The new bishop of the Diocese of Salina, Kansas is one of the Diocese of Lansing’s own priests — Msgr. Jerry Vincke, who was the pastor of Holy Family in Grand Blanc until he received the call telling him that Pope Francis was naming him as Salina’s new bishop. Elizabeth Solsburg, Vice President and Editorial Director of FAITH interviewed Bishop Vincke before he left for Salina:
What was your reaction to the call you received from Archbishop Pierre, the nuncio (papal envoy to the U.S.) appointing you as Bishop of Salina?
Shock. That’s the word – and maybe also “surreal.” I asked myself, “Is this really happening?” I was serving as spiritual director at the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha for the week, and I got a call on Sunday evening. The nuncio asked if I was sitting down. I said, “No, but I will.”
And then he said the words that were such a surprise, “The Holy Father has selected you to be the bishop of Salina.” I was so stunned that, at first, I thought he said Cheyenne. He had to repeat himself so I understood we were talking about Kansas rather than Wyoming. And I was speechless – Archbishop Pierre laughed and said, “So, will you accept?” I said yes.
I couldn’t sleep that night. This is one of those moments when you know your whole world is being rocked — or changed forever. And I know what that feels like, because so much of my priesthood has been spent in special ministries.
I remember when we worked together at St. Thomas Parish in Ann Arbor, and you were appointed to be the director of Bethany House, the diocesan youth retreat center.
Yes, I was in my second year at St. Thomas and I was settled in and feeling comfortable. Bishop Mengeling came to a Mass we were having for young adults, and afterward, when I told him I was going to a Gabriel Richard High School football game, he said he’d go with me. That was one of those moments like the call from the nuncio, when you know your life is going to change.
When I started at Bethany House, I didn’t feel qualified, but I could feel the Lord working there. I had never done youth ministry, so I had to rely completely on the Lord’s grace, and of course, that was the only way. It was so beneficial.
And then you said ‘yes’ again when you were asked to be the vocation director for the diocese.
Being the vocation director was a wonderful experience; I really enjoyed working with the seminarians and the seminaries. Meeting their families was great. Then I was appointed to serve as a spiritual director at the North American Seminary in Rome. Working at the seminary was a wonderful opportunity to see the universality of the Church. And Bishop Checchio, the rector, was a great leader and influence. He was a great shepherd. Both Bishop Boyea and Bishop Mengeling have been wonderful examples of shepherds too and have been very incredible helpful during this transition. I have experienced their love and fatherhood.
How do you feel about moving from parish life to being a bishop?
I love my parish, and I loved it from day one. I had really enjoyed Rome, but I was happy to come home and become a pastor. The people here are great and down to earth – I felt very at home here. Leaving is not what I expected to happen, but God has his plan, and I am listening to him.
During my last retreat, the passage from the Gospel of John 15:16 kept recurring — I was just looking at it in my retreat journal. In it, Jesus says, “It is not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” Laughs. I guess the Lord was preparing me!
What are you most mindful of as you start your new ministry as bishop?
Getting to know the people, and my brother priests. It’s a big territory. (The Diocese of Salina is nearly six times the size of the Diocese of Lansing geographically) I want to listen to them and love them. I want to be there for them, and get to know their names. I’m a country boy at heart, so I think I’ll feel at home quickly. For the legalities and administration, I’ll be going to what’s fondly called “baby bishop school” at the Regina Apostolorum University in Rome, but the most important thing about being a bishop is to love the people.
When I met you, you had just been ordained. Tell me about that first vocational “yes” —how were you called to the priesthood?
I had four aunts who were Benedictines and I always noticed how very happy they seemed to be in their vocations. Then one day when I was a senior in high school, my girlfriend and I were walking out of Mass, and the pastor, Father John Ederer from the Diocese of Saginaw, asked if I’d ever thought of being a priest. I kind of laughed it off and said no.
After high school, I went to Ferris State University where I was the editor of the school paper. I interviewed a local priest, Father Joe Fix. In the middle of the interview, he just stopped and said, “Have you ever thought about being a priest?” It got me thinking. However, I’d always thought I’d do something with sports as my career.
That’s not surprising — I remember how much of a baseball fan you were.
Right — and still am! And for my degree from Ferris State, I had to do an internship – and I got an internship with the St. Louis Cardinals. I drove an old car with no radio to St. Louis, and this was before the days of cell phones, so I had a lot of time to think and pray. And to listen. I thought the Lord might be calling me to something more than what I had in mind. I enjoyed being with the Cardinals, but I felt as if something was missing.
During the internship, I became friends with the family in whose home I was staying, the Milbergs. Afterward, I called Mrs. Millberg, who worked for the Jesuits, and thanked her for her hospitality. Then I told her I thought God might be calling me to be a priest – it was the first time I’d said it out loud to anyone. And she said, “I knew it!” Of course, given where she worked, I heard from the Jesuits right away. Laughs.
I moved to Ann Arbor for a while for work, but the sense of calling never went away. So I decided to give it a try – and got in touch with the director of vocations, Fr. Mark Inglot, for the diocese. The rest is history. I knew by the end of my first semester in the seminary that it was the right thing for my life — this really was what the Lord was calling me to do. And I got a lot of support in my vocation from Father Charlie Irvin and Father Dave Speicher, who were the priests at St. Francis of Assisi at the time.
New bishops choose mottos for their episcopacy — what is your motto and why did you choose it?
"Rich in mercy." I was very moved when Pope Francis chose me to be a missionary of mercy, and after much prayer, I resonated with the passage in Ephesians 2:4 — “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”
I am so aware of God’s incredible mercy in my life. I know that he loves me even as imperfect as I am. And because of that, I am called to show his mercy to others — to remember that God loves them in the same way he loves me. God desires to be in eternal communion with everyone — and what greater gift could there be?
My favorite book is Father Cantalemessa’s, The Gaze of Mercy. The book ends with, “The world will be saved by God’s mercy.” And what else is there?
I’ve always noticed your prayerfulness and gentleness. How has your relationship with Christ grown through the years of your priesthood?
Prayer has always been something I enjoyed – I’ve always relied on the Lord. I know how weak I am – my relationship with Christ is my first priority. It has to be. And prayer is how I begin my day. When I was at the NAC, my time was pretty scheduled, which is very different from parish life, which is much more chaotic. It was a gift – the availability of time to deepen my prayer life. And that is always growing; I have gotten past the feeling of needing to be perfect for the Lord to love me. I know the Lord is full of love and mercy. People tell me that I smile all the time and I think it’s because I know the Lord loves me, despite all my faults.
Tell us about your family and how they had an impact on your faith.
I am the ninth of ten in my family. My parents both grew up in Catholic families, and faith was an important part of growing up.
So how did they take the news that you were being made a bishop?
I think they were both sad and excited. I’m not going to be able to be home for a lot of things, which will be sad for all of us. And my mom is in assisted living, and I couldn’t reach her on the phone to let her know. Someone had to walk into her room and tell her. Laughs. I was afraid I’d actually give her a heart attack! I really hope she’ll be able to be at the ordination and installation.
What have I not asked that you’d like to tell our readers?
Just that I really love the Diocese of Lansing. The people here have been so supportive, and I’ll miss them.