The Northern Cross
As usual, it’s been an eventful 12 months in the Diocese of Duluth. While many of the most important things in life don’t make newspaper headlines, some of them do. Here are the top five stories of 2014 in the Duluth Diocese as chosen by the staff of The Northern Cross.
On Oct. 3, the diocese itself hit a major milestone — its 125th birthday. Pope Leo XIII established the diocese in 1889 and named its first bishop, James McGolrick, a few months later. Celebration of the anniversary began quietly, with Bishop Paul Sirba, the diocese’s ninth bishop, transferring the diocesan patronal feast, Our Lady of the Rosary, to Oct. 5 and celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary. The celebration will continue with deanery events through 2015 and will culminate with a major diocesan celebration in September.
The faithful of the diocese and especially St. Michael Church in Duluth were shocked and grieved by the death of the parish’s pastor, Father Thomas Radaich, on April 21 — soon after he had finished celebrating the Easter Triduum. Father Radaich, 70, was remembered by his friend Father William Graham, now pastor of the parish, as a good-hearted servant who left a legacy of development, teaching, preaching and supporting schools and called the Easter death a kind of “answered prayer” for a priest. Father Radaich is believed to be the first priest of the diocese in a long time to die while serving as an active pastor, perhaps since 1975.
One of the ongoing stories for the Diocese of Duluth is coming to terms with changing demographics and the number of priests to serve and a long-term strategic plan to deal with it published in 2012, implemented on an “as-needed” basis. This year that meant the final stages of closure — civil merger — for some diocesan parishes. Sacred Heart Church, Bruno; St. Joseph Church, Finlayson; and St. Michael Church, Kerrick, merged into St. Luke Church, Sandstone. St. John Church, Hill City, and St. Paul Church, Warba, merged into St. Joseph Church, Grand Rapids. St. Mary Church, Keewatin, and St. Kevin Church, Pengilly, merged into St. Cecilia Church, Nashwauk. And St. Mary Church, Marble, and St. Joseph Church, Taconite, merged into Mary Immaculate Church, Coleraine. “It’s very difficult, because these are communities of faith where people have connections and they have history and they have deep feelings,” said Father James Bissonette, diocesan vicar general, when the first of these mergers became final.
Two priests from the Diocese of Duluth, Fathers Richard Kunst and Michael Schmitz, continued to draw national attention and media appearances. In April, it was announced that Father Kunst, pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen, was going to have a second season of his show “The Papacy: A Living History” on the Eternal Word Television Network. The show, which also features Father Ryan Moravitz, is based on Father Kunst’s collection of papal artifacts. It was expanded to seven episodes this year to feature the canonizations of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II. Father Schmitz, director of youth and young adult ministry for the diocese, has a growing reputation as a national speaker, made at least one appearance on EWTN, gave numerous parish missions, made CDs for Lighthouse Media, appeared in a popular video about Catholic teaching on same-sex attraction, did high-profile work for Ascension Press and, well, you get the idea. Father Schmitz said the opportunities have just sort of happened, and he’s always working to put his ministry in the diocese and at the University of Minnesota Duluth first and is having to say “no” more. “The priest should be the father of this community, and so I just don’t want to be an absentee father,” he said.
Two stalwarts of the Pastoral Center staff retired in 2014 — Deacon David Craig as director of deacon formation and Mike Bilden as director of development. Their replacements are now on board. Deacon John Weiske took over the diaconate role in July near the close of 36 years of work at the University of Minnesota Duluth. His transition has been eased by the fact that he had been assisting with the program’s first stages for “seven or eight years.” In the development office, Aubry Haben began her new duties in December. The Notre Dame graduate had worked for a nonprofit in New York City, pursued graduate studies in theology and got married before taking the new job. “It’s kind of one of those things where you look back and see the thread of God, connecting everything to bring you to this point,” she said.