Bishop-Elect Vetter makes the oath of fidelity before Archbishop Sample (seated), Bishop Kagan (left of Abp. Sample), Bishop Checchio (right of Abp. Sample), and all gathered.

Dan Bartleson
Director, Communications Services

“This is indeed a joyous day for the local church here in the Diocese of Helena!” exclaimed Archbishop Alexander Sample in his homily during the Mass of ordination and installation of Bishop-Elect Austin Anthony Vetter. The greater Church was present as well with two cardinals, four archbishops, and over 15 bishops filling the sanctuary of the crowded Cathedral of St. Helena on Nov. 20th.

Before Sample’s homily, the Apostolic Nuncio (papal ambassador) to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre exhorted the bishop-elect to, “Go with haste into the mountains.” The same words, from St. Luke’s Gospel, were spoken to Bishop Jean-Baptiste Brondel as he was commissioned as the first Bishop of Helena in 1884. The Nuncio then read Pope Francis’ letter appointing Vetter as shepherd of the Church in Western Montana.

Abp. Sample lays hands on Bishop Vetter.

Archbishop Sample, as Metropolitan of the Ecclesial Province of Portland, ordained and installed Bishop-Elect Vetter with Bishop Kagan, Bishop of Bismarck, N.D., and Bishop Checcio, Bishop of Metuchen, N.J., co-ordaining. Abp. Sample, asserted the significance of the rarely-witnessed Rite of Ordination of a Bishop by quoting Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church; “The Order of Bishops succeeds the College of Apostles in teaching authority and pastoral rule; indeed, in the order of bishops, the apostolic body continues to perdure… The Episcopal College, gathered under the one head, the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, expresses the unity, diversity, and universality of the flock of Christ.”

After Bishop-Elect Vetter made the oath of fidelity, each bishop, archbishop and cardinal prayerfully laid their hands upon his head signifying their unity and conferring upon him the office of bishop in the line of Apostolic Succession. He received the ring, crosier, and miter of his office and then took the cathedra (the bishop’s seat) as Bishop of the Diocese of Helena to sustained applause.

At the close of Mass, Bishop Vetter addressed those gathered proclaiming, “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!” He thanked Almighty God, Pope Francis, his brother bishops and Msgr. Kevin O’Neil, Rector of the Cathedral, who has served as Diocesan Administrator for the past 19 months.

He thanked his parents, Loretta and the late August Vetter, for fostering his faith. He thanked his 11 siblings, 46 nieces and nephews, and 51 great-nieces and nephews, saying, “I count it a blessing to be in a big family.”

He pledged to walk in faith with the young people of the diocese and to the priests and deacons of the diocese, he said, “I look forward to helping to build upon the good and inspiring ministry already taking place here. Let us be strong witnesses of our hope in Jesus Christ.” Speaking to the faithful, he said, “As the new shepherd of this beautiful diocese, I look forward to getting to know you better in the coming days as we strive to deepen our friendship with the living God through prayer and service to his Church.” In closing and keeping with his chosen episcopal motto, Bishop Vetter asked for the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, before exclaiming, “Fiat, Fiat, Fiat.”

Road to Episcopal Ordination

August and Loretta Vetter and Family. Bishop Vetter is pictured in the back row, first on the left, age 13.

Bishop Vetter was born the youngest of 12 children in Linton, North Dakota, on Sept. 13th, 1967. He attended North Dakota State University and Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo, North Dakota. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy, he studied at the Pontifical North American College and the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Bismarck by Bishop John F. Kinney at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck, North Dakota, on Jun. 29th, 1993.

His first assignment as a priest was as Parochial Vicar at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. He was a religion instructor at St. Mary’s Central High School in Bismarck from 1994 to 1999. He then served as pastor of St. Martin’s in Center, North Dakota; St. Patrick’s in Dickinson, North Dakota; and St. Leo the Great in Minot, North Dakota.

From 2004 to 2007, he was an adjunct faculty member for the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, where he taught The Spirituality of the Diocesan Priest.

Father Vetter has held various roles in the Diocese of Bismarck, including serving on the Presbyteral Council, Priest Personnel Board, Vicar for the Permanent Diaconate, Master of Ceremonies to the Bishop, and Director of Continuing Education of the Clergy.

Seminarian Austin Vetter introducing his parents to Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1992.

He served as Director of Spiritual Formation at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, from July 2012 through June 2018. He most recently served as Rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and as a Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of Light of Christ Catholic Schools in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Just two months before his ordination and installation, then- Father Vetter dismissed calls from a Washington D.C. number as a telemarketer seeking money. When Bishop Kagan of Bismarck reached out, and kindly encouraged him to respond, he finally connected with the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. Abp. Pierre explained that he was calling to ask for much more than money before extending Pope Francis’ request that Fr. Vetter become bishop of Helena. After a moment of silence, he replied, “In faith, yes.”

Upon the Oct. 8th announcement of his appointment, Bishop Vetter held a press conference in Helena before returning to Bismarck to prepare for service to Christ and the Church as the 11th Bishop of the Diocese of Helena.

Watch the full video of the Mass of Ordination and Installation HERE

Bishop Vetter bestows his first episcopal blessing upon the congregation.