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Father Nicholas Nelson: Dying a happy death

Above the right side altar of my church, Queen of Peace Church in Cloquet, there is a beautiful painting of St. Joseph in the moments before his death. In the painting, our Blessed Mother kneels at his feet, and our Lord Jesus stands at the side of the failing Joseph. We call on St. Joseph as the patron of a happy death. Why? For just that reason: He died with our Lord and Mary at his side. You can’t die a happier death than that. 

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

It is a lost but important tradition to pray to St. Joseph for a happy death. I remember discussing with others when I was younger how we would like to die. This always included the most painless ways of dying. This is not what we mean by a “happy death.” A happy death does not mean a painless death. A happy death means dying in friendship with God. It means dying in a state of grace having received the Last Rites, or Last Sacraments. Knowing that we have received the promise of grace through the sacraments makes one happy as one dies. People can’t truly be happy if they are questioning or unsure of where they stand with God as they take their last few breaths on this side of eternity. 

Those who receive the Last Rites can die happy and in peace knowing that while they may need further purification, they won’t be lost for all eternity, they will eventually be on their way to eternal beatitude in heaven. 

When we speak of the Last Rites, we mean three sacraments. A person first confesses their sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The person then receives the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Finally, the person receives Holy Communion. We call this last Communion before death “Viaticum.” Viaticum comes from its Latin root meaning “provisions for the journey.” Here we can call it “Food for the Journey” — food, the Bread of Life, helping us on our way to heaven. There are also other comforting prayers and even a plenary indulgence called the Apostolic Pardon available. Oftentimes, a person will be very close to death and unable to confess and unable to receive Viaticum. However, as long as they are alive, they are still able to receive the Anointing of the Sick. And God is so merciful and so generous with his grace that Anointing of the Sick has the power to forgive sins, even mortal sins if the person is unable to confess. 

God is so good to give us the sacraments. God doesn’t want us to be anxious about our relationship with him and where we stand with him. He gives us concrete tangible rituals through which he promises forgiveness of sin and grace. That is the peace that Christ brings us, the peace of knowing we are right with our Creator. 

In 1672, Jesus began appearing to a French nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Jesus wanted to reemphasize the infinite depth of his love for humanity, how available his love and mercy is, but also that so many are cold to it. In order to draw people to him, Jesus offered St. Margaret Mary 12 promises. The last of these promises concerns a happy death. He said, “I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.” This is where we get the First Fridays devotion. If you haven’t made your nine First Fridays, consider it as you next spiritual undertaking. 

As a priest, I will get a call from a funeral home saying a Catholic had died and the family wants to do a funeral, or a family will call me once the person has died and they want me to come bless the body. And way too often, no one even told me the person was dying. We can do the funeral, and I can bless the body, but it’s sad, because these individuals still missed out on the sacraments. The sacraments cannot be given to those we know have already died. 

Now, we can always have hope for a person’s salvation, but we can have much greater peace knowing someone has received the sacraments and their promise of grace and mercy before they died. 

Friends, make it clear that you want to see a priest before you die. Let your entire family know. If you have a loved one who is dying, make sure a priest comes. And don’t wait until the last minute! You may have to make a few calls, especially if you aren’t familiar with the area or parish or who the priest is. But be persistent and make sure a priest comes. It truly can be the difference between eternity in hell and eternity in heaven. 

I’ll end with the words of St. Cyprian, “What an honor, what happiness to depart joyfully from this world, to go forth in glory from the anguish and pain, in one moment to close the eyes that looked on the world of men and in the next to open them at once to look on God and Christ.” 

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of Queen of Peace and Holy Family parishes in Cloquet. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected].

Father Richard Kunst: How to ‘win’ an argument on social media

Many of my brother priests are on social media, and a lot of them do great things with that form of communication. The last few popes have repeatedly encouraged the church to utilize the most modern form of communications and technologies to spread the Gospel and to evangelize, so the use of social media can be such a great thing. 

Father Richard Kunst

I, however, choose not to use it, and for a few reasons. 

First, I cannot stand technology. I am somewhere in the 16th century when it comes to technology, and I am happy to be there. Our former bishop, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, used to say to me regularly, “Father Kunst, that is willful, culpable ignorance.” I can hear his voice now. Another reason I do not use social media is that I know my own weakness. I had a Facebook account for a few months, years ago, and I quickly realized just how much of my time it sucked up. 

And finally, I don’t do social media because I really like to debate, and dare I say even argue, and there is just no good or easy way of ending arguments in the world of social media. 

We all experience conflict in our lives, whether it be with family, friends, coworkers, you name it. If you are a pastor of a parish, you experience conflict more than most! But it is social media that seems to be the new front of conflict in our modern world. It is so easy and tempting to anonymously type a comment to a post that you know will evoke a negative response. Maybe it is not so much that it is anonymous, because people can see who is doing the posting. Maybe it is easier to do it from the computer, because we tend to be more bold when we do not have to immediately face the person we are criticizing. 

Conflict, in and of itself, is not necessarily sinful, although it can easily get there. We are all different, and we all have our opinions, so conflict is inevitable. How we end conflict is the key. There is obviously a good and proper way to end conflict and a bad way to end it. 

The Scriptures, as we can imagine, are full of examples, mostly of the bad kind, and we see that right from the beginning. The third and fourth people on the earth were the two sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, who famously give a bad example of conflict. The story is well known, and it is so void of details that we are left to guess exactly what happened, but as we all know, their conflict ended with Cain killing his brother, the absolute worst way to end a conflict. 

As always, the good example comes from Jesus himself. The four Gospels are full of instances in which the scribes and Pharisees try to get into conflict and arguments with Jesus. One example is particularly poignant, and that is in the eighth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Read the following three verses closely, because they provide us a very good example: 

“The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with him. They were looking for some heavenly sign from him as a test. With a sigh from the depth of his spirit, he said, ‘Why does this age seek a sign? I assure you, no such sign will be given it.’ Then he left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore” (Mark 8:11-13). 

Here is the deal about Jesus: He is God. Not only does he have truth on his side, he is Truth personified. He could win any argument he ever had, and there are times in the Gospels we see Jesus clearly winning an argument. Caesar’s image on the coin comes to mind. But there is at least the one example just quoted in which Jesus chooses not to “win” the argument. Rather, he simply ends it. 

We might wonder why he chose to leave this argument instead of engaging in it further. We are left to speculate, yet to me it is pretty obvious: The Pharisees were not open to what Jesus had to say. If one side of an argument is not open to the other side’s thoughts and ideas, then the argument becomes pointless. And argument should be a free exchange of ideas robustly exchanged but in charity. Jesus saw in this group of Pharisees no openness, so he simply got into the boat and took off. 

This is an example for all of us, especially on social media. All too often we think that if we leave an argument, we have been defeated, but that is not the case. Leaving an argument is often the best way to end an argument. 

All too often it is our pride that makes us determined not to back down, but the last I checked, pride is not a virtue. 

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected]. 

Betsy Kneepkens: Becoming more aware of demonic influences

When it comes to sayings, I might not be the most creative person in the world. I seem to repeat a short list of statements over and over again. I believe these verbal assertions help my husband and I attempt to parent our children in this out-of-control world. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

My kids would tell you that one of my more common phrases is “in God’s divine providence.” I say this often because I want my kids to see how God’s desired path for us is ordered toward the good. My children know I have delighted in picking out situations that made the genius of God’s plan and his hope for us seem apparent. When options presented themselves and my children selected godly ways, the results were affirming, joyful, and uncomplicated, although not always easy. In God’s divine providence, that beauty is made most apparent as you look back at the results. As a parent, I am happy we have worked hard to unpack the marvels of how God continues to offer his interaction through grace and love for us even in this broken world. 

We have just completed the trifecta of eternal holidays that focuses on life beyond earth, Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. Living in accord with God’s providence is intended to help us navigate our way through the narrow gate. And although I was pretty good at pointing out how to identify God’s providence, I haven’t done a perfect job teaching my kids that “the gate is wide and the road broad leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13-14). This wide road is riddled with the work of the demonic. 

I don’t think I am alone when I avoid the discussion of the devil. I believe in our society it is becoming more and more common to believe that the devil is more of a fictional character than a reality of this fallen world and the frequent persuader moving us away from the Heavenly Father. 

The deceiver is downright deceptive and crafty while doing his ungodly work. Eve proclaimed as much when she said, “the serpent tricked me into it” in Genesis 3:13. I think it is easy to tell the devil uses trickery, but I haven’t spent enough time explaining to my children how with his deceit, he can move comfortably and acceptably within our lives if we let him. 

A few of my children have a view of Satan as portrayed in several Hollywood movies. Satan looks like a possessed person whose head spins around, projectile vomits, and walks across walls and ceilings for some of my kids. Satan does possess people, but I think we are more likely to encounter the demonic while he uses incitement in subtly seductive ways. I believe Satan’s mode of operation is not hard to recognize if you understand his wicked motive. He wants everything God wants but without the light and love of God. 

When one of our extended family members died, I should have pointed the works of the deceiver. Satan often uses the money to cause disunion in families. He did in mine. Disunity is a classic means of the demonic. Having material wants as a priority ties us to our earthly existence, and God wants us to be seeking eternal life with him. A plan of the evil one is to encourage us to love the things of our loved ones more than we love each other. Although the immediate feelings of acquiring items seem fulfilling, the continued, long-term pain in producing rotten fruit causes a lack of family communion. The devil is pleased when he brings these choices on. 

We had many opportunities to unpack conversations with our children when some Catholic friends, who claim to be pro-life, actively supported laws to keep abortion legal. This common demonic technique makes it appear responsible and reasonable to do something that is indeed evil. God created us in his image and likeness, and he entrusted women to carry his adopted children. You can see the work of the deceiver so clearly when you realize that the evil one relishes the slightest twist by tempting us to believe that a greater good would be to eliminate a person that God willed into existence at the hands of difficulty. 

Over and over again, Satan has convinced even those with the best intentions that difficult is better than impossible. The devil even manages to take the word “choice,” which used to mean wanting coffee or tea, or “should we go out tonight or not,” and makes the word appear appropriate for someone to believe a choice is between letting your child in your womb live or not. These are examples of how manipulative the devil is, selling his concept successfully to even the brightest intellects, who are trying to be morally upstanding human beings. I need to be more direct in expressing this reality to my children. 

God is Truth, and Satan can’t do anything about that. I surmise that there is not a quality more wanting for Satan than to be Truth. For the past couple of decades, I think there are few things more attractive to the demonic than our willingness to distort the truth. Raising my children, I was afforded more opportunities than I can count to observe the devil’s works relative to how he masterly twisted truth and hijacked, if you will, our ability to reason. The fallen angels have willed themselves away from God, and Satan is trying to convince us to do the same. 

God provided us with objective truth that can be known not just by reason but by our senses. The evil one has managed to neutralize our will and empowered our feelings to mean more than we objectively experience through our senses and science. God gave us life to work in cooperation with reason to discover objective truth. Satan has, however, suggested that we use feelings to create our personal truth. Instead of explaining to my children why our society is morally declining, I should have spent some of that time explaining why the devil wants us to use feelings to define truth, which is malleable and self-defining, the direct opposite of what truth ought to be. 

The devil has not treated all individuals and times the same. Some people are more valuable to Satan than others. The demonic have seized different times in the past and attempted to overcome God’s kingdom. When you see Catholics and church leaders, and they are not acting in accord with the church, Satan is at work. When a culture is blessed with an abundance of God’s grace and manages to twist reality so it makes us feel better, Satan’s persuasion is working as he intended. Satan is an opportunity seeker, and this is an important concept to share with my young adult children. 

I am satisfied with how I have shared with my children the work of God’s divine providence in our lives and the life of the world. I regret that I did not speak equally on how the demonic desires us and tempts us in a cunning way to choose his path instead of our loving God’s. 

Spiritual warfare is real, but in order to win you must know the M.O. of the opposing forces. As long as my husband and I are here, there are still so many situations we can point out more clearly so our adult children can reject the efforts of Satan and live within God’s divine providence. 

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six. 

Bishop Daniel Felton: Do we count ourselves ‘in that number’ of the saints marching in?

I played the baritone in the school pep band. One of my favorite songs to play was “When the Saints Go Marching In.” This rousing song calls us to “be in that number, when the saints go marching in.” 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

A saint is defined as a “holy one” who leads a life in union with God through the grace of Christ and receives the reward of eternal life. At every Sunday Mass we acknowledge the communion of saints as we profess the Nicene Creed. Often during the celebration of the sacraments, we pray a litany of saints. Likewise, in the liturgical calendar of our Church, we celebrate those men and women that have been formally recognized in the canon of saints as “holy ones” who led a life in union with God through the grace of Christ and received the reward of eternal life. 

When you think of a saint, who comes into your mind and heart? Perhaps it is one of the holy ones acknowledged in the litany of saints. We are fortunate to live in a time when we remember not only the saints of old but also those who have been proclaimed saints in our own time, like St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. John Henry Newman. 

Perhaps when we think of a saint, we may find ourselves remembering a grandpa or grandma or teacher or religious whose witness to what it means to be a holy one leading a life in union with God through the grace of Jesus Christ has inspired us or given us a great example of how we want to live our lives. 

When you think of someone who is a saint, how many of you named yourself? Interesting, how rarely we think of ourselves as a holy one — that is, as a saint. Why is that? Perhaps you are thinking I am the last person in the world that should be thought of as a saint. I have so many limitations, imperfections, and sins that I think disqualify me from sainthood. So did St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta and every other saint known to the Church. 

Remember, a saint is a holy one in union with God through the grace of Christ. Left on our own we all fall to the ground as sinners. The difference between a sinner and a saint is that the sinner remains on the ground helplessly groveling, while the saint gets up and surrenders to the grace of Jesus Christ for the strength to grow in holiness. It is only in the grace of Jesus Christ that we can be a holy one leading a life in union with God. 

As we celebrate the Feast of All Saints on the first day of November, I have the honor of dedicating All Saints Church in Baxter. On that solemn occasion, we will gather as “holy ones” who are seeking to lead a life in union with God through the grace of Christ so that we may receive the reward of eternal life. We will pray the litany of saints as our intercessors and spiritual guides in the journey of life to everlasting life. As we proclaim the Nicene Creed, we will announce to the secular community of Baxter and Brainerd that we believe in the communion of saints, the resurrection of our bodies and life everlasting. Finally, we will recommit ourselves to the mission entrusted by Jesus Christ to All Saints parish and to every parish community in our diocese, that is to make sure that every person in our parish boundaries is in that number, when the saints go marching in — beginning with ourselves! 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth. 

Father Mike Schmitz: God has forgiven me; how do I forgive myself?

I messed up in some pretty big ways in my life. I made some decisions that have wrecked relationships and have done significant damage to myself. I’ve been to confession, and I know that God in his mercy has forgiven me. But I can’t seem to be able to forgive myself. What do I do? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

This is a fantastic question. Not only are you asking about something that nearly every person who takes sin and the effects of sin seriously experiences, but you also have clearly taken God’s mercy seriously. You noted that you know that God has forgiven you; this is so critically important. Too often, one of the obstacles to receiving forgiveness is the fact that we miss how much forgiveness has cost God. 

Before looking at your question, I think that it might be worth it to look at this a little more closely. I will often speak to people who observe that going to the Sacrament of Confession is “too easy.” All a person has to “do” is show up, name all of their sins, and Christ forgives us through the ministry of the priest. It isn’t painful (usually), and it rarely costs a person more than the slight discomfort of coming face-to-face with our sins and admitting them to the priest. 

But we realize that truth. Being forgiven by God is easy — for us. It costs Jesus everything. The only reason we can be forgiven is because Jesus Christ willingly embraced his suffering, death, and resurrection for our sakes. It is this Mystery (what we call the “Paschal Mystery”) that makes forgiveness possible. Without Christ’s allowing himself to be overwhelmed by death and conquering it, we would still be dead in our sins. Therefore, when someone experiences God’s mercy as coming a bit “too easily,” they do not understand what they are saying. God’s mercy is free, but it is not cheap. It was purchased at a price. You were purchased at a price. 

And you understand this. You know that it is not your resolution to do better that makes you better. It is not your desire to be made new that makes you new. And it is not you who has to be the first to forgive, it is God himself who forgives us first. 

But now it is your turn. You now need to forgive yourself. But how? 

The Second Great Commandment is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is quite a bit to unpack in this commandment (it is, after all, “Great”), but I want to highlight two aspects. 

First, when Jesus affirms the command to love your neighbor as you love yourself, he is implying that you would first actually love yourself. In many ways, the first step to being capable of loving our neighbor is the capacity to love ourselves. And yet, there are a great number of very normal people who do not actually believe that they are worth being taken care of. I came across the observation that many people are more likely to give their pets medication on a regular and consistent basis than they are to take important medicines themselves. This seems to indicate that these people are capable of caring — for others — but that they find it somewhat difficult to care for themselves. 

Could it be that you need to grow in this area? Could it be that God is inviting you to begin seeing yourself as someone worth taking care of? 

Second, you are being called to love yourself (and others). What is love? The classic definition of love is “willing the good of the other.” In this case, we could alter the definition to include yourself: willing your own good. We don’t always like the person we’ve become. We definitely do not always like what we’ve done. But we must love ourselves. This is to say that you must will your own good. How would you treat yourself if you a) were someone worth caring for and b) truly chose the good for yourself? 

At times, the most important way to move forward is to make whatever restitution we possibly can. If I can pay back what I’ve cost, I need to try that. If I can heal what has been hurt, I need to try. 

I believe that the heart of being unable to forgive oneself has other realities that are hidden from us. For example, we feel shame that others know our sins. We know that the consequences of our sins are real and that others truly have to pay for them. We know that the wounds that have resulted from our sins are self-inflicted. Because of this, I find it helpful to take all of this and to place it under the Lordship of Jesus. 

When there are situations that cannot be made right, I place them under Christ’s dominion. When there are wounds I cannot heal on my own, I place them under the Lordship of Christ. Essentially, I try to say, “Jesus, there is nothing more that I can do to undo what has been done. There is so much out of my control. But I place all of this under you and your will. Use this — even this brokenness — for your glory and for the health and help of all of the people who have been hurt by me.” 

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Deacon Kyle Eller: Ongoing formation is part of what it means to be a disciple

Years ago, during a diocesan assembly, one of the speakers said something I had not fully grasped: ongoing catechesis is part of being a disciple of Jesus. 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

That idea dovetails with advice I got in confession on a pilgrimage once. I had confessed some struggles with faith, and the young priest advised me that continuing to spend time learning about the faith would be a helpful remedy for those struggles.  

All this may even seem counterintuitive to us at first. After all, isn’t being a disciple more a matter of the heart than of the mind? As last month came to a close, we heard in our Sunday Gospel about the two greatest commandments in the law, about loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Surely it is this love, one might argue, that is the true measure of our discipleship, not the depth of our knowledge of theology? 

But knowledge is part of love. With any relationship, we seek to know more and more deeply the one we love. It’s hard to imagine a real friendship or marriage in which those friends or spouses at some point just stopped caring about knowing the other person more deeply. Why should it be any different in our relationship with God? We keep learning about him because we love him.  

Think of how often Scripture refers to Jesus’ closest companions as “disciples” — the very word meaning those who learn from their teacher and then pass on what they have learned. 

It is possible to turn learning about God into a mere academic exercise, and maybe such experiences are what sour some people on learning their faith. But when catechesis is directed to love, it is a joy, not a chore. 

In a similar way, if we struggle with the faith, the temptation can be to think about something else. Or maybe we will begin to focus on apologetics, delving into arguments in defense of the faith, rather than simply seeking to become more deeply formed in it, as the counsel I got seemed to suggest. 

Apologetics certainly has value, but I have come to believe there is a lot of wisdom in the idea that it’s helpful to more deeply “put on the mind of Christ,” as St. Paul admonishes. The Catholic Christian faith is not just a matter of affirming some more or less arbitrary doctrines and rules, it is truly light in the darkness of this fallen world. God, in his Son, has revealed for us the truth about ourselves, about the whole creation, about the point of life. It is a whole way of thinking and seeing — a profoundly different way than what we find in those governed by the “spirit of the world.” 

How often do our struggles with faith come from being better versed in the “catechism” of the world than we are in our faith? Even among practicing Christians, for instance, biblical literacy has reached a scandalous decline. How often do our struggles come from trying to understand some doctrine or moral teaching ripped from its context in that whole deep vision of the universe that our faith presents to us, because we’ve simply lost that vision? 

In fact, this vision is so deep and rich that its fullness is always partially beyond us in this life — there’s always some new insight, some ongoing need for conversion on our part. We can never really be done learning it and learning to conform ourselves to it. This always presupposes work, because left to inertia our lives trend in the other direction, both because of our own woundedness and because the spirit of this world never stops shouting its alternative. 

If we are not progressing in putting on the mind of Christ, we’re slipping backwards. 

I was thinking of this recently in terms of memory. A book I recently read spoke of the challenges 21st century life presents to memory. “Everything about modern society is designed to make memory — historical, social, and cultural — hard to cultivate,” the author, Rod Dreher, wrote. 

I’ve been noticing this more and more. Our culture, perhaps in part because of our short attention spans damaged by social media addictions and omnipresent distractions, forgets even important ideas and events from only a few years or at times even just months ago. How much more so does our whole culture, in particular secular media, academia, and the arts, seem ordered to erasing or redefining the deeper things, like historical, philosophical, and most important of all religious truths, that make us who we are? 

Because of that, it’s all the more urgent that we continue to learn our faith and put on the mind of Christ, as the best way to swim against that tide of amnesia. 

So find ways to continue learning your faith. Join a parish Bible study. Get involved when adult catechesis programs are offered. Take part in a Catholic book club. Spend time reading and praying with Scripture and the Catechism and the writings of the saints. 

As our bishop noted in one of his own recent columns, we are lifelong learners in the faith. So let’s be intentional about that, and seek out ways we can continue to grow as disciples, learning about the one we love. 

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected]. 

Inspiration on a walk in the woods leads to Hoyt Lakes prayer trail

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Last fall, Jim Koepke was doing something a lot of Minnesotans like to do in the fall, walking through the woods and connecting with God, in his case on land owned by his parish, Our Lady of Hope in Hoyt Lakes, which is mostly a pine forest, with some of the trees about 60 years old.

Father Kris McKusky blesses and dedicates the new prayer trail in Hoyt Lakes on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross Sept. 14. (Submitted photo)

What is not typical is that he had a sudden inspiration to build a prayer trail there, and then all the pieces started to fall in place. “It’s either a lot of unusual coincidences or I think there’s something spiritual involved,” he said. 

One thing fell into place almost immediately. “It was like I could just see where the trail would go,” he said. It wouldn’t even require cutting any of those beautiful trees. He said he was also inspired to add Stations of the Cross. 

Koepke, who is originally from Hoyt Lakes and now splits time between there and the Twin Cities, said he approached the pastor and the council at the parish and was met with enthusiasm, but when he started to search online for Stations of the Cross, he discovered they were very expensive, often thousands of dollars. 

So he turned to the Holy Spirit, whom he believed had inspired the idea. “If you want me to follow through, you’re going to have to show me what to do,” he prayed. 

He started reaching out to dioceses, first the Diocese of Duluth, where none were available, and then to the Diocese of New Ulm, where he got much more promising news: there was a 100-year-old Stations of the Cross imported from Bavaria that was in storage, and he could simply come and get them. 

“I’ve never been there before,” Koepke said. “They have a gorgeous Cathedral.” 

Koepke said it was up a “dusty old stairway” where the stations had been stored for 35 years, and they were so big he couldn’t get them all at once, so he had to keep going up and down those stairs feeling “a little like Quasimodo.”  

The Stations, he said, are works of real craftmanship and detail, to the point you can even see the toenails of the figures. 

“It was a lot of effort, but it was so worth it!” he said. 

He drove them back to Hoyt Lakes and found a cabinet maker to make display cases so that they could be protected from the elements.

Submitted photo

When it came time to work on the trail, another challenge arose. Koepke, a retired mental health administrator, is a distance runner accustomed to running five marathons a year, and suddenly he found himself unable to walk from the house to the car without being out of breath. His doctor discovered a genetic issue that required immediate heart surgery. 

“I wasn’t going to be able to finish the trail by myself,” he said. 

Instead he had to sit and watch family members do the work. “It was a real good lesson in humility for me,” he said. 

An artist made a sign, and the prayer trail was finally finished this June. Koepke said the feedback has been really good. People go there and walk it or sit and pray for 15 or 20 minutes, just like the former confirmation teacher hoped they would. 

Father Kris McKusky, the parish’s pastor, decided on a fitting day to bless and dedicate the trail: Sept. 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.  

Koepke said the Stations will be taken in during the winters, but while it’s open, it’s easily accessible right from the church parking lot and open to everyone. 

“It’s totally free,” he said. “We don’t even accept donations. Leave your checkbook at home and come and see it.” 

The results are in — state fair poll 

By the Minnesota Catholic Conference 
Inside the Capitol 

Every summer the Minnesota State Fair becomes a place to meet with legislators and take part in the nonpartisan (and non-scientific) House Public Information Services Office’s opinion poll. This year, 5,231 Minnesotans voiced their opinion on 12 policy matters. Of those dozen questions, the Minnesota Catholic Conference has been actively involved in four, including: promoting school choice, opposing the recreational marijuana industry, opposing sports gambling, and ensuring everyone living in Minnesota (regardless of immigration status) are required to learn the rules of the road and be licensed to drive.  

As with any survey, but particularly an unscientific one such as this, one must consider results can be skewed due to biased wording. For example, the question posed to fairgoers regarding school choice used the term “vouchers” rather than “education savings accounts” (there is no “voucher” bill in front of the legislature). Regardless, the results showed a plurality of respondents favor enabling parents to choose a school that best meets their child’s needs.  

The question regarding driver’s licenses failed to help respondents understand that regardless of one’s immigration status, all drivers would be required to pass a test to become licensed, thereby improving road safety for all. This consideration may have changed the 57 percent of respondents who opposed the proposal. 

The question regarding recreational marijuana fails to acknowledge that the law would enable a marijuana industry to profit off users. Compared to the previous poll, there was a small uptick in the number of people favoring legalization (58.3%) as well as an uptick in those opposed (34.1%), showing fewer people remain undecided. When asked about legalizing sports gambling — another activity that preys on people’s vices — respondents were evenly split. These results show that as Catholics we must help our legislators understand that legalizing harmful activities to generate tax revenue is fiscally irresponsible and will produce long-term costs that will need to be remediated by more public services. 

MCC takes a closer look at housing issues 

Adequate shelter is basic human need, as housing is a cornerstone of family stability and child development and traditionally is one the best avenues for building economic stability and generational wealth. As MCC considers a long-term policy agenda to provision the family and promote family economic security, we are more closely examining issues surrounding housing policies.  

We are monitoring the Legislative Commission on Housing Affordability’s work. One item that this group of eight legislators is tasked with is making recommendations on legislative proposals that positively impact access to homeownership, especially for first-time homebuyers. 

Recently, the commission acknowledged the severe housing inventory shortage is a root cause of why families encounter difficulty finding affordable rental units or becoming first-time homebuyers. While the shortage is driving up prices, municipal regulatory frameworks imposing limit on types of housing construction and requirements that raise building costs also affect the supply and price.  

Representative Steve Elkins presented his idea for a bill, the Comprehensive Housing Affordability Act, which he says could help eliminate some impediments to new housing development. The bill has problems but is a starting point; MCC will monitor ways to ensure legislators see the connection between housing costs and family formation, childbearing, and family economic security.   

Ragnar race proves a great fundraiser for Northland Family Programs

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Northland Family Programs, like many nonprofits, has had its normal fundraising events like dinner dances upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

But Anna Crain, the organization’s director, had an inspiration during a holy hour that ended up leading to the most successful fundraiser the organization, which uses natural family planning to help couples achieve or avoid pregnancy, has ever had, raising $32,000. 

By the time she got back to her desk from that holy hour, “Women Run for Women was really created,” she said. 

“We need community, and there’s women in our community who actually know the sacredness and even the power of natural family planning and how they have been impacted by that,” she said. 

She quickly began calling some of those people to ask if they would “be willing to come on board and use your time and start training for a run, which is the Ragnar Run,” a grueling, 200-mile relay race that goes from the Twin Cities to Duluth. 

“I got an overwhelming amount of yeses,” she said. 

Many of those women saying yes were women of childbearing age, some with four or five children. Some of the women ended up being pregnant by the time of the training or race. Crain said some of them became part of the prayer team supporting the runners, while two of the women who ran were pregnant and four were pumping. 

The team of runners was Sarah Lundy, Brainerd; Paula Steenrod, St. Paul; Micah Buekema, Hibbing; Katie Lisi, Duluth; Anna Crain, Duluth; KarLee Crain, Foreston; Elizabeth Spehar, who coached the team, St. Paul; Beth Sullivan, Duluth; Katie Habedank, Carlton; Rachel Bennett, Sandstone; Nikki Bennett, Duluth; and Elizabeth Nygarrad, Duluth. 

Supporting them on the prayer team were Maggie Walsh, Sam Nielsen, and Jenny Boran of Duluth; Vanessa Ryan, Minneapolis; and Charmaine Douglas, Cloquet. 

Crain said one of the other teams had a van that said “12 women, 28 children,” but their team was 12 women with 50 children among them, some of them being nursed along the route or being driven in minivans by their fathers. 

The response from other teams was positive. 

“They thought it was awesome that we would still go out and, in the midst of family life, commit to training and 36 hours of running,” Crain said. 

Crain said that in addition to being excited to support the mission of Northland Family Programs, the women were eager to show moms and single women that they could take on something like the race. 

“We’re created to do hard things, in community especially,” she said. 

Each of the runners was tasked with running multiple legs of the race, which on the short end might be three miles or on the longer side might be nine miles. One of the runners got sick after her first leg and had to pull out of the race, so others had to make up her sections. Toward the end, Crain said none of the team were really running by themselves, as teammates would join them. 

“They just wanted to support each other,” she said. 

Crain said the financial goal of $30,000 was a big, scary goal that some questioned, but she said even if the goal hadn’t been met there was something more happening with Women Run for Women than she could explain.  

The funds will be used to support Northland’s educational mission, for instance by providing free introductory sessions on natural family planning for those interested, and providing scholarships for services for those in financial hardship. 

Crain said Northland is planning to do it again next year and is looking for volunteers who would like to get in on the run, with a possibility of even having two teams if enough people are interested. 

She said you don’t have to have any running experience or be able to run a lot of miles. A coach will provide a training regimen, and the legs can be as short as three miles. 

“But to have a heart for the mission is almost more necessary,” she said. “That’s what united us in the end.” 

To find out more about joining the team, to support Northland Family Programs, or to find resources on natural family planning, visit

$100,000 initiative to advance Catholic schools and discipleship

As we enter our second month of school, the gift of hope and the blessing of faith sustains us in our ministry as we share our talents and unique charisms. You, the members of our parish and school communities, are what enable our church to support and encourage discipleship in our Catholic schools. Your volunteer hours, the sharing of your talents, and your financial commitment to our schools is a blessing beyond all measure. Thank you! 

As we treasure what has been given to us, we also rejoice in a new and wonderful opportunity that has been presented to Catholic schools across the Diocese of Duluth. This opportunity will help to enhance educational excellence and grow enrollment. Richard M. Schulze, the founder of Best Buy, has offered the Diocese of Duluth Office of Catholic Schools a challenge grant. Mr. Schulze has been supporting the Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for many years and now is offering his support to our schools as well! 

The Schulze Family Foundation is offering a “Challenge Matching Grant” for up to $50,000. The Office of Catholic Schools has been challenged to raise $50,000 by Dec. 31, 2021. The Schulze Foundation would match the $50,000, to total $100,000! This is a tremendous opportunity to help our schools grow in excellence. We are already raising funds; however, we need your help to get to our goal by Dec. 31, 2021. 

The impact of your support reminds us of the story of the loaves and fishes. Just as God brought abundant blessings through the young boy’s offering, so too, can blessings multiply through your gift. The matching grant opportunity will benefit our Catholic schools throughout the entire diocese, including International Falls, Hibbing, Virginia, Grand Rapids, Duluth, Cloquet, and Brainerd! 

To learn more about the Diocese of Duluth Catholic Schools visit 

To donate please go to and locate the donate tab and select Catholic Schools Advancement or use the following QR code and simply open camera and it will lead you directly to the donate page.