Creighton celebrates the 20th century's 'Flying Bishop'
OMAHA, Neb. – Creighton University commemorates the life and work of Nebraska native and Papua New Guinea’s modern pioneer Leo Arkfeld with "The Archbishop Leo Arkfeld, SVD, Exhibit and Lecture," which opens in the Mike and Joseph Harper Center on Thursday, March 22 at 6 p.m.
The exhibit includes photographs and artifacts—sculptures, jewelry and other cultural objects—that indigenous tribal leaders gave to the archbishop during 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.
As a youth, the young Arkfeld dreamt 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 in the region.
Arkfeld’s immediate predecessor in Wewak, Bishop Joseph Lörks, SVD—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 Father Vince Ohlinger, SVD, 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, SVD, Exhibit and Lecture," Ohlinger will tell stories from the archbishop’s extraordinary life. Father Adam MacDonald, SVD, will speak about the Society of the Divine Word’s missionary work throughout the world.
The Mike and Josie Harper Center is located at 602 North 20th Street in Omaha. The exhibit and lectures will take place in Suite 3006 and Room 3028. For information about parking, go to www.creighton.edu/harpercenter/parking.
The event is sponsored by Creighton University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Nebraska Arts Council. For more information about the event, contact Cindy Workman at (402) 280-2969 or Theresa Carson at (847) 412-1606.