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Pope names Erik Pohlmeier to lead of Diocese of St. Augustine

A 50-year-old Little Rock pastor and Arkansas diocesan program director has been named the new Catholic bishop of Florida's Diocese of St. Augustine.
Credit: Dan Scanlan/Florida Times-Union
Retiring Bishop Felipe J. Estevez, left, of the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine applauds his successor, the Rev. Erik Pohlmeier at Tuesday's official announcement.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — This story was originally reported by the Florida Times-Union. 

A 50-year-old Arkansas parish pastor is the new leader of the thousands of Catholics in Florida's Diocese of St. Augustine, named by Pope Francis to replace retiring Bishop Felipe J. Estevez.

Announced early Tuesday, the dioceses' 11th bishop is the Rev. Erik Pohlmeier of Christ the King Catholic Church in Little Rock and the Arkansas dioceses' director of faith and deacon formation.

Pohlmeier said he was in his car contemplating lunch on May 15 when he got a call asking him if he would accept papal selection as bishop-elect of the 153,041 registered Catholics in the 17-county Diocese of St. Augustine.

"It was shock at first, then officially settling in to recognizing that this makes me part of some grand tradition going all the way back to Jesus gathering his apostles," Pohlmeier said after his Tuesday introduction to local diocesan officials.

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"It's my responsibility to help make sure that the people of faith here have access to that grace of God through the life of the church and the Sacraments," said Pohlmeier, the youngest bishop here in decades. "It is somewhat unusual, but my previous two bishops were my age or younger when they came to my diocese, so I have experienced this before."

Estevez, the 10th bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis on Feb. 5. He leaves the office he has served since mid-2011 because the mandatory retirement age for bishops is 75 and said he was not nervous as he awaited the announcement.

"I am delighted for all that he brings to the diocese," Estevez said. "... I have received the grace from the Holy Spirit to live day by day, and I have not experienced anxiety in this process."

As was done when Bishop Victor Galeone retired in 2011 after replacing John Snyder in 2001, the pope officially announced Estevez'a successor. Galeone replaced Bishop John J. Snyder, who oversaw the diocese for 22 years and died in 2019.

More about Erik Pohlmeier

Pohlmeier will be officially ordained at a July 22 Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church at 11757 Old St Augustine Road, across from the diocesan offices where Tuesday's announcement was made. His cousin Robin Fecitt is principal of St Joseph's Catholic School.

A University of Arkansas graduate, he entered St. Meinrad College's seminary in 1992 and was ordained a priest in 1998. A parish priest or pastor at multiple Arkansas churches, he is now a pastor in Little Rock as well as director of those diocesan offices.

The Diocese of Little Rock is all of Arkansas, so Pohlmeier said he visited every single parish there in recent years. In his study of his new flock, he said the Diocese of St. Augustine's 52 parishes, plus 14 missions and chapels and 151 priests, is about the same size as in Arkansas.

"I am more excited than nervous," Pohlmeier said. "At first I felt the weight of the responsibility. But I had a few days to reflect without any other responsibilities, and little by little through prayer it turned into excitement for this calling."

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Only the fourth Catholic priest from Arkansas to be ordained a bishop, he also has an aunt and uncle living in Jacksonville. He said his episcopal motto will be "Seek first the kingdom of God" for two reasons. One is to make God the dioceses' priorities and because God "reaches into every aspect of life."

He said he looks forward to finding ways to stop Catholics from leaving the church, as well as national issues of abortion and LGBTQIA rights.

"The decline in faith is something I have spent the past five years really digging into and those are the challenges we face," he said. "... I will be coming into the work that has already been done [on abortion and LGBTQIA] and believe the way forward with anybody is often a step back to see what is God asking us."

Fluent in Spanish, he also addressed those parishioners in that language on a live Facebook broadcast of his introduction after saying he will visit all parishes.

"I look forward to meeting the faithful of this diocese," he said. "It is beautiful to see the diversity of experiences and backgrounds. I am sorry I don't speak all the languages represented here."

As for Estevez, the soon-to-retire bishop said he plans to stay active.

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"I intend to be in the diocese because I think the bishop-emeritus has a role to play, which Bishop Snyder did so well," Estevez said.

Born in Havana, Estevez came to the United States as a teenager during Operation Pedro Pan. That was a secret program done by the Catholic Welfare Bureau to get thousands of Cuban children out of the Communist country from 1960 to 1962.

This story was originally reported by the Florida Times-Union. 

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