DUBUQUE – They might call him names like “The Boss-man,” “FTZ,” and “The Zinkster” now.
But in just a few short months, his seminarians will have to refer to him by a whole new title: the Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport.
It was Palm Sunday weekend when Reverend Monsignor Tom Zinkula looked at his phone and saw a missed call from Washington D.C. It was Anuncio, the Pope’s representative for the United States.
“These seminarians are practical jokers,” instantly thought Zinkula.
But it was true: The Pope had extended an offer unlike any other. And by the end of the weekend, Zinkula had accepted it.
He would become the next Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport.
“The first week is sort of surreal and hard to wrap your mind around this whole thing,” he noted.
Yet, it didn’t come without the realization of what this new position would mean.
“And then the reality sunk in, and I started grieving pretty hard,” said Zinkula, noting this new job would mean he wouldn’t get to interact with all the people he sees now.
“It’s not that far away, but I won’t be…seeing these guys ordained, watching them become priests and grow into their priesthood.”
His seminarians feel the sting, too.
They often note his remarkable love for the men he serves. “When I first entered seminary…I just needed to call him up and tell him I was coming …[I] ended up having an hour-long conversation [with him],” said Michael Becker, a seminarian of Zinkula’s at St. Pius X Seminary in Dubuque.
“He was just the most compassionate man that I could see or just hear over the phone. And he’s carried that through my two years here.”
Chris Stoker, another one of Zinkula’s seminarians, touched on what the rector leaving means to the seminary.
“A lot of us, in very different ways, will all miss him a lot.”
Yet, nevertheless, they also understand the incredible opportunity and chance for impact the Bishop-elect has. And so does Zinkula.
“I like adventures, I like meeting new people, I like new challenges. I’m excited about that.”
In talking to Zinkula, it’s hard to argue against his humility. He definitely wouldn’t be the one to tell you he’s the man for the job.
But his seminarians would.
“[He’s] a holy man, but also someone very human, someone you can joke around with,” smiled Stoker.
Stories of hiking trips, bed bugs, and even chocolate milk come out as the seminarians recall their favorite memories with the Bishop-elect.
But along with those experiences come the memories of a rector who expressed nothing but care for his seminarians.
“He really embodies what it means to be a father and to be a pastor, to be a shepherd of people,” said Becker.
“The people of Davenport, they’re going to be lucky.”