Pope Francis taps Helena bishop as new head of Las Vegas diocese

By Elise Harris

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Bishop George Leo Thomas. Credit: Diocese of Helena.

Bishop George Leo Thomas, who until now has led the Diocese of Helena, will be taking the reins in Las Vegas, bringing with him broad pastoral experience and expertise in psychology, mental health issues, mission work and prison ministry.

In the Feb. 28 announcement from the Vatican, it was noted that Bishop Thomas of will be taking over for Bishop Joseph Anthony Pepe, who has led the Diocese of Las Vegas since 2001, but is now stepping into retirement at age 75.

Thomas, 67, was born May 19, 1950 in Anaconda, Montana as the second  of five children. He was raised in Butte where he attended Catholic school, graduating from Christian Brothers High School in 1968.

He received a degree in literature from Carroll College in 1972 before entering St. Thomas Seminary in Washington as a student with the Archdiocese of Seattle. He obtained a master of divinity degree there before being ordained to the priesthood May 22, 1976 in Seattle.

After his ordination, Thomas served in several parishes, including Holy Family Parish in Kirkland and St. James Cathedral in Seattle, where he had been ordained. He also served as parish administrator for Sacred Heart Parish in Bellevue and Holy Innocents Mission in Duvall.

In addition to his pastoral positions, Thomas was also the prison chaplain for the King County Jail and the Seattle City Jail for 12 years. He was chairman of the board of directors for Catholic Community services for 10 years, and also served as chaplain for the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Seattle.

Thomas then entered graduate school at the University of Washington in 1981, where he received a master's degree in counseling and mental health.

In 1986, he obtained a doctorate in philosophy with an emphasis in Pacific Northwest mission history. His dissertation, titled “Catholics and the Missions of the Pacific Northwest,” was given the university's Gordan C. Lee award.

A year later, Thomas was appointed chancellor and vicar general for the Archdiocese of Seattle. He held the positions for 17 years before being named apostolic administrator for the diocese in 1997, following the death of Archbishop Thomas Murphy.

Thomas was appointed auxiliary bishop for Seattle two years later in 1999, and in March 2004 was tapped to head the Diocese of Helena.

He speaks Spanish and is also a member of the Bishops for the American College in Louvain and  Native-American Catholics committees for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

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