WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pope Francis has named Father Jeffrey M. Fleming, chancellor of the Diocese of Helena, Montana, to be coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana.
Fleming, 56, is a native of Billings and was ordained a priest for the Helena Diocese in 1992. He also is currently moderator of the curia and pastor of St. Mary Parish in Helena.
His appointment was announced in Washington April 19 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio.
As coadjutor, he will assist Bishop Michael W. Warfel of Great Falls-Billings, who has headed the eastern Montana diocese since January 2008. He will turn 74 on Sept. 16. At age 75, bishops are required by canon law to submit their resignation to the pope.
“I know that I speak for all the priests, deacons, consecrated religious and faithful of the Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings who join with me in giving heartfelt thanks to almighty God and to our Holy Father, Pope Francis,” for naming a coadjutor bishop, Warfel said in a statement.
“He knows eastern Montana well and has the combined experience of ministry in parishes and diocesan administration, to serve us well in the future. I have assured Bishop Fleming that he can expect an enthusiastic welcome in our local church, and that we look forward to his pastoral ministry and leadership,” the bishop added.
“Upon my retirement, I will be happy to know that he will become the bishop of Great Falls-Billings,” Warfel said.
He said that about six months ago, through the papal nuncio, he petitioned Pope Francis to appoint a coadjutor bishop “to help me in the administration of our diocese and to begin a transition” for an eventual new bishop.
“I am extremely grateful to the pope for granting my request and sending us this good shepherd,” Warfel said.
Fleming is expected to relocate to the diocese in June to begin his ministry. His episcopal ordination is scheduled to take place at an afternoon Mass of welcome June 22, the feast of St. Thomas More, at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Great Falls.
“I am humbled and honored by this appointment,” Fleming said in a statement. “I am grateful to the Holy Father and encouraged by his confidence in me.”
“I am looking forward to serving alongside Bishop Warfel and learning from the priests, leaders and faithful” of the Catholic Church of central and eastern Montana, he added.
Fleming was born Feb. 10, 1966, to Mike and Glenda Fleming in Billings and raised in Belt, Montana.
He graduated from Carroll College in Helena with degrees in theology and religious education. He attended Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Oregon, where he earned a master’s degree in theology, and was ordained to the priesthood May 19, 1992, by Helena Bishop Eldon F. Curtiss.
His first assignment after ordination was as associate pastor for the Anaconda Catholic Community in Anaconda, Montana. Four years later, in 1996, he was named associate pastor at the Cathedral of St. Helena.
He then took a sabbatical year for studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, where he earned a licentiate in canon law in 1998.
That year he was appointed chaplain to Carroll College, a private, four-year Catholic diocesan college. He also served as priest director of Legendary Lodge in 1998. The Catholic-run Legendary Lodge offers weeklong summer camps for youth, with the collaboration of the Helena diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
In 2003, Fleming was named pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Dillon, Montana, before becoming pastor in 2006 at Christ the King Parish in Missoula, Montana, which serves the University of Montana.
Before the priest was assigned to Helena to serve the diocese as director of the chancery, vice chancellor and adjutant judicial vicar, in 2019, he had pastoral responsibility for St. John the Baptist Parish in Frenchtown, Montana, for six years.
Concurrent with his diocesan posts he was administrator for two Montana parishes and one Catholic community: St. Thomas Parish in Helmville, St. Jude Parish in Lincoln and the Flint Creek Catholic Community.
In 2020, he was appointed moderator of the curia and chancellor and in 2022 became the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Helena.
Warfel, who is a native of Elkhart, Indiana, in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, was appointed the seventh bishop of Great Falls-Billings by Pope Benedict XVI Nov. 20, 2007. He was the bishop of Juneau, Alaska, from 1996 until his appointment to Montana.
On the national level, he is a former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Home Missions and a former chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization.
The Diocese of Great-Falls Billings is comprised of 95,158 square miles with a total population of 420,401. The 50 parishes and 50 missions in the diocese serve a Catholic population of 38,654.