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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].

Father Nicholas Nelson: Who should distribute Holy Communion?

This month we will celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. It is important that we truly appreciate the sacredness of such a gift. It is truly Jesus’ living presence, present before us! We use sacred vessels for Mass because of the sacredness of the Blessed Sacrament. And we even have sacred ministers whose role is to handle the sacred species. 

Father Nick Nelson
Handing on the Faith

In Dominicae coenae (1980), Pope St. John Paul II wrote this beautiful reflection: “One must not forget the primary office of priests, who have been consecrated by their ordination to represent Christ the Priest. For this reason their hands, like their words and their will, have become the direct instruments of Christ …. How eloquent therefore, even if not of ancient custom, is the rite of the anointing of the hands in our Latin ordination, as though precisely for these hands a special grace and power of the Holy Spirit is necessary! To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained, one which indicates an active participation in the ministry of the Eucharist.” 

St. Thomas Aquinas puts it more directly: “Because out of reverence towards this sacrament, nothing touches it but what is consecrated, hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest’s hands, for touching this sacrament” (Summa Theologica, III, Q. 82, Art. 13). 

We also know that oftentimes there are others besides sacred ministers who distribute Holy Communion. This is allowed by the church. But what does the church say about such ministers? 

In the church’s language there are “ordinary” ministers and there are “extraordinary” ministers of Holy Communion. Ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are bishops, priests, and deacons. Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs) are men and women deputized to distribute Holy Communion in “extraordinary” circumstances. We may hear of “eucharistic ministers,” but that terminology isn’t present anywhere in the church’s documents. 

Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), a church document on “certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist,” says this: “Only out of true necessity is there to be recourse to the assistance of extraordinary ministers in the celebration of the liturgy. Such recourse is not intended for the sake of a fuller participation of the laity but rather, by its very nature, is supplementary and provisional. Furthermore, when recourse is had out of necessity to the functions of extraordinary ministers, special urgent prayers of intercession should be multiplied that the Lord may soon send a priest for the service of the community and raise up an abundance of vocations to sacred orders” (151). 

And: “Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when 1) the priest and deacon are lacking, 2) when the priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when 3) the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason for EMHCs” (158). 

Some questions we must consider: Does only having the priest distribute Holy Communion “unduly prolong” the distribution, or is it just a “brief prolongation”? Have we acquired too much of a consumerist disposition that affects even the way we approach the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass such that we see a brief prolongation as an inconvenience? 

The church foresees that excessive use of EMHCs may obscure the distinction and sacred role of priests and deacons. And when it comes weighing the benefit of the laity receiving from the chalice and use of EMHCs, the church seems to say it would be better to not distribute from the chalice or to use intinction. Intinction is when the priest dips a host into the Precious Blood and then places it on the tongue of the communicant. In the document “Norms for the distribution and reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds,” issued by the bishops of the United States, it says “to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion by an excessive use of extraordinary ministers. This might in some circumstances constitute a reason for limiting the distribution of Holy Communion under both species or for using intinction instead of distributing the Precious Blood from the chalice” (par 24). It’s important that we always remember that Jesus is fully present even in the smallest visible particle. When a person receives the host, they receive all of Jesus. A person isn’t being shortchanged if they only receive the host. 

In summary, I am grateful to those men and women who serve and have served the church as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. However, I think the church as a whole in the past decades has used extraordinary ministers excessively, and in a way the church doesn’t envision. “Extraordinary” ministers of Holy Communion have become rather “ordinary.” Rather than being only used in extraordinary circumstances, they are quite common. If the distribution of Holy Communion takes a few extra minutes, that is okay. There is no better time to pray than immediately before we receive Jesus or immediately after we receive him! 

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

Deacon Kyle Eller: Does God demand ‘blind faith’ of us as disciples?

My local newspaper recently ran a column about biblical faith written by the founder of a group called the Twin Ports Humanists. Reading it felt something like what an astrophysicist might feel listening to a member of the Flat Earth Society “refuting” a college physics text. 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

The writer listed several biblical quotations, such as St. Paul’s beautiful reminder that “we walk by faith and not by sight” and the words of Jesus to the Apostle St. Thomas in the Upper Room blessing those who would believe without having personally seen him risen and the wise advice of the book of Proverbs to trust in the Lord and not rely on our own understanding.  

From these, the writer drew the false conclusion that Christianity demands absolutely blind faith, to the point that we should exclude evidence and would err to even consider it. This is, of course, completely untrue, but this conception of faith as being totally opposed to reason is such a common trope among those hostile to the faith, and even a few misguided Christians, that it’s worth refuting in detail. 

To begin, let’s be clear that the Christian faith explicitly rejects this view — the Catholic Church, for instance, dogmatically rejects this error, called fideism — and none of the Scripture passages quoted, read in their immediate context or in the context of the whole Bible, demands blind faith.  

St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (5:7) is talking about persevering in faith amid trials and difficulties even if we don’t see everything clearly, looking with confidence and hope to eternal life in heaven and the fulfillment of God’s promises to us. This is the same Paul who wrote, in his Letter to the Romans, that God’s existence and many of his attributes can be known even to those without the divine revelation through examining the works of creation (1:19-20), which is about as definitive a rejection of “blind faith” as one could imagine.  

Jesus, far from demanding “blind faith” from Thomas, is talking to a disciple who has already heard about his resurrection from several trustworthy eyewitnesses and, prior to Good Friday, had heard Jesus repeatedly say he would rise from the dead. Again, this is hardly a call for “blind faith.” 

And Proverbs? That’s a call to humility, recognizing our limitations and not imagining ourselves to be wiser than God. 

Numerous scriptural passages refute the idea of blind faith. St. Peter urges Christians to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15). The Old Testament (Wisdom 13:1-9) offers an extended meditation similar to the passage from Romans already mentioned, showing how God’s existence can be known from creation: “For from the greatness and beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen,” it says at one point. And throughout the New Testament, as we hear during the Easter season in the Acts of the Apostles, the church goes forward evangelizing not demanding blind faith but offering, among other reasons, their testimony of having witnessed the risen Christ personally and the physical evidence of an empty tomb, where the most sought-after body in history is not to be found. 

Throughout the centuries since, this has also been the case. Consider St. Augustine’s beautiful sermon challenging us to “question” the wonders of creation and to see that “their beauty is a confession” of the “Beautiful One” who made them.  

Or read the First Vatican Council, which defined the relation of faith and reason with profound precision, noting: “Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.”  

One might consult Pope St. John Paul II, who, in his magnificent encyclical letter on faith and reason, began by describing them as the “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” 

 The Catholic faith is the faith of some of the great minds who ever lived, of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, Thomas More, Gregor Mendel, Nicholas Copernicus, Louis Pasteur, George Lemaitre, Dante, and so many more. Its glorious intellectual tradition, a marriage of faith and reason, itself is a powerful reason to believe. 

How, then, should we understand the role faith authentically plays in our coming to “contemplation of truth”? Consider an analogy with simple human faith. Much of what we know comes not from personal experience but from the word of someone we trust, our parents, teachers, mentors, friends. Even in the hard sciences, we cannot possibly replicate every experiment or verify every observation; we rely on trust. 

In the life of faith there are things we can only know because God has told us, with no way of knowing them through logic or investigation — his being a communion of three persons or his love for us, for instance. There are supporting reasons but no absolute proof.  

But this, too, is consistent with the human experience. Some of the most important things we know, such as the inner lives of our loved ones or their love for us, are things we know because they tell us. Their actions may give supporting reasons to believe, but it is fundamentally a matter of faith. 

The big difference with God is that he is, in fact, more trustworthy than anyone else, all knowing and perfect truth in his very person. Faith in what he has revealed to us, then, is not only reasonable, it’s the only just and reasonable response to him. 

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

Four deacons ordained for the Duluth Diocese

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Bishop Daniel Felton ordained four men — Ronald Guertin, William Hafdahl, John Kroll, and Daniel O’Reilly — as deacons for the Diocese of Duluth May 6 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Deacons William Hafdahl (left), Daniel O’Reilly, John Kroll, and Ronald Guertin pose with Bishop Daniel Felton after their ordination as permanent deacons May 6. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross) 

The four men will serve as permanent deacons, and Bishop Felton has assigned them to their home parishes: Deacon Guertin to St. Augustine in Cohasset, Deacon Hafdahl to Holy Spirit in Virginia, Deacons Kroll and O’Reilly to St. Andrew in Brainerd. 

Bishop Felton, in his homily, said that being called to serve and not to be served is harder than it sounds because our self-centeredness can sometimes override our Christ-centeredness. 

“You must always remember that you are first and foremost a disciple of the Lord,” he said, and grow closer to him day by day. 

“Because if he is the center of your life, then he will be the center of your ministry as a deacon, and only then can you boldly proclaim that as a deacon I have come to serve and not to be served,” he said. 

That ministry to those in need, those neglected, those forgotten, those who live on the margins of life is intimately connected to a deacon’s liturgical ministry at the altar. 

He added that as the church “mobilizes to mission,” the deacon’s ministry must also “become missionary” and “will call for a nimbler and more flexible approach to how we be and do diaconal ministry,” guided by the Holy Spirit to the mission field that may go beyond the parish.

Bishop Felton prays over the four ordinands during the Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Deacon Guertin 

Deacon Guertin, who has been married to his wife Rachael for 30 years, has three children and three grandchildren and says he still lives north of Grand Rapids on the farm he was born and raised on, where they have beef cattle. He also works for a local logging company. 

He noted several key points in his faith journey: a bad logging accident in 2008 that increased his prayer life, the diocesan Eucharistic Procession celebrating the diocese’s 125th anniversary, and teaching faith formation and learning more about his faith. 

Deacon Hafdahl 

Deacon Hafdahl started his career as a math teacher before going into accounting and finance. He’s been married to his wife Judy since 1981 and has seven children. He traces his faith journey to college, when he was “evangelized by a charismatic Evangelical.” This led him to accept the famous Pascal’s Wager and return to the Catholic faith he’d been raised in. Shortly thereafter he met his future wife. 

“As we approach forty years of marriage we have been anchors of faith for each other throughout our journey — mostly her for me,” he said. 

Deacon Hafdahl said the call to being a deacon was not always very clear. He would go out with his pastor and a youth minister — now Father Brandon Moravitz — and learned about the difficulties running a parish and wanted to help. But it took entering formation and discerning out and then returning a few years later until he finally understood how God was calling him. 

“And the largest step in spiritual growth was during a five-day silent retreat this past February where I began to experience the warmth of God’s presence more deeply and came to know how he has loved me and guided my life to him over these past 40-some years,” he said. 

He said he’s looking forward to helping his parish provide ways to strengthen marriages and help Catholic families raise their children in the faith. 

Deacon Kroll

Deacon Ronald Guertin receives the sign of peace from Deacon Walt Beier, as the deacon community welcomes new deacons during the ordination liturgy. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Deacon Kroll grew up in Coon Rapids in a practicing Catholic family. He married his wife Mary in 1988 and has spent his career working in medical facilities, currently as a clinic facility manager. He has two sons and two grandchildren. 

He says he always practiced his faith but “was lukewarm at times.” A key moment was a “Covenant Keepers” men’s conference he attended in the Twin Cities. “I had a conversion, a change of heart and understanding my Catholic faith better and realized how important it was to work at my faith and be involved in the Catholic faith through various activities in the Church and in Catholic retreats,” he said. “I felt called to serve and help others understand the importance of the Catholic faith through different ministries at church.” 

He also felt a tug when the vocations prayer was prayed. He said he found the journey of formation “very challenging and exciting at the same time,” especially the homework after being out of school for many years. “The most rewarding was spending time with my wife at the classes and growing in our faith together,” he said. 

He said his first weeks as a deacon have been joyful and he looks forward to teaching the sacraments, yet he is still discerning exactly how God will use his gifts in diaconal ministry. 

Deacon O’Reilly 

Deacon O’Reilly was born in Brainerd and has attended St. Andrew’s most of his life. He has been married to his wife Theresa for 27 years and has eight children. 

“While growing up I never really strayed far from the Catholic faith but once Theresa and I started raising our children my faith began to deepen,” he said. 

In a particular way, he said having the opportunity to attend the Traditional Latin Mass and assist his children in learning to serve at the altar helped him deepen his understanding of the faith and fall in love with the Mass. 

He describes his vocational call as not a single yes but as “more of a long series of yeses,” as he knew he was called to the path of discernment. “I also feel this process helped me to develop a deeper relationship with my wife throughout,” he said. “Our wives discern this path along with us every step of the way, and it takes an enormous amount of trust in the Lord but also in us as husbands that we are properly discerning his call. That gift of love and trust that she was able to put in me is a gift I will be forever grateful for.” 

Deacon O’Reilly said he feels particularly drawn to ministry with the homebound, in part inspired by seeing how important a connection to the church was for his in-laws in the last years of their lives. “So I am looking forward to being able to help maintain the connection for many people who may have been very active in the church in the past and now cannot be or for those who were maybe not so active and now can start to form a connection,” he said. 

He said he also looks forward to being more involved in the liturgy, which he calls “vitally important to the life of a parish.” 

Memorial Mass held for former Duluth bishop Robert Brom

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

On May 23, Bishop Daniel Felton offered a memorial Mass for one of his predecessors as bishop of Duluth, the diocese’s sixth bishop, Robert H. Brom, who served the diocese from 1983 to 1989. Bishop Brom died May 10 in San Diego, where he had served as bishop for 23 years following his time in Duluth. 

Bishop Felton said the May 23 memorial Mass fell on the exact day that Bishop Brom was ordained and installed for the Diocese of Duluth and that the memorial Mass was meant both to pray for Bishop Brom and as a show of unity in spirit with the diocese’s brothers and sisters in San Diego. 

Father James Bissonette, who with Father Richard Kunst had represented the Duluth Diocese at the funeral Mass in San Diego May 17, delivered the homily “to pray for and gratefully remember” the bishop who ordained him in 1988.

Father James Bissonette delivers a homily at the May 23 memorial Mass of Bishop Robert Brom, the sixth bishop of Duluth, who ordained Father Bissonette. Bishop Brom died May 10. (Photo by Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

He said representing the diocese at the funeral was something he and Father Kunst had been honored to do, noting that Father Kunst had kept regular communication with the former bishop until about two weeks before he died. 

Father Bissonette said he had met Bishop Brom right after his installation and ordination as he was in seminary, and he was soon off to Bishop Brom’s alma mater, the North American College in Rome. He said that when the bishop came to the school to visit, he and students from the Winona Diocese, where Bishop Brom had been a priest, told him that other bishops were bringing seminarians in to meet the pope, Pope St. John Paul II. 

“This was not exactly true,” Father Bissonette quipped, joking that it was “barely a venial” and that he was “not sorry. Not sorry at all.” 

He said Bishop Brom had explained to the pope that Father Bissonette’s father had lost his job due to health issues, and when the pope greeted him he gave him two rosaries for his parents “and said ‘tell them the pope is praying for them.’ Unforgettable. Thank you, Bishop Brom.” 

“Forming good deacons and priests was very important to Bishop Brom,” Father Bissonette said. “Those of us priests ordained by him still serving — Fathers John Petrich, Joe Sirba, Bishop Peter Muhich and myself — know how much the bishop wanted to provide caring pastors for the flock.” 

He said the bishop’s priestly example and friendship “has had a profound effect on my own priestly service down to the present day.” 

Bishop Brom built the Pastoral Center in its present location, but Father Bissonette said since he was appointed to San Diego before it was dedicated, he never sat at the bishop’s desk. 

“During his time as our bishop, I remember Bishop Brom as focused, firm, and challenging at times,” he said. 

Shaped by Vatican II, he said he knew Bishop Brom “to be an all-in disciple, wonderful teacher, an experienced pastor, and a humble shepherd.” 

He also related the former bishop’s encounter with a saint in San Diego. St. Teresa of Calcutta became ill and was hospitalized, and Father Bissonette said the former bishop told him, “I think the mother of the world is going to die in my diocese.” 

But he said Mass for her “every single day,” and when Mother Teresa recovered, she established a Missionaries of Charity house there in gratitude. She also pressed into his a palm a small cross on a safety pin that she wore, which he used as the altar cross in his chapel and passed on to Father Kunst shortly before he died. “Perhaps bishop knew something we didn’t,” Father Bissonette said. 

Retired Bishop Brom of San Diego dies at 83

By Catholic News Service 

A funeral Mass was celebrated May 17 for retired Bishop Robert H. Brom of San Diego, who died May 10 in San Diego. He was 83.

Bishop Brom

The Mass for Bishop Brom, who headed the diocese from 1990 until 2013, was celebrated at St. Therese of Carmel Church in Del Mar Heights, California, followed by burial at Holy Cross Cemetery. 

“He was a natural teacher who constantly labored to bring the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council into the heart of the Diocese of San Diego,” Bishop Robert W. McElroy, current head of the diocese, said in a May 10 statement. 

“This dedication to the council also framed his lifelong service in forming men for the priesthood,” he added. 

Robert Henry Brom was born Sept. 18, 1938, in Arcadia, Wisconsin. He earned a bachelor’s degree at St. Mary’s University in Winona and a licentiate in sacred theology from Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University. 

He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Rochester-Winona in 1963. 

In 1983, St. John Paul II appointed him bishop of Duluth and in 1989 named him coadjutor bishop of San Diego to assist Bishop Leo T. Maher. 

When Bishop Maher retired in 1990, Bishop Brom immediately succeeded him, heading the diocese from July 10, 1990, until Sept. 18, 2013, when he retired. 

“Bishop Brom’s deep love for our parishes and pastoral vision were complemented by a keen administrative capability in guiding San Diego through years of joy and hardship,” Bishop McElroy. “In his retirement years, Bishop Brom intensified the prison ministry that he began as bishop and his service to the Missionaries of Charity.” 

St. Teresa of Kolkata, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, was one of two people Bishop Brom often said were the most inspirational in his life. The other person was St. John Paul. 

As it was for many bishops, Bishop Brom’s most notable challenge was the clergy sexual abuse scandal confronting the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. 

He led a subcommittee of U.S. bishops whose charge, he said, was to develop a process to “hold ourselves and each other responsible” to the terms of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” 

The charter was originally established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002. It is a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and other church workers. 

In 2007, the San Diego Diocese was sued by survivors of sex abuse; a majority of these cases occurred before Bishop Brom’s time as head of the diocese. The bishop said the scope of the suit could cause the diocese to declare bankruptcy, which it did in February of that year. 

Bishop Brom also was stung by resurfaced claims accusing him of abuse — allegations he said had been shown to be false a decade earlier. 

“I consider it a grave injustice that my reputation and the good of the church have been harmed by those who presently, and for years, have made me the target of their slanderous attacks,” Bishop Brom said during the chrism Mass he celebrated that March. 

“Personally, I am able to forgive them, but the harm they have done and are doing cannot go unmentioned,” he said. 

In September 2007, the dioceses of San Diego and San Bernardino, California — the latter had broken off from the former in 1978 — agreed to pay $198.1 million to settle lawsuits with 144 victims of sexual abuse by priests between 1938 and 1993. 

The dioceses had originally offered $95 million to settle the claims. The plaintiffs sought $200 million. At the time, it was one of the largest such settlements in the United States. 

Bishop Brom met with many abuse survivors and their families to promote healing and reconciliation. He also helped resolve several false allegations. 

On other issues, Bishop Brom issued a statement in 1990, not long after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. 

He said he supported “international solidarity” to resist aggression because it offered hope “for the peaceful liberation of Kuwait.” The statement was read during an anti-war rally on the campus of the diocesan-run University of San Diego. 

In a pastoral letter issued during Easter 1992, Bishop Brom called on Catholics to welcome immigrants even when available resources “seem stretched to the limit.” 

He instructed parishes to actively seek out immigrants to bring them into their faith communities and called on pastors to emphasize the church’s teachings on the right to immigrate and responsibilities to the poor. 

The pastoral noted that in the diocese there were an estimated 30,000 immigrant workers, the majority of whom were Mexican or Central American and many of whom lived among the rural homeless. 

“Many have been homeless for years. They live where they can — holes in the ground, makeshift shacks, open fields — in appalling conditions of extreme poverty,” he said. 

From the beginning of his ministry in San Diego, Bishop Brom believed the diocese’s many ethnic and cultural groups enriched the local church. 

He spent his first three months as coadjutor studying Spanish so that he would be able to minister effectively to the diocese’s substantial Hispanic population. As bishop, he authorized establishment of the diocesan Office for Cultural Diversity. 

Bishop Brom upgraded the diocesan Ecumenical Commission to the status of a full diocesan office and became the first bishop in the country to appoint a vicar for ecumenical and interreligious affairs. 

Another of his priorities as San Diego’s shepherd was making pastoral visits to parishes. He made visits five times to all of the approximately 100 parishes in the two-county, 8,852-square-mile diocese. 

Bishop Daniel Felton: First Findings

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

Greetings in the Risen Lord! Below please find a report on our first findings from the Let’s Listen sessions and a first discernment as to what the Holy Spirit is calling us to through our conversations with one another. This first finding and discernment report will form the basis for a more comprehensive pastoral letter which I will promulgate this coming fall. As a Pentecost people, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us into the purpose and mission for which we exist in these days of great blessings and challenges. 

Bishop Daniel Felton
Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News


It is hard to believe that I have been the Bishop of Duluth for one year. How truly blessed I have been to serve you as a servant of the Lord. As I began my time here, I had two goals for my first year as your bishop: get to know and care for the priests and get to know and care for the parishes and people of our diocese. I am grateful for the warm welcome, patience, and support you have given to me this year in both those endeavors.  

As I have spent time with the priests and deacons, parishioners, and parish and diocesan staff, all have been forthright in stating, “Now that we have a bishop again, it is time for us to get back to our mission and to move ahead in our diocese.” 

Being your new bishop, I heard what you were saying, but I was not quite as sure as to the who, where, how, and what you were asking for at this time. So it was that I set out on a journey of deep listening to literally thousands of people that I have met along the way, traveling over 35,000 miles to the four corners of our diocese and everything in between.  

Additionally, during the course of the year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, asked every diocese in the world to convene people throughout the diocese and to listen to what their hurts are that are in need of healing and what the areas of their lives are that are healthy and hopeful.  

Someone this year referred to me as “that Holy Spirit guy.” That’s because I am always talking about the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit is calling us to in our personal lives, our parishes, and the community in which we live. As I listened to you in our conversations, and as I listened to you in our Let’s Listen sessions, I really was listening to hear the next step given to us by the Holy Spirit. After all, you told me, “Now that we have a bishop again, it is time for us to get back to our mission and to move ahead in our diocese.” 

Below you will have a summary of my first findings that I heard in the many conversations that I have had with you this past year and the first findings of our Let’s Listen sessions. These first findings will provide a framework for a much more comprehensive document to be released later this year. In that document the Holy Spirit will give us a clear articulation of what our mission is moving forward, how we are going to achieve the mission, where we will need to put our time and resources, and who is going to make all of this happen. 


(faindinz): the action of finding something or someone; to be informed or to discover 

At the beginning of the Lenten season, Let’s Listen sessions were launched throughout the Diocese of Duluth. During that period of time more than 50 sessions were facilitated with hundreds of people participating in on-site, in-person settings. Additionally, 110 people responded online, with others responding through The Northern Cross diocesan newspaper or individual interviews. Participants were multigenerational, from a variety of life settings and expressions of families, diverse in geographical place, and varied in their active engagement of faith and relationship with God. 

The Let’s Listen sessions centered around two questions: “What is hurting and in need of healing in your personal life, in your parish or experience of church, and in the community where you live?” and “What is healthy and hopeful in your personal life, in your parish or experience of church, and in the community where you live?” Participants were invited to write down their responses or present them orally. 

The sessions were meant simply to be an exercise of intentionally listening to one another as participants responded to these two questions without any discussion or debate taking place.  

Finally, as the definition of findings above indicates, it is the action of discovering and finding someone. In this case, that someone is the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, the Let’s Listen sessions were created as a means of finding and discovering the next step that the Holy Spirit is calling us to in our personal life, our parish or experience of church, and in the community where I live. 

This is a presentation of our first findings in the hundreds of responses that were given to the two Let’s Listen questions mentioned above. It is a first summary of the responses that were most often given or were consistently stated in all of the Let’s Listen sessions. In the months ahead, there will be an even deeper exploration of this data and its meaning for us moving ahead. 

For now, these are some of our first findings. 

  1. What is hurting and in need of healing in your personal life ...
  • relationships with my family, parents, children, elderly parents, and spouse. 
  • ongoing frustration and isolation with all things COVID 
  • lack of faith and trust in God 
  • grief related to the loss of a loved one, job, divorce, and direction in life 
  • feeling out of control in a world that is changing too fast 

… in your parish or experience of church 

  • decline in the numbers of those participating in parish life, in the Mass and sacraments 
  • feelings of disappointment for children and grandchildren not attending Mass  
  • worried about the shortage and health of priests 
  • polarization within the church 
  • hurt from the merger, clustering, and closing of parishes 
  • inability to find volunteers for parish activities, ministries, and outreach 

… in the community where you live 

  • family struggles financially and socially in depressed economy and high inflation 
  • lack of community activities for children, young adults, and families  
  • drug problem out of control 
  • homelessness and lack of affordable housing 
  • polarization in politics 
  1. What is healthy and hopeful in your personal life ...
  • family growing closer together in the face of COVID 
  • spiritual awakening and growth in relationship with God 
  • use of technology to bring people together when they are physically apart 

… in your parish or experience of church 

  • physically meeting again for Mass and parish activities 
  • diocesan programs for youth and young adults 
  • care and pastoring of priests and deacons with parishioners 
  • growing emphasis on discipleship 
  • growth and presence of Catholic Schools 

… in the community where you live 

  • community coming together during COVID to help one another 
  • community outreach programs for housing, clothing, and food 


 (doniNG): to begin to grow in light; to begin to open or develop; to begin to perceive 

I have travelled extensively around the diocese in my first year as your bishop and I have spent a lot of time with our priests and the people of the diocese. As I have done so, there is a common comment that is often made to me: “As a diocese, we seem to be moving out of our recent challenges and problems. Let’s get going and move ahead with a renewed direction and mission.” 

We have faced many diocesan challenges these past five years, including bankruptcy; the public listing of priests who have abused minors; the merger, clustering, and closing of parishes; the absence of a bishop for 18 months; and COVID, to name a few. 

However, it appears as though we are standing in a moment when we are stepping out of the darkness into the breaking light of day. It is not full daylight, but there is more light than darkness. It is a dawning moment. 

With many of the challenges behind us, it is slowly occurring to us that we have enough light in this dawning moment to take a step forward with a renewed sense of direction and purpose.  

As we look back, we find ourselves asking, how did we get through the bleakness of the dark night of challenges, and who led us into this dawning moment of light? 

As believers, the answer is simple and straightforward — the Holy Spirit! It is in and through the Holy Spirit that we are stepping into the light and being opened to the next step in direction and mission — not our mission, but the mission given to us by the Holy Spirit. 

If this is the case, then we must return to our Let’s Listen sessions as we were not only listening to one another but listening for the promptings of the Holy Spirit and a discernment in that Spirit of the next step forward. 


(revivel): to revive after a decline; to bring back to the stage a play which has not been presented for a considerable time; to be alive again 

(mishn): to fulfill an operation that is assigned by a higher power; to accomplish an anticipated outcome that is intended or guides planned actions 

When I look at the responses that were given in the Let’s Listen sessions that spoke of hurts, healings, health, and hopes personally, as a parish or church, or in the community where I live, I heard the participants saying and the Holy Spirit proclaiming, that we need a mission revival of love, life, and joy. As defined above, we need to bring back to the stage of our lives a human and divine play that has not been presented for a considerable time. To be alive again! To love deeply again! To be filled with joy again! That is the next step forward into our mission.  

And what is the mission assigned to us by a higher power to accomplish the Holy Spirit’s intended outcome for us: TO BE DISCIPLES AND TO MAKE DISCIPLES! As disciples, the mission that is set before us in our own time and for all time as given to us by Jesus himself in the Gospel of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ….” 

This mission revival of deep love, abundant life, and passionate joy as an embrace, embodiment, and expression of our mission call to be disciples and make disciples must guide the next step and inform all of our planned actions moving forward. 


(duhsaipl) to be a student; to learn; to follow 

Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose to new life and resurrection! To be disciples of Jesus we must have an encounter with him that opens us to discover, follow, and worship him. To make disciples we must have our own hearts set on fire in the love of the Holy Spirit, have found the abundance of life in Jesus and the Eucharist, and have been commissioned by the Father to go out to others and give witness in the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. That is what it means not only to be a disciple in the Lord but to make disciples for the Lord.  

A revival of the mission is to love deeply, to live abundantly, and to be filled with passionate joy as disciples in the Lord and in making disciples for the Lord. To fulfill this mission entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit as our next step in this dawning moment, we will give emphasis and priority to the following three phases, one step at a time. These phases or actions are discerned from and in response to all of the input received during the Let’s Listen sessions as a discernment of the Holy Spirit moving among us. 

A Revival of Deep Love in the Holy Spirit 

This phase will emphasize the need for ongoing healing and deep love of the Holy Spirit in our personal life, in our parishes, and in the communities in which we live. It will teach people how to understand the Holy Spirit as our intercessor in prayer and how lovingly we can pray in that same Spirit with others. It will help us to discern what the will of the Holy Spirit is versus our self-will, and it will aid us in identifying our spiritual gifts as indicators of identifying our vocation in life. 

A Revival of Abundant Life in Jesus and the Eucharist 

This phase will teach us how to break open the scriptures, especially through the practice of lectio divina. It will help us to better understand the Jesus who loves as we have been created, rescues us from our brokenness, restores us to our original innocence, and redeems us for eternal life. It will provide an opportunity for us to better understand the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass and to more deeply discover the abundant life of Jesus given to us in his real presence. 

A Revival of Passionate Joy in the Father Who Sends Us on Mission 

This phase will provide an ongoing formation from being a disciple to becoming a joyful missionary disciple. It will provide the necessary tools and practices to go out into the world with the mission charge to make disciples. It will formally and publicly call on the Father to commission His disciples to be sent on mission out into the parishes and community where we live in our diocese.  


(akSHen): the action of doing something to achieve an aim; the accomplishment of a thing usually over a period of time in stages 

Write a Pastoral Letter defining the diocesan mission with a strategy, plan, goals, and outcomes. A Pastoral Letter is an official letter from the bishop to the people of the diocese.  

Develop and communicate a Diocesan Mission Statement. A Mission Statement is a concise explanation of why our diocese exists, its purpose and overall intention. 

Establish a Diocesan Mission Team to oversee diocesan mission strategy and planning. The task of the Diocesan Mission Team is to work closely with the bishop as collaborators and facilitators advancing the mission of the diocese. 

Develop and Identify Area Mission Fields. Mission fields are the agreed upon areas within which pastors and parishioners are responsible for all the people within those boundaries becoming disciples and making disciples. 

Obtain and train people to use the Missioninsite software program. MIssioninsite is a technology platform designed specifically for church leaders to get data and actionable information about their mission field. 

Establish two Bishop Field offices to be located somewhere in the Brainerd Deanery and in the Hibbing/Virginia Deanery. As we mobilize to mission, there is a need for the bishop to operate in different parts of his mission field, which is the whole diocese of Duluth.  


At the Vespers Service held before my ordination to be the Bishop of Duluth, I recalled the profound and robust missionaries and missionary spirit that has been a part of the Diocese of Duluth spanning three centuries. At that time, I invited all to grab onto the wings of the Holy Spirit so that we might be carried to that place and space where the Holy Spirit wills us to be as missionaries for our given day and age. May the missionary spirit of generations before us be the same missionary spirit that leads us to be disciples and to make disciples in the 21st century. Venerable Frederic Baraga, pray for us! 

+Daniel J. Felton 
Feast of Pentecost, 2022 


Father Mike Schmitz: Do I just not ‘want it’ enough to be a saint?

I had heard someone use this quote, “There is only one reason you are not yet a saint: you do not want to be one.” I have to admit that I’ve been trying really hard to be holy. If I don’t feel holy does that mean I just don’t “want it” enough? 

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Thank you so much for this question. It highlights a number of things that we need to clarify. 

First, one thing I have learned over the course of my life (and especially during my life as a priest) is that two different people can hear the exact same thing in entirely different ways. I also had heard this quote a number of years ago, and my internal response was, “Yes! Let’s go!” I received it as a challenge that was convicting and inspiring. But I know that there are people who can hear this quote and feel condemned and defeated. 

Where I might think, “Yes, these are some good areas in my life where I have not yet surrendered to Jesus … let’s do that,” someone else thinks, “How much more can I do? I’ll never be able to do enough. I’ll never be enough.” 

There is a danger in both perspectives. For the person who, like me, is inspired by the thought, they will need to slow down and make the right changes. They will also likely need to make sure that they are not merely “quick to start and quick to stop” but actually follow through on their decisions. For the person who might become discouraged, they will need to be reminded of all that they have already done to open themselves up to the Lord and his grace; simply because there is room for growth does not mean that they haven’t grown already. 

The second thing to note is this: The person who said the quote is making an important distinction. They are pointing out that there is a difference between “wanting” and “willing.” We all “want” many things, but we do not always choose those things. We might desire to be healthier, but we are not necessarily willing to make the choices that need to be made in order to be healthier. We might wish that we were in a better relationship with certain family members or friends, but are not willing to make the decisions that would lead to a better relationship. The person who stated that we are not saints because we do not want to be saints is highlighting the fact that we might “wish” we were saints, but are we making the choices that would help us grow in holiness? 

And this leads to the third piece. There are three things that each one of us can examine in our lives and discover if we are choosing holiness. First, we need to ask: Are there any things in my life that are incompatible with God’s will for my life? Have I become comfortable with sin or the neat occasions of sin as a regular part of my environment? If there are things in my life that are clearly harmful to my being able to love God and do his will, then I have to choose to get rid of them as much as I can. 

Second, am I praying, fasting, and giving alms? This trifecta of the spiritual life is a very handy metric for assessing whether or not I am making time for God, allowing him into my daily life, and caring for others. If I am not praying, then there is no way possible for me to become holy. If those prayers do not translate into how I live my life (through self denial and self donation), then I might have “holy thoughts” during prayer but am not allowing God’s will to be lived in my daily life. 

Third, am I participating in the sacramental life of the church? Do I go to confession regularly? Do I participate in the Mass as often as I can? If I remain distant from the sacraments, then I am not availing myself of the supernatural gifts that God has given to us. 

Those three areas are going to be essential: actually making the choice for God, eliminating what is incompatible with God, and fostering my relationship with God. 

And yet, none of those things make us holy. None of those things make us a saint. 

God is the one who makes saints. See, the quote is true, but it doesn’t tell the whole truth. Yes, we all need to choose God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. But we are only changed by the grace of God that comes to us through Christ Jesus. Our prayer might be quiet and reflective (or active and inspiring), but real prayer is always a work of God’s grace. Yes, we make ourselves available to God. Yes, we cooperate with God as much as we can. But God is the one who changes us. 

One of the reasons why people can get so discouraged with their spiritual progress (or lack thereof) is because they mistakenly think that holiness is all on them. But God is the one who causes the growth. We are simply invited to show up and say yes. 

The good news is: God wants you to be a great saint. He wants to give you absolutely everything you need to be holy. For your part, you simply need to show up and say yes. 

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. 

Diocesan Eucharistic Procession planned for Corpus Christi June 19

By The Northern Cross 

The Diocese of Duluth will hold a Eucharistic Procession from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth to St. Mary Star of the Sea parish downtown on June 19, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Catholics from all across the diocese are invited to participate. 

The event is scheduled in connection with the what U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have described as a Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative meant to bolster faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, especially in the wake of polls suggesting many Catholics do not fully understand this aspect of the faith. 

Events will begin June 19 with Eucharistic Adoration at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, which will begin following the 10:30 a.m. Mass and extend until 3 p.m., when the procession will begin. 

After the procession reaches St. Mary Star of the Sea, the events will conclude with a communal celebration of Evening Prayer and Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. 

Busing will be provided to get people from St. Mary Star of the Sea back to the Cathedral. 

Corpus Christi is a feast day in the liturgical calendar each year celebrating the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. In addition to the celebration of the Mass, it is often marked by processions with the Blessed Sacrament, held in a monstrance, as a sign of devotion and as a public witness to faith in the Eucharist.