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Experience in Rome marks new bishops

By NCR Staff

In a much-anticipated move, John Paul II named a Detroit auxiliary with considerable experience in Rome to the diocese of New Ulm, Minn., where liberal stalwart Bishop Raymond A. Lucker resigned last November at 73 after a bout with cancerous melanoma.

The pope has also created a new coadjutor bishop in Fargo, N.D., and a new auxiliary in St. Louis who likewise are noted for Roman experience and perspectives.

Bishop John C. Nienstedt, 54, will take over in New Ulm. Nienstedt was appointed an auxiliary bishop for Detroit in 1996, where he had previously served as priest-secretary to Cardinal John F. Dearden and as vicar general.

In 1980 Nienstedt came to Rome to work in the Secretariat of State under Italian prelate Giovanni Battista Re, who is today the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Re told NCR that Nienstedt was a “friend and collaborator” from those years who will “do honor to the United States.”

Sources in Rome say it has long been clear Nienstedt was destined for ecclesiastical success. When he defended his doctoral thesis at the Alfonsiana Academy, for example, two cardinals were in the audience, Americans William Baum and Dearden, along with future Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis.

The bishop also was rector-president of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, where he was an undergraduate student, and pastor of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak and St. Patrick Parish in Union Lake, both Detroit suburbs.

As seminary rector, sources said, Nienstedt blocked a former Rome classmate from a teaching appointment over concerns that he was theologically unsuitable.

The pope also named Msgr. Samuel J. Aquila, rector of St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, to be coadjutor to Bishop James S. Sullivan of Fargo. A coadjutor automatically becomes head of the diocese upon the death or retirement of the incumbent.

Aquila studied liturgy in Rome at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute and is thought to be close to the former president of the institute, Benedictine Fr. Cassian Folsom, who resigned in October under charges that he was leading the institution too far to the right.

Re told NCR that he was especially impressed with Aquila’s intellectual and academic formation.

Aquila was born in Burbank, Calif., on Sept. 24, 1950, and was ordained to the priesthood for the Denver archdiocese in 1976.

On June 19, John Paul also named Msgr. Timothy Dolan an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis. Dolan recently stepped down as rector of the North American College, the American Seminary in Rome. He is known as an affable, effective administrator, and very loyal to church teaching. One seminarian told NCR that he felt the hallmark of Dolan’s tenure was that he ran a “happy house.”

Dolan is a priest of the St. Louis archdiocese and has enjoyed a good working relationship with Rigali. The rector’s job is generally considered a launching pad to higher ecclesiastical office. Both Cardinal James Hickey and military Archbishop Edwin O’Brien once held the post.

Catholic News Service contributed to this report.

National Catholic Reporter, June 29, 2001