Students surprise Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula

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Barb Arland-Fye
First-grader Jeia Ban of Regina Elementary in Iowa City gives Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula a high five following Mass Sept. 27 in the Regina Catholic Education Center gym.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — No hard feelings. Students, teachers, staff, parents and others who filled the Regina Catholic Education Center gym for Mass with Arch­bishop-elect Thomas Zink­ula made that message clear to him in prayer, sacrament, song and surprise. Last fall, the archbishop-elect unintentionally missed celebrating Mass with them.

“I felt bad about that,” he told the gathering of 1,200 students and adults at the beginning of this year’s liturgy Sept. 27, explaining how a scheduling error caused him to be a no-show last year. “I thought, ‘before I leave (mid-October to lead the Archdiocese of Dubuque), I’m going to celebrate Mass at Regina.’”

Five priests of the Iowa City Deanery concelebrated the Mass with him: Fathers Chuck Adam, Jeff Belger, Symphorien Lopoke, Guillermo Trevino and Troy Richmond. Regina students in all grades ensured the liturgy made a lasting impression. Elementary students helped as gift bearers and with other responsibilities. Junior high and senior high students helped with set up, served as readers, altar servers, and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and participated in the choir and orchestra. The students’ surprise after the liturgy moved the archbishop-elect to tears.

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His homily, drawing from the Scripture readings of the day and the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul, illustrated for the students how he has strived in his ministry to live out the Gospel. He shared how he has responded to Pope Francis’ call for priests to go the peripheries, the margins of society, to encounter and accompany people. He has served organizations that provide meals and housing to people in need, participated in celebrations with individuals with intellectual disabilities, celebrated Mass at four prisons in the diocese and interacted with the Hispanic community. He led a committee discerning the pastoral way to accompany people who identify as LGBTQ+ and their families.

“Ministering to the least, the last, the lost and the lonely has been a highlight of my ministry as a priest and now as a bishop,” Archbishop-elect Zinkula said. “It brings joy to my heart, lifts my spirits, keeps me grounded and draws me closer to Jesus. That makes me a better person, a better Christian.”

Speaking directly to the students, he said, “I hope and pray that you will reach out to people who are on the margins, the peripheries. This includes people you already know, people in your family, people who are hurting in some way — maybe they’re sick, old, lonely, afraid or confused, depressed or anxious. Maybe it’ a classmate who’s being picked on and left out.”

“May God help us experience conversion, a change of heart, a transformation like St. Vincent de Paul so that we, too, might understand that there is more to life than money, power, fame, pleasure or possessions. These things won’t bring us everlasting joy, but sharing who we are and what we have with others, will.”

Barb Arland-Fye
Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula, front, and Father Jeff Belger, priest director at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City, distribute Communion to students Sept. 27 at Regina Catholic Education Center during Mass.

The students and their peers from Catholic schools across the diocese shared who they are in a heartfelt, five-minute farewell video for Archbishop-elect Zinkula, shown immediately after Mass. The video featured photographs and video clips of his interactions with students from each diocesan Catholic school, spanning the six years he has led the Davenport Diocese.

Angela Olson, Regina’s head of school, introduced the video. Archbishop-elect Zinkula sat down in a chair at the end of a row of students to watch it. As the images flashed by, he held tight to his crosier and wiped tears from his eyes. The hymn, “I am the Bread of Life,” accompanied the photos and students’ comments. Among the comments: “Hi, my name is Charlie. The moments I’ve had with Bishop Thomas Zinkula, I’ve had the honor of serving with him and he’s really funny. He has a lot of jokes.”

Young students presented him with a blessing bouquet after the video ended. “I love ministering to young people, I always have,” he said, his voice choked with emotion. “It’s been a real joy and a privilege to serve you the last six-plus years, here and in the other schools and parishes.”

Leaving is hard, but “I’ve always tried to say yes to God’s will for me,” he said, noting that his episcopal motto is “Your will be done.” That includes accepting Pope Francis’ appointment to serve as Archbishop of the Dubuque Archdiocese, the place where he began his ministry 33 years ago.

Three students who had reading responsibilities during the Mass shared their impression of the archbishop-elect, who they will miss. He is a “great guy, very passionate about what he believes in, and I admire that a lot,” Regina senior Lili Nelson-Boutros, 18, said. “I think he’s funny, easy to talk to,” senior Colin Baker, 17, said. Sophomore Evan White, 15, noted, “You’re nervous when you first meet him but he’s easy to warm up to and get to know.”


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