Bishop Austin Anthony Vetter (2019 - Present)

Pope Francis appointed Austin Anthony Vetter as the bishop of Helena, Montana.

Vetter, 52, was a priest from the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, where he has served as rector of the city’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit since 2018. Before that he was posted in Rome for six years as the director of spiritual formation for the Pontifical North American College.

Bishop Vetter replaces Bishop George Leo Thomas, who led the Diocese of Helena for 15 years.

After receiving a B.A. in philosophy from Bismarck’s Cardinal Muench Seminary, Vetter studied sacred theology at the Angelicum in Rome, receiving his S.T.B. in 1992. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 29, 1993.

The North Dakota native has served as the director of continuing education for clergy, a high school teacher, episcopal vicar for the permanent diaconate, and as a pastor for the St. Leo, St. Patrick, and St. Martin parishes. Vetter also has taught at Creighton University’s Institute for Priestly Formation.
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Previous Bishops

Bishop George Leo Thomas (2004-2018)

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George Leo Thomas was born May 19, 1950, in Anaconda, Mont., George Leo Thomas was raised in Butte, the second oldest of five children born to the late Mary Cronin Thomas and George Thomas. He graduated from Christian Brothers High School in Butte, Mont. and received his B.A. degree in literature from Carroll College in 1972. He entered St. Thomas Seminary, in Bothell, Wa., as a student for the Archdiocese of Seattle, where he received a master of divinity degree. He was ordained to the priesthood May 22, 1976, at St. James Cathedral in Seattle.
Following ordination, Father Thomas served as associate pastor at Holy Family Parish, Kirkland, and St. James Cathedral in Seattle. He was parish administrator at Sacred Heart Parish in Bellevue, and served at Holy Innocents Mission in Duvall.
Father Thomas served as the Catholic chaplain to the King County Jail and the Seattle City Jail for 12 years and served as chairman of the Board of Directors for Catholic Community Services for 10 years. He also served as chaplain to the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Seattle.
In 1981 Father Thomas entered graduate school at the University of Washington and was awarded a master’s degree in counseling and community mental health in 1983. In 1986 he earned a doctor of philosophy degree with an area of specialty in Pacific Northwest mission history. Father Thomas’ dissertation, titled “Catholics and the Missions of the Pacific Northwest,” received the university’s Gordon C. Lee Award for the distinguished dissertation for 1986.
In 1987 Father Thomas was appointed chancellor and vicar general, positions he held for 17 years. Following the death of Archbishop Thomas Murphy in 1997, Father Thomas was elected administrator for the Archdiocese of Seattle until the appointment of Archbishop Alexander J. Brunett, who re-appointed Father Thomas as vicar general.
George Leo Thomas was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle by Pope John Paul II on Nov. 19, 1999, and was ordained Bishop on Jan. 28, 2000. He continued his service as Vicar General and as chairman of the Board of Directors for Catholic Community Services and the Archdiocesan Housing Authority.
On March 23, 2004, he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Helena, and was installed at the Cathedral of St. Helena on June 4, 2004.
On February 28, 2018, he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Las Vegas.

Bishop Robert C. Morlino (1999-2003)

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Robert C. Morlino was born December 31, 1946, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He is the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Morlino. His father died while he was in high school, his mother in 1980. He was raised in northeastern Pennsylvania, graduating from Jesuit High School in Scranton.
He entered the seminary for the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, and was ordained to the priesthood for that Jesuit Province on June 1, 1974, by Lawrence Cardinal Sheehan at Loyola College Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland.
His education includes a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Fordham University, a master’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame, the Master of Divinity Degree from the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., and a doctorate in Moral Theology from the Gregorian University in Rome.
Father Morlino taught Philosophy at Loyola College in Baltimore, St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, Boston College, the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College. He served as an instructor in continuing education for priests, religious and laity and as director of parish renewal programs.
In 1981, Father Morlino became a priest of the Diocese of Kalamazoo and served there as Vicar for Spiritual Development, Executive Assistant and Theological Consultant to the Bishop, as Moderator of the Curia, and as the Promoter of Justice in the Diocesan Tribunal. He served as administrator of St. Mary Parish in Niles, St. Ann Parish in Gull Lake, and St. Ambrose Parish in Delton, Michigan. Since July 1991 he was the rector of St. Augustine Cathedral in Kalamazoo. He had served as part-time theology professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit since 1990 and was scheduled to begin a full-time faculty appointment there in the fall of 1999.
On July 6, 1999, Pope John Paul II appointed Father Robert Morlino as the Ninth Bishop of Helena.
On August 1, 2003, Bishop Robert Morlino took canonical possession of the Diocese of Madison.

Bishop Alex J. Brunett (1994-1997)

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Alex J. Brunett, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, was named the eighth Bishop of Helena in 1994 and served for three and a half years. Shortly after his arrival in Helena, Bishop Brunett began a series of ambitious tours of the diocese, attending welcoming ceremonies and visiting parishes. His preaching centered on themes that permeated his ministry in the diocese including that Catholics should be joyful about their faith, maintain hope for the future, and seek unity by healing division and attitudes which separate one from another. These themes became the centerpiece of “Crossing the Threshold to the Third Millennium,” a celebration at Carroll College that was one of the most significant events held during Bishop Brunett’s tenure in the diocese.
Bishop Brunett placed substantial emphasis on striving for unity beyond the perimeter of the Catholic Church. His expertise in ecumenism earned him a committee seat and later the chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. As a result, he traveled nationally and internationally for a variety of dialogue sessions during his tenure as Helena’s bishop.
A strong proponent of Catholic education, Bishop Brunett gave a great deal of attention to the diocesan schools. He appointed a diocesan superintendent of schools and endorsed changes at Carroll College to enhance its Catholic identity and improve its curriculum.
Bishop Brunett was named Archbishop of Seattle in 1997.

Bishop Elden F. Curtiss (1976-1993)

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On March 4, 1976, Elden F. Curtiss was appointed the seventh Bishop of Helena. Bishop Curtiss made it his goal to try and unify and reconcile a sometimes divided and pluralistic church that culminated in his hosting a Diocesan Synod in 1988, the first in the diocese to involve the laity. One of the major outcomes of the synod was the formation of pastoral and finance councils in most of the parishes in the diocese. In 1984, Bishop Curtis led a series of celebrations called the “Pilgrimage of Faith” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the diocese. A colorful outdoor Centennial Mass at Carroll College capped the yearlong celebration.
Bishop Curtiss was a strong advocate of lay ministries in the Diocese of Helena. To this end, he established the Program of Formation of Lay Ministry in 1982. The two-year program of weekend instruction became a popular vehicle for enhancing the involvement of the laity in the Church and for those wishing to continue their studies in the Diaconate program. He also brought into the diocese the Renew process, a two-and-a-half year process of parish-centered spiritual development that brought participants together in small groups to discuss their faith. Bishop Curstiss endorsed this model of small Christian communities as a valuable means of spiritual growth for all parishioners in the diocese.
An ardent supporter of youth ministry, Bishop Curtiss took sweeping actions to raise up Church leaders from among the high school-age youths in the diocese. He sponsored weeklong training sessions at Legendary Lodge and annual Catholic Youth Coalition (CYC) Conventions at Carroll College. In 1986, he embarked on a “Journey with Youth,” a series of two-hour meetings with teens in each of diocese’s deaneries.
On May 4, 1993, Bishop Curtiss announced his appointment as the Archbishop of Omaha, Nebraska.

Bishop Raymond G. Hunthausen (1962-1975)

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Bishop Raymond G. Hunthausen was a Montana native and president of Carroll College. His episcopacy coincided with Vatican Council II and was marked with great change both within the diocese and within the Church itself. The greatest change came with the increased participation and involvement by the laity in Church matters.
In the early Montana Church, Native American missions played an important role. In 1963, a new mission was established by the diocese in the Central American country of Guatemala under the leadership of Father Jim Hazelton. In a cooperative agreement with the Diocese of Solola, the Diocese of Helena sent priests, sisters, and lay people to work in two parishes in that country. In addition to religious work, the diocese has been providing educational, medical, and social services since that time.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a crisis in Catholic education in the Diocese of Helena. Continuing financial difficulties and an increasing lack of religious personnel forced the closure of most Catholic elementary and high schools. Today, only six Catholic schools remain in operation in the diocese. The closure, however, led to a strengthened Religious Education program which functions in every parish and is coordinated by a central office.
In the spring of 1975, Archbishop Thomas Connolly of Seattle retired and Bishop Hunthausen was named Seattle’s second Archbishop.

Bishop Joseph M. Gilmore (1936-1962)

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Born in New York, Joseph M. Gilmore was raised in Anaconda, and served as a priest in the diocese prior to his election. His 26-year episcopacy was one of growth for the diocese. In addition to the material development, programs were developed to foster vocations, help resettle refugees, retrain unskilled workers, aid in adoptions, promote the lay apostolate, as well as care for the spiritual welfare of the flock.
In 1941, the diocese celebrated the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Catholicism in Montana. It was in 1841, when Father DeSmet founded St. Mary’s Mission in the Bitterroot Valley, the first Catholic Church in Montana. The Diamond Jubilee of the diocese and the Golden Jubilee of the Cathedral were celebrated April 16, 1959. Bishop Gilmore died very unexpectedly in San Francisco on April 2, 1962.

Bishop Ralph Leo Hayes (1933-1935)

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The fourth Bishop of Helena, Ralph Leo Hayes served only a short time. His episcopacy ran from June 1933 until September 1935, when he was appointed rector of the North American College in Rome.
In the interim between the fourth and fifth bishops’ tenures, the city of Helena was struck by a series of devastating earthquakes that inflicted severe damage on the Catholic institutions of the city. St. John ‘s Hospital and St. Vincent’s Academy were destroyed. The inhabitants of St. Joseph’s Orphan’s Home and the House of the Good Shepherd were forced to seek temporary housing elsewhere while their buildings were repaired. The interior of the Cathedral was damaged but no structural defects occurred as a result of the quake. Pleas for relief went out to the bishops of the United States and by January of 1936, over $40,000 had been donated to the relief fund both from within and outside of the diocese.

Bishop George J. Finnigan, CSC (1927-1932)

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The third Bishop of Helena was George Finnigan, a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross who came to Montana from Notre Dame. He was the first member of the Holy Cross order to be chosen bishop of a diocese in the United States. He decided on several objectives for his episcopate: to win the understanding and the cooperation of the clergy and of the people; to establish means of encouraging and financing native vocations to the priesthood; and to improve the condition of the Native Americans entrusted to his care. These were the guidelines this quiet, unassuming prelate followed.
Bishop Finnigan’s great interest in the Blackfeet Indians resulted in his adoption into that tribe. An impressive ceremony was conducted in Browning on April 22, 1928, by Moutnat Chief who gave Bishop Finnigan the name “Na-toa-ye-owa-shin” which means “Holy Word.” He worked diligently in support of the Native Americans both with appeals for money to upgrade their churches, schools and infrastructure, and through prayer.
The U.S. experienced the great stock market crash during Bishop Finnigan’s episcopacy. This event, combined with a severe drought Montana experienced during this time period, put substantial pressure on the Church to care for the poor. Bishop Finnigan led the effort to care for those throughout the diocese hurt most by these events.
One of Bishop Finnigan’s great interests as Bishop of Helena was Mount St. Charles College. Coming from one of America’s leading Catholic universities, he realized the importance of Catholic higher education. He devoted substantial resources and efforts to getting accreditation and long-term financial support for the institution. At the commencement exercises in 1932, Bishop Finnigan announced that, henceforth, the name of the school would be Carroll College in honor of its beloved founder.
Bishop Finnigan succeeded in founding the first diocesan newspaper, the Register, Western Montana Edition, which first appeared on March 6, 1932. Bishop Finnigan died on August 14, 1932, at age 47, and was buried at Notre Dame.

Bishop John Patrick Carroll (1904-1925)

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John Patrick Carroll came from Dubuque, Iowa, where he served as president of St. Joseph’s College (now Loras College). Bishop Carroll was a builder and an educator. He vastly increased the number of Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the diocese. In addition he built Mount St. Charles College (now Carroll College) with two purposes in mind: “to provide men of high intellectual training and to provide a native priesthood.” Today, the vast majority of secular priests serving in the Diocese of Helena are graduates of Carroll College. The college also can count two bishops among its alumni: Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen, formerly Bishop of Helena, and Archbishop of Seattle, and Bishop Bernard J. Topel of Spokane, now deceased.
Bishop Carroll also succeeded in introducing numerous religious orders into the diocese to operate schools and hospitals. The Irish Christian Brothers and the Premonstratensian Fathers also came to the diocese under the auspices of Bishop Carroll.
Bishop Carroll is also remembered for his building of the magnificent Cathedral of St. Helena. Modeled after the Votive Church of Vienna, this Cathedral in the See City is one of the most beautiful in the United States. Many of the contributors to its building were people of prominence in Montana and American history: Thomas Cruse, discoverer of the greatest gold mine in American history; T.C. Power, early Montana “merchant prince”; and, Senator Thomas J. Walsh, investigator of the famous Teapot Dome scandal.

Bishop John Baptist Brondel (1884-1903)

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As the first Bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Bishop John Baptist
Brondel formed a solid foundation upon which all of the succeeding bishops would build. He traveled the state extensively bringing the Word of God to the frontier settlements. He established parishes and built churches. His greatest achievement was in the area of the clergy where he increased the number of secular priests significantly. By 1903, he had increased the number of young men preparing for a priestly life in Montana from one to 13.
Prior to his death, Bishop Brondel petitioned the Holy See for the division of his diocese due to the difficulties involved in traveling the entire state. His request was approved and on May 18, 1904, the Diocese of Great Falls, covering the eastern two-thirds of the state, was erected. Bishop Brondel died November 3, 1903, and was succeeded by John Carroll as second Bishop of Helena.