Newly named Iowa bishop says he’s ‘a little anxious, but a lot excited’

DAVENPORT, Iowa (CNS) — Msgr. Thomas R. Zinkula wondered whether a phone message from the apostolic nuncio April 8 might be a prank.

The rector of St. Pius X Seminary in Dubuque was on retreat with seminarians and knows that they can be pranksters.

It wasn’t a prank, he learned after returning the call. The nuncio asked Msgr. Zinkula if he would serve as ninth bishop of the Diocese of Davenport. “Could I think about it, pray about it?” he asked the nuncio. “Are you leaning toward saying yes?” the nuncio asked hopefully.

Pope Francis has named Msgr. Thomas R. Zinkula, a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, to be bishop of Davenport. Bishop-designate Zinkula, pictured in an April 19 photo, succeeds retiring Bishop Martin J. Amos, who is 75. (CNS photo/Lindsay Steele, The Catholic Messenger)

Bishop-designate Zinkula repeated that story for chancery staff, diocesan priests and the news media April 19, his 60th birthday and the date for the official announcement of his response to the nuncio: “Yes.”

“I’m not one who likes to be the center of attention,” Bishop-designate Zinkula confessed during a chancery staff meeting that preceded the news conference at St. Vincent Center, headquarters for the Davenport Diocese. “I’m a little anxious, but a lot excited.”

A standout athlete and student in high school and college, he went on to become an actuary and a lawyer before entering the seminary. Bishop-designate Zinkula was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Dubuque in 1990, serving in parish, tribunal and leadership roles. He said he likes adventure, new challenges and has a sense of curiosity.

He admitted to feeling humbled at being selected to follow in the footsteps of the apostles and of Bishop Martin J. Amos. The Vatican has accepted the resignation of Bishop Amos, who is 75, the age at which bishops are required to submit their letter of resignation to the pope. Bishop Amos will serve as apostolic administrator until Bishop-designate Zinkula is ordained and installed as the Davenport Diocese’s bishop June 22 at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Bettendorf.

“It is with joy and great pleasure that I introduce you to the answer to our prayers, the answer to my prayers!” Bishop Amos said at the news conference.

“Thank you for coming to help me celebrate my 60th birthday today,” Bishop-designate Zinkula quipped. He then explained how to pronounce his last name: “Think of Dracu-la and Zinku-la. He wears black and I wear black.”

Bishop-designate Zinkula has roots in the Davenport Diocese. His great-great grandparents emigrated from Bohemia and settled in the Iowa City area. His great-grandparents were married at St. Mary Catholic Church in Iowa City. He was baptized in the Davenport Diocese at a mission church near Mount Vernon. Two of his eight siblings graduated from St. Ambrose College (now university) in Davenport. Asked about his favorite football team, he said without missing a beat: “St. Ambrose.”

One reporter asked whether he was liberal or conservative. He responded that he sees everything from the eyes of the Catholic Church and its teachings, which straddle the political divide. Another reporter asked about the bishop-designate’s goals and the challenges he perceives. “I still need to learn a lot,” he said. He described his management style as collaborative and consultative.

One area he endeavors to learn more about is ministering to Spanish-speaking Catholics. Responding to a question from the diocesan coordinator of Multicultural Ministry, Bishop-designate Zinkula said he does not know how to speak Spanish, and hasn’t worked extensively with Hispanic populations. “It’ll be new for me, but I’m open to it.”

He said he loves getting to know people from different cultures, even if he doesn’t have firsthand experience working with them. Early in his priesthood, the Bishop-designate hoped to do mission work south of the border, but was called to a different position before he was able to do so. “I vicariously lived through friends who were ministering in different cultures.”

During a prayer service with the diocesan priests, he was asked about his episcopal motto. He said he’s leaning toward “Thy will be done,” from the Lord’s Prayer. He looks forward to being ordained June 22, the feast day of St. Thomas More, who was a lawyer, as was Bishop-designate Zinkula.

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