Pope Francis on Monday named a priest from the Diocese of Lincoln in Nebraska as the newest bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo in North Dakota.
Monsignor John Folda, 51, rector of St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, Neb., since 1999, will become the eighth bishop of the Fargo diocese, which serves more than 130 parishes and 72,000 parishioners in eastern North Dakota. He will be ordained as the Fargo bishop in late June.
Folda said he was grateful to Pope Francis "for his trust and for the example of fatherly care and pastoral zeal" he has shown as pontiff.
"As this is one of his first appointments of a bishop in the United States, it's apparent to me that the well-being of this diocese is very much on his mind," Folda said at news conference Monday. "For that, I think we're all very grateful."
Folda will succeed Samuel Aquila, who left as Fargo bishop last June after a decade in the position to become archbishop of the Archdiocese of Denver. Bismarck Bishop David Kagan has been overseeing administration of the Fargo Diocese since then.
Aquila said in a statement that he offered "my sincere congratulations, my prayers, and my friendship" to Folda, whom he called "a man of deep faith, warm leadership, and unwavering fidelity to the teachings of the Church."
Folda said he was "edified" by the state's position against abortion, which has resulted in the Legislature passing and the governor signing strict new laws aimed at ending the practice.
"North Dakota of course has made national headlines recently because of the strong stand for life that you and your lawmakers have taken in such a public way," he said. "I'm already proud in your commitment to the sanctity of life."
Aquila was outspoken in his views on abortion and other topics, including his opinion that the effects of Nazism, communism and atheism are stronger now than they were 40 years ago. Folda said he would speak out when necessary.
"I'm not intimately familiar with all the statements that Bishop Aquila made while he was here," Folda said. "I doubt very much that there will be any kind of discontinuity or breach between his approach and mine. With any kind of leadership, there are going to be some changes in style, but the substance will be the same."
Folda is a native of Omaha, where he graduated from Archbishop Ryan High School in 1979. He attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he studied architecture and electrical engineering.
Folda attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia and graduated in 1985 with a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy. He continued his theological studies at St. Charles Seminary, where he earned a master of divinity degree in 1988 and a master of arts in theology in 1989.
Page 2 of 2 - He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Lincoln in May 1989. Two years later he was sent to Rome, where he earned a licentiate in sacred theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas.
Folda has worked at numerous churches and schools in the Diocese of Lincoln and has held several positions with the diocese, including director of religious education. He also has served on various councils and committees, including the board of the Nebraska Catholic Conference since 1993. He was president of the National Association of College Seminaries from 2008 to 2010.
In October 2007, Pope Benedict XVI bestowed on him the title of monsignor.
Kagan said the announcement of Folda's appointment was made at noon in Rome, which was 5 a.m. Fargo time.
"We have great news for the diocese of Fargo and out state of North Dakota," Kagan said.