Priest serving as Air Force chaplain named bishop of Fairbanks, Alaska

Categories: Nation/World

The Visitor

Pope Francis has named Father Chad Zielinski, a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord, Mich., as the bishop of Fairbanks, Alaska.

Bishop-elect Zielinski is currently serving in the Archdiocese for the Military Services at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. He succeeds Bishop Donald Kettler, who was appointed bishop of St. Cloud on Sept. 20, 2013, and installed on Nov. 7, 2013.

The appointment was publicized in Washington Nov. 8 by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, apostolic nuncio to the United States.


Father Chad Zielinski, a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord, Mich.

In a statement marking the announcement, Bishop Kettler said, “It was with much happiness that I learned of the Holy Father’s appointment of Father Chad Zielinski as the new bishop of Fairbanks, Alaska.”

“I came to know Bishop-elect Zielinski when he arrived in Fairbanks in 2012 at Eielson Air Force Base to serve as a chaplain,” he said. “He impressed me with his exemplary service to the base’s military personnel and their families. I also appreciated the cooperative spirit he demonstrated in his work with the diocese and its priests, particularly the pastor serving St. Nicholas Parish in the nearby City of North Pole, Alaska.

“It is a blessing that Pope Francis has chosen a shepherd who already has a deep care and concern for the people of Alaska. I offer my congratulations and prayerful support to Bishop-elect Zielinski and all the people of the Diocese of Fairbanks, which holds a special place in my heart.”

Bishop-elect Zielinski, 50, was born in Detroit and grew up in Alpena, Mich., in the Diocese of Gaylord. He entered the Air Force in 1983, after high school, and while stationed in Idaho, applied for admission to the seminary in the Diocese of Boise City. He completed his studies at Mt. Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Oregon, in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

In 1994, he returned to the Diocese of Gaylord and completed his master of divinity degree at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He was ordained a priest of Gaylord on June 8, 1996. He served as associate pastor for Immaculate Conception Parish in Traverse City, Mich., and in 1998 became pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Empire, Mich., and St. Rita-St. Joseph in Maple City, Mich. He was elected to serve on the presbyteral council in 1999 and became pastor for administrative affairs of the diocesan mission to Hispanics in 2000.

In 2002, Father Zielinski received permission to serve as an Air Force chaplain and has been on active duty since that time. His deployments have included serving troops in war zones in the Middle East, the corps of cadets at the Air Force Military Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and as vocation recruiter for the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

The ordination and installation of Bishop-elect Zielinski is set for Dec. 15 at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.

The Diocese of Fairbanks is the geographically largest diocese in the United States, covering 409,849 square miles in northern Alaska. It has a total population of 164,355, of which 11,008, or 7 percent, are Catholic.