Monsignor John Folda, to be ordained today as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo, is the first new U.S. bishop named by the new pope, Francis, said the Rev. Jeffrey Eickhoff.

Monsignor John Folda, to be ordained today as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo, is the first new U.S. bishop named by the new pope, Francis, said the Rev. Jeffrey Eickhoff.

At 51, Folda also will be one of the youngest of the nearly 300 U.S. bishops.

After a dozen years working with and for Folda at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, Neb., Eickhoff began June 1 as Folda’s successor heading the seminary. He’s one of about 60 priests from the Diocese of Lincoln expected to take part today in the Mass of ordination when Folda becomes bishop of Fargo, consecrated in St. Mary’s Cathedral downtown by Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Folda’s predecessor in Fargo, will take part in the Mass, too.

Eickhoff spoke for Folda, who was not available for interviews most of Tuesday.

The bishop-elect moved into the bishop’s residence Saturday night and walked around the lawn Tuesday speaking with Chancellor Luke Meyer. Folda hosted a dinner Tuesday for visiting bishops and priests at a local hotel.

He was expected to meet and greet people Tuesday night after a vespers service.

Greeted by many

Lela Grim came to the vespers service Tuesday from an hour away in Valley City and will return today for the ordination Mass.

“We have been waiting for a bishop for quite awhile,” she said. “We have been praying the Lord would give us a good shepherd, and we were excited to see that will be.”

That made it a day of joy and of answered prayer, said Aquila, turning to speak directly to Folda during his homily.

“I pray my dear brother you will have the heart of a good shepherd,” and urged him to follow the example of Mary in doing what God called her to do.

Members of the Spirit Lake Sioux and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa gave Folda gifts during the service, which drew about 850, including more than 150 priests and bishops.

David “Doc” Brien, former chairman of the Turtle Mountain band, handed Folda a willow basket and a toy-sized ox cart, used by French and Indian traders in the mid-19th century when Father George Belcourt traveled with the tribe, and hunted buffalo with them, while serving as their priest.

“We can’t take Bishop Folda hunting buffalo, but we can take him fishing and deer hunting,” Brien said.

Conservative diocese

The same day, April 8, that Folda was named bishop-elect in Fargo, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Michael Jackels of Wichita, Kan., to be archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa.

It’s notable both Folda and Jackels were ordained priests in the Lincoln diocese, church watchers, including Eickhoff, have said.

The Lincoln diocese has the reputation of being perhaps the most conservative diocese in the nation.

It is, for example, the only U.S. diocese that does not allow girls, as well as boys, to serve at altar during Mass. Most parishes and dioceses worldwide are with the Lincoln diocese on the issue.

At the same time, women hold many leadership roles in the Lincoln diocese, especially in school administration, Eickhoff said. The Lincoln diocese, and Folda himself, see it as not so much about being “conservative,” but about being faithful to Christ and to the teaching of the church, Eickhoff said.

The process of selecting bishops takes months and involves several levels of church leaders from the diocese to Rome, so the process of appointing a new Fargo bishop no doubt began before Francis replaced Pope Benedict XVI, Eickhoff said.

“But whether Pope Benedict would have made the same choice as Pope Francis, only God knows,” Eickhoff said.