SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KTIV) -- A little over five years ago, a Catholic priest in Denver, Colorado got some big news that would change his life and uproot him to Northwest Iowa.
Father R. Walker Nickless would soon become Bishop Nickless, guiding Catholics in the Sioux City Diocese. He sat down with NewsChannel 4's Zach Tecklenburg about the past and present challenges facing the faith.
Bishop R. Walker Nickless never gave Sioux City, Iowa any thought until Halloween of 2005. That's the day he found out leaders of the Catholic Church were vetting him for his current job.
"The opportunity to come here has been a blessing beyond belief," said Nickless.
Still, the self-proclaimed "city boy" knew life in Iowa would be different.
"I know a lot more about corn and soybeans than I ever thought I would know in my whole life," Nickless said.
Agriculture aside, Nickless went from leading one parish to running a network of 114. The Sioux City Diocese covers 24 counties, with 83,000 parishioners, eight high schools, and thirteen grade schools. Before he could settle in, Nickless had to take on allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of priests in his new diocese.
"All priests are human. They make mistakes. They fail, they sin, and we have to acknowledge that and respond to that," Nickless said.
Nickless also worked as a "vicar for clergy" in Denver, which meant he dealt with misconduct among priests. He says the diocese has done a good job of fixing past transgressions, offering counseling and support to victims, and following a national charter to keep kids safe.
"This is a good place for children to be now and parents can be trusted with what we do," Nickless said.
Nickless also inherited challenges facing many churches across the country. He says dwindling numbers are among the most difficult.
"Those changes are going to affect us in ways we won't be able to handle," Nickless said.
In the Midwest, where population growth is slower than in other parts of the country, Nickless worries about changing demographics.
"Families aren't having as many children as they had in the past, that the small family farms are disappearing quickly. The young people leave the state and look for better opportunities in other places," Nickless said.
The generosity of people in the pews funds the diocese and keeps churches going. The Bishop's made tough decisions, which include church consolidations and closures.
"We can't afford to keep some of our large, beautiful churches open when there's no people," Nickless said.
Churches in Quimby, Maple River, and most recently, Alvord, have shut down due to a drop in parishioners. Taking away a place of worship is a painstaking decision, but Nickless knows he has a whole diocese to keep in mind.
"Where can we best put our resources and how can we use them in the most efficient way?" Nickless said.
Even with the hardships, Nickless says the Sioux City Diocese has plenty of strength. He says much of it comes from the people.
"Over 50% go to mass on a weekly basis and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing and much higher than a lot of other places in our country," Nickless said.
A corner of Iowa with a strong faith and courage to move forward.
"It's really a solid, wonderful place to be," Nickless said.