Pope Benedict XVI has named Bishop Samuel Joseph Aquila of Fargo, N.D., as the new archbishop of Denver, it was announced in Washington May 29 by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vagano, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Archbishop-designate Aquila, a 61-year-old native of Southern California, succeeds Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who was named to head the Philadelphia Archdiocese last July. The new archbishop has headed the Fargo Diocese since 2002. 

Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, who served as a Denver auxiliary bishop when Bishop Aquila was a priest of the Denver Archdiocese and rector of its archdiocesan seminary, expressed his delight over the choice of Archbishop Chaput’s successor.

“I am very happy for my good friends in Denver,” Archbishop Gomez said in a statement. “Pope Benedict XVI is sending them a good shepherd of Jesus Christ and a strong spiritual leader. 

“Archbishop-designate Aquila is a good priest with a heart for the poor and the unborn. He has deep commitments to vocations and to the sacramental preparation and formation of young people. He will also bring to Denver a special care for Hispanic ministry and the new evangelization of American culture.”

In a statement, Denver’s archbishop-designate said “never imagined for a moment that I would one day return as archbishop, to be a spiritual father to the clergy and laity here.”

He said he realizes that “much has changed in Denver over the past 11 years and that there will be much to learn about this vibrant Church. The presbyterate here has grown strong under the leadership of Archbishop Chaput.”

He added that he looks forward to renewing friendships “with the clergy I know and getting to know the new priests and permanent deacons ordained since 2001,” to renewing friendships with the staff, and “to connecting anew with the laity and getting to know the faithful.”

Bishop Aquila also said he would miss the people of Fargo. “I am deeply grateful to the clergy and the laypeople of Fargo who taught me how to be a bishop by sharing their lives and their faith, and surrounding me with their generosity and good will,” he said. “They will always be in my memories and in my prayers.”

Samuel Joseph Aquila was born Sept. 24, 1950, in Burbank, and attended Our Lady of Peace School in Sepulveda (now North Hills) while the family lived in Burbank. After they moved to Northridge, he completed his elementary education at Our Lady of Lourdes School, then attended Crespi Carmelite High School, Encino, and graduated in 1968.

 Attracted to the priesthood, he considered it while attending the University of Colorado in Boulder, graduating in 1972, and then entered what was then Vincentian-run St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, where he earned a master's degree in theology. He was ordained to the priesthood June 5, 1976 at Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

His priesthood included service as an assistant pastor at several parishes and pastor of Guardian Angels Church in Denver. After earning an S.T.L. degree in sacramental theology from Rome’s San Anselmo University in 1990, he was named director of Denver’s Office of Liturgy, serving six years, and also served as secretary for Catholic Education in the Denver Archdiocese (1994-98).

In 1999, Msgr. Aquila was the first director of the archdiocese's St. John Vianney Seminary, and chief executive officer of Our Lady of the New Advent Theological Institute. He was named coadjutor bishop of Fargo in 2001 and became bishop of Fargo in 2002, when his predecessor, Bishop James S. Sullivan retired for health reasons. 

The Fargo Diocese was established in 1889, originally as the Diocese of Jamestown. The headquarters was transferred to Fargo and the diocese renamed in 1897. It comprises 30 counties in North Dakota. 

The Denver Archdiocese has a general population of about 3.3 million people, with about 541,000 (16 percent) of them Catholic. The archdiocese includes 25 counties and covers 40,154 square miles in northern Colorado. 

“I join with all my brothers and sisters here in asking that Our Blessed Mother Mary watch over him and give him strength,” said Archbishop Gomez. “And we wish him all the blessings of our good God in his ministry to the Catholic people of Denver.” 


Mike Nelson contributed to this story.

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