By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Bishop-elect Thomas Zinkula arrived at the St. Vincent Center carrying a garment bag with his new ceremonial vestments. “It’s dress-up day!” he joked as he strode to the third-floor office of Deacon Frank Agnoli, the diocese’s director of liturgy. The bishop-elect wanted a few tips on how to wear his new finery in preparation for his official photo session that afternoon at Big Ed’s Studio and Gallery north of Davenport.
On that Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend, Bishop-elect Zinkula was still trying to wrap his mind around being named bishop of the diocese that neighbors his home diocese, the Archdiocese of Dubuque. The Vatican announced his appointment April 19, his 60th birthday. He will be ordained and installed as Ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport today.
While the ceremonial vestments are a little outside of his comfort zone, the bishop-elect believes God has prepared him along the way to serve the Diocese of Davenport as its leader. Farm boy, college scholar/athlete, actuary, lawyer, pastor, regional vicar, seminary rector — all of these roles have shaped this shepherd. As have prayer, sacraments and spiritual reading.
“He’s a phenomenal listener,” observes Mary Lou Ball, director of administrative services for Holy Spirit Parish in Dubuque where Bishop-elect Zinkula previously served as pastor. She said he was instrumental in bringing together the three parishes that became Holy Spirit in 2011. His background helped hone his listening and negotiating skills, she believes. “He found he really needed to listen thoroughly to people, to hear what they were trying to say, but couldn’t put into words,” she observed.
Her observations dovetail with Bishop-elect Zinkula’s description of his management style. “I’d see myself as a servant leader,” he said. “You work together: collaborate, communicate, consult, consensus; that’s the ideal.”
Asked how he is preparing for his new role, Bishop-elect Zinkula said he planned to read documents, both reflective and practical, on the ministry of a bishop. His previous role as a regional vicar in the Archdiocese of Dubuque also provided insight. Lived experience, ultimately, is the key. “You prepare as much as you can prepare. It’s the same way with marriage; it’s the same way with being a priest, with being a pastor, a rector. All of this is important. It’s foundational.”
Back at the St. Vincent Center, Bishop-elect Zinkula is trying to figure out how to attach his three-section magenta sash to his black cassock. Dress rehearsal has been moved to the roomier office of the Chancellor, Deacon David Montgomery. Also sitting in on dress-up day are Bishop Martin Amos, the bishop-elect’s predecessor, and Emily Pries, the bishop’s executive secretary. She pays close attention just in case the bishop-elect encounters a vestment snafu at Big Ed’s.
Bishop-elect Zinkula is more comfortable with the idea of wearing a pectoral cross because his features Christ the Good Shepherd carrying a lost sheep, as does the pectoral cross that Pope Francis wears. The bishop-elect doesn’t care for big rings; however, his bishop’s ring with the amethyst stone conveys nuptial symbolism. It is a sign of his wedded commitment to the church.
Jesus is the bridegroom and the church is his bride. “We (priests) are in persona Christi. And that’s how I approach my ministry, especially with parish ministry,” he said. It’s a love affair with the people of God.
The bishop-elect’s outlook on ministry left a lasting impression on Holy Spirit pastoral council member Mike Dodds. The priest and parishioner were talking over dinner about the best ways to communicate with people. “He said we need to speak from a place of love,” Dodds recalled. “That has stuck with me, always.” He strives to live that advice in his relationships with his wife and children, at work and in his encounter with others.
At the photo studio, Big Ed Schneckloth cracks jokes and tells stories to put the bishop-elect at ease and to nurture a natural smile. “Just a hint of happy,” Big Ed encourages the bishop-elect, who is standing beside a tall, drape-covered table with his arm resting on the top. Next he’s asked to stand, posing against a wall, and then to sit in an antique bishop’s chair. Two-thirds of the way into the photo shoot, Bishop-elect Zinkula is telling stories and cracking jokes. He’s more relaxed. The photo shoot, he declares, “is a little better than the dentist’s!”
A bulletin cover that all parishes were invited to print June 18 features the smiling Bishop-elect Zinkula wearing his black cassock and scarlet zucchetto. He appears at ease. The message on the cover reads: “It will be a humble privilege and honor to serve you as your next bishop. I look forward to walking with you deeper and deeper into the mystery of God and entering more and more fully into his kingdom. Let’s pray for one another and for the Diocese of Davenport.”