(SNR) - On Monday, April 8, the Feast of the Annunciation, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has appointed a new bishop of the Diocese of Fargo, N.D. Msgr. John Folda, currently rector of Saint Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, will be made the eighth bishop of Fargo June 19.
He is one of the first bishops named by Pope Francis.
"It is certainly an honor to be chosen by him for this role," said Bishop-Elect Folda. "I only hope I can follow the beautiful example of service, simplicity, and joyful faith that he has already shown the world."
Bishop James D. Conley said he is "thrilled to welcome one of our own to the college of bishops… I look forward to working with him as a brother bishop."
John Thomas Folda was born in Omaha in 1961, the youngest of Mabel and the late James Folda’s three children.
"My parents and family really lived our Catholic faith, and it was from them that I first learned the faith and about my relationship with our Lord," Bishop-Elect Folda said.
He is grateful that his parents were able to provide him with 12 years of Catholic schooling during his youth. He attended St. Thomas More Grade School and Archbishop Ryan High School and served at the altar, where he got to know his parish priests very well.
After high school, Bishop-Elect Folda studied architecture and electrical engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Newman Center was instrumental in deepening his understanding of the Catholic faith and God’s calling to the priesthood.
"The priests at the Newman Center encouraged all of us to consider a priestly or religious vocation, and after a certain amount of resistance, I eventually realized that He might be calling me," he recalled.
At the age of 22, Bishop-Elect Folda entered Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy in 1985. He earned his master of divinity degree in 1988 and a master of arts in theology the following year.
He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Lincoln by Bishop Glennon P. Flavin on May 27, 1989.
"Bishop Flavin was a man of great holiness and courage, and the Diocese of Lincoln was blessed by his steady leadership in turbulent times," Bishop-Elect Folda remembered. "He was extremely kind and was known by many to be a wonderful confessor."
After serving for two years as parochial vicar at Cathedral of the Risen Christ and religion teacher at Pius X High School, both in Lincoln, Bishop-Elect Folda was sent to Rome, where he earned a licentiate in sacred theology at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas.
Two years later, he returned to Nebraska, where he was appointed by Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz to a series of varied roles, including pastor, guidance counselor, religion instructor, assistant to the vicar general, director of religious education, co-vicar for religious, master of ceremonies and censor librorum (the diocesan official who reviews texts and grants the nihil obstat, declaring the work free of doctrinal error).
In Bishop Bruskewitz, Bishop-Elect Folda found "a dynamic leader" who was "never afraid to take a risk or swim upstream if he felt it was necessary." He added, "His sense of humor and positive spirit were always encouraging to me."
Following Bishop Bruskewitz’s example, Bishop-Elect Folda has continued to study the riches of the Catholic faith so he can effectively share it with others.
"Being a priest has been more satisfying than I could have imagined," Bishop-Elect Folda recounted. "It is an awesome experience to bring our Lord’s Eucharistic presence to his people and to offer them his forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation."
In October 2007, he was elevated to Chaplain of His Holiness by Pope Benedict XVI, with the title Monsignor. Last year, Bishop-Elect Folda welcomed his friend for more than 20 years, Bishop Conley, to the Diocese of Lincoln.
"Although I’m biased, I believe he is a perfect fit for the Diocese of Lincoln," Bishop-Elect Folda said, noting that he will follow Bishop Conley’s lead in reaching out to young people. "He has also embraced the new evangelization and new media, and I would be wise to do the same!"
As seminary rector for the last 13 academic years, Bishop-Elect Folda said it has been particularly meaningful to work with young men who are discerning their vocational callings to the priesthood.
"It has been a joy to watch them grow in their relationship with God and to help them along the way towards the priesthood," Bishop-Elect Folda said.
He added that his work at the seminary has helped him grow in his own understanding of the priesthood and the Church, and how each man’s experience is unique.
"I hope this experience will help me understand the needs of my priests and my new diocese better," he said. "I know it has heightened my awareness of the importance of priestly vocations, and I intend to do all I can to encourage young men to consider our Lord’s call to them. I will also certainly encourage young women to consider the religious life as well."
Father Jeffrey Eickhoff, academic dean and teacher at St. Gregory the Great, said, "We will sorely miss him here at the seminary where he has been a wonderful leader, but I rejoice for the Church that she has chosen and good and holy priest to be a successor to the Apostles."
While he’s honored to be chosen by the Holy Father for this role, Bishop-Elect Folda is humbled by the prospects of overseeing a diocese.
"Although I have many shortcomings, I will do my best to give the people of Fargo all that I am and all that I have," he promised. "Most importantly, I will try to offer the simple truth and beauty of our faith in Jesus Christ with all its richness. I can assure them of my love and my prayers for them already, and I can hardly wait to meet them."
Bishop Conley is confident in Bishop-Elect Folda’s ability to serve faithfully in Fargo.
"He will be a leader who brings with him a vast experience of pastoral wisdom and clear decision-making," he said. "All of this experience will be invaluable to him as he begins his episcopal ministry in the Diocese of Fargo. Above all, Bishop-Elect Folda will be the kind of leader after the heart of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ."
Bishop Conley complimented his predecessors for making theological formation of priests a high priority.
"The fact that four Lincoln priests have been named bishops in recent years — by three different popes I might add — is a tribute to exceptional preparation and formation of priests in the Diocese of Lincoln…Obviously, this has not gone unnoticed by the Holy See," Bishop Conley said.
Bishop-Elect Folda said he will miss the people of the Diocese of Lincoln.
"I can only say a heartfelt thank you," he said. "I have learned how to be a priest from all of you, and I have no doubt that my years here have in some way prepared me to be a bishop too. I will always be grateful for the kindness, love, patience, and joy that I have experienced among you, and I hope you will continue to remember me in your prayers."
He sees significance in the announcement of his appointment on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, when Catholics around the world celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord and Mary’s acceptance of her role as the Mother of God.
"This is a good reminder to me that God has a great plan for all of us, and it’s exciting to be part of it!" he said.
Q&A: Bishop-Elect Folda Reflects on Appointment
LINCOLN (SNR) – Bishop-Elect John Folda visited with the Southern Nebraska Register about his April 8 appointment as Bishop of Fargo, N.D.
Q: When and how did you find out about your new appointment?
A: I found out on March 26, Tuesday of Holy Week. I was in my office at the Seminary talking with one of our faculty members and happened to answer the phone. It was the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Vigano, who told me that the Holy Father has appointed me to be the next Bishop of Fargo.
Q: What was your reaction?
A: At first I was stunned, and didn’t really know what to say. The Archbishop may have thought for a moment that I hung up on him! I was overwhelmed at this news, but also felt very honored by this appointment. I felt humbled by the magnitude of this responsibility, and by the confidence the Holy Father has placed in me. Although I was conscious right away of all that I would leave behind, I know that the Lord calls us to go forward wherever he leads us. When I told the Archbishop that I accepted the Holy Father’s appointment, I had a great sense of peace.
Q: How do you feel about your upcoming move to Fargo and when will you actually move there?
A: I feel a mixture of excitement and apprehension. The call to go to a new place and to serve the People of God there is exciting and filled with opportunity. I am thrilled to go to Fargo and to become a part of the Church there. I’m also quite aware of my own limitations, so I’m a little apprehensive about taking on the responsibilities of a bishop, especially the spiritual leadership of an entire diocese. But I know God chooses whom He wills, so I’ll just trust that He knows what He’s doing! I also trust that He will lead me and give me the grace I need to carry out the office of Bishop. I will try to visit Fargo again after my appointment, and then will make the final move several days before the ordination date (June 19).
Q: Do you have any connections to North Dakota?
A: I am already acquainted with one priest from Fargo, Msgr. Brian Donahue, whom I met when we were both seminary rectors. He is also a friend of Bishop Conley and several Lincoln priests from their seminary days. This year we also have a seminarian from the Diocese of Bismarck at St. Gregory the Great Seminary, so I have had the opportunity to learn something about North Dakota from him. And I had met Bishop Kagan, the Apostolic Administrator of Fargo, while he was still the Vicar General of the Diocese of Rockford. Bishop Bruskewitz was very familiar with Cardinal Aloysius Muench, a former bishop of Fargo who was originally from Milwaukee. He often spoke of their family friendship and Cardinal Muench’s ministry as a diocesan bishop and diplomat of the Holy See in the mid-twentieth century. I’m sure now he’ll have more stories to tell me about my predecessor! I look forward to meeting as many people in Fargo as I can, and to become part of their diocesan family.
Q: What does your family think of your new appointment?
A: They were very surprised, but also very supportive. My mother lives in Omaha, only a little over an hour’s drive from my present assignment, so I probably won’t be able to visit her as often as she would like. My brother and sister-in-law live in Milwaukee, and my sister and her family live a short distance from Lincoln. Although more distance will separate us, we’re a very close family, and I know we’ll stay close and see each other as often as possible. They have always been supportive in whatever priestly assignment I’ve been given, and I will depend on their support now as well.
Q: The Diocese of Lincoln recently welcomed Bishop James Conley, who was already serving as an auxiliary bishop in Denver. Your predecessor in Fargo, Bishop Samuel Aquila (now Archbishop of Denver), was already coadjutor bishop before the retirement of Fargo’s Bishop James Sullivan. How will your ordination as a bishop differ from their ceremonies, and how will you prepare for your ordination as a bishop?
A: As you said, Bishop Conley and Bishop Aquila were already bishops when they took over their new dioceses. Since I am not yet a bishop, my installation as Bishop of Fargo will center on my ordination as a bishop. This will include the laying on of hands by the bishops in attendance, the prayer of consecration, and the investiture with the miter, episcopal ring, and crosier, or staff. It’s a very ancient and beautiful ritual, and the symbolism is very powerful. As with any ordination, the Church requires that the candidate make a retreat, so I will plan to take a week or so for retreat before the time of my ordination. And of course, these weeks of preparation will also be an occasion for prayer and reflection on the new ministry that I am called to. Certainly, I will also be in regular contact with Bishop Kagan and the diocesan staff to learn all that I can about the Diocese of Fargo.
Q: What apostolates do you see to be a priority for you as bishop?
A: Naturally, I will want to learn more about the needs of the Diocese, but a few issues come to mind immediately. Of course, my first apostolate will be to help people to know Jesus Christ and to welcome Him into their lives. As a pastor, I will try to be a shepherd to the people of the Diocese by teaching the Gospel, celebrating the sacraments, and leading the entire diocesan family towards holiness in Christ. Because of my background in Lincoln, I will certainly be very interested in fostering vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Fargo is blessed to have a great presbyterate and a good number of seminarians, so we’re already very fortunate. I will simply try to build on the good work that is being done there. I will also be interested in Catholic education and formation, so that the Faith can be passed on and become deeply rooted in the hearts of all the faithful. Young people especially need to know the joy of having Christ at the center of their lives, and I will try to reach out to them in any way I can. Family life as it is designed by God is under assault all over our nation today, and I’m sure North Dakota is no exception. I will do whatever I can to support and strengthen family life and to encourage a true and holy living out of the married vocation.
Q: What do you see as the main differences between the Lincoln Diocese and the Diocese of Fargo, and how will those differences impact your ministry?
A: I would rather start by considering the similarities between the Dioceses of Lincoln and Fargo. Both dioceses are in the heartland, located on the Great Plains, so there is a strong rural culture in both places. The city of Lincoln is somewhat larger than Fargo, but from what I can tell they both have a very friendly, welcoming character. Both dioceses are also built around small town and rural parish life, so the transition should be fairly comfortable. I had wonderful experiences as a parish priest at our Cathedral and as pastor of several small town parishes, and I’m sure the same will be true in Fargo. I have also heard again and again about the wonderful priests of Fargo, and I’m sure I’ll find much in common with the great priests we have here in Lincoln. Both Fargo and Lincoln have had good success with priestly vocations, and I hope that is something I can help to continue. I know there is a good family culture in Fargo and a spirit of reverence for the gift of life. There are probably some differences too, but I’ll learn more about those as I spend more time in the Diocese.
Q: In this short time, what have you learned about the Diocese of Fargo, and what are you most looking forward to as you begin your new ministry?
A: I’ve learned some of the diocesan history and some of the current challenges, which are very similar to those we face in Lincoln. I’ve just scratched the surface, and I have a lot to learn! I’m most looking forward to meeting the people and getting to know the priests of the Diocese. I will try to visit as many parishes as possible, and introduce myself to the faithful. I especially want to meet the priests and begin to work with them in serving God’s people. The priests will be my closest collaborators, and I’m anxious to hear of their experiences and their insights.
Q: What do you find most daunting about your upcoming ministry as bishop of Fargo?
A: As a new bishop, it will be a challenge just to get a broad understanding of the life of the Diocese. I’ve had the opportunity to work in the Chancery in Lincoln and to see the "big picture" of diocesan life, so I know how multi-faceted a diocese is. It will take some time to meet the many people who work in the Diocese and to understand the various needs. I will certainly depend on the priests and the diocesan staff to help me get up to speed.
Q: You grew up in Omaha, studied in Rome, served as master of ceremonies, worked in parishes and Catholic schools, and have served as rector of St. Gregory the Great Seminary for nearly 14 years. How have those experiences prepared you to face the tasks of your ministry?
A: I’ve been blessed with a wonderful variety of experiences in my life. I grew up in Omaha, which is a medium-sized city, and I went to school in Lincoln, so I’m definitely a Midwesterner. I also studied theology in Philadelphia and Rome, and it was great to experience the life of the Church in those two places as well. In Rome especially, you become aware of the history of the Church and its tradition and universality. As a priest, I’ve served in parishes and taught in Catholic schools, and this helped me to understand the faith lives and the challenges that our people face in these days. I still keep in contact with former parishioners and students, and I can truly say that they taught me how to be a priest! I also had the opportunity to work closely with Bishop Bruskewitz throughout his years as Bishop of Lincoln, and that was a wonderful blessing. He is energetic, zealous for the faith, and incredibly erudite, so I hope I’ve learned something from him over those years. Especially as his master of ceremonies, I grew in my appreciation for the beauty of the Church’s liturgy and the role of the Bishop as leader of prayer and worship. Despite my fumbles, he was always very patient! And now, for the last six months or so, I’ve also worked with Bishop Conley, whom I’ve know for a number of years. His friendship has been very important to me. For the last fourteen years, I have been rector of St. Gregory the Great Seminary, one of the greatest blessings of my life. It has been a great joy to live and work with prayerful, dedicated and zealous young men who are giving their lives to God with such generosity. My own love for the priesthood has grown through my time with our seminarians, and I will always be grateful for the years I’ve had with them.
Q: How do you feel about leaving the seminary, and the Diocese of Lincoln?
A: I’ve grown very fond of the Seminary and I’ve enjoyed watching it grow over these years. It has truly been my home, and the staff and seminarians have been like a family. I will miss them very much, but I always knew a day would come when I would be given a new assignment and another priest would continue this work. Aside from two years in Rome, my whole priesthood has been in the Diocese of Lincoln, so it will be very hard to leave. I love the priests, religious and faithful people, and I have learned much from them. I am incredibly grateful for my time in Lincoln, and I know we will remain united in prayer and friendship. They will always be close to my heart.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add? Or, what would you like the faithful of the Diocese of Fargo to know about you?
A: Only that I am delighted to be coming to Fargo, and I trust that God will help us grow together in faith. On the personal side, I love music, especially classical music, I like to go for walks, I enjoy working outside, I’m not very athletic but I love to ski, and I enjoy a good movie. I’m sure we’ll get to know each other well before long! We are always blessed when we put our trust in God, and I am excited at the great things he has in store for us. I am already praying for the people of Fargo, and I would ask them to pray for me, too!