It was 3 p.m. Saturday on Palm Sunday weekend when Bishop-elect Thomas Zinkula got a message from Washington, D.C., that changed his life.
The rector of St. Pius X Seminary in Dubuque recounted the story of how he learned of his next assignment at a news conference on Wednesday at the St. Vincent Center in Davenport. It was hosted by Bishop Martin Amos, outgoing leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport.
Monsignor Zinkula was leading a retreat of seminarians when they took a break. While some of the men played Ultimate Frisbee, Zinkula spent his time walking and jogging. He returned to the retreat to find he had a message from the nuncio, or the representative of Pope Francis, in Washington, D.C., offering him the job in Davenport.
“I wanted to think about it and pray about it,” Zinkula said, adding he had thought he would lead a quieter life in the parish communities before retiring in the next several years.
“Well, are you at least leaning to it?” Zinkula said the nuncio asked him.
The monsignor agreed to the request, said he “has a lot to learn” in the new job, but he’ll be ready.
“I think you’ll survive it,” Amos told him at the news conference.
Zinkula will become the ninth leader of the diocese. Amos, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, took over leadership of the diocese in 2006.
Amos announced Wednesday that his retirement had been accepted by the Vatican. He will continue as apostolic administrator of the diocese until Zinkula is installed and takes over the leadership position on June 22.
Amos turned 75 years old in December, and under Vatican rules, was eligible for retirement. He and those in the diocese have prayed for the past four months as he has awaited the naming of a new bishop. In part, he prayed for a new bishop "who will please you by his holiness and will show us your watchful care."
The news conference also occurred on Zinkula's birthday — 60 years ago on April 19, 1957, in Mount Vernon. After attending high school in Mount Vernon, he earned a degree from Cornell College, also in that city. He has a law degree from the University of Iowa and worked for three years as an attorney.
"I'm a little anxious," Zinkula said at the news conference, "but I'm a lot excited."
He plans to focus on meeting the people of the diocese and take the new duties one day at a time, one step at a time.
Zinkula presided over an upbeat news event, cracking jokes and providing plenty of background information.
Many stumble over pronouncing his name, he said, suggesting "Dracula" rhymes with "Zinkula."
"And we both wear black," he said.
His family immigrated from Bohemia in 1854 and settled in Iowa City. The family eventually moved a few miles north, to the Mount Vernon area, and Zinkula grew up on a farm as one of eight siblings.
He looks to the Catholic church teaching and traditions while making decisions, he said. While participating in sports in high school and college, he entered the dating scene for a time. Zinkula was 28 years old when he felt a strong call to the priesthood.
His varied background, including a stellar high school and college football career, informs his life, he said, noting the law has taught him to be a good critical thinker.
The monsignor said he has a lot to learn, but, citing his athletic background, will take a "team approach" to making decisions and be both collaborative and consultative.
Zinkula said although he realizes there is a shortage of priests, he also sees a bright future.
"There are more and more solid guys looking at this," he said, adding that at the same time, fewer Catholics actually attend Mass and show passion for the faith.
Priest burnout might be an issue to some, but Zinkula cited studies that show 95 percent of priests love their career choice. He also accepts that priests now come from different places or careers.
Amos plans to return to Cleveland after Zinkula's June 22 installation "so I'm not in the way," he said. He owns a cottage in Ohio with a priest friend and plans to help out as needed in that diocese.
The bishop lived in metropolitan Cleveland all his life, until 2006 when he moved to Davenport. He's returned only two or three times in the past 11 years.
Although he hadn't met Zinkula until this week, Amos described the monsignor as "down to earth" and a "really good fit for Davenport." His belief is that the Holy Spirit informs people and makes sure they are where they need to be.
"He's the right one, at the right time," he said.