HomeNewsArticle Display

Chaplain's 50-year journey to become bishop of Fairbanks diocese

The Rev. Roger L. Schwietz, Archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska, places a miter on the head of Chaplain (Maj.) Chad Zielinski, the 354th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain, ordaining Zielinski the bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic diocese Dec. 15, 2014, at the Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska. Zielinski will be responsible for overseeing Catholic interests in an area the size of Texas, much of which isn't accessible by road. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford)

The Rev. Roger L. Schwietz, Archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska, places a miter on the head of Chaplain (Maj.) Chad Zielinski, the 354th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain, ordaining Zielinski the bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic diocese Dec. 15, 2014, at the Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska. Zielinski will be responsible for overseeing Catholic interests in an area the size of Texas, much of which isn't accessible by road. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford)

Chaplain (Maj.) Chad Zielinski, the 354th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain, prepares for communion after being ordained the bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic diocese Dec. 15, 2014, at the Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska. Zielinski will be responsible for overseeing Catholic interests in an area the size of Texas, much of which isn't accessible by road. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford)

Chaplain (Maj.) Chad Zielinski, the 354th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain, prepares for communion after being ordained the bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic diocese Dec. 15, 2014, at the Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska. Zielinski will be responsible for overseeing Catholic interests in an area the size of Texas, much of which isn't accessible by road. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford)

Chaplain (Maj.) Chad Zielinski, the 354th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain, walks to the stage during a ceremony ordaining him the bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic diocese Dec. 15, 2014, at the Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska. This is the first time an active-duty Airman has been chosen for a position of this magnitude. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel)

Chaplain (Maj.) Chad Zielinski, the 354th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain, walks to the stage during a ceremony ordaining him the bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic diocese Dec. 15, 2014, at the Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska. This is the first time an active-duty Airman has been chosen for a position of this magnitude. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel)

Chaplain (Maj.) Chad Zielinski, the 354th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain, prepares for communion after being ordained the bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic diocese Dec. 15, 2014, at the Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska. Zielinski will be responsible for overseeing Catholic interests in an area the size of Texas, much of which isn't accessible by road. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford)

Chaplain (Maj.) Chad Zielinski, the 354th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain, prepares for communion after being ordained the bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic diocese Dec. 15, 2014, at the Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska. Zielinski will be responsible for overseeing Catholic interests in an area the size of Texas, much of which isn't accessible by road. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

"I've always had a committed faith and a love for God, but never really thought of becoming a priest until I was enlisted in the Air Force," said Chaplain (Maj.) Chad Zielinski.

The Michigan native, who currently serves as the 354th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain, was ordained bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic diocese in a ceremony Dec. 15. This requires a dedication to an area the size of Texas, much of which isn't accessible by road.

Born in 1964, in Alpena, Michigan, to a school teacher father and social worker mother, Zielinski said his family was very committed to their faith, attending church and religious education every week.

"My parents were very loving and compassionate and invested a lot of time into making sure we were a family unit when it came to church," he said. "My father was always challenging his kids to better themselves and to learn more. Education to him was a way to better your life."

In addition to its commitment to the church, the family was also involved with of the Boy Scouts of America. This largely contributed to Zielinski's decision to join the Air Force in 1983.

"Leadership, organization, relationships, attaching one's self to ideals, challenging you to advance and progress among the ranks were all things instilled by the scouts that drove my interest in the military," he said.

After graduating from high school and spending a summer in Valdez, Alaska, as a commercial salmon fisherman, Zielinski joined the Air Force and was stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, where he worked in the 366th Supply Squadron. Staying committed to his faith, he spent a lot of time with the Catholic chaplain who ultimately encouraged him to join seminary after his enlistment was up.

"Being involved in the chapel program as a young Airman was a huge impetus for me," he said. "The Air Force has a lot of good people and you just push yourself to do the right thing for these great people."

After extensive studies in Oregon and Michigan while serving as a reservist in the Air Force, Zielinski was finally ordained a priest. Logistics forced him to separate completely from being enlisted, so he could become a chaplain candidate.

"I didn't think I'd ever come back to active duty after becoming a priest in 1996, but this wasn't the case," he said.

After serving as a pastor of three parishes for six years, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed his outlook on active duty.

"This patriotic sense was immediately rekindled within me," Zielinski said.

There was a great need for chaplains at the time and Zielinski took this as an opportunity to serve others, something he said has been a common thread throughout his life, and which has been noticed by his colleagues.

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 servitude.

"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."

War has marked every service member's career for more than a decade and Zielinski is no exception. He deployed to Iraq twice and also to Afghanistan, working with U.S. Army infantry units during each rotation.

"These were exciting, rewarding and powerful experiences," he said. "I saw some pretty horrific things as an Air Force chaplain working with the Army covering 18 combat outposts. It's a miracle I'm still around today to serve; God obviously has a plan for me."

Working with such a diverse group of people during his active-duty years has culminated in many opportunities for this leader.

"The Air Force has afforded me the opportunity through education and life experiences to really hone in on what it means to be a leader," Zielinski said. "All of those leadership opportunities in 12 years as an active-duty chaplain are priceless; you could never put a dollar value on it."

According to 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 U.S. Air Force Academy and serving as the face of the Chaplain Corps on the Air Force Recruiting Service team," said Chaplain (Col.) Dondi Costin, the Pacific Air Forces command chaplain. "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 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."

Engage

Twitter
.@SecAFOfficial, @GenCQBrownJr & @cmsaf_official visited Liberty Village @jointbasemdl, N.J. The team toured op cen… https://t.co/erJs60sYOi
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Enjoyed speaking w/ Republic of Singapore Air Force CAF Maj. Gen. Kelvin Khong. The @USAirForce is grateful for Singapore…
Twitter
Members of the 33rd Rescue Squadron, @KadenaAirBase, Japan, recently participated in joint training with U.S. Marin… https://t.co/aef3q4JuoB
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Senior leaders, including SecAF Kendall, visited #TaskForceLiberty where active duty, Guard & Reserve service members ar…
Twitter
RT @USAFRecruiting: Why make just one mark on the world when you can make many? @usairforce @GenCQBrownJr https://t.co/xXidr8buDI
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: To ensure success -- or head off failure -- we must rapidly develop and deliver new capabilities. We must make difficult…
Twitter
.@RAFMildenhall #Airmen from the maintenance, intel, weather and security forces career fields worked together to g… https://t.co/WKQ7RvpIzP
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: The service members @USAF_EC, @jointbasemdl didn’t believe in impossible. They completely transformed an empty field and…
Twitter
Exercises like Falcon Leap 2020 allow better interoperability among other U.S. branches and international mission p… https://t.co/cML0OvNv3j
Twitter
Curious about the #COVID19 vaccine? Here are some facts to help burst a few #COVID vaccine myths. Learn more here:… https://t.co/7njVBL566L
Twitter
The last Sunday in September marks Gold Star Mother's and Family's Day. We honor and appreciate all those whose l… https://t.co/GmcF36E8nG
Twitter
The Road to #AF75 is all about Airmen, Airpower and Innovation! Today marks the beginning of a year-long series f… https://t.co/ALLC0DK7nB
Twitter
.@DeptofDefense announced the Independent Review Commission Actions and Implementation to Address Sexual Assault an… https://t.co/UfpSe8KNtM
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: This is America’s military performing at its best. I couldn’t be more proud of the #Airmen of @USAF_EC, @jointbasemdl and…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: SecAF Kendall, @GenCQBrownJr & @CMSAF_official visited Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (@jointbasemdl) today to thank s…
Twitter
RT @HQUSAFEAFAF: Medical professionals assigned to @RamsteinAirBase and Rhine Ordnance Barracks, #Germany, began mass administering vaccin…
Twitter
#ICYMI, DAF senior leaders and their spouses participated in a Leadership & the Family panel during #ASC21 held at… https://t.co/FZOnzruyw4
Twitter
RT @HQUSAFEAFAF: U.S. #Airmen from various organizations within USAFE-AFAFRICA participated in Falcon Leap 21, a multinational parachute tr…
Twitter
Hear why this #Airman chose to get vaccinated. @SecAFOfficial directed the COVID-19 vaccine implementation guideli… https://t.co/154QECoeXk
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,378,830
Follow Us