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Betsy Kneepkens: Learning from a year as empty nesters

The last few weeks of August had always included a flurry of activity. After a few months off from school, our family had several traditions that readied our children for the impending change of pace. I used the work of school preparation as an opportunity to spend individual time with each child, calling it our annual date day. As my kids advanced in school, they still looked forward to the “date,” but they would not let me call this particular time together “our date.” I guess that term embarrassed them. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

There were cheaper and more efficient ways to get school supplies, but that wasn’t the point of our activity together. I wanted them to have distinct memories of this time of their lives. We would do something special, eat lunch, and then do our school shopping. Each child was sworn to secrecy. Some went so far as to get doggy bags from other restaurants to fool their siblings. I never put limits on where they could go to eat. The kids inevitably selected lower-end fast food joints, because they gave a free toy or dessert. 

For several years I had six kids, six different school lists, and six different dates, all of which hold a memory dear to my heart. My two youngest were home for just a few days before returning to university, and each mentioned that they needed some things for school. I am holding on to the hope that they want that special individual time with me. 

This September marks the end of my husband’s and my first year without children in our house. The year had some challenging moments, provided significant growth, and a tremendous opportunity to rediscover parts of our relationship we put on the back burner as we submerged ourselves into parenting. Friends warned us that the first year as empty nesters would be challenging, so we were warned. We didn’t exactly understand what our friends meant. Having this alert was helpful, but not until we went through these past 12 months did I get what they were talking about. 

The first challenge we didn’t expect was the spare time. Our children choose various activities that kept us busy driving or watching their activities. We tried hard to be equally involved in the kids’ separate clubs and sports. You could say our strategy to manage our household was to divide and conquer. 

We learned some tricks over time, like switching events at half-time or taking turns with each child. We managed to encourage our children to try similar interests like sports and instruments so that we could be at one location and see several different age-level games. Having most children of the same gender, often watching baseball meant going to a T-ball, little league, and major league game all on the same night, just on different fields. 

I will say it was easier with the five boys. When our daughter was added to the mix, we had to juggle schedules more precisely. A good deal of our time together as husband and wife was spent strategizing who would go where, when, and how, always trying to be efficient with our time. We did manage to fill those non-work, non-sleep hours with activity. We did try to eat together as a family. However, that “being together” was sometimes fast food in the car. 

For years, the kids slept in the same room, so we did have an evening routine of winding down with bedtime stories, made-up songs, and bedtime prayers. Even though life was chaotic most of the time, we made a point of Mass as a family on weekends and all days of obligation. I remember being joyfully tired. I often was too busy to do anything about the exhaustion. 

The first three months without children were taxing. We went from being busy all the time to almost a dead stop. We kept waiting to be needed by our children, but they kept figuring things out without us. Admittedly, I found myself breaking down in tears often, like homesickness, but I had the house, and my home was what was missing. 

For the next three months, we tried to fill up our time. Because we had so much less to do, we fell into a disturbing pattern of checking each other’s work. We said things like, “Did you lock the doors?” Then the other would go and check to make sure it was locked. Or say, “Did you turn the hose off?” The other would go back and check the hose. Running with kids all the time, you had to trust that the other took care of what they said they took care of. When we had time to think, worry, and question, our need to trust dwindled. 

Before, we worked our Mass schedule around our children’s activities. Once the kids were gone, we discovered we could go to any weekend Mass. However, we learned quickly we had different preferences for Mass. I participate more fully in Masses that tend to be celebrated in a “large” way, with sacred music, incense, and a full, lively family atmosphere. On the other hand, my husband prefers the simplest form, with quiet reflection instead of song and praise between parts of the Mass. We debated for the first few months, or perhaps you could say we argued about which Mass we attended together. One bright morning, I came up with a solution. I told my husband, “How about if we switch preferences each week as best we can.” That seems to be working. 

Slowly but surely, our quiet home without children evolved. We realized that our children did chores, and now we had to do them. They were mowing the lawn, shoveling, doing laundry, and doing dishes, just to mention a few tasks. Now it was up to the two of us. Over time we divided up roles to get our housework done. We quickly discovered that we could easily give a gift to the other by simply doing their job when they did not expect it. It has been a beautiful and loving way to show each other how much we appreciate them. I know that was mostly missing when we were busy raising children. 

Later this year, we rediscovered that the things we enjoyed doing together before children we still enjoy now. We are working on seeking out those opportunities. You can forget what they were when you busy yourself with children. This year has been challenging. I think every stage of marriage, you must go through it to grow together, learn to appreciate each other, and even continue to get to know each other better. 

We promised many things on our wedding day and took those promises to heart. For better and for worse it was absolutely part of our choice to love each other. The richness of that promise is that when you work through the worst, you become better together. I wouldn’t want to go through this year again, but now that it is over, I feel blessed that we received the grace to grow in a stronger union because of these difficult moments. 

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

New school year brings opening of long-awaited Catholic high school

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

While a new school year always brings excitement, this year as summer vacation comes to a close, Catholic education in Duluth is beginning a particularly notable new chapter, as Stella Maris Academy opens its long-awaited high school on a new campus, with 15 to 20 incoming freshman.

The main building at the high school campus has seen a lot of drive-through traffic by community members curious about the new mission for the facility, formerly known as The Hills. (Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Formerly known as The Hills, the facility previous provided youth services and before that was a Catholic orphanage. Now serving as the new high school campus, purchased for $4 million last October, the facility is still being renovated. Phase I renovation, which is estimated to require $3 to $3.25 million in funding, will include most of the original 1909 building and is expected to be completed around Thanksgiving, said Andrew Hilliker, president of Stella Maris. 

“In a typical or ideal scenario, we would spend months planning with the architect, months implementing with contractors, and months preparing financially, etc., and we’ve condensed all of that into such a small period of time. … The fact that we’re nearing completion of demoltion, it’s really quite remarkable,” he said in an August interview. 

But in the meantime, a “really beautiful and usable space for students to spend the first couple of months of school” has been prepared. 

Much more than the physical property goes into opening the first Catholic high school in the diocese in decades, of course. 

Another major project has been the curriculum, building on the Catholic liberal arts model the school has been moving to in its pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade offerings on the three other campuses, a goal since diocesan schools were unified under the name Stella Maris Academy several years ago.

A mockup shows what classrooms at the new Stella Maris high school campus will look like when renovations are complete. 

“Those changes and that work in the lower grades, it’s just so perfect in timing that we’re adding high school programming now, because we’re making real adjustments to improve not only our outcomes but our formation of our students, and now we get to continue that on into high school.” 

That work of defining what curriculum and pedagogy will look like is being assisted by a two-year partnership with the Institute for Catholic Liberal Arts Education. 

“We can’t be the same as the school down the street and we just have Mass once a week and we pray,” Hilliker said. “We have to look at everything we do with relation to teaching and learning and forming our kids and doing it through the idea that Christ is at the center of it all.” 

An example of the difference is that many schools take a social studies approach for civics education that Hilliker said shortchanges history. 

“So we’re taking a step back and implementing a history timeline approach to learning that encompasses civics and economics and civic responsibility, but it emphasizes the history timeline that ties right in with our theology, that ties right in with Catholic social teachings and the catechism,” he said. 

He said such efforts are possible because of all the work that’s been done in the other campuses over the past several years, where the work of unification has been done and is now being built upon.

The auditorium space at the new Stella Maris high school campus will be converted back into its original purpose and function as a chapel. 

“We have just exemplary academic outcomes, but … we’re [also] experiencing just tremendous growth in our pre-K through 8 [grades] right now,” he said. “There’s a desire from our families and from our community for that return to what is important and the priorities, and that’s going to continue in making our high school be successful for a very, very long time.” 

Stella Maris was also able to hire a “very talented and committed, faithful administrator for the high school campus” in Chris Lemke, Hilliker said. Lemke was a teacher and coach in Two Harbors for many years and also served as administrator at the Mater Dei apostolate in Duluth. 

Hilliker described him as having a Passion for education and a commitment to Catholic education. “He’s been just a great asset and addition to our team.” 

Lemke will also be building a platform for activities from fine arts to athletics, allowing students to explore gifts they’ve been given, something he said is important to the high school experience for many students, beginning with a number of them this fall, including some competition with other organizations and schools. 

“It will be a good experience for our students in year one,” Hilliker said. 

While the number of incoming freshman may seem small, Hilliker said the school is expecting a much larger influx in the high school’s second year, with potentially more than 75 more students. 

“What we’ve seen is really impressive growth in our middle schools grades with the announcement of high school programming,” he said. “So, I think there are families on the [peripheries] that weren’t at Stella Maris because there wasn’t a long-term plan for a brick and mortar high schol at Stella Maris. And now that there is, those families that were hesitant to make the move only then to have to figure out a plan for high school have been motivated to make that decision to come into our academy.” 

The school as a whole, across all the campuses, has increased from 528 last year to around 600 this fall. 

Hilliker said the school has had a sense of momentum and excitement this summer, among families and staff alike. 

Response from the broader community to the new high school and new use of the historic facility has also been “very

A mockup shows what a lounge area for students at the new high school is expected to look like after renovations are completed. 

positive,” Hilliker said, with “constant” traffic coming through the property from the curious, from neighbors, and from those who had a connection to the orphanage. People are excited about it, and appreciate that it will still be serving young people. 

Hilliker said that Catholics also appreciate the fact that the facilities Catholic heritage will continue. 

A visit from a woman who had lived there as a child and brought pictures of herself with another former resident — the late Father Richard Partika — gave him different appreciation of how many youths have been served there over its more than a century of use. 

“That’s where it becomes quite humbling,” he said. 

Hilliker has been on the job for a year, which in addition to buying The Hills and opening a high school has also included a challenging school year still dealing with COVID-19. 

“We have a board, an aministrative team, and a faculty and staff that have just given remarkably of themselves to make it all happen and come together,” he said, “and I know that those things couldn’t ahve happened without those people in place that are there.” 

Looking ahead, it doesn’t get any easier he said, but that team gives him confidence. 

“There’s no shortage of work ahead,” he said. “So as much as has been done, we’ve still got a long way to go. But there’s comfort in knowing we have those people in place that we do, that it will happen with excellence.” 

Bishop Daniel Felton: The change of seasons is a spiritual exercise

Dear brothers and sisters, 

Greetings to you in the name of the Lord of all time and the Savior of every season! It is hard to believe that the new Autumn season will soon arrive, as it quickly discards the days of summer. I have to admit, Autumn is my favorite season for many reasons: crisp and cool evenings, homecoming gatherings, bonfires, beautiful leaf colors, and the beginning of the football season! 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News

It is no wonder that the perfect Mass preface for this time of the year simply proclaims: “It is truly right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God. For you laid the foundations of the world and have arranged the changing of times and seasons ….” 

Who would have imagined that the changing of a season is of God? For that reason, every change of season can be understood as a spiritual exercise. With the beginning of the season of Autumn, God invites us to hit the reset button. As nature changes seasons, God invites our human nature to a change of heart, and perhaps a change in attitude. Every change of season affords us the opportunity to let go of bad habits, sin, attitudes, grudges, and resentment and to begin anew — not by our doing, but at God’s seasonal beckon. 

As we move into the season of Autumn, beginning anew with the help of God’s grace, we also are accompanied by the seasonal celebrations of saints and days like the Exaltation of the Cross; St. Matthew; St. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael; St. Therese of the Child Jesus; St. Francis of Assisi; St. Teresa of Jesus; St. Luke; Sts. Simon and Jude; All Saints Day; Thanksgiving Day; Christ the King; and the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, to mention a few. All of these occasions remind us that the saints are praying for us in every season to begin anew with the help of God’s grace. 

It is also during the season of Autumn that we celebrate the patroness of our Diocese, Our Lady of the Rosary, on Oct. 7. This year’s celebration of our patroness will be even more special, as I will ordain Jacob Toma to the Holy Order of the Diaconate. What a beautiful manifestation of an answer to our vocational prayer, which always concludes with, “We commend our prayers to our patroness, Mary, Queen of the Rosary.” 

Finally, as we change time with our clocks “falling back” an hour, I would invite you to make a special Holy Hour with that extra hour. Spend some time, not only resetting your clocks, but resetting your life and love of God. 

So, goodbye, Summer, and welcome, Autumn. With the beginning of a new season, what needs to change in your heart and attitude? What must you leave behind with a Summer ending, and embrace anew with the onset of Autumn? Treat this change of season as a spiritual exercise, and you will be amazed at the outpouring of God’s blessings on you and your relationship with the Giver of every gift and the Source of our blessings. 

Bishop Daniel Felton is the tenth bishop of Duluth. 

Ask Father Mike: Can I have my ashes scattered in the Boundary Waters?

I am hoping to be cremated when I die. I would also like my family to bring my ashes up to the Boundary Waters and scatter them there, since it is where I feel closest to God. Is that OK? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Thank you so much for asking these questions. I am very grateful that you are taking the time to find out whether or not your plans and wishes correspond with what the church asks of those who are disciples of Jesus. 

I do not want to gloss over that point: You are asking in order to live as a member of the Body of Christ. This is no small thing. We know that members of a family have a relationship with each other. Because of this relationship, they have certain rights. They can ask each other for help. They have a degree of access to each other. At the same time, real relationships also have real responsibilities. Because of this, the church can also ask things of her family members. This is where obedience comes in. 

Obedience is not blind. Nor is obedience slavish. As Catholic Christians, we are called to have the obedience of loved and respected sons and daughters (who in turn love and respect those over us). Loved and respected sons and daughters can ask for the reasons behind what is being asked of them. Many of us do that. And then we are called to act on what we have been called to do. 

I say all of this because your question indicates that you already have a desire to be cremated and for your ashes to be scattered. In the first case, that is permissible. In the second case, that is not allowed. Let me try to explain why. 

You are your body. And you are your soul. In fact, one item of belief that distinguishes Christians from other religions and worldviews is our view of the human person. We believe that a human person is a body-soul “composite.” It is what we are. This is one of the reasons why death is so “obscene” (to use a phrase from Dr. Peter Kreeft): It is the separation of what is meant to be a unity. 

A soul without a body is a ghost … and a body without a soul is a corpse. A human person is the soul and body united. Therefore, you are your soul and you are your body. This belief is professed (even if obliquely) every time we utter the words, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead.” We believe that all of us will ultimately get our bodies back. Some of us to the resurrection of glory in heaven, and some of us to the resurrection of condemnation in hell. 

All of these assertions add up to the fact that we care for our bodies even in death. Since we believe that our bodies are an essential part of our selves, and since we believe in the resurrection of the dead, we treat bodies (even dead bodies) with dignity. 

For years, the church prohibited the cremation of dead bodies unless absolutely necessary. The reason behind this prohibition was the fact that many cultures the church was evangelizing had a vastly different view of the body. For many cultures and worldviews, the body has been seen as a “trap” or a “cage” for the soul. Therefore, death was seen as the liberation of the “true self” and cremation was seen as a sign that a person was finally freed from the shackles of their body. Because of this, Christians were not allowed to choose cremation, since the people around them could see it as a validation of their low view of the body. 

Now, however, there are very few people who would associate cremation with this worldview. Far more people would choose cremation merely for its economic benefits or for some other personal reason. For this reason, the church allows people to choose cremation. 

At the same time, the church demands that Catholics are interred in holy ground. Whether it is the body of the person or the cremains of the person, Catholics may only be buried in ground that has been designated for the purpose of burial. Therefore, Catholics may not scatter the ashes of deceased person who is Catholic, nor may they keep the ashes of a loved one in a vase or in a locket or other keepsake. This burial gives witness to the fact that the body is sacred and is destined for resurrection. 

Of course, there are bodies that get lost at sea or are destroyed by fire or some other calamity. There are times when there is very little of a person’s body to recover and bury. But even then, whatever remains we can treat with dignity we will treat with dignity. Every person’s body will likely disintegrate and will become dust once again, but we affirm the resurrection when we do what we can to keep the body intact. 

Many people will ask about the relics of saints. There are many saints whose bodies have been divided and distributed among the faithful. If a person can do that with a saint, why can’t one do that with a loved one? For at least two reasons. First, the relic is placed in a reliquary and is meant to be regularly venerated (thus affirming the dignity of the body). Second, the church no longer approves of this practice, and it is prohibited unless special permission has been granted. 

All of this is to say: if you want, you can choose cremation as long as you do not have the motive of minimizing the dignity of the body. But you may not ask for your ashes to be scattered. Hopefully enough reason why has been offered so that you can follow this teaching in good faith. 

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. 

Vatican Unveiled draws more than 4,000 visitors 

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Vatican Unveiled, the fundraiser showcasing Father Richard Kunst’s massive collection of papal and other historical artifacts, drew more than 4,000 people to the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center Aug. 19-21, organizers said.

A letter relating to the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and a piece of a cassock of Pope Pius VII were a highlight moment at Vatican Unveiled. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Father Kunst, the pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth parishes in Duluth, said he thought Sunday was the busiest and that a “ton of kids” went through to see his collection of papal memorabilia, amassed over many years, which he says is the largest outside of Rome itself. In addition to the numerous artifacts relating to popes — which range from letters and documents to items of clothing, chalices and first class relics — the exhibit also included a relic of the true cross, a relic of the original chair of St. Peter, and items relating to numerous saints and, occasionally, other historical figures such as the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Father Kunst gave presentations throughout the weekend, and even on the last day, he seemed to enjoy greeting the many people pouring through the DECC to get a glimpse of his collection.

A volunteer explains to visitors items relating to St. Gianna Molla and St. Damien of Molokai at the DECC Aug. 21, as a part of the Vatican Unveiled exhibition. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

“I have come to realize that this exhibit was much more than a fundraiser, that the response from the people, often an emotional one, was worth the effort of the whole thing,” Father Kunst told The Northern Cross in the days after the display. “I know many people were greatly affected by seeing these things so connected to the history of our faith and our church.” 

“My hope is that The Vatican Unveiled becomes an avenue to have something more permanent for Duluth and our diocese,” he added. “These sacred and historical items need to be somewhere other than in a box, but available for people to see and appreciate. It is another form of ministry from my perspective, a form of ministry unique to our diocese.” 

Monica Hendrickson, one of the event organizers, said that in addition to the more than 4,000 people who came through the large exhibition, the event “raised over $350,000, and we are still receiving donations online and in the mail.” 

The event was arranged as a fundraiser, with the proceeds going to benefit Stella Maris Academy — Duluth’s city-wide Catholic school spread across four campuses — and the Star of the North Maternity Home, which has locations in Duluth and on the Iron Range serving mothers in need.

Father Richard Kunst shows visiting bishops from Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota items from his papal artifacts collection in a special showing after Vatican Unveiled took place at the DECC. (Submitted photo) Items from Pope Leo XIII, including an inkwell and a chalice used for Mass, were on display at Vatican Unveiled at the DECC in Duluth in August. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Ojibwe artist’s beadwork selected for display at U.S. Embassy to Holy See

By Maria Wiering 
Catholic News Service 

With a needle and thread and painstaking attention, Jessica Gokey “paints” images of flora and fauna, two tiny beads at a time. 

As she has developed her art over the past decade, her elaborate work has earned her a Minnesota Historical Society fellowship and attracted private collectors. 

Now it’s garnered its highest accolade yet: a place in the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. 

“It’s the highest honor,” said Gokey, 36, who lives and works in Inver Grove Heights, a suburb of the Twin Cities. “It’s so awesome. … The pope as a leader, he might actually lay eyes on my artwork.”

Jessica Gokey of Inver Grove Heights is seen in this undated photo. The Ojibwe artist “paints” images of flora and fauna sewing two tiny Czech seed beads at a time onto wool fabric. Her piece titled “A Dance with Florals” will be on display at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See in Rome. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit )

The piece that will be displayed at the embassy is called “A Dance with Florals,” and it features a blue waterlily surrounded by other blooms and juniper. 

She created it specifically for the embassy, after U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Joe Donnelly, whom the U.S. Senate confirmed for the post in January, expressed interest in a similar piece on her website that she had already sold, she said. 

Donnelly officially began his duties April 11, presenting his letters of credential to Pope Francis. 

Gokey, who is from the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe near Hayward, Wisconsin, roots her art in traditional Ojibwe beadwork. 

A lifelong artist, she began working with beads a decade ago. A 2013 fellowship at the Minnesota Historical Society was pivotal for her art, she said. For six months, she studied traditional beadwork in the historical society’s collection. 

“I’m a self-taught beader,” she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “Everything was research online, museum collections, studying photos, studying historic photos, talking to elders, talking to mentors, to try to figure out how to bead, how to do the traditional designs.” 

The fellowship’s deep dive into traditional beadwork inspired new techniques in her own work, she said, as she shifted from simple, “flat” images to more realistic designs with color gradation and iridescence. She moved to the Twin Cities following the fellowship. 

A former game warden in Hayward for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Gokey draws on her knowledge of plants and animals and behavior she’s observed. One of her works, “Companions,” was inspired by a male and female otter she once watched play. 

She began beading when she was a game warden as a “creative outlet,” she said. “I was protecting nature and I’ve always had an interest in florals and plants.” 

Now it’s her full-time work. She wakes at 3 a.m. to begin beading, often for 10 hours a day. One piece takes weeks to months to complete. She uses Czech seed beads and, for most of her works, a high-quality wool from Teton Trade Cloth, a company that specializes in Native American textiles. 

She first draws the design on stitch-and-tear paper, which guides her beading and is removed when the piece is finished. 

When she began beading, most of her work was for Ojibwe regalia, bags, or other utilitarian items people could wear, she said. Now she works on pieces that are meant to be framed for the wall. 

She has sold most of her work to private collectors. Her piece “Native Food Table Accent” is on exhibit at the Minnesota Historical Society and is part of its permanent collection. She’s also exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. 

Among the Ojibwe people, “there’s a lot of beaders,” Gokey said, “but not a lot of beaders do what I do. I consider my beadwork a fine art.” 

One of her works in progress, “Generational Memories,” aims to express her belief that her talent has been handed down through her ancestors through DNA. 

Gokey announced May 23 on her website,, that “A Dance with Florals” had been selected for display at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See through “Art in the Embassies,” a cultural program of the U.S. State Department. 

“U.S. Ambassador Joe Donnelly and Mrs. Donnelly chose Jessica’s work to be displayed in the embassy in Rome for the duration of his tenure as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican,” the news release stated. 

The artwork was shipped in late May and is expected to be on display in an embassy reception room. 

It will be on loan for two to three years, Gokey said. She plans to visit the Vatican to see it, and she said it’s especially meaningful that her art was chosen for the U.S. Embassy because of its proximity to the Vatican Museums’ world renowned art collection. 

“I strive to show the world that traditional Ojibwe beadwork or just traditional Native American beadwork should be held as high as any other type of art today. Most people look at it as a craft or folk art, but I consider it a fine art,” she said. 

“To have it in a place like the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican, to actually be there and have world leaders and everyone see my art is just amazing — not to mention all the history of art in the Vatican,” she added. “I just want to cry. I can’t wait to go see it.” 

Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. 

Pope names Fairbanks, Alaska, bishop to head Diocese of New Ulm

By Catholic News Service 

Pope Francis has named Bishop Chad W. Zielinski of Fairbanks, Alaska, to head the Diocese of New Ulm. 

Since 2014, the 57-year-old prelate has served as the fifth bishop of Fairbanks. The diocese covers over 409,000 square miles of Alaska’s northern region, or about two-thirds of the entire state. It is the largest U.S. diocese geographically.

Bishop Chad W. Zielinski of Fairbanks, Alaska, is seen in this 2019 file photo. Pope Francis appointed him to head the Diocese of New Ulm July 12. Bishop Zielinski will succeed Bishop John M. LeVoir, who resigned Aug. 6, 2020, after heading the diocese for 12 years. Bishop LeVoir was 74 and just a few months shy of 75, the age when bishops are required by canon law to turn in their resignation to the pope. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

In New Ulm, he succeeds Bishop John M. LeVoir, who resigned Aug. 6, 2020, after heading the diocese for 12 years. He was 74 and just a few months shy of 75, the age when bishops are required by canon law to turn in their resignation to the pope. 

Bishop Zielinski’s appointment was announced July 12 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S. His installation Mass will be Sept. 27. 

“It is with great joy that I received the news of Bishop Zielinski’s appointment,” said Msgr. Douglas L. Grams, who has served as New Ulm’s diocesan administrator since Aug. 10, 2020. “The bishop brings pastoral experience and is known for his humility and compassion as a shepherd.” 

“I am most grateful to our Holy Father for entrusting me to serve as the shepherd of the Diocese of New Ulm,” Bishop Zielinski said in a statement. “As I leave the vast expanse of northern Alaska, I am fully aware of the countless blessings I received from 46 parishes. 

“The faithful of the entire Diocese of Fairbanks patiently helped form me to be the shepherd I am today.” 

Of the diocese’s 46 parishes, only nine are accessible by car. The remaining parishes are located in Alaska Native villages and have to be visited by bush plane, boat, or snow machine. 

Established Aug. 8, 1962, the northern Alaska diocese currently has 22 priests, 22 deacons, four religious sisters, and two religious brothers. 

“Our Native Alaskan brothers and sisters have opened my mind and heart to the cultural beauty and richness of their traditional way of life,” Bishop Zielinski added. “I come to the Diocese of New Ulm with the same open heart and mind, eager to learn and encounter new blessings as I visit parishes and families in this beautiful prairie land of south and west-central Minnesota.” 

“Guided by the Holy Spirit,” he said, “together we continue our journey of faith into a new era of peace filled with hope in Jesus Christ.” 

Father Robert Fath, vicar general for the Diocese of Fairbanks, thanked Bishop Zielinski for his years as shepherd to the faithful of northern Alaska, saying he has been “a blessing” to the diocese and its communities. 

“Although we are saddened by his impending departure, we send our best wishes and prayers with him to Minnesota as he begins this next chapter in his ministry to the people of God,” the priest said. “We pray that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will quickly appoint a new shepherd for the faithful of the Diocese of Fairbanks.” 

Duluth Bishop Daniel Felton welcomed the appointment with “great joy” on behalf of the Duluth Diocese. “I rejoice for the people of the Diocese of New Ulm, who have been without a bishop for 23 months,” he said. “May the blessings of God be abundant upon their new shepherd, Bishop Zielinski.” 

At a news conference in New Ulm, Bishop Zielinski said it was “great learning the Native Alaska culture, hunting and fishing with them” and he looks forward to touring his new diocese. “It would be great if somebody let me drive their tractor,” added the prelate. 

On a more serious note, he urged the faithful of the Minnesota diocese to let their hearts “be filled and consumed with Christ.” 

“Have hope,” Bishop Zielinski said. “There are people all around full of darkness and evil. Give hope to those that don’t have it. You’re created in the likeness of God. You are important. Be a light for others in this world.” 

Chad William Zielinski was born Sept. 8, 1964, in Detroit and grew up on a farm in Alpena in the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan. He is the eldest of five children of Donald and Linda Zielinski. 

After graduating from Alpena High School in 1982, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and, while stationed in Idaho, attended Boise State University. 

It was at this time he felt a call to serve God as a priest, so when he completed his tour of duty in 1986, he entered Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Oregon, where he earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in philosophy in 1989. 

He was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Gaylord and entered Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit to complete his spiritual formation and theological studies, receiving his master of divinity degree in 1996. 

He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Patrick R. Cooney at St. Mary Cathedral in Gaylord June 8, 1996. 

After ordination, he served as associate pastor for Immaculate Conception Parish in Traverse City, Michigan. In 1998, he became pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Empire and St. Rita-St. Joseph in Maple City. He was elected to serve on the priests’ council in 1999 and became pastor for administrative affairs of the diocesan mission to Hispanics in 2000. 

Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, then-Father Zielinski felt a strong need to minister to those in military service. Aware of the great need for Catholic military chaplains, Bishop Cooney released him to serve in the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. 

In 2002, he began his chaplaincy at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. 

From 2003 to 2005, he was stationed in Suffolk, England, before returning to the United States, where he was assigned to the Air Force Recruiting Service headquarters at Randolph Air Force Base in Schertz, Texas. 

In 2009, he was appointed chaplain to the Catholic cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 2012, he served as chaplain to the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks. 

In the course of his military career, Bishop Zielinski served three tours of duty in war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“I guess the church has prepared me for the military and the military has prepared me for the church,” he once wrote. “We receive orders and we go, whether coming from a general or the pope.” 

He has received numerous military awards and decorations for his service, and was promoted to the rank of major in July 2013. 

Established Nov. 18, 1957, the Diocese of New Ulm is home to nearly 50,933 Catholics. Considered one of the most rural dioceses in the country, it is comprised of 15 counties in south and west-central Minnesota. 

There are currently 59 parishes, served by 32 assigned diocesan priests, 17 permanent deacons, 13 Catholic elementary schools and three Catholic high schools. 

Making abortion unthinkable: The uphill battle on Capitol Hill

By The Minnesota Catholic Conference 
Inside the Capitol 

The overturning of Roe is not an end, it is just the beginning. This has been the refrain from the pro-life movement since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. So, if this is just the beginning, how do we get to the end where abortion is not simply illegal but truly unthinkable? 

The Dobb’s decision calls Catholics to double down on our existing efforts to walk with moms in need. This work has already been underway for decades through the tireless and selfless efforts of countless individuals, and especially of our pregnancy resource centers. Together, we must cultivate a civilization of love that cares for both the mother and child before and after birth. And we must assist our elected officials in implementing policies that will truly make abortion unthinkable. 

Unfortunately, in Minnesota where abortion remains legal, the battle on Capitol Hill for hearts and minds will continue to be uphill. 

In the week following the Dobb’s ruling, 46 percent of Governor Tim Walz’s official Twitter posts were not about being One Minnesota but instead expressed his staunch support for abortion and maintaining its availability in Minnesota. Two of his recent tweets read: 

”I know Minnesotans share the fear and pain people across the country are feeling. But we never back down from a challenge. Today and every day, I stand with Minnesotans in the fight to protect access to reproductive health care and abortion.” 

”Let me be very clear: This ruling changes nothing in Minnesota today, tomorrow, or as long as I am governor. We will not turn back the clock on reproductive rights.” 

Governor Walz went beyond social media rhetoric to the pronouncement of an executive order commanding state agencies “not to assist other states’ attempts to seek civil, criminal or professional sanctions against anyone seeking, providing, or obtaining legal abortion services in Minnesota.” 

The desire to further enshrine the taking of innocent life into our state’s laws was also seen among legislators, with Speaker of the House Rep. Melissa Hortman issuing a statement calling for the election of more pro-choice lawmakers. 

That passion was met with a tepid two-sentence response issued by Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, in which he committed his caucus “to working together to find consensus on protections for babies and support for moms and families who choose life.” 

What is most concerning about these statements is what our elected officials have failed to say — precisely that we must make abortion unthinkable. We accomplish this by passing life-affirming policies such as increased funding for the Positive Alternatives Grants program, family leave policies, and economic supports such as a child tax credit, just to name a few. 

With so many possibilities, now is the time for Catholics reinvigorated by the overturning of Roe to passionately continue up the hill to advocate for policies that make sure no woman ever feels the need to think about abortion. 

Action Alert 

Equipped for Life — Saturday, Oct. 1 

Learn to respond to the toughest pro-choice arguments in ways that can actually change hearts and minds. Join the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as we host this training by Emily Albrecht from the Equal Rights Institute. 

Visit: for tickets! 

Betsy Kneepkens: Healing the family is essential to stopping the violence

It was about 92 degrees outside, gas prices were nearing $5 a gallon, I needed groceries, and the store was about one mile from my home. I was frustrated, and I can get stubborn sometimes. I grabbed a water bottle, put on my walking shoes, and headed out that door. No way would I fill up my gas tank at that price. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

t was undoubtedly warm on the walk downhill to the store, but I managed the trip with determined vigor. The trip back, uphill with groceries, was a different story. Perhaps I am a bit headstrong, and my protest was backfiring in the heat, but I had no plans to give up. When I was nearing the top of the hill, about three-quarters of the way home, three separate individuals stopped their cars and asked if I needed a ride home. One very kind gentleman passed me, turned around, and came back to ask me if I needed a lift. Maybe I wasn’t looking well, and I don’t know, it was hot outside. 

I thanked these good people and explained that I had intentionally chosen to walk and was grateful for the offer. My decision to walk wasn’t going to budge. In hindsight, even if I was unwell, getting in a car with a stranger is considered unsafe. Unfortunately, safety is a bigger issue than allowing unknown individuals to help each other? What a shame! 

My regular column readers know that I am a native Chicagoan. I was horrified when the mass shooting in Chicago’s Highland Park happened on July 4. I was not raised in that part of the city, but I certainly was familiar with the area. I can say that if a mass shooting can happen in that neighborhood, we all need to realize this sort of situation can happen everywhere. 

The last few times I traveled back home, I can sadly say the Chicago I remember is not the Chicago of today. Shootings happen regularly in this region, and reporters share the violent news like they list scores for professional sporting competitions. The Highland Park area was one of the parts of the city that I would consider the last to be infected by such unspeakable violence. I was deeply disheartened to learn about the senseless carnage on the day citizens are willing to come together to enjoy a Fourth of July parade. We need to be honest about making changes in this country. 

Again, after one of these mass shootings, we hear pundits and politicians proclaim the solution to this problem is to restrict gun access. I am not an expert on guns. I can see both sides of the argument, and I fall right into the middle. 

I am, however, convinced that the best solution to this horrible violence and all other societal messes is not the laser strike legislation we usually do. It seems passing legislation gets at the symptoms and not the cause. The honest answer to these problems is not the federal government and new laws. Moving toward a resolution is attainable, and it rests with the collective will to live and sacrifice for the sake of others. No country in the world has more potential for overall greatness than the United States. At some point in our history, we decided to put the burden of peace and prosperity on the government and not ourselves. 

The government now seems to be involved in nearly every aspect of our lives. When I point this out to my children, who think the government should solve these problems, I say, “how is this working for us.” We must stop expecting the government to solve our individual bad choices. There is no question that the government plays an essential role in our country. However, much of this brokenness must be repaired by individuals and our way of life. 

Catholics teach a concept called subsidiarity, which means nothing should be done at a higher level than can be done well or better at a lower level. These mass shootings are unacceptable. Not being able to accept a ride from someone you don’t know because it could be unsafe is dispiriting, and taking your life in your hands when you attend a parade is unspeakable. We can’t allow this evil to get much worse, or every one of us will be imprisoned by the dysfunction caused by our sins. 

I believe the real problem is we won’t admit we all have an individual part in correcting this mass waywardness. When Catholics talk about subsidiarity, they usually mean neighborhoods or local governments. However, the root of our wretchedness comes from a place much smaller than our neighborhoods. The place is our families. 

We can no longer tolerate our society being in so much pain and blaming others. The solution must be bold actions, willing to accept and understand that everyone carries some cross or difference in this world and even with this cross move forward. 

We must realize that the lack of emphasis on intact families is the heart of this upheaval. We must be able to speak compassionately yet openly that it matters if children have the benefit of their mom and dad in their home. We must proclaim the good news that the unconditional love a mother and father pour out to their children mimics, in an earthly way, the love that awaits us in our heavenly life in an endless and unlimited way. 

God’s plan for the family is purposeful, intentional, and valuable. A family gives a child the security of roots, knowing they’re loved, and teaching them how to love others. God wants his children to know they are never alone and that we can and should depend on and care for others. All relationship formation is attained most successfully in a family and is critical. Without the vast majority of our population formed this way, ending violence and maltreatment of others seems impossible. 

Men must hold other men accountable if they are not parenting their children, and couples must acknowledge that marriage is difficult. All measures must be taken to keep mothers and fathers together (unless there is abuse or death) to raise their children. Our churches in every neighborhood need to make supporting marriage and family life central to their ministries. As a society, we must admit that the vast majority of extreme violence can be linked back to family situations that are dysfunctional and fractured. As Pope St. John Paul II said, “as the family goes, so goes society.” The alarm bells are blaring. 

When you are walking home, even if you are bullheaded, you should feel safe accepting help from a kind person who offers you a ride. When you go to a parade, you should not feel like your life is in danger. An individual should not be so alone and unconnected that they find the only way to be seen and significant is by taking unsuspecting, innocent lives. 

God’s design to give individuals the formation to live peacefully together, on earth, is the family. Our decision to minimize and reduce the significance of intact families is the cause of the extreme violence we are experiencing. Looking to make the change by laws that adjust the symptoms prolongs a solution. The way our society is living is not working for us. 

God’s family design was not happenstance, its intention was a cooperative effort between him and humankind, to well form his children to love, care, and teach us to live in harmony with each other. As a church, we must start speaking loudly for intact families and providing the tools to help married couples raise their children in homes filled with love. 

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

Editorial: The extraordinary attack on pro-life pregnancy centers

In the aftermath of the June 24 Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, perhaps nothing has so perfectly encapsulated the inarticulate rage against America’s pro-life community as the targeting of pro-life pregnancy centers. 

Not only have they been the target, across more than 20 states, of vandalism, firebombing, or threats of violence, they have also been denounced by governors and U.S. senators. In some places, laws have been proposed targeting these facilities. Members of Congress have pressured Internet search giant Google to doctor its search results and ads to suppress them. And of course there has been plenty of biased media coverage joining in the pile-on. 

What makes it all of this so extraordinary and bizarre is simply what these facilities do. Consider, for example, the Lake Superior Life Care Center in Duluth and Superior. Their website lists client services like these: classes on pregnancy, birth and delivery, infant care, toddlers, and parenting; free pregnancy tests; free OB ultrasounds; two clinic days a month offering free medical services, including physicals, prenatal exams, labs, X-rays, and mammograms; and material assistance to help with baby needs, including items like diapers, wipes, formula, clothing, strollers, and high chairs. 

The world would be a better place with more such places rather than fewer and if their budgets were multiplied rather than drained by vandals and hostile politicians and if more mothers in need knew about them rather than fewer. By any objective standard, these facilities are the sort of thing people of a broad spectrum of views about abortion should be able to come together and support. 

So it beggars the imagination how even the most vehement advocate of legal abortion could look at the landscape of American pro-life activism, with all its many facets, and choose crisis pregnancy centers — the places that exist to help women in difficult circumstances get the resources they need to choose life for their children — as the focal point of hatred and intimidation. 

For decades the lie has persisted that the pro-life community only cares about children before they’re born. How extraordinary, then, that so much anger has been directed toward the very people in the pro-life community for whom that is most plainly untrue. 

Please do your part to support pro-life pregnancy centers, with your prayers and with your donations. They deserve it.