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Helmut Schmidt, Published June 17 2013

Fargo bishop-elect to be active in pro-life, educational issues

FARGO – Bishop-elect John Thomas Folda said he will be a leader in the region’s right-to-life movement and in furthering religious education in the Catholic Diocese of Fargo.

Folda said Monday his leadership style and public persona may differ from the outspoken former Fargo bishop, now Archbishop Samuel Aquila, but they share many goals.

“I know that he (Aquila) was at the forefront of the right-to-life, pro-life movements here in North Dakota. I anticipate that I’ll be just as active in that area as I can be, perhaps just as active as Bishop Aquila is. It’s a priority,” Folda said as he met with media at the Bishop’s Residence.

“A bishop has a responsibility to be a public person. I’ll be as public as I need to be and as I can be,” Folda said.

The 51-year-old Nebraska native has considerable experience in Catholic education as a teacher and counselor and as rector of St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, Neb., since 1999.

Folda comes to the Fargo Diocese as plans to increase the number of Catholic elementary schools are in the works.

“I’m certainly going to be a cheerleader for that,” he said. A Catholic education “really has an impact on the whole life of a diocese.”

Folda cautions that he has a learning curve to cope with before he decides what areas of the diocese need attention. That includes looking at the diocese’s ongoing studies of smaller parishes, and decisions on how priests will cover areas with dipping populations.

“I don’t have any specific plans at this point to close parishes or to open new ones, but you always have to look where your people are, and you always have to look at the priests that you have available to serve those people, and where you can most effectively assign them or use them best,” Folda said.

He said he’ll consult with priests and the diocese’s faithful before making major decisions.

“Certainly, it’s not going to be dictates from the top down without any kind of consultation. I think the church requires a certain kind of consultation on a whole host of different fronts,” Folda said.

Folda, who will be ordained and installed as bishop Wednesday, said Fargo feels like his Nebraska home: flat, open Plains, few hills and a lot of farms and agriculture.

“Beautiful country to live,” he said. “I never expected my life or my priesthood to bring me to North Dakota, but I’m happy it did. I’m very, very happy to be here, and I’m very much at peace.”

Folda was born Aug. 8, 1961 in Omaha, Neb., the youngest of three children.

On May 27, 1989, Folda was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Lincoln. He served as president of the National Association of College Seminaries from 2008 to 2010. On Oct. 10, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI named him “Chaplain of His Holiness” with the title of monsignor.

On April 8, Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Fargo. He will be the eighth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo.

If you go

What: Solemn Vespers ceremony

When: 7 tonight

Where: Sts. Anne & Joachim Catholic Church, 5202 25th St. S., Fargo

Info: Public reception to follow

What: Mass of Episcopal Ordination and Installation

When: 2 p.m. Wednesday

Where: The mass will be held at the Cathedral of St. Mary in downtown Fargo. However, the cathedral's first floor and basement seats were allocated by ticket and are filled. Overflow seating is available to view the mass in the Celebration Hall at First Lutheran Church, 619 Broadway, Fargo

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583