“God is going to provide, because he always does.”
Those words come from the man still wearing the same clerical apparel and still grinning the same grin: Father Austin Vetter, rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck. However, next month, Father Vetter will have a new title: Bishop Austin Vetter.
Pope Francis has asked Vetter to be the new Bishop of Helena, Montana. Bishop-Elect Vetter is only the second priest from the Diocese of Bismarck to be named a bishop. He is, however, the first native-born priest to receive that honor.
Before finding out about his nomination, Diocese of Bismarck Bishop David Kagan got a phone call from Archbishop Christophe Pierre: Pope Francis’ right-hand man on the American Catholic Church.
“He said: ‘Well, your Excellency, I’m delighted to tell you that our Holy Father Francis has appointed Father Austin Vetter to be the next Bishop of Helena.’ I said: ‘ Oh, that’s just wonderful. And we visited a little bit and he said: ‘Can you help me? Can you give me his phone number? I don’t have it,'” Bishop Kagan said.
Father Vetter got the call — several in fact — but at first, he didn’t recognize the number and didn’t know it was the Archbishop.
After some time, Bishop Kagan called Father Vetter and asked if he had received a call from the Washington, D.C. area. He said he did but didn’t know who it was.
“Oh. I should call it? I said: ‘Yeah, I think you should,'” Kagan said.
“I called it back and the archbishop answered. And I apologized to him for not taking his call,” Father Vetter said. “And we had a good laugh because I told him I thought he was a telemarketer and was going to ask for money.”
When the archbishop asked Father Vetter, a priest since 1993, if he would accept his new assignment, he was silent for what felt like hours.
“And he said: ‘Your answer?’ And I said: ‘Your Grace, in faith, yes,'” Vetter said. Fr. Vetter explained that he could have said ‘no’ and it wouldn’t be hard to blame him, especially given all the problems the Catholic Church has and continues to go through.
“This isn’t my church. This is Jesus’ church. And saying ‘yes’ is simply trusting in his promise that he remains with his church until he comes back,” Vetter said.
As excited as he is about his new role, Fr. Vetter said he’ll miss all the parishioners he’s met and ministered to, as well as his brother priests.
With the bishop-elect on the way to Montana, Bishop Kagan had to select one of the diocese’s priests to oversee the day to day goings-on at the cathedral — a role which he says takes a little something extra.
This past weekend, word came down that the new rector will be Rev. Joshua Ehli, currently serving in Rome. He’ll be back in diocese just before Christmas.
“You have to have a good sense of humor to be the rector of the cathedral. Because, it’s not the parishioners you have to deal with, it’s the bishop who can be temperamental from time to time,’ Bishop Kagan said.
Now that he’s being elevated in the hierarchy of the church, we asked the bishop-elect if he could see himself exchanging a bishop’s purple for a cardinal’s red in the future.
“My mom’s favorite color is purple. So, we’re going to stick with purple,” Vetter said.
Unless he gets another call.
Vetter will be installed as Bishop of Helena on November 20. He’ll be preaching at all Masses November 2nd and 3rd.