Bishop R. Walker Nickless was named the 7th Bishop in the 108-year history of the Diocese of Sioux City on November 10, 2005. His selection as Bishop was one of the first appointments made by Pope Benedict XVI, following the death of Pope John Paul II.
Bishop Nickless was born in Denver, Colorado, one of ten children born to R. Walker Nickless and E. Margaret McGovern Nickless. He has four brothers and five sisters. His mother died in early 2006, shortly after her son’s ordination as Bishop.
Bishop Nickless was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Denver on August 4, 1973. Before his appointment as Bishop, then Monsignor Nickless served as pastor of Our Lady of Fatima parish in Lakewood, Colorado and as Vicar General of the Archdiocese. He was nominated as Prelate of Honor (Monsignor) by Pope John Paul II in 1996. Bishop Nickless graduated from Bishop Machebeuf High School in 1965. He attended St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, the University of Denver and the Gregorian University in Rome.
When he received notice of the appointment in a phone call from Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Papal Nuncio in Washington, that Pope Benedict XVI had appointed him to be the Bishop for the Diocese of Sioux City, then Monsignor Nickless said he was surprised but very excited. “In addition to the immediate sensation of unworthiness, I consider it a great honor to come to serve the people of the Diocese of Sioux City,” said Bishop Nickless. “I want to be a good pastor, a good father, and a good Shepherd and intend to work very closely with the priests of the Diocese to do the work of the Lord.”
Nickless was formally installed and ordained as Bishop on January 20, 2006 in a ceremony at the Church of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in Sioux City. Archbishop Jerome Hanus of the Archdiocese of Dubuque was the principal consecrator as the Dubuque Archdiocese is the metropolitan diocese for the state. The co-consecrators were Archbishop Charles Joseph Chaput of Denver and Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island. Under the guidance of Bishop Nickless, a Strategic Planning Task Force was established in 2007. The bishop endorsed a five-year long range plan for the reorganization of parishes in October 2009. Later that month, Bishop Nickless distributed his first pastoral letter, Ecclesia Semper Reformanda (The Church is Always in Need of Renewal), throughout the diocese.
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The episcopal heraldic achievement or bishop’s coat of arms is composed of a shield with its charges (symbols), a motto scroll and the external ornamentation. The shield, the central and most important feature of any heraldic device, is described (blazoned) in archaic 12th century terms. This description is presented as if given by the bearer with the shield being worn on the arm. Thus, where it applies, the terms dexter and sinister are reversed as the device is viewed from the front.
By heraldic tradition, the arms of the bishop are joined or impaled with the arms of his jurisdiction. In this case, these are the arms of the Diocese of Sioux City, seen in the dexter impalement or left side of the shield.
These arms are composed of a gold (yellow) field which display three red snakes. Each snake has its tail in its mouth, encircling a red cross with each arm ending in what looks like a lily. These snakes form the arms of the diocese because the Sioux, which means “little snakes,” was applied to the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota nations by the Chippewa tribe to distinguish them from the Iroquois, the “big snakes.” Each of the snakes is arranged in a circle, an ancient Native American symbol for eternity, acknowledging that all aspects of life are part of the one “Circle of Life.” The snakes encircle a cross, the symbol of the Christian Faith. By the joint use of these symbols we are reminded of the words of St. Augustine: “To prefigure Christ’s Cross, Moses, by the merciful command of God, raised aloft upon a pole the image of a serpent in the desert, that the likeness of sinful flesh, which must be crucified in Christ, might be prefigured.”
The upper third of the diocesan arms, known as a “chief,” is red and has placed on it three gold crowns to signify the Magi. These three men from the East had the identity of Christ manifested to them and are celebrated on the Feast of the Epiphany each year. By the use of these crowns, the three kings are acknowledged as the patrons of Sioux City’s Cathedral of the Epiphany.
For his personal arms, His Excellency, Bishop Nickless employs a design that represents his heritage and ministry in Christ’s holy Priesthood.
On a silver (white) field, the outline of a cross in red has the outline of four circles conjoined, also outlined in red. In the center of the four circles is a heart, pierced by a golden sword and emblazoned with the letter “M,” symbolizing his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This entire representation is taken from the embroidery and appliqué of a priestly vestment, a chasuble, worn by St. John Vianney, also known as “The Curé of Ars.” St. John Vianney, on whose feast Bishop Nickless was ordained a priest, is the Patron Saint of Parish Priests and the Patron of Bishop Nickless’ childhood parish and school. Bishop Nickless has always looked to this Saint as a model and inspiration in his priesthood, desiring to be a holy priest for God’s holy people through the maternal mediation of Mary, the Mother of God and of Priests.
In the quarters that are formed by the outlined cross are four Colorado columbine blossoms as they would appear in nature. These images of the State Flower of Colorado represent Bishop Nickless’ life and priestly ministry in Colorado.
For his episcopal motto, Bishop Nickless has chosen the phrase: SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE. By the use of these words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 4:15), he wants to express how his teaching as bishop will be nothing other than the truth of Christ and His Church. This Truth is sometimes hard to hear and put into practice and so must always be spoken in love. In the end, Truth and Love are one and the same, namely Jesus Christ our Lord.
The heraldic achievement is completed with external ornaments. First, a gold processional cross, placed in back of and extending above and below the shield. Second, the pontifical hat called a “gallero,” is featured in green with its six tassels in three rows on either side of the shield. These are the heraldic insignia of a prelate of the rank of bishop by instruction of The Holy See of March 31, 1969.
R. WALKER NICKLESS
BORN: May 28, 1947 in Denver, Colorado
PARENTS: R. Walker Nickless & E. Margaret McGovern Nickless
1969 B.A. – St. Thomas Theological Seminary, Denver, Colorado
1972 S.T.B. – Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome
1973 M.A. – Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome
August 4, 1973
Blessed Sacrament Church, Denver, Colorado
November 10, 2005
Bishop, Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa
January 20, 2006
Church of the Nativity, Sioux City, Iowa
Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters Degree
December 13, 2008
St. Ambrose University
United States Catholic Conference of Bishops
Region IX Representative to the Administrative Council
Iowa Catholic Conference
Augustine Institute–Denver, Colorado
Briar Cliff University–Sioux City, Iowa
Board of Trustees
Conception Seminary–Conception, Missouri
Board of Regents, Chairman
Priests for Life
St. John Vianney Center–Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Midamerican Council Boy Scouts of America
Iowa Board of Trustees
Ecclesia Semper Reformanda (The Church Is Always In Need of Renewal)
I. We must renew our reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, within and outside of Mass. A renewal of Eucharistic Spirituality necessarily entails an ongoing implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s reform of the liturgy as the authoritatively taught by the Church’s Magisterium, the promotion of Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass, regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Eucharist and our Mother.
II. We must strengthen catechesis on every level, beginning with and focusing on adults. If we, who are supposed to be mature in faith, do not know the Catholic Faith well, how can we live it and impart it to our children and future generations of Catholics?
III. The first two pastoral priorities, renewal in Eucharistic Spirituality and Catechesis, will foster faithful families that are the foundation of the Church and the society. We are called to protect, build up and foster holy families in our midst, without whom the Church and the world perish.
IV. If we renew the Eucharistic, catechetical, and family life of our diocese, we will simultaneously foster a culture where young people can more readily respond to the radical calls of ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life.
V. We must acknowledge and embrace the missionary character of the Catholic Faith and the vocation of all Catholics to be, not only disciples, but also apostles.
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The Public Policy Voice of the Bishops of Iowa
Bishop Walker Nickless of the Diocese of Sioux City offers reflection on Faithful Citizenship.
Bishops advise Iowa Catholics that civic engagement is a moral obligation.
For more information on the Iowa Catholic Conference, visit IowaCatholicConference.org.