Bishop-elect Austin A. Vetter has local tie

North Texas Catholic
(Oct 14, 2019) Local

Pope Francis has appointed Father Austin A. Vetter, a priest of the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D., to be the bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Mont. The appointment was announced in Washington Oct. 8, 2019, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Bishop-designate Vetter is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Bismarck)

FORT WORTH — Former Diocese of Fort Worth Director of Stewardship and Parish Relations Diana Liska said the choice was always obvious.

“He’s my uncle,” Liska said. “But once he became a priest, we always called him Father out of respect.”

Although she was a 10-year-old at the time, Liska said she remembers Father Austin Vetter’s first Mass. On Nov. 20, Liska and her family members will be on hand to celebrate Fr. Vetter’s installation as bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Montana.

“Our family is renting buses to make the road trip to Montana,” said Liska, who attends Holy Spirit Parish in Duncanville with her husband and children.

Liska’s father, Leland Vetter, feels the same when it comes to his brother.

“In my mind, once he became a priest, you call him Father,” Vetter said.

Not, Vetter clarified, that he and his brother don’t still kid around just as they’ve always done.

For Liska, it’s much the same.

“He’s always Fr. Austin,” Liska said. “But he’s also very down to earth. We laugh, talk about everything and anything. We still call and text all the time, tell each other ridiculous things.”

Liska holds fond memories of her uncle celebrating Mass at the family farm, which dates to 1888, during family reunions, and of him visiting her and her sister when they lived in Chicago. Liska jokes that she is Fr. Vetter’s favorite niece.

Pope Francis appointed Fr. Vetter, formerly of the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, as Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Helena. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, publicized the appointment on Oct. 8. The Diocese of Helena comprises 51,922 square miles and has a population of 45,400 Catholics.

The youngest of 12 children, Fr. Vetter was born Sept. 13, 1967 in Linton, North Dakota and ordained a priest in the Diocese of Bismarck on June 29, 1993.

Two of Liska’s brothers — she has nine siblings — are attending seminary in Rome and two uncles on her mother’s side are priests, but Fr. Vetter is the only priest on her father’s side.

“No,” Liska said when asked if she knew her uncle was soon to be appointed. “It’s not a huge surprise though. We’ve talked about it before through the years, and he was in Rome for a long time. I remember when we were younger we used to ask each other, ‘Do you think he’ll become a bishop?’ But, like most priests, he’s very humble.”

Bishop-elect Vetter and his mother (photo courtesy Diana Liska)

Leland Vetter reacted to the news much like his daughter.

“Very proud but it’s kind of a numbing thing,” Vetter said. “I’m not surprised really, and yet I am. But this is really something. Priesthood and religious life are held in high esteem in our family.”

Vetter said his 89-year-old mother is beyond proud.

“Oh, she’s just taken aback and it’s all kind of amazing to her still,” Vetter said.

Vetter describes his brother as a fun-loving yet modest man.

“Growing up we didn’t own a lot of toys, or need them,” Vetter said. “We had the trees, the creek, things like that to keep us occupied.”

Fr. Vetter loves to dance at weddings, sing at family gatherings, and, more than anything, enjoy time with family and friends.

With more than 100 cousins and a bevy of other family members, Fr. Vetter’s installation as bishop should be a well-attended affair, his brother said.

“So long as the weather cooperates,” Vetter said. “It’s snowing now. In fact, I think I just spotted Santa Claus.”

Liska, who now devotes her time to raising her family, said her uncle definitely played a role in her spiritual life and decision to work for the Diocese of Fort Worth, and often served as a sounding board during her time there.

“He certainly was an inspiration to all of us kids,” Liska said. “Always there for us and wanting to be involved in our lives.”

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