COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Driving into Colorado Springs from Grand Island, Nebraska, for his introduction to the diocese, Bishop-designate James R. Golka was struck by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains that towered above.
But what he felt even more strongly, he said during a news conference April 30 at the diocese’s Catholic Pastoral Center, was his excitement “to discover the true beauty of our Catholic faith when people gather to express, profess and practice our faith together.”
Pope Francis appointed the 54-year-old priest of the Diocese of Grand Island to succeed Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs, who submitted his resignation March 4, 2020, upon reaching age 75, as required by canon law.
“He has already shown himself to be not only a skilled administrator but also a man of prayer,” Bishop Sheridan said of the bishop-designate. “I believe that he will serve the people of this diocese very well.”
The ordination is scheduled for June 29 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Colorado Springs.
A 1989 graduate of Creighton University with degrees in philosophy and theology, Bishop-designate Golka said the Jesuit priests at the school were influential in his priestly vocation.
“They taught me how to pray, how to discern. They asked me one day, ‘Have you ever thought about being a Jesuit?'”
He said he had thought about being a Jesuit — once for about 10 minutes — but he felt called to the diocesan priesthood because he loves “what happens in parish life.”
Before entering the seminary, Bishop-designate Golka spent a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps working on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. His time with Lakota youth confirmed his desire to become a priest, he said.
He completed his seminary studies at St. Paul Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota and was ordained in 1994. He learned Spanish while living in Mexico and Guatemala and served for several years as pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in the Grand Island Diocese, celebrating a weekly Mass in Spanish.
Bishop-designate Golka is the fourth of 10 children born to Robert and Patricia Golka, who will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in August.
“Mom and Dad believed in Catholic education and sacrificed a ton to have us go (to Catholic schools),” he said. “I never knew how much they sacrificed for us until later.”
The bishop-designate said he has more than 60 first cousins on his mother’s side of the family whom he sees regularly. He also recounted his visit to his parents’ home in Grand Island the day before he drove to Colorado Springs.
Shortly after walking in, he said his mom looked at him and said: “They’re making you a bishop.”
He asked her how she knew and she said: “I’m a mom, I just felt that this week.”
The bishop-designate’s arrival in Colorado Springs April 30 was not his first visit to the state. About 13 years ago, he was visiting the mountains with friends from his seminary days and while riding his bike along Vail Pass, he lost control, flew off his bike and broke several vertebrae. Fortunately, three doctors happened upon the scene and kept him stabilized until an ambulance arrived.
“The doctor said I should be very grateful that I wasn’t paralyzed or dead,” he said. “So I do have chronic neck pain, so I’ve learned how to better pray with people because of the pain. And I learned how to offer pain up. It really does make a huge difference.”
Bishop-designate Golka most recently served as vicar general for the Grand Island Diocese and as rector of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary there, a role which has helped him to grow in devotion to Mary.
“I have a devotion to Mary that I didn’t have four years ago,” he explained. “In our cathedral parish, I felt her motherly presence.”
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Ambuul is editor-in-chief of the Colorado Catholic Herald, diocesan newspaper of Colorado Springs.