Bishop Donald Kettler of Fairbanks, Alaska, appointed Bishop John Kinney’s successor

Categories: Around the Diocese

Nov. 7 installation for South Dakota-raised alum of St. John’s

Sept. 27, 2013, edition
By Bob Zyskowski

The wait is over.

Bishop John Kinney’s retirement will soon be official, and Bishop Donald Kettler will be moving from Fairbanks, Alaska to become the bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud on Nov. 7.


A live streaming video feed on the website of the Diocese of St. Cloud carried the press conference at which Bishop Donald Kettler, center, was introduced as the next bishop of St. Cloud. At right, Vicar General Robert Rolfes joins the applause. Paul Middlestaedt / For The Visitor

Pope Francis accepted Bishop Kinney’s resignation — one he tendered 14 months earlier — on Sept. 20 and at the same time named Bishop Kettler to succeed him.

It’s been a long-waited appointment, acknowledged Bishop Kinney, 76, who was required by church law to submitted his resignation when he turned 75.

That was in June 2012.

As recently as last month at a retirement party for one of the diocesan staff Bishop Kinney had teased, “I have a bit of trouble with this. I thought I was first in line.”

In a statement read at the press conference at which Bishop Kettler was introduced to the media and the diocesan pastoral staff, Bishop Kinney said, “As much as I have been anxiously awaiting this word, I confess I have also been on edge about this day for I truly love this diocese and I have been joyful at being your bishop. But I also know it is time, given my age and health, for a new and fresh successor of the apostles.”

The bishop’s statement was read aloud, however, by Father Robert Rolfes, vicar general of the diocese, because Bishop Kinney was hospitalized at the time and remains so.

Visiting Bishop Kinney in the hospital was one of the first things Bishop Kettler did when he arrived in St. Cloud.

Holy Spirit at work

Introduced at his first press conference in St. Cloud by Father Rolfes on behalf of Bishop Kinney, the 68-year-old Bishop Kettler spoke without notes about his appointment, about his 11 years as the leader of the last mission diocese in the United States, and about his style of ministry before answering questions from the media.

“Eleven years ago when I was asked by Pope John Paul II to serve as bishop, I said yes fearfully but also with a lot of gratitude,” Bishop Kettler recalled. He said he responded yes to the appointment in St. Cloud “with gratitude and with some intrepidation.” Knowing the Holy Spirit is “working behind the scenes” in the appointment of bishops, he said, “Why should we be afraid?”

Bishop Kinney was on the same wavelength.

“What thrills me is the selection of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has made for the next bishop of St Cloud,” Bishop Kinney noted. “Surely the Holy Spirit has been at work seeking out for us a true pastor and a bishop who loves and serves the poor. Our prayers have truly been answered.”

Bishop Kettler, who was born in Minneapolis but raised in Sioux Falls, S.D., was ordained for the Sioux Falls diocese and served as a priest there. He was rector of the cathedral and a pastor before being appointed Bishop of Fairbanks in 2002.

“They’ve been wonderful years in Fairbanks,” Bishop Kettler said. “The 22 hours of darkness in the winter months time can be a little bit difficult. But the chance to meet and get to know many different cultures was a special blessing for me. People have been living these cultures for up to 10,000 years. That has been a fascinating experience for me.”

A double Johnnie

While he was a neophyte about Alaska before serving there, that’s not the case with Minnesota or with the Diocese of St. Cloud.

After high school he attended the Crosiers’ minor seminary in Onamia, then went to St. John’s University in Collegeville, graduating in 1966 from the college and four years later from the seminary-school of theology.

Asked about his plans for the St. Cloud Diocese, Bishop Kettler quipped, “I don’t want to mess things up. Things are going well here. I would like to support it and encourage it.”

He said he enjoys the role of pastor, visiting with people and getting to know them and their needs and concerns.

He pointed to rural life issues as an obvious challenge, but more of a priority for him is “trying to bring an enlivened sense of church” to the people of the diocese.

In Fairbanks he had to deal with sexual abuse cases — in fact they forced the diocese into bankruptcy — and he called the abuse “a terrible thing,” adding, “There was no excuse, and all I can say is I hope we have turned the corner and that we will take care of our young people like we ought to.

“The church was failing in an area that was essential: healing. Now I hope the church can be an instrument of healing.”

Again responding to a question, Bishop Kettler said, “I stand for and I endorse what the church has been saying about same-sex marriage. But that’s not where I begin. I want to be a former of relationship, first. Then we can talk about other things.”

Asked his thoughts about Pope Francis, the bishop couldn’t be more pleased with what he hears and reads from the pontiff.

“He supports the things I want to do —form relationships with people. He doesn’t want us to only look out the doors [of the church] at the people. He wants us to get out with them.

“He’s been affirming what I also think is valuable, but on the other hand, I can affirm what he is saying as well.”

Brief stop for now

Bishop Kettler was briefly in the St. Cloud area and was on his way to visit his 100-year-old mother (who still lives in her home in Sioux Falls) before heading back to Fairbanks.

He presided at Mass for the diocesan staff at the pastoral center in St. Cloud, and lunched with the staff before walking across 7th Avenue to tour Cathedral High School.

He met with the diocesan leaders, sat for a lengthy interview with Visitor news teammembers, presided at the regular Saturday evening Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral and greeted parishioners afterward.

He said he has hopes he will be able to make the 4,000-mile trip back again before he is installed as bishop.

That installation, a simple rite that will include Mass, is set for 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. Because of the limited seating capacity of the cathedral, the Installation Mass will be by invitation only, however, the public is welcome to attend a reception to greet the new bishop that will follow the Mass. Details will be forthcoming.