DES MOINES — A Dubuque priest has been appointed bishop-elect for the Diocese of Des Moines.
The Rev. William Joensen was appointed by Pope Francis, according to an announcement Thursday morning from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Joensen, 59, currently is serving as dean of spiritual life and associate professor of philosophy at Loras College and spiritual director of St. Pius X Seminary in Dubuque.
“I’m the most amazed person in this room,” Joensen said during an introductory press conference in Des Moines Thursday morning. “Two weeks ago, I was already turning my thoughts to the new academic year.”
Joensen will be ordained and installed as bishop Sept. 27 for a diocese covering 12,446 square miles.
“It’s not simply a big surprise — it’s rather daunting. But beyond surprise, my heart is filled with peace,” Joensen said. “My heart’s deepest desire as a priest is that people have the grace to meet Jesus. I want to continue to accompany and occasionally help navigate people on their journey to heaven.”
Joensen was named to the position after the pope accepted the resignation of the Rev. Richard Pates.
Pates had served in the role since 2008. He turned 75 in February 2018 and, in accordance with Canon Law, sent a letter to the pope announcing his resignation.
“That started a selection process that ended with today’s appointment,” according to Diocese of Des Moines.
Joensen was born in Waterloo and grew up in Ames. He was ordained as a priest in the Archdiocese of Dubuque on June 24, 1989.
“I am thoroughly an Iowa guy,” Joensen said. “I find myself fortunate to have lived and studied in various places in the world, but I love this state.”
His past assignments include serving as associate pastor of Sacred Heart Parish from 1989 to 1992, as associate pastor of Church of the Resurrection from 1992 to 1995 and as chaplain of Clarke University from 2003 to 2010.
Each summer, Joensen serves on the faculty of the Tertio Milllennio Seminar in Krakow, Poland. He was in Poland when he called Loras College President Jim Collins with news of his appointment.
“We’re going to miss him,” Collins said. “Father Bill is a very bright, talented, faithful person. He has been a terrific colleague and students in the classroom really like him.”
Collins added, “I think it’s an outstanding selection. Father Bill has a great affinity for this part of the country and his home state in particular. I think this is a vocational call he feels comfortable with and humbled by.”
The area encompassed by the Diocese of Des Moines has a total population of 837,773, of which 103,430, or 12.3%, are Catholic, according to the release.
“We are sad to lose Father Bill as a member of our presbyterate,” said Dubuque Archbishop Michael Jackels in a press release. “He will be missed. Hopefully, the faithful of the Diocese of Des Moines will very soon come to appreciate the gift God is giving them in their new bishop.”
This marks the second time in about two years in which a Dubuque priest has been chosen to lead an Iowa diocese. Thomas Zinkula was ordained and installed as the bishop of the Diocese of Davenport in June 2017 after serving Dubuque-area parishes for more than 27 years.