Ohio pastor named bishop of Davenport, Iowa, says he’ll listen, lead ‘with humility’

View of the Centennial Bridge from Davenport, Iowa. (iStock)

DAVENPORT, Iowa (OSV News) — Bishop-designate Dennis G. Walsh, who believes that “before you can lead, people have to trust you,” will become the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Davenport.

Pope Francis named the priest of the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, as Davenport’s new shepherd. The appointment was publicized in Washington June 25 by Christophe Cardinal Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

A native of Lima, Ohio, Bishop-designate Walsh, who turns 59 on July 16, will be ordained and installed Sept. 27 at a location and time to be determined, diocesan leaders said. He succeeds now-Archbishop Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula of Dubuque, Iowa. After six years as Davenport’s shepherd, Bishop Zinzula was named to head the Iowa archdiocese July 26, 2023 and was installed Oct. 18, 2023.

Father Kenneth Kuntz, elected in October as diocesan administrator, introduced the bishop-designate to diocesan staff and the news media.

“For the past eight months we have prayed a Diocesan Prayer awaiting a new bishop. In part it prayed for ‘a pastor who will please you by his holiness and will show us your watchful care,'” Father Kuntz said. “Today I can announce that our prayers have been answered” with the appointment of Bishop-designate Walsh.

“Today is the day,” Deacon David Montgomery, diocesan chief of staff, told diocesan staff and volunteers gathered in the chancery library,

“Am I in the right place?” Bishop-designate Walsh joked as he entered the room to applause.

Bishop-designate Father Dennis G. Walsh speaks to staff of the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, at St. Vincent Center in Davenport on June 25, 2024. (OSV News photo/Lindsay Steele, The Catholic Messenger)

His appointment, he said, “came as the shock of my life. There is nothing in my priesthood that has prepared me for the announcement I got from the (apostolic) nuncio on June 9. … In our diocese (Toledo), if you would have imagined all the priests who are able to be bishops, my name would not be in that group at all.”

Bishop-designate Walsh said he had just finished celebrating Spanish Mass at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Delphos, Ohio, where he has served as pastor for 10 years. Initially, he mistook the voice of Christophe Cardinal Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, for that of a priest friend. He thought the friend was playing a joke. Then he realized the caller was not joking.

He accepted the appointment with humility and gratitude. As a priest for 32 years, he takes his promise of obedience to the bishop seriously. “I’ve always gone wherever the bishop asked me to go. Each assignment — even the most challenging — turned out to be grace-filled experiences,” he later told The Catholic Messenger, Davenport’s diocesan newspaper.

Chancery staffers and volunteers asked their future bishop about his family (his mother is 88 and healthy; he has an older sister and a younger brother, his dad is deceased), favorite movie (he was a “Downton Abbey” fan) and favorite cookie (peanut butter with Hershey Kiss in the middle). Another staffer expressed appreciation that he speaks Spanish.

Bishop-designate Walsh graduated from St. Alphonsus College, the Redemptorists’ college seminary, in Suffield, Connecticut, with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He professed temporary vows as a Redemptorist in 1986 and final vows in 1991. He did his graduate work in theology at Washington Theological Union in Washington, graduating with a master of divinity degree in 1992.

He was ordained as a Redemptorist priest in 1992 in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. After ordination he was sent to St. Anthony Parish in Guayama, Puerto Rico for six months to learn Spanish. When he returned, he was assigned to St. Michael Parish in Baltimore as a parochial vicar. In 1994, he was transferred to Immaculate Conception in the South Bronx in New York City as a parochial vicar. In 1998, he returned to Ohio for assignment as parochial vicar for St. Mary Parish in Sandusky. In 2000, he was incardinated into the Diocese of Toledo to become a diocesan priest.

He has been pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Delphos and St. John the Baptist parish in Landeck since 2015, and has also served as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Spencerville since 2016. He also is head of school for St. John the Evangelist Elementary and High School. His previous parish assignments include as pastor of St. John Parish in Defiance (2002-2007); and pastor of St. Patrick of Heatherdowns Parish in Toledo (2007-2015).

Among other diocesan roles, he currently is chairman of the diocese’s college of consultors, a member of the board for the Toledo Diocesan Management Corp. and serves on the advisory committee for the Catholic Investment Trust.

During the press conference, Bishop-designate Walsh thanked Pope Francis for “this appointment, and I promise to be a shepherd who listens and leads with humility.” He pledged to serve the people of the Diocese of Davenport “wholeheartedly and tirelessly. I look forward to getting to know you, visiting your parishes and communities, being present to you in all aspects of parish life, sharing your joys and sorrows, and celebrating the beauty of our Catholic faith together.”

“Being a priest has been the greatest joy of my life, and I have cherished every moment of my priesthood. Each day, I thank God for the gift and privilege of this vocation,” he said, but added, “I know I cannot do it all alone even though I sometimes try. I am always inspired by the story of the Apostle Peter, who despite all his brokenness was chosen to shepherd the flock.”

Bishop-designate Walsh said the people of the parishes he has pastored, “taught me to be a pastor … I am confident that you, the people of this diocese will teach me to be a good bishop and shepherd.”

He praised Father Kuntz, whose “leadership, steadfast commitment and his love for the Church has provided much needed stability and inspiration to this diocese since October,” when Archbishop Zinkula was installed to head the Dubuque Archdiocese and Father Kuntz was elected diocesan administrator by the diocesan college of consultors.

He also acknowledged Archbishop Zinkula, Deacon Montgomery and Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of Toledo for their guidance.

Archbishop Zinkula said in a statement that based on his experience as Davenport’s ninth bishop, he assured his successor that he will find the clergy and laity of the diocese “to be welcoming and faith-filled.”

“It is a pleasure to welcome Father Dennis to the Hawkeye State as he departs from his no doubt beloved Buckeye State!” the archbishop added. “May our prayers for Bishop-elect Walsh assist him in the transition to his new ministry, which we pray will be meaningful and fruitful.”

Bishop-designate Walsh admitted to mixed emotions of grief — at leaving behind his diocesan family and biological family — and excitement about his future leading the Diocese of Davenport.

“From this Buckeye and now proud Hawkeye, I ask for your prayers and your patience as I prepare to become your bishop,” he said.

The Diocese of Davenport, established in 1881, covers 11,438 square miles in southeastern Iowa and has a Catholic population of over 83,000 out of a total population of about 787,000.

Barb Arland-Fye is editor of The Catholic Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport.


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