minorities is another demonstration of trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit while seeking pathways of unity and justice.
  2. Bishop Zinkula’s humble, friendly openness makes for ease of relationship building, opening paths of compassion and collaborative ministry that benefit all communities. I have enjoyed and cherish the experience of having a caring, supportive friend in both good and challenging times. My lasting impression is of a “man of God” who strives to embody God’s love.

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