Back in June, I made the prediction that Bishop Samuel Aquila of the Diocese of Fargo was to be named coadjutor of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis within short order. I was wrong and I apologize.
But though my prediction was wrong, both in person and in time, I am quite happy to say that I really don't care that I'm wrong. Today, the Holy See announced that Bishop John Nienstedt of New Ulm has been appointed as coadjutor. This is great news.
In October of 2005, I had the pleasure of having dinner with the new archbishop at the Catholic Medical Association Conference in Portland, Ore. (see his talk here). I also had a chance to meet Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix at that same conference.
In an elevator ride, I told Bishop Olmsted how impressed I was with what he was doing with all the obstacles he had to overcome. But he would hear none of it. The difficulties he encountered, he said, were nowhere near as tough as what other bishops had. That surprised me given the fact that his immediate successor had been arrested, charged and convicted of a felony, that the former vicar general (who, by the way, had established a very popular youth program) had been arrested for sexual misconduct, and that the bishop had open rebellion on his hands involving a sizable number of priests.
But no, he said, those problems were nothing. He had priests and seminarians and the diocese had a fair amount of money. Compare that to someone like Bishop Nienstedt, he said, who had no money, no seminarians, hardly any priests (42 priests for 82 parishes), and where respect for the priesthood had gone out the window in favor or laywomen or nuns running the parishes (my words, not his). Now that, he said, was someone to look up to.
Archbishop Nienstedt has not had it very easy given the way his diocese was left in shambles by his predecessor, Bishop Raymond Lucker. But in the six years he's been there, he has begun to change it without much open rancor. Of course, the National Catholic Reporter went after him since Bishop Lucker was one of NCR's patron saints. But other than that, he's been able to carry out his ministry with a fair amount of calm.
Moving from the most rural diocese in the country to one with somewhere between 646,000 and 830,000 Catholics (depending on who you talk to -- the new coadjutor says the former, the StarTribune says the latter and the Pioneer Press says 750,000) and being made the Metropolitan of the province is quite a change in responsibility. May God give him the strength and courage he's going to need to handle all of his duties and the opposition he will necessarily face when he carries them out.