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Father Mike Schmitz: I’m so busy. How can I grow and become a saint?

I really want to grow. I mean, I really want to become the person that God has called me to be, but I find myself being so busy that I can’t imagine adding more to my plate in order to be a saint. How can I fit more in? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Thank you so much for writing and for your question. First, you have the correct goal: You know that you are called to be a saint. To be anything else is to fail permanently. I know that is quite the claim, but consider the words of Jesus: “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose their soul?” (Mark 8:36). Apparently, you and Jesus are on the same page (which is a very good page to be on). 

But to move forward, it will be very important to keep a few things in mind. 

First, what is a saint? A saint is not someone who has accomplished a certain task, has certain gifts, or has achieved a certain notoriety. Most saints live what look like ordinary lives, without any distinguishing gifts or abilities, and are lacking popular recognition. A saint is merely someone who does God’s will. St. Maximillian Kolbe put it like this: “When one’s will is the same as God’s Will, then one is holy.” This doesn’t mean that a person is perfect or that they are an expert at every task in their life. It does not mean that they never fail. But it does mean that they continually return to the Lord regardless of victory or defeat. 

The late Father Benedict Groeschel said that “a saint is a person who says yes to God … and who never stops saying yes.” While this means many things, one of the things it highlights is that a person can always choose to be a saint. Even if they have sinned. Because what is the call from the Lord to every person who has sinned? God calls every person, virtuous or vicious, heroic or sinful, to let themselves be loved by him. Therefore, if a person is without sin, they are called to say “yes” to God and continue to walk in his grace. And if a person has sinned, they are called to say “yes” to God’s invitation to repent, go to confession, and walk in his grace. Our answer to God is always “yes.” This is sanctity. Nothing more and nothing less. 

And yet, God doesn’t just call us to have the “feeling” of saying yes — or the sentiment of walking with him. He wants us to actually say yes to his invitations to live out our relationship with him. This means spending time with him in prayer, participating actively in the sacraments, growing daily in living a life of virtue, and actively loving the people around us. And all of those things take energy, attention, and time. 

This is actually very practical. We all know that love requires energy, attention, and time. Without these three, there really isn’t the possibility of love existing, much less growing and flourishing. We love what we give our heart to; which is to say that we love what we give our energy, attention, and time to. A person cannot say that they love their spouse if they do not give their spouse their energy, attention, and time. The same is true for our relationship with God. 

If a person had the situation where their lives were so full that they did not have room for their spouse, they would be forced to ask themselves a question: “Do I love my schedule and the life I have created for myself or do I love my spouse?” And then they would have to make changes. Time and attention and energy are limited resources. I can only give myself away to a limited number of things and people. I will need to make a choice. And so will you. If I love God, then He gets my energy, attention, and time. 

Now, this means that I have to say “no” to other things. That isn’t me being mean. It is just the truth; if I only have $5, I can’t buy both the medium latte and the Jimmy John’s sandwich. I have to choose between them. 

And yet. 

God is so good that he is calling us to say yes to him (to love him) in the midst of the life we are currently living. This is connected to something called the “sacrament of the present moment.” God is present at every moment and in every place. He is actively loving us at every moment and in every place. Because of this, we can grow in holiness (we can give him our heart — our energy, attention, and time) by simply recognizing that every moment is a gift from God and can be a gift back to God. 

Yes, there are some things in our lives that will have to be discarded (repentance, after all, requires some real change), but God chooses to work out the extraordinary process of sanctification through ordinary means. This is not something that I am making up, this is the wisdom of the saints. Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade put it like this: “Would to God that … all men could know how very easy it would be for them to arrive at a high degree of sanctity. They would only have to fulfill the simple duties of Christianity and of their state in life; to embrace with submission the crosses belonging to that state, and to submit with faith and love to the designs of Providence in all those things that have to be done or suffered without going out of their way to seek occasions for themselves.” 

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. 

Resources for women, mothers, fathers, and children

By Betsy Kneepkens 
The Northern Cross 

Even before Roe v. Wade was decided in January 1973, pro-life advocates were behind the scenes establishing organizations to help support women, babies, and families who found themselves in what they perceived was a crisis pregnancy. When the Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade, pro-life advocates continued and expanded community efforts to help women in need. Since many felt abortion regulations were properly suited to be made by state legislators, others mobilized to move the ruling out of the federal purview. Many pro-life advocates have worked tirelessly to end circumstances that would make women feel that their motherhood is a crisis. 

Pro-life individuals in our diocese have not stopped working on behalf of mothers in need since Minnesota passed laws to legalize abortion and increased those efforts with the eventual 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. Currently, our diocese has nearly 50 organizations where women, fathers, and families can access help before, during, and after their pregnancy. Because Minnesota is one of those states that had already legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade, Minnesota will continue to allow abortions until our legislators overturn the laws. Because none of the neighboring states have laws that allow for abortion, Minnesota will become an abortion destination site like New York and California. Services to help support women with their pregnancy and motherhood will need to expand as the number of women seeking abortions in Minnesota will increase. Below is a partial list of current services offered to women, mothers, fathers, and children. As a Catholic church, we seek to eliminate any need to call anything surrounding motherhood a crisis. 

Life Affirming Pregnancy Centers 

Brainerd: Birthright, 401 W. Laurel St., Suite B, 56401; (218) 829-8470; 

Brainerd: Lakes Area Pregnancy Support Center, 315 E. River Road, Suite One, 56401; (218) 825-0793; 

Deer River: New Beginnings Pregnancy Care Center, 17 First St., N.E., 56636; (218) 326-0404;

Duluth: Women’s Care Center, 103 E. First St., 55802; (218) 623-7100; 

Duluth/Superior: Lake Superior Life Care Center, 1823 Belknap Street, Superior, WI 54880; (218) 727-3399 or (715) 394-4102; 

Grand Rapids: New Beginnings Pregnancy Care Center, 605 N.W. Fourth St., 55744; (218) 326-0404; 

Hibbing: Family Life Center, 802 E. Howard St., Suite Three, 55746; (218) 262-5768; 

International Falls: Northern Options for Women, 923 Fifth St., 56649; (218) 285-7673; 

Pine City: Pregnancy Resource Center, 315 Main St. S., Suite 20, 55063; (320)629-2792; 

Sandstone: Options for Women, 927 State Highway 23 N., 55072; (320) 216-7633; 

Virginia: Family Life Center, 820 N. Ninth St., Suite 130, 55792; (218) 262-5768; 

Walker: Walker Area Pregnancy Support Center, 102 Eighth St. N., 56484; (218) 547-5433; 

24-hour nationwide help 

Pregnancy Resouce: (800) 395-HELP 

Birthline Hotline: (800) 786-0200 

Birthright Hotline: (800) 550-4900 

Option Line: (800) 712-4357 

Post-Abortion Services 

Abortion Changes You: online resource for post-abortion healing; 

Abortion Recovery International: worldwide database of organizations that can assist in healing; 

Healing Hearts Ministries: offers post-abortion group/online study “Binding Up the Brokenhearted”; 

National Helpline for Abortion Recovery: counseling services and a model for sexual health, abortion recovery, and prevention;; (866) 482-5433 

Project Rachel: offers one-on-one therapy for abortion recovery across Minnesota; [email protected]; (651) 291-4515 

Rachel’s Vineyard: weekend retreats for healing after abortion;; (763) 250-9313 

Silent No More Awareness: nonprofit organization exposing the devastation of abortion and helping women find healing; 

Family Support 

Christ Child Society of Duluth: help for children in need; [email protected] 

Cradle of Hope: financial assistance for pregnancy expenses;; (651) 636-0637 

Damiano Center: food, clothing, and other resources in Duluth; [email protected]; (218) 722-8708 

Guiding Star Project:; [email protected]

Holy Family Catholic Adoption: adoption services for birth mothers and adoptive families; [email protected]; (612) 209-5869 

Mysterious Miscarriage Sisterhood: supporting families who have experienced the trauma of miscarriage; (320) 597-4138 

New Life Adoptions: comprehensive adoption services; [email protected]; (612) 746-5658 

Sidelines Support Network: supporting women with complicated pregnancies, and their families;; (888)-447-4754 

Maternity Homes 

Star of the North Maternity Home: offering Christian-based housing for pregnant mothers and their babies 

Duluth: (218) 340-1645, [email protected] 

Iron Range: (218) 206-1931, [email protected] 

Prenatal Hospice 

Courageous Hearts: (715) 969-4506, [email protected] 

Prenatal Partners for Life: (763) 772-3868, [email protected] 

Family Planning Services 

Northland Family Programs: Fertility Care Center, (218) 786-2378; 

Emergency Services 

Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 

Duluth: (218) 409-6887, [email protected] 

Superior: (715) 398-4039, [email protected] 


CHUM Duluth: 102 W. Second St., Duluth; (218) 720-6521 

Union Gospel Mission: 219 First St., Duluth; (218) 722-1196 

Emily Food Shelf: 20948 County Road One, Emily; (218) 763-3663 

Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen: 923 Oak St., Brainerd; (218) 829-4203 


Habitat for Humanity: Aitkin County, (218) 927-5656; Lakes Area, (218) 828-8517; Itasca County, (218) 999-9001; North St. Louis, (218) 749-8910 

Grace House, Grand Rapids: (218) 326-2790 

Campus Youth Ministry 

CSS Students for Life: (218) 723-5000, [email protected] 

UMD Bulldog Students for Life: (218) 726-8000, [email protected] 

Sidewalk Ministry 

40 Days for Life: [email protected] 

Pro-Life Ministries of Duluth: [email protected], (715) 969-4506 or (218) 382-0015 

Pro-Life Across America: (800) 366-7773 

Diocese of Duluth 

Office of Marriage, Family, and Life: 2830 E. Fourth St., Duluth, MN 55812; (218) 724-9111; [email protected]; 

Davidson family’s new overseas mission another step in a longtime call 

From northern Minnesota to Cambodia

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

“She’s known since she was 10 that she was going to be a missionary, and I’ve known since I met her that I was going to be a missionary,” jokes Nic Davidson about his wife Jacelyn. 

Both grew up Protestant, and Jacelyn said meeting the missionaries that used to come visit churches was an inspiration. “That is kind of always what I was hoping to do with my future,” she said. That much was made clear on their first date, and shortly after they were married, they moved to China for two years. 

After their return, they converted to the Catholic faith but always kept pursuing that goal of mission work, with Jacelyn pursuing a secondary vocation as a medical doctor and Nic becoming a well-known speaker on the Theology of the Body. Jacelyn’s medical studies took them to the Caribbean island of Dominica, where they adopted their three oldest children, before they moved back to the Diocese of Duluth. 

But on Sept. 5, the Davidsons and their five children will be taking their boldest step yet in bringing Christ to the world as they move to Cambodia in East Asia. 

Cambodia coming full circle 

Nic and Jacelyn have been to Cambodia before, visiting during their time in China, and it played an important role in their journey, but it wasn’t necessarily a destination they had been leaning toward. They say they were open to wherever God was calling them, and they initially tried places they had more contacts, like Kenya and India, but those doors closed, while things just opened up for Cambodia, which Jacelyn described as the poorest place they had ever been, but a place that astounded them with how “nice and cheerful the people were there.” 

It was on their first visit to the country that Jacelyn received the clear calling to be a doctor in a kind of “light-bulb moment.” They were at the Killing Fields, and she had fixed up a cut for a little boy. 

Nic said that as they watched the little boy run away, he watched the light-bulb moment play out in real time as Jacelyn said, “Somebody could become a doctor and just come here. Like, I could become a doctor and just come here. I’m going to become a doctor.” 

“She’s never really faltered since then,” he said. 

The Davidson family had no contacts in Cambodia, but one day a friend texted them a screen shot suggesting a contact. It was a priest who was a French-American missionary to Cambodia who had written a biography of Blessed Carlo Acutis. 

Within 24 hours, the priest had responded. The priest spoke to his bishop, who was eager for them to come. 

“It was just immediate, it was an open door, so since then everything has been a freight train going forward,” Nic said. 

Their departure date of Sept. 5 is the feast day of St. Teresa of Calcutta, an inspiration of Jacelyn’s, and the only canonized saint known to have set foot in Cambodia. 

Missionary work 

If the call to Cambodia was clear, what things will look like once they get there is more an exercise in trusting God. The Davidsons said their immediate plans are to immerse themselves in the Cambodian language and get accustomed to living there. 

Nic said a lot of times missionaries will go places and not choose to learn the language. “It’s fine in one sense,” he said, “but it’s sort of incarnational to put the work in and learn the language and be able to talk to people in their own tongue.” 

So they will have formal language study during the day, then go out to markets and have interactions. Jacelyn will also be seeking to get her medical license in Cambodia and getting out to meet people in clinics and trying to get a sense for how God may want to use medical work in their mission. 

She said like many places, medicine is widely available, but the further you get from large cities the lower its quality gets. 

Nic said the question of what they’re going to do in Cambodia comes up a lot, and the answer is: “We’re just going to go because God has said to go.” But he said the uncertainty is familiar. When they first moved to Dominica, he said he felt like he had to give up speaking, but the first Sunday they went to Mass, a deacon announced they needed help with youth ministry, building projects, mission trips, marriage and family ministry. “God had all those doors open,” he said. “We just had to go.” 

Staying for the long haul but keeping in touch 

Leaving for Cambodia is no easy task, and neither is coming back. The Davidsons have had to figure out schooling options for their children (they are going to homeschool starting out), visas and passports, and how to get rid of their belongings in Minnesota, which it would be prohibitively expensive to take with them. 

They are also saying goodbyes to family members who are happy for them in their hearts but also sad at the prospect of being separated for a long time. Nic said the cost for the whole family to visit the United States from Cambodia is about $14,000. “Never in our life have we had 14 grand lying around,” he said. 

Still, Jacelyn said compared to the missionaries of 50 years ago that she’s read about, it’s not so bad. “It does make a huge difference that we can FaceTime so easily,” she said. 

They also plan to keep in touch with the faithful of the Diocese of Duluth through video messages and through the mailing list on their website. They even have people from the Diocese of Duluth accompanying them for a time and hope to have trips in the future. 

To follow the Davidsons and to support their ministry, visit

Deans appointed

By The Northern Cross 

Bishop Daniel Felton has made the following appointments of priests as deans of their respective deaneries, effective July 1, 2022: 

  • Father Daniel Weiske, Hibbing Deanery 
  • Father Brandon Moravitz, Virginia Deanery
  • Father Joseph Sirba, Cloquet Deanery
  • Father Steve Langenbrunner, Duluth Deanery
  • Father Michael Garry, Brainerd Deanery 

The bishop said he was grateful that these deans have agreed to serve in this capacity as the diocese moves into its mission of being disciples and making disciples in our respective deanery mission fields. 

He also offered his thanks to Father Justin Fish, whose term as dean has been completed, and to Father Tony Wroblewski, who will begin his new responsibilities as Director of Ministry to Priests. 

Priesthood Jubilees

60 years 

Father Lloyd Mudrak

Father Lloyd Mudrak

Father Lloyd Mudrak was ordained to the priesthood on June 2, 1962, at Holy Rosary Church in Duluth by Bishop Francis J. Schenk for the Diocese of Duluth. Father Mudrak attended high school and college at Nazareth Hall and attended St. Paul Seminary.

During Father Mudrak’s ministry, he served at St. Joseph, Chisholm; St. Francis, Brainerd; St. Anthony, Duluth; Cass Lake; Holy Spirit, Virginia; Sacred Heart, Virginia; Sacred Heart, Mountain Iron; Mary Immaculate, Coleraine; St. Mary, Marble; and St. Joseph, Taconite. 

He also served as director of Boy Scouts, chaplain for the Minnesota National Guard, director of Newman Apostolate, diocesan director of religious education, episcopal vicar and senate/consultor. He was also on the personnel board and Presbyteral Council. 

Father Mudrak retired in 2011. 

50 years 

Father John O’Donnell

Father John O'Donnell

Father John O’Donnell, a native of Ireland, was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Duluth on June 18, 1972. He attended high school at St. Ita’s College and attended college and seminary at All Hallows in Dublin.

During Father O’Donnell’s ministry, he served at St. Francis, Brainerd; St. Mary, Keewatin; St. Anne, Kelly Lake; Blessed Sacrament, Hibbing; Immaculate Conception, Hibbing; St. Francis, Carlton; Immaculate Conception, Cromwell-Wright; Holy Spirit, Virginia; Sacred Heart Virginia; and Sacred Heart, Mountain Iron. 

In addition, he served on the clergy personnel board, the Presbyteral Council, and as a consultor. He was also moderator of the diocesan TEC. 

Father O’Donnell retired in 2014 and returned to Ireland. 

40 years 

Father Thomas Foster

Father Thomas Foster

Father Thomas Foster was ordained to the priesthood on May 8, 1982, at St. Charles in Cass Lake by Bishop Paul F. Anderson for the Diocese of Duluth. Father Foster attended Cass Lake High School, followed by college at St. John’s in Collegeville. He also studied philosophy and theology at St. John’s.

Father Foster served at St. Joseph, Grand Rapids; Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, Duluth; St. Mary, Keewatin; St. Anne, Kelly Lake; and St. Rose, Proctor. He also served as director of the diocesan Office of Liturgy and as a sacramental priest at St. Mary’s Hospital. He is currently serving as chaplain at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth and serves on the Presbyteral Council, as well. 

Father Brian Schultz

Father Brian Schultz

Father Brian Schultz was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Paul F. Anderson for the Diocese of Duluth at St. Francis in Brainerd on April 24, 1982. Father Schultz attended Brainerd High School and Brained Junior College. He studied philosophy at St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul and theology at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul.

Father Schultz served at Holy Spirit, Virginia; Sacred Heart, Mountain Iron; Piux X, Babbitt; St. Francis, Brainerd; St. Mary, Cook; Holy Cross, Orr; St. John, Biwabik; Sacred Heart, Virginia; and St. Michael, Duluth. He also served on the Presbyteral Council. 

Father Schultz retired in 2003. 

10 years 

Father Seth Gogolin

Father Seth Gogolin

Father Seth Gogolin was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Paul D. Sirba at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth on June 22, 2012, for the Diocese of Duluth. Father Gogolin attended Brainerd High School and St. Cloud Technical College. He studied philosophy at St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul and studied theology at St. Meinard Seminary in Indiana.

Father Gogolin has served at St. Anthony, Ely; St. Pius X, Babbitt; St. Martin, Tower; St. Cecilia, Nashwauk; Mary Immaculate, Coleraine; St. Joseph, Grand Rapids; St. Augustine, Cohassett; and St. Joseph, Gnesen. He is currently pastor at St. John, Duluth, and St. Benedict, Duluth. He also serves on the Presbyteral Council and as a consultor. 

Bishop Felton recently announced that Father Gogolin is appointed vicar general and moderator of mission integration effective Jan. 1, 2023. He will continue to serve as pastor of St. John Church, Duluth, and as pastor of St. Benedict Church, Duluth. 

Father Benjamin Hadrich

Father Benjamin Hadrich

Father Benjamin Hadrich was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Paul D. Sirba at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth on June 22, 2012, for the Diocese of Duluth. Father Hadrich attended high school at McGregor High School and college at St. Scholastica. He studied philosophy at St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, and studied theology at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul.

Father Hadrich has served at St. John, Duluth; St. Joseph, Gnesen; St. Thomas Aquinas, International Falls; and St. Columban, Littlefork. Father Hadrich has been in residence at St. Mary Star of the Sea, Duluth, and Bishop Felton recently appointed Father Hadrich chaplain of Stella Maris Academy, effective July 1. 

Father Brandon Moravitz

Father Brandon Moravitz

Father Brandon Moravitz was ordained to the priesthood on June 22, 2012, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth by Bishop Paul D. Sirba for the Diocese of Duluth. Father Moravitz attended high school at Ely Memorial High School. He studied philosophy at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona and studied theology at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul.

Father Moravitz has served at Brainerd Area Catholic Churches, Brainerd, Sacred Heart, Virginia; and Sacred Heart, Mountain Iron; and is currently pastor of Holy Spirit, Virginia.

Father Daniel Weiske

Father Daniel Weiske

Father Daniel Weiske was ordained to the priesthood on June 22, 2012, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth by Bishop Paul D. Sirba for the Diocese of Duluth. Father Weiske attended East High School in Duluth, and went to college at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and the University of Illinois in Chicago. He studied philosophy at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois and theology at Pontifical North American College in Rome.

Father Weiske has served at Brainerd Area Catholic Churches, Brainerd; St. Andrew, Brainerd; and St. Mathias, Fort Ripley. He is currently pastor at Blessed Sacrament in Hibbing. He also serves on the Presbyteral Council, as a consultor, and as dean of the Hibbing Deanery. 

Combating the throwaway culture from womb to tomb

By the Minnesota Catholic Conference 

Opposing pro-abortion policies 

As the legislative session winds down, lawmakers are pushing bills that energize their supporters ahead of the election. This was visible on May 12 when the Minnesota Senate Democrats attempted to vote on nine bills, some of which promoted pro-abortion ideology. Fortunately, each attempt failed the procedural vote. 

The cornerstone of the nine-bill package, S.F. 731, goes by the “Protect Reproductive Options Act.” The Minnesota Catholic Conference opposes this bill because it codifies the right to an abortion until birth without any restriction, thereby denying prenatal justice to unborn children who are then discarded at will. 

Their second bill, S.F. 1205, would remove the Women’s Right to Know protections that safeguard mothers seeking an abortion by requiring the physician to share the medical risks of abortion, the gestational age of the baby, and access to state-sponsored materials that share alternatives to abortion. 

Other proposals included mandating insurance coverage of contraception (S.F. 1884), and increasing funds for the state’s Family Planning Grant, which gives money straight to Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion facilities (S.F. 644). 

The Minnesota Catholic Conference opposes such bills that promote a throwaway culture. We must work together as Catholics and all people of goodwill to ensure we never just talk the talk, but that we are truly walking with moms in need. We can do this by supporting our local pregnancy resource centers and promoting pro-family policies such as increasing funding for the state’s Positive Alternatives Grant program. 

Opposing the legalization of assisted suicide 

With our partner organization, the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, MCC continues supporting principled end-of-life care and advocating for compassionate alternatives to legalizing physician-assisted suicide. For seven years in a row, we have stopped the PAS bills from even being brought up for a full vote in committee. This year was no different, as H.F. 1358/S.F. 1352 was not heard in committee. 

Pope Francis has spoken out against the legalization of PAS saying, “we can and must reject the temptation, also induced by legislative changes, to use medicine to support a possible willingness of the patient to die, providing assistance for suicide or directly causing death by euthanasia.” 

The catechism also teaches that PAS and “whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons … is morally unacceptable” (CCC 2277). Instead, Catholics are called to create principled care models that support the medical needs of all people. Protecting the choices of a few by legalizing assisted suicide would endanger the health care choices of all. 

The Alliance has built bipartisan opposition to PAS while also promoting authentically compassionate care. The Palliative Care Advisory Council bill (H.F. 2517/S.F. 2400) would fully fund the council, allowing it to fulfill its purpose of analyzing barriers to greater palliative care access. The Palliative Care Definition bill (H.F. 3148/S.F. 2912) would modify the state statute to accurately define palliative care, which could help expand access to palliative care insurance coverage in the future. 

Action Item 

To learn about ways you can support a culture of life, visit

Betsy Kneepkens: Son’s vocation as a doctor is something they ‘can’t take away’

It was a gorgeous spring day, I think the third one of this season. This day was in the making for 13 years. My eighth-grader participated in a competitive history day project at Holy Rosary School with his best buddy. The project studied three innovative scientists who developed cardiac stents. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

To learn the history, middle-schoolers had to understand the science behind the invention. I was impressed by the number of local healthcare providers willing to give their time and talent to mentor these two middle schoolers. Unknowingly, these professionals had a significant impact on these boys’ lives, ultimately shaping their future. 

Crowded into a large, poorly air-conditioned auditorium, we received the privilege of watching our son receive a doctorate in medicine. There is not a doctor or a professional scientist on either side of the family. Unequivocally, his vocation was formed out of the care, kindness, and leadership of a group of individuals that gave of themselves. I am grateful for these adults who intentionally or unintentionally impacted these young kids with their unselfishness. We all have a role and responsibility toward the next generation, and how we handle that obligation certainly can affect a child for the remainder of their lives. Sadly, misusing this same “power” presents a risk of negatively impacting the direction of a young person as well. 

Once my son received his diploma, I was caught off guard by my reaction. Although my tears were to be expected, my comment was not. I said to the person next to me, “Now, nobody can take this away from him!” 

Several thoughts came to my mind as I reflected on what I said. At first, I thought maybe my response was because our son’s long journey was independent of anything his parents did, or the endless doubters that expressed their opinion over time, or because we thought his arduous and methodical plan was unrealistic. 

In turn, maybe my reaction was because once my son started studying for the MCAT, he repeatedly heard from older adults that being a doctor was a poor professional choice, including those who were current doctors. As a med student, he listened to a litany of individuals share negative comments about the health care system, how he will have to do more paperwork than treat patients, or his profession demands ever-increasing patient loads without the additional time or compensation to get the job done rightly. My son heard, contemplated those opinions, factored in these professional hurdles, and pushed forward anyway. 

I have had time to contemplate, and I believe I know why my “post-diploma” comment was made. The source of my statement came from what I heard at this nearly two-hour commencement ceremony. In this day and age, a child raised Catholic and who remains faithful has to overcome substantial obstacles others do not. Many professions demand workers subscribe to the “it’s our way or the highway” mentality. As I have written about before, the highway these days is directed away from Christ and his church. With that said, I subscribe to and believe you move on if you cannot make decisions that have the potential to put your soul in jeopardy. 

Well, the move-on mentality may have been easier for my generation. Our culture used to respect the free exercising of your religious beliefs. You simply were respected. It was understood you did not proselytize or require others to subscribe to your faith, you simply lived your faith. For instance, I once worked for a men’s clothing store, and they decided to open on Sundays. The owner was not a Christian, so he asked if working on Sunday would conflict with my faith before he scheduled me to work on Sunday. He respected my decision and made plans accordingly. I don’t believe this would happen today. 

My son’s two-hour commencement ceremony was one mentor after another repeating the same message in different ways. The keynote speaker shared the same content too but much more blatant and with confidence that everyone in the room thought as he did. I heard a call for this generation of doctors to follow a particular narrative that frankly had little to do with patients’ actual care and healing and more with a political leaning. I was hoping these mentors would have insisted on a continued pursuit to eradicate diseases and illness, seek to advance the science, fix broken limbs, and treat every person with dignity and respect while ignoring the attributes a patient cannot control. 

I was hoping I would hear that a medical doctor would always will the good of another while being patient, listening, and sharing the truth with compassion. I wanted just one speaker to proclaim “do no harm”: a statement implied in the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors used to pledge to. Moreover, I wished that these healthcare leaders would have told my son and all those new doctors that practicing medicine is a privilege. As doctors, they will be called to serve, even if that means refusing to perform procedures that are against science and are unethical, meaning you may not be popular. Lastly, I wish he heard that being a doctor means that the benefits of being a physician can never be more significant than what you do for the sake of the ill, injured, or despondent. 

My husband and I were intentional about the way we tried to form our children. If the expectations laid out at his graduation are indeed the way he is supposed to doctor, his scope of practicing will be limited. I am humbled that my son takes his faith seriously, and I am equally humbled that he has sought out the practice of medicine. I strongly believe Christ gave us the clergy to be physicians for our soul and doctors to be and physicians for our body. In other words, both vocations are intertwined serving our body-soul composite. 

It was my heart that articulated “now nobody can take this away from him” because the road in front of my Catholic physician son will be difficult. And when the time comes that he has to stand in front of the institution of health care that seems to be leaning more and more away from Christ, I pray he stands for what he believes. 

If standing firm on his faith means he will be forced to “move on,” no health care institution can take away the degree that conferred his vocation to heal. I hope he knows from his parents the greater good will always be that he served Christ first. 

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

Editorial: Paying attention to the ‘throwaway culture’

Pope Francis often has lively turns of phrase, and one of the more memorable expressions of his papacy — and one with real staying power — is what he calls the “throwaway society.” 

The idea is that so often in the modern world we are tempted to treat people as we treat so many things — as disposable the instant they become difficult or inconvenient or simply no longer wanted. Our society can treat people like it treats an empty pop bottle tossed in a recycling bin. 

As we look at the major issues of the day, that lens of the “throwaway culture” makes a lot of sense and brings real explanatory power while also pointing to solutions. The roiling, ongoing debate over abortion is all about it, both in terms of unborn children and their mothers who may be tossed aside because of difficulty. The answer, of course, is to love them both. 

It’s hard to imagine the throwaway culture doesn’t also play in to the horrific gun violence that keeps occurring across the country. Isn’t there a sense of a throwaway society when we look with sadness at the victims but are unwilling to act? And aren’t many of the perpetrators of this violence people who were already thrown away? 

The list could go on and on: Drug abuse, suicide, homelessness, poverty, and more. 

Even to identify this is a place to start. Solving the “throwaway society” is not the work of grand gestures or vast programs so much as it is individual relationships and having eyes to see those who have been cast aside because they’re difficult or inconvenient or undesirable. 

We look, instead, with the eyes of Jesus Christ, who loves and cares for each and every person he has made. When we do that, we can forge the connections and become the means through which he loves those who are in danger of being thrown away. 

Minnesota’s bishops respond to Department of the Interior Native American boarding schools report 

By The Northern Cross 

Earlier this year, based on news reports coming from Canada and the announcement by the U.S. Department of the Interior that it would issue a report related to the legacy of Native American boarding schools in this country, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed its desire to be of assistance in the process of reviewing that history. 

“The report’s release is an important step toward understanding the full legacy of the federal government’s boarding school program, including the involvement of the nation’s Christian denominations,” said Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Diocese of Crookston. “We are saddened by the tragedy of its contents and cannot even begin to imagine the deep sorrow that re-opening this painful chapter is causing in Native communities across North America and in our state.” 

Pope Francis recently met with a group of indigenous leaders from Canada and expressed his sadness and apologies for the ways in which Catholics had participated in a boarding school system that, in many instances, involuntarily removed children from their homes and placed them in boarding schools that cut them off from their families and cultural and linguistic roots. 

“[T]he ties that connect the elderly and the young are essential,” Pope Francis stated. “They must be cherished and protected, lest we lose our historical memory and our very identity. Whenever memory and identity are cherished and protected, we become more human.” 

In Minnesota, the bishops of the Minnesota Catholic Conference proactively sought a meeting with tribal leaders last year to listen to their views about the boarding schools, assess their interest in exploring the history further, and express the bishops’ own commitment to making any archives and records related to the boarding schools available for review. Among other things, the bishops seek to work with the tribal governments to clarify whether there are any unaccounted missing persons or remains. 

Since the Dec. 9 meeting at Grand Casino Mille Lacs, MCC and tribal leaders have together developed a process for the exchange of information and records related to attendance at the boarding schools. The results of each diocese’s initial review will be made available to tribal leaders soon. Due to privacy concerns, those records will be made public only upon the collective consent of the relevant tribal governments. 

In his remarks to Canadian indigenous leaders, Pope Francis encouraged bishops to “continue taking steps towards the transparent search for truth and to foster healing and reconciliation. These steps are part of a journey that can favor the rediscovery and revitalization of [native] culture, while helping the church to grow in love, respect, and specific attention to your authentic traditions.” 

One path forward together is exploring ways to recover indigenous languages that were suppressed by the boarding schools. In the collaborative discussions, there is a strong sense among tribal leaders that efforts related to recovering tribal languages is an important part of healing the damage done in these schools. 

The bishops of Minnesota are already considering ways to help in language recovery and looking forward to working with the tribal communities, recalling that Catholic leaders in the past often played an important role in putting indigenous languages into written form, as occurred with Bishop Frederic Baraga and the Ojibwe language. 

In reflecting on the collective journey toward better understanding the legacy of the boarding schools, Bishop Daniel Felton of the Diocese of Duluth stated: “Although the history that is brought to light may cause deep sorrow in the Native and Indigenous communities, we hope it may also bring real and honest dialogue to lead towards healing, and a heightened awareness so that this history is never repeated.” 

The Minnesota Catholic Conference is the public policy and legislative voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota and serves to uphold life, dignity, and the common good. 

Father Richard Kunst: Is a near death experience death?

When I was in junior high school I got a book from my grandmother that was titled “Beyond Death’s Door.” It was a book composed of a semblance of stories from people who had “near death” experiences. It was a heck of a book for a middle schooler to be reading, but I have to say I found it a fascinating read. 

Father Richard Kunst

In my ministry as priest I have had a number of opportunities to interact with people who have claimed to have had a near death experience themselves, but I have to say I am skeptical. I do not doubt people’s sincerity in what they have experienced, but a big part of me thinks that there is a natural explanation, that maybe when a body flatlines something gets triggered in their brain that causes all sorts of unique responses, but the fact of the matter is that I simply don’t know what these experiences are really all about. Could they be true “near death” experiences? I suppose they could be. The fact is the Catholic Church has never made a statement of judgment on such phenomenon. 

Several years back, when I was in the first few weeks of my most recent former assignment, I had a man corner me after Mass. He was very determined to tell me of his “near death” experience, and I have to admit I was thinking, “This guy is a real winner.” Because who does that? 

Well it was not long before I started to appreciate Bruce’s story. Everyone in the parish who knew Bruce (which was everyone), including his family, could vouch for Bruce’s experience. I did not know Bruce before he had this near death experience, but from what I heard he became a very different person after the fact. In my observation, Bruce was a deeply spiritual man who had the most positive of demeanors, taking all things in stride, and that is not at all necessarily what he was like beforehand. 

To me what was most telling about the legitimacy of Bruce’s story is what he started to do soon after his near death encounter, and that was to start volunteering with hospice patients. Bruce himself told me that he had a great desire to be with people as they were preparing to die, to help give them comfort and consolation in their final journey. Bruce would tell these dying people (as he would tell everyone) about his experience and how transformative it was. I cannot help but think this has brought much comfort to many people over many years. 

Because what Bruce experienced was so obviously legitimate, I interviewed him on Real Presence Radio a few years back so he could get the story to a much larger audience. And remember, I am the guy who has always been highly skeptical of such things. Bruce knocked my skepticism down a peg or two. 

As of my writing this in early April, Bruce just died two weeks ago. When I was at his funeral, I could not help but think that Bruce was the happiest person there. The partial experience he had many years earlier he was now experiencing in full. You see, “near death” experiences are not really death experiences. Just like near beer is not beer, it’s just near beer, so too a near death experience really is not death at all. If Bruce’s near death experience transformed the rest of his life because of how wonderful it was, imagine what the real deal must be like? But we can’t imagine. “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it even dawned on man what God has in store for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). 

For the faithful Christian, for the person who truly strives to follow Christ by how they live, death holds no threat. To the faithful Christian, biological death is nothing more than the soul leaving the body. That’s all it is. In the Gospel of John, when Jesus debates with the Jewish authorities who were looking to kill him, he states in the clearest way what our Christian hope is: “Amen, amen I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death” (John 8:51). Read that line a couple times, because it should have an impact on every aspect of our lives. 

Biological death is nothing other than the soul leaving the body. No near death experience, no matter how great it may be, holds a candle to the real thing as long as we have lived this life close to Christ. Many people have had the experience of “flatlining” only to be brought back. You may know people like that. Many of those people tell of similar experiences during that trauma, which tends to give credence to the fact that the experience is real. 

As real as it may be, it is not actually true death, which of course is permanent until the resurrection. That does not diminish, however, how transformative of an experience it can be. Bruce convinced me of that. 

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