Father Erik Pohlmeier, a priest for 24 years in the Diocese of Little Rock, was chosen by Pope Francis May 24 to become the 11th bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla.
He will be ordained and installed a bishop at St. Joseph Church in Jacksonville Friday, July 22.
“‘Seek first the kingdom of God,’” Bishop-elect Pohlmeier said during a May 24 morning press conference, his first public words about his appointment. “Now these are words that I know by heart, but sometimes it takes me a little while to actually think of them and that was the case on May 15. As I finished three Masses in my parish and I sat down in my car and then thought, ‘Maybe I'll get some lunch and go see a movie,’ and then the phone rang.”
He admitted his first reaction to receiving the call from Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre asking for a response to serve as bishop was “shock and nothing else really.” But soon, after saying yes and “breathing again,” he reflected on the idea of the kingdom of God, which he revealed would be his episcopal motto. He later explained this motto, “Seek first the kingdom of God,” would impact his approach to serving as bishop in two main ways.
“One is to set our priorities,” he said. “We always need to keep first things first. And the first thing is to seek the kingdom of God, to seek God's will in everything that we do. The second reason I'm choosing this motto is because Jesus makes clear in the Gospels that the kingdom of God reaches into every aspect of life. It should continually be discovered in new ways and it's the work of our lives of faith, that discovery. Jesus revealed the father who is the creator of all and pervades all of existence. And so the goal of Catholic life is not only to have more people at church, but to have more church people living their faith everywhere that they are, sharing the work that God has done in them. So at the beginning of my time with you I want to ask you to help me live my episcopal motto. I come as a shepherd. And the fields where we roam are everywhere in this diocese.”
Born July 20, 1971, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Bishop-elect Pohlmeier is one of five children to Deacon Tom and Sharon Pohlmeier of Paris. He was ordained to the priesthood July 25, 1998, at Subiaco Abbey. Throughout his 24 years, he served in parishes in Little Rock, Lake Village and Hot Springs. He was appointed pastor of Christ the King in Little Rock in 2020 when former pastor Msgr. Francis I. Malone was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport, La. Bishop-elect Pohlmeier is the fourth priest from the Diocese of Little Rock to be named a bishop. The Diocese of St. Augustine is one of seven in the state, with a Catholic population of more than 149,000 in 17 counties, with 37 schools and centers. In the Diocese of Little Rock, there are about 154,000 Catholics across 75 counties.
Retiring Bishop Felipe J. Estévez, who has served the Florida diocese for 11 years, introduced Bishop-elect Pohlmeier at the morning conference, reading a statement in part from Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, pointing out his commitment to Catholic education, pro-life causes, faith formation and his ability to speak Spanish. In a statement sent to the people of the Diocese of Little Rock, Bishop Taylor stated, “Bishop-elect Pohlmeier is a born leader, a man of vision who takes the initiative, a hard worker and a man deeply devoted to the Lord. He seeks to live his faith in everything he does, promoting everything that the Church promotes, including the values of family and life, human rights and the safeguarding of creation.”
Bishop-elect Pohlmeier’s words had the tone of a homily, attributing this move to God, his upbringing and family, the people of Arkansas and focusing on the work ahead.
Shock reverberated through the Diocese of Little Rock, with hundreds of well wishes and blessings pouring in within the first hours of the announcement on the Arkansas Catholic Facebook page May 24. But none were more shocked than his parents, who said they were stunned to silence when he told them in person May 18.
“It has been a whirlwind since Father Erik told us this was going to happen. It was hard to keep it under wraps for that many days,” said Sharon Pohlmeier, longtime secretary of St. Joseph Church in Paris, where they raised their children.
His father Deacon Tom Pohlmeier added, “We’re kind of numb.”
“It’s really just been overwhelming,” Sharon continued. “Our family has just been the greatest blessing we could ever have. We ask God why he’s blessed us with the family he’s given us because it’s so overwhelming. We’ve been blessed in so many ways and this is the greatest blessing of course. All of our kids have been very active in the Church and supported Erik in his priesthood.”
The two have been able to see Bishop-elect Pohlmeier at least once a month the past five to six years, as he oversaw classes for diaconate candidates held at Subiaco Abbey.
“Now he’s going to be so far away. It’s really hard to think of him being that far away. But we know that’s what God is calling him to do,” his mother said.
His brother, Jason Pohlmeier, principal at St. Joseph School in Fayetteville, will be ordained to the diaconate June 25, part of the 46-men diaconate class led by Bishop-elect Pohlmeier as director of the office of deacon formation. Both Jason and their father will serve as deacons during Bishop-elect Pohlmeier’s episcopal ordination.
“I think it’s a reminder for us all that God can call us at any time in ways we don’t expect it,” his brother said. “It provides an example for all of us to be ready to serve whenever we are called.”
More than the typical parish priest, Bishop-elect Pohlmeier has held a variety of diverse roles throughout his years of priesthood, including current roles as the director of the office of faith formation, Arkansas Catholic theological consultant for 19 years and director of continuing education of clergy.
Jeff Hines, who will succeed Bishop-elect Pohlmeier as the director of faith formation this summer, has known him for about 10 years, meeting him while earning his degree through the now closed Little Rock Theology Institute, which Bishop-elect Pohlmeier led for many years.
“Last time I went out to eat with him it was in a restaurant in Little Rock, it was a busy restaurant” and the two were in a dimly lit corner, not seated in a space that many would easily spot. “The entire time we were there, there was a procession of people” coming to tell him hello, recall baptisms and other sacraments or introduce him to friends or relatives. “This went on for an entire hour. I felt like, ‘Wow, what an impact this guy has had on this city.’”
Sam Denefe, Bishop-elect Pohlmeier’s former evangelization director at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock, said he’ll be able to juggle all the responsibilities of a bishop because of the work he’s already done.
“He will be an absolutely amazing bishop because he understands evangelization. … It’s about helping people on their intimate journey with Jesus,” Denefe said, whose family now attends St. Vincent de Paul in Rogers.
He was also her spiritual director for three years, and she pointed to his “brilliant” mind, being able to synthesize Church documents and “drop it down into their hearts” of those he ministers.
“I think I'm going to miss his presence in our diocese because he’s obviously done so much and has a servant’s heart,” Denefe said. “I remember saying ‘You’re going to be bishop.’ And him being like, ‘No.’ He was so sweet and so humble, and everyone was like, ‘Yes.’”
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