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Creighton University Celebrates Life and Work of the “Flying Bishop”

Creighton University will commemorate the spiritual life and work of Nebraska native and Papua New Guinea’s modern pioneer Archbishop Leo Arkfeld, S.V.D., at the “Archbishop Leo Arkfeld, SVD Exhibit and Lecture” on March 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. in rooms 3028 and 3006 of the Mike and Josie Harper Center, located at 602 North 20th St. The event is free and open to the public.

The exhibit includes photographs and artifacts—sculptures, jewelry and other cultural objects—that indigenous tribal leaders gave to the archbishop over the course his 55 years as a missionary in New Guinea.

As a key leader in 20th-century New Guinea, Arkfeld helped to rebuild the island after World War II and usher it into the modern era.

When he was younger, Arkfeld dreamed of being a sportsman. Instead, when he was 19, an accident led him to ponder the meaning of life.

Thus began the journey of the man whom Time Magazine internationally dubbed “The Flying Bishop.”

When he became a bishop in 1948 at age 36, he was one of the world’s youngest bishops. The task ahead was daunting. The infrastructure of the country was in shambles and so was the Catholic Church. Arkfeld’s immediate predecessor in Wewak, Bishop Joseph Lörks, S.V.D., — along with 38 priests, brothers and sisters—had been brutally murdered on the Japanese destroyer Akikaze in 1943.

Under Arkfeld’s leadership, the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Wewak built numerous churches, medical clinics and schools, including the Kaindi Teachers’ College. He and his missionaries introduced a modern school system. Countless students, including Papua New Guinea’s first prime minister, Michael Somare, received a formal education through them.

“His main thrust as a missionary priest and bishop was to build up the Catholic Church in central New Guinea,” said Vince Ohlinger, S.V.D., both a confrere and the archbishop’s nephew. “He was an ordinary farm boy who grew up in Iowa, but with faith and trust in God he responded in the best way that he could to the events in his life.”

As part of “The Archbishop Leo Arkfeld Exhibit and Lecture,” Ohlinger will tell stories from the archbishop’s extraordinary life. Adam MacDonald, S.V.D., will speak about the Society of the Divine Word’s missionary work throughout the world.

This event is sponsored by Creighton University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Nebraska Arts Council. For more information, contact Luz M. Colon-Rodriguez at LRodriguez@creighton.edu or call (402) 280-2819.