Pope Francis appoints North Dakota priest to lead Diocese of Helena

Fr Austin Vetter Diocese of Bismarck CNA Size Father Austin Vetter. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Bismarck.

Pope Francis appointed Tuesday Fr. Austin A. Vetter as the next bishop of Helena, Montana.

Vetter, 52, is a priest from the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, where he has served as rector of the city's Cathedral of the Holy Spirit since 2018. Before that he was posted in Rome for six years as the director of spiritual formation for the Pontifical North American College.

Vetter replaces Bishop George Leo Thomas, who led the Diocese of Helena for 15 years.

Pope Francis appointed Thomas to be Bishop of Las Vegas in Feb. 2018. Monsignor Kevin O'Neill has served as diocesan administrator of Helena since Bishop Thomas' installation in Nevada.

After receiving a B.A. in philosophy from Fargo's Cardinal Muench Seminary, Vetter studied sacred theology at the Angelicum in Rome, receiving his S.T.B. in 1992. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 29, 1993.

The North Dakota native has served as the director of continuing education for clergy, a high school teacher, episcopal vicar for the permanent diaconate, and as a pastor for the St. Leo, St. Patrick, and St. Martin parishes. Vetter also has taught at Creighton University's Institute for Priestly Formation.

The Diocese of Helena was established in 1884. Stretching more than 51,900 square miles, the Montana diocese has 38 missions in addition to its 57 parishes.

The diocese has an estimated 45,400 Catholics, which is just over 7% of the area's total population.

Correction Oct. 9: This article originally stated that Cardinal Muench Seminary is in Bismarck.

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