When people ponder the legacy left in Wichita by Bishop Michael Jackels, church officials said Monday, they’ll be able to see it in the heart of Wichita and throughout the 25 counties of southeast Kansas that compose the Wichita diocese.
Jackels, who has been Wichita’s bishop for the past eight years, was announced Monday as the new archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa. He will be installed in his new post on May 30.
Jackels, 58, was among the last bishops appointed by Pope John Paul II – who died two days before Jackels’ ordination as bishop of Wichita – and he is among the first appointments made by Pope Francis I, who was elected pope on March 13.
Even though officials had been aware of the appointment for a few weeks, Monsignor Robert Hemberger said, “it’s still a tremendous shock. He’s so popular here, so loved.”
Jackels was introduced in Dubuque on Monday morning.
In a statement released in Wichita, Jackels said: “It has been a great experience for me to pray and work with the priests, religious, and lay faithful of the Diocese of Wichita, to yoke ourselves together, sharing responsibility to continue the mission of Jesus in his Church here. Thanks be to God! I am confident that I will be able to say the same about the Catholic faithful in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.”
Jackels learned of his appointment on the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrating the Virgin Mary agreeing to become the mother of Jesus.
“It is with no little sadness that I prepare to leave the Diocese of Wichita,” Jackels said in his statement. “But in light of Mary’s response to God’s call to be the mother of the Savior, or of the example of Pope Francis who cheerfully took up a new and demanding ministry, how could I not say ‘yes.’ Let us pray for one another in this time of transition.”
Jackels will serve as administrator of the Wichita diocese until he is installed as archbishop in Dubuque. A new administrator will then be selected for Wichita.
The Archdiocese of Dubuque covers 17,403 square miles and consists of 168 parishes and 202,601 Catholics. It has 216 priests and 91 permanent deacons among four dioceses.
The Wichita diocese has 114,000 Catholics among 90 parishes spanning 20,021 square miles in the southeast quarter of Kansas – or, as Jackels liked to put it, “from Bushton to Baxter Springs, and from Zenda to Fort Scott,” said the Rev. John Lanzrath, chancellor of the diocese.
As bishop, Jackels oversaw a massive renovation of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita and fostered a significant increase in the number of seminarians.
A bishop should be a father figure to the priests of his diocese, Jackels has said, and he fostered a strong bond with the priests of the diocese.
“For him, it’s a difficult move,” Hemberger said of Jackels. “He really has enjoyed it here.”
Jackels was born into a military family and endured frequent moves as he was growing up. Ordained a priest in the Diocese of Lincoln, Jackels was working in Rome in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when he was named bishop of Wichita. His boss was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected pope following John Paul II’s death in 2005.
“It’s just wonderful to be in a place where he felt at home,” Hemberger said of Jackels’ time in Wichita.
His work here obviously caught the attention of church officials, Hemberger said, leading to his promotion. The Dubuque archdiocese mirrors the Wichita diocese in that it is largely agricultural and is experiencing increasing cultural diversity.