The state’s second-largest Catholic diocese has a new leader with Minnesota roots.
Donald Kettler, of Fairbanks, Alaska, was introduced Friday morning as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud — a rural diocese with 131 parishes that serve about 140,000 Catholics.
Kettler, 68, was born in Minneapolis and raised in Sioux Falls, S.D. He graduated from St. John’s University, in Collegeville, Minn., with a degree in philosophy and earned a master’s of divinity degree from its seminary in 1970.
Coming to the St. Cloud diocese carries “a little bit of a sense of coming home,” Kettler said during a news conference Friday.
As bishop in Fairbanks, Kettler tried to continue the visits to schools and nursing homes that come with being a pastor, he said, according to a video posted by the St. Cloud Times. “That’s what I’ve been about.”
Kettler will start in November. He succeeds longtime Bishop John F. Kinney, who is retiring at age 76. The St. Cloud diocese has been waiting for more than a year to find out whom the pope would pick to replace Kinney.
“We’ve been praying and waiting,” said Father Ralph Zimmerman who has served the St. Cloud diocese for 37 years. “We are ready to welcome him with open arms.”
Because of Kettler’s work with the neighboring Diocese of Sioux Falls, Zimmerman said, “most of us know him already.”
Kettler occasionally visited St. John’s seminary, where he met Abbot John Klassen of St. John’s Abbey “on a number of occasions.” Klassen finds Kettler “open, flexible, pastoral.” They’d talk about faith, but also about the “very down-to-earth, practical realities” of managing a large diocese, Klassen said.
As bishop of Fairbanks, a role he’s held since 2002, Kettler oversees parishes spread over huge, sparsely populated territory, Klassen said. The Fairbanks diocese covers nearly 410,000 square miles, according to its website.
Kettler’s knowledge of Minnesota will help “in a whole lot of ways,” Klassen said. “He has a sense of the spiritual and pastoral landscape.”
Kettler nabbed national headlines in 2008 when the Fairbanks diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to settle dozens of sexual abuse claims. “I am legally and morally bound to both fulfill our mission and pursue healing for those injured,” he told the Associated Press at the time.
The diocese emerged from bankruptcy about two years later, according to the Catholic Anchor newspaper.
Kinney, who served as bishop of St. Cloud since 1995, submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Benedict in June 2012. Catholic bishops are required by church law to submit their resignation at age 75.
The process behind a pick is “a local one, then a national one, then an international one,” said Don Briel, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. Pope Francis makes the final pick.
“What’s interesting to me is his age,” Briel said of Kettler, who turns 69 in November. “After a very long presence of a single person,” he said, a shorter-term bishop could invigorate the diocese.
Friday’s announcement was long awaited. Parishes have been reciting a “Prayer to Receive a New Bishop.”
“In your faithfulness, grant to the Diocese of St. Cloud a shepherd whose watchful care and kindly zeal will continue the good work of his predecessors,” that prayer says.
Because he was in the hospital, Kinney was unable to attend Friday’s announcement. In a statement, he confessed to being “on edge about this day for I truly love this Diocese and I have been joyful at being your Bishop,” he said. “But I also know it is time, given my age and health, for a new and fresh Successor of the Apostles.”