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Pope appoints Eielson AFB chaplain to become bishop of Fairbanks Diocese

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
During a press conference Nov. 8, it was announced Pope Francis has appointed Chaplain (Maj.) Chad Zielinski, the 354th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain, as the new bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska.

Zielinski is scheduled to be ordained Dec. 15 at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.

"I was very shocked and humbled to be chosen by the Holy Father," Zielinski said. "I'm looking forward to the new venture and challenges, but by the grace of God and the talents of the people around me the transition should be smooth."

According to Chaplain (Col.) Dondi Costin, the Pacific Air Forces command chaplain, this is the first time an active-duty Airman has been chosen for a position of this magnitude.

"Chaplain Zielinski is an extraordinary officer who has served in a series of high-profile positions during his career, including ministry to cadets at the United States Air Force Academy and serving as the face of the Chaplain Corps on the Air Force Recruiting Service team," Costin said. "More importantly, he's served alongside warriors in combat when and where our nation needed him the most. Father Zielinski represents the very best our Air Force has to offer, and although I hate to see him leave active duty, I'm thrilled for those in the Diocese of Fairbanks who will benefit from his humble, visionary, servant leadership.

"Thankfully, a large number of those beneficiaries belong to our military family, and I know for certain they'll be in the best of hands," Costin added. "I'm equally grateful that Chaplain Zielinski has been granted the opportunity to continue serving Eielson (AFB) Airmen as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve. As Bishop of Fairbanks, he'll have the best of both worlds -- and so will we."

Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz, the Archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska, who has served as Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Fairbanks since November 2013, praised Zielinski's selection as bishop.

"Bishop Elect Zielinski exemplifies many of the qualities needed to serve the people of the Diocese of Fairbanks," Schweitz said. "He has learned to work with people from all backgrounds, and do so under the stresses of war. Yet he is also humble and prayerful. I understand why the Holy Father chose him as a servant leader for Fairbanks."

Zielinski's fondness of Alaska is apparent in his immersion into the community, participating in many outreach programs and in the local Catholic Church.

"I've very much enjoyed my two years at Eielson (AFB) and extended a year already hoping to be able to serve here in a larger capacity," he said. "This new appointment fits right in with my desires to stay and enjoy local opportunities. I absolutely relish the people with their warmth and hospitality. The community and Eielson leadership alike have supported me completely and I can't thank them enough."

After serving four years as an enlisted Airman, the Alpena, Mich., native attended Mount Angel Seminary, St. Benedict, Oregon, graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy in 1989.

He later earned a Master of Divinity degree from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit in 1996.

He was ordained a priest for the Catholic Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, in 1996 and was granted permission to serve as a military chaplain after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The Bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord said he is inspired by Zielinski's faithfulness, his humility and his devotion.

"Father Chad is an avid fisherman," Bishop Steven J. Raica said. "Our Lord seemed to favor fishermen when he called his first disciples Peter, Andrew, James and John. They responded with a resounding 'Yes!' to our Lord's invitation, 'Follow me!' Now Father Chad has heard this invitation from the successor of Peter, Pope Francis, to join him on a unique mission as the Bishop of Fairbanks. Father Chad has responded with his resounding, 'Yes!'"