By Barb Arland-Fye
Diocesan staff didn’t have to guess what the “big announcement” from Bishop Martin Amos would be about. Everyone figured it had to do with the appointment of his successor. The buzz in the conference room last Wednesday morning, while staffers awaited Bishop Amos’ arrival, focused on guessing his successor’s identity.
At 9 a.m. the bishop and his vicar general, Father Tony Herold, walked into the room with another priest. Diocesan and The Catholic Messenger staff members who were present broke into applause, even before Bishop-elect Thomas Zinkula was introduced.
Our future bishop, a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, seemed shy, but warmed up to his audience after sharing details about himself and taking questions from diocesan staffers. All of us looked for connections with the successor of Bishop Amos, a leader we have come to know, respect and admire for 10-1/2 years.
The Catholic Messenger reporter Lindsay Steele volunteered the first connection. “I think my dad played on the football team with you at Cornell College (in Mount Vernon),” she told Bishop-elect Zinkula. “We’ll have to talk sometime,” he responded.
Diocesan Social Action director Kent Ferris, whose alma mater is Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a rival of Cornell College, had a little fun with that connection. Kent didn’t even have to mention his alma mater when he asked the bishop-elect about his “remedial” education at Cornell – taking “one course at a time.” That was a dead giveaway of the infamous rivalry. The bishop-elect dished it back: “If you can’t go to college, go to Coe.” The response drew laughter. Later, Kent posted on Facebook: “Aside from his obvious qualifications you can read about, Bishop-elect Thomas Robert Zinkula seems quite personable.”
Miguel Moreno, diocesan coordinator of Multicultural Ministry, viewed his connection from a different perspective. Miguel asked the bishop-elect about his familiarity with the Hispanic community. Miguel had been asked the same question — in reverse — about his familiarity with the Anglo community when he arrived in the United States in the late 1990s. Miguel said he is impressed with the bishop-elect’s willingness to learn.
More connections surfaced as the meeting concluded and staffers approached the bishop-elect to introduce themselves. Brian Griffiths, a diocesan maintenance worker, shook the future bishop’s hand and said, “We have two things in common: I come from a family of nine (children) and my favorite cookie is also oatmeal chocolate chip.”
Marriage tribunal secretary Kathy Lantzky asked the bishop-elect if he knew her daughter, Abby, who graduated from Loras College in Dubuque. He serves as rector of St. Pius X Seminary, located on the Loras campus. The bishop-elect wasn’t quite sure, but seemed to be trying to place a name with a face. Kathy said her daughter remembered him and “really liked him a lot.”
Anne Marie Amacher, The Catholic Messenger’s assistant editor, is a graduate of Clarke College (now University) in Dubuque. “Bishop-elect Zinkula served on the board of trustees for more than a decade. Although he came years past my graduation, it was nice to talk with him about being a ‘Clarkie’ and about some of the university’s growth — especially adding a new football program that will be phased in this fall.”
The Catholic Messenger advertising representative Phil Hart recalled attending St. Ambrose College (now University) when the bishop-elect’s older sister, Diane Zinkula, was a student there. “I just remember that (last) name. It’s an unusual name,” Phil said.
I had to share my own “connection” story with Bishop-elect Zinkula, who celebrated his 60th birthday April 19, the day of the big announcement. “My birthday is in April, too,” I said. “You’re just a year older than me.”
The best connection, though, was visual. Bishop-elect Zinkula spotted Bishop Emeritus William Franklin sitting in the back of the room.
The retired bishop was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque and ministered there nearly 40 years before serving as Bishop of the Davenport Diocese (1994-2006).
The bishop-elect knelt on one knee to shake hands with Bishop Franklin, who will be 87 on May 3. Their smiles radiated throughout the room.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)