FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Monsignor Donald Kettler has been named the next Catholic bishop of Fairbanks.
Kettler, who currently serves at Christ the King Parish in Sioux Falls, S.D., replaces Bishop Michael J. Kaniecki who died of a heart attack in August 2000.
Kettler will be ordained as bishop and installed in August at ceremonies in Fairbanks. He is only the fifth bishop to lead the diocese.
The announcement that Kettler will soon fill the void left by Bishop Kaniecki is welcome news for the Fairbanks Diocese, which impacts Catholics from 48 parishes covering more than 400,000 miles. It is the last remaining missionary diocese in the United States.
Kettler said Friday that Fairbanks had been on his mind as a likely place to take an upcoming sabbatical. That was before the parish priest was notified 10 days ago that he was selected to fill the vacant bishopric here and given only six hours to accept or reject the appointment.
''It was a shock. I didn't expect it,'' Kettler said. ''It's too much to be a coincidence... When you get called to this type of position, God says he is going to help you.''
Like his predecessor, Kettler also is a pilot. However, he doesn't plan to try his wings in Alaska anytime soon, saying he needs to learn more about flying conditions here.
The bishop-elect has long been intrigued by Alaska. He has been a longtime reader of the Fairbanks diocesan newsletter, ''Alaska Shepherd,'' and is looking forward to touring and learning more about the multicultural diocese he is heading up.
In his 32 years in the priesthood, Kettler has served at several parishes in South Dakota. He is a graduate of St. John University and Seminary, Collegeville, Minn. He earned a canon law degree from Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Kettler first visited Alaska in 1992, driving north with a friend up the Alaska Highway during its 50th anniversary year. The camping trip included a three-day stop in Fairbanks, where he fondly recalled attending Mass at Immaculate Conception Church.
The long distances between parishes in the Fairbanks Diocese doesn't intimidate Kettler. He's used to putting on miles by car and plane between far-flung parishes in South Dakota. His current diocese takes up half the state, he said.
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