The Most Rev. James Golka, a self-described collaborator who says he follows the examples Jesus set and the direction of the Holy Spirit to guide his life and decision-making, will take over as the third bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, Pope Francis and the diocese announced Friday.
The bishop-elect, the current rector and pastor of the busy Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Grand Island, Neb., will be ordained bishop on June 29.
When the Pope calls — or his representative, the apostolate nuncio to the Holy See based in Washington, D.C. — you answer, Golka said at a news conference Friday.
And, “You say, ‘Yes,’” he said.
Golka didn’t respond to the unknown number the first time, and the second time had to check to make sure the voice on the other end was authentic.
“I thought it was a joke,” Golka said to diocesan priests and staff who attended the announcement. “It was unbelievable. I was shocked and terrified.”
It’s a state he’s still in, he said, adding that “the Lord says, ‘trust me’” — so that’s what he’s doing.
The priest of nearly 27 years became emotional while facing the leaders of his pending assignment, saying his heart is torn at the unexpected change in his ministry.
Grand Island is his hometown, where he was born as the fourth of 10 children and attended Catholic schools. Golka received a degree in philosophy from Creighton University and a master's of divinity degree from St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota.
He returned in 2016 to his home diocese in Grand Island, where his parents and many of his 64 cousins on his mother’s side live and worship.
In fact, Golka, 54, was baptized as an infant in the same parish where he now serves.
“The tears are a sense of sadness, of being overwhelmed of the great magnitude of what’s ahead of me, of gratitude for Jesus,” he said.
Golka said he doesn’t have an agenda, a question many people ask him.
“Together, we’ll discern what’s the mission of God for the people of Colorado Springs and try to serve that,” he said.
Holly Goodwin, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Colorado Springs, told Golka as she met him that the superintendent of schools from the Grand Island Diocese sent her an email.
“She said, ‘Oh, you’re getting a good one.’”
Retiring Bishop Sheridan, who has led the Diocese of Colorado Springs for the past 18 years, said he will remain in the area and assist with training and as needed with the diocese’s 39 parishes and missions.
“It’s always been my plan to stay here, and I’m happy to offer my help,” he said. “My retirement will be active — I’ll make myself available — but I won’t have the burden of administration.”
Bishops are required to submit a letter of intent to retire at age 75. It’s been 14 months since Sheridan did that.
“It’s not unusual when a bishop offers his resignation for it to take a year or more,” he said. “In March I thought it could come at any time.”
Msgr. Bob Jaeger, vicar general in Colorado Springs, said Friday was a “great day in the history of our diocese.”
The Colorado Springs diocese was formed in 1984, with the Rev. Richard Hanifen being the first bishop.
The diocese serves nearly 190,000 Catholics, more than three times the size of the Grand Island diocese.
To prepare for his new role, Golka said he will mainly pray, but also take cues from the two emeritus bishops.
“I know nothing about what it means to be a bishop, other than watching other bishops,” he said. “I do need to learn -- and lean on Jesus.”
Golka is the first priest in the history of the Diocese of Grand Island to be named a bishop, according to a statement the diocese issued.
Friday was also the day the U.S. President Joseph Biden’s diocese got a new bishop.
Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Wilmington, Del. Bishop Francis Malooly and appointed Msgr. William Koenig, vicar for clergy in the Rockville Center, N.Y. diocese, as his replacement.