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Betsy Kneepkens: Son’s COVID-modified wedding focused on what matters

Nearly two years ago, my family was out to dinner when my oldest son informed us of his plans to marry. We were all delighted, because his girlfriend is a wonderful person. After dating for over five years, a two-year engagement seemed long to some, but I knew that the discernment process to marry is one of the most serious journeys they may undertake. My son’s fiance was also in graduate school, and the timing seemed right.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

The two years ended, and the decision to be married was sealed by sacrament on June 20. I could not have been prouder and more humbled by this thoughtful and loving couple, who made their vows the most critical part of their wedding day. Neither of the two let the pandemic mar this significant occasion.

I often have shared with my children that engagement is a period that one discerns whether they are called to marriage, not a statement that they are getting married. I have tried to impress upon my children that the call to the sacrament of matrimony is most like being called to the priesthood or religious life. In other words, you might think you should get married, but what does God desire for you? The time of engagement should be used to answer that question.

My prayer these two years was that they would hear the Holy Spirit’s voice and keep what was most important, their promise to Christ and each other, the focal point of their wedding day. You can never know what is written on someone’s heart, but COVID-19, although it made the situation difficult, helped keep their priorities straight.

The planning started a couple of months after they decided to be engaged. My daughter-in-law has skills I only dream of having. She is always delightful. She is super organized and does not procrastinate. She is thoughtful and does a marvelous job relationship-building. I let her know early on she would likely get frustrated with me during this planning process. I quickly learned I could be her understudy, because she was strong in areas where I struggle. Sons usually marry someone like their mother, and I can confidently say my son must have been attracted to my opposite. One of the best parts about her is that she is patient with me and did whatever she could to simplify what I needed to do for the planning process. She never appeared frustrated, always grateful, and made me feel like I was helpful in each of the duties I needed to do.

The planning of what was most important seemed to be accomplished first. Since my son’s and his fiance’s lives were in transition, they sought a parish to marry at a location that was easy for family and friends, and they connected with their local priest to help prepare them. They attended the engaged weekend retreat early on. They discussed the parts of the wedding mass and learned what details they needed to plan for the sacramental portion of the day.

The remainder of their reception details were forthcoming and spectacular. It seemed that every aspect was meticulously covered and nothing short of elegant. Since we all came from large and extended families, the invite list was long. In late fall, the Save the Date cards were sent, and almost all the wedding invitations were delivered by mid-winter. The menu, cake, photographer, clothing, flowers, everything was completed with precision. The bridal shower was set for mid-March, and every detail imaginable was covered. We all waited in anticipation for what we knew was going to be a grand affair.

COVID-19 hit Minnesota in March. At first, everything was put on hold. My son called about March 15 and said, “Mom, I am not sure the wedding and reception can happen with all these COVID restrictions.” I said, “Are you serious? Your wedding is almost four months out. You will be fine.”

I was so very wrong. Everyone and everything backed out, a Stay at Home order was put in place with no end in sight, and everything was up in the air. Slowly things did become a little less restrictive in June, but it was not much help in the wedding matters. The critical unknown was whether the church would be opened.

It was with all the COVID-19 limitations that I could see where my son and his fiance’s priorities were. After two years of careful planning and organizing, this couple just wanted to get married. Without even a tear, and I can’t say I would have been the same, they made adjustments so what was on their heart could be accomplished, to become husband and wife. The potential list of 350 had to be pared down to 16. The list included the immediate families and a wonderful priest and the union of two people who vow to “have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”

The rehearsal dinner was social distancing with pizza in a nearby park. On the day of the wedding, there were no salon visits, and most people wore what they had in their closets. The bride’s dress could not be altered, so she was shopping online for her wedding dress a couple of weeks before the wedding. There were no flowers; rather, masks and hand sanitizers strategically placed as you entered the church. Their wedding party was reduced to each of their older siblings signing off on the marriage certificate. There was no carriage or limo to depart from the church, just a well-cleaned family car where the bride, groom, and little sister shared the back set as his dad chauffeured us to dinner. The reception was reduced to a dinner served family-style, cooked up by a chef who generously opened his place so these newlyweds could at least have dinner with their family. Their two-week honeymoon to Italy was replaced by a drive to the East Coast.

Other than the church and ceremony, nothing was as planned.

What did this couple have? Their day was simple, beautiful, and to the point. The hype that often overshadows the day’s meaning did not exist. There was no ounce of stress, and since they could not expect anything, everything seemed perfect. The day was about the Mass, with the sacrament with their vows. It was a church filled with everyone that had unconditional love for the couple, all those who will be with them to support them during their married lives.

Most people dream of their wedding day their entire young life. I do not wish a significant world crisis on anyone’s wedding day, but in the end, it can often be through difficult situations that we see what is most significant. Words cannot express how proud I am of my son and my daughter-in-law who were able to keep what ought to be the most important on a wedding day the center and focus of what they were doing.

These two showed my other five children an excellent example about the Sacrament of Matrimony and how to order the essential things in life rightly. I can’t say I would have been as mature on my wedding day. In a way I did not expect, my prayers were answered in a manner greater than I could have ever expected, because God is good and always faithful.

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

Diocesan schools planning for in-person classes in the fall

Diocesan school officials, in communications sent out in mid-July, say that returning to school this fall is a top diocesan priority and that school leaders have been working to understand their options.

While the situation remains fluid, the goal is to open with in-person instruction, although students will experience new protocols and procedures recommended by state and federal health guidelines.

Officials say that school families had participated in a statewide survey organized through the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which included about 400 responses from the Diocese of Duluth. The feedback helped to analyze the distance learning that took place in the spring after schools across the state were closed by Gov. Tim Walz due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also helpful in planning for the next school year, which is fast approaching.

Planning for opening in person has meant working with comprehensive guidance and instruction in collaboration with other dioceses across the state and with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Minnesota Department of Health, insurance companies, and more. It’s structured to allow individual schools to develop plans that make sense for their students, staff, and community.

Those plans will be communicated to families so they will know what school will look like for students in the fall, and with the caveat that the realities in a particular community can change things, with schools “toggling” between in-person instruction, distance learning, or a hybrid approach depending on the circumstances and what is safe at the time.

An example of how quickly things can change came with Gov. Walz’s executive order mandating masks in many indoor spaces, including K-12 schools, effective July 25.

Cynthia Zook, director of schools for the diocese, said that “is our most challenging protocol for our Catholic schools.”

“We are aware of the concern regarding our learning environment and child development — especially for our youngest students,” she said. “Working with the Walz administration to establish a more reasonable approach to mask wearing in our Catholic schools is a priority.”

She noted that Catholics schools in the Duluth Diocese are not as crowded as many of the public schools, allowing more confidence the schools could provide adequate social distancing.

“We are fine-tuning our policies to prepare for the start of a safe and healthy school year,” she said. “Together our vigilance and flexibility in confronting COVID-19 is the best path forward.”

Zook said teachers and principals are ready to welcome students back to their buildings “where students and staff can once again be together as a faith-filled learning community with Christ, the teacher.”

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Faith in the Public Arena: COVID-19 magnifies the crisis of the family

Our families have emerged as many people’s primary community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This fits the family’s natural role in society, but the change has not been easy. Many families have experienced new challenges amid COVID-19.

Jack Lawlis
Jack Lawlis
Faith in the Public Arena

Single parents are now the sole providers of both their family’s income and children’s education. Low-income families, who already endure economic hardships, face uncertainty in a difficult job market. COVID-19 has accentuated the crisis of family instability, apparent in high rates of divorce and rising rates of single parenthood and perpetuated by a societal disinterest in the success of the family as a community.

To combat this crisis, we must look to policy examples that strengthen families, like changes recently enacted in Hungary, which led to higher rates of marriage, lower rates of divorce, and a drop in abortions. In a world shaken by change, we achieve stability and flourishing by empowering families to fulfill their purpose as communities of life and love.

The problem of broken families

In his apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio,” Pope St. John Paul II reminds us of the family’s role as the foremost educator in society. He says, “The task of giving education is rooted in the primary vocation of married couples to participate in God’s creative activity: by begetting in love and for love a new person who has within himself or herself the vocation to growth and development, parents by that very fact take on the task of helping that person effectively to live a fully human life.”

Family formation is essential to the well-being of children, but not all receive this formation in its entirety. Almost a quarter of children in the United States live in a single-parent household. These children are more likely to commit suicide, become drug dependent, and perform below their peers in school.

In fact, while reading proficiency disparities exist among students of different races and ethnicities in Minnesota, research indicates that, for certain grades, the percentage of students proficient in reading matches almost identically to the percentage of two-parent households in each category. A child’s educational success cannot be accurately determined by race or ethnicity, but the data does show that children in two-parent households are more likely to succeed in school.

These disparities will only continue during COVID-19 as single parents, who relied on the school system, must now educate, supervise, and provide for their children all day. This is even more difficult for the 24 percent of single-parent households that live below the poverty line in Minnesota, compared to the four percent of impoverished households with married couples.

The most effective welfare mechanism is two married parents in a household. Marriage serves the good of the family, fosters the formation of children, and is essential for a flourishing society. When a man and a woman discern marriage, both public policy and society should encourage, not inhibit, their decision.

The family and society connected

To strengthen society, lawmakers should look to policies that encourage marriage and support families, like what was enacted in Hungary following reform in 2010.

With a declining population and a suffering economy, Hungary enacted policies that focused on the family. It provided home-purchasing subsidies for families with children, decreased taxes owed by families with children, and provided interest-free loans to married couples which they need not pay back after having three children.

It even codified its commitment to the family in its constitution, stating, “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the nation’s survival.”

Hungary’s focus on families has led to marriages increasing by 84 percent, divorces decreasing by 29 percent, and abortions decreasing by one-third between 2010 and 2019.

By incentivizing marriage and supporting family stability, Hungary shows that family-focused policy makes a difference.

Recognizing the importance of marriage and the family unit will lead to a stable and flourishing society. The prosperity of society is tied to the health of each family, and by supporting public policy that upholds marriage and strengthens the family unit — the origin of development and virtue — we further the common good of all.

Jack Lawlis is Policy and Outreach Coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

New bishop-elect: ‘It’s my new home; it’s where I belong’

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

When a diocesan official asked him when he anticipated coming to the Diocese of Duluth, Bishop-elect Michel J. Mulloy said in a press conference that his first impulse was simple: “tomorrow.”

Bishop-elect Michel Mulloy
Bishop-elect Michel Mulloy addresses the media outside of the diocesan Pastoral Center June 19 after his appointment as the next bishop of Duluth was announced. He currently serves as diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota. His ordination and installation in Duluth are being planned for Oct. 1. (Photo by Mary Rasch / For The Northern Cross)

While other duties will prevent that immediate move, Bishop-elect Mulloy, currently serving as diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Rapid City, said that once he accepted the call to become the Diocese of Duluth’s next bishop, his heart already began moving here. After only a few hours, he said, he already felt welcome.

“I look forward to meeting everybody,” he said. “I look forward to getting to know the people of this diocese and the priests of this diocese, the deacons of this diocese, because it’s my new home; it’s where I belong. It’s where God has planted me for this part of my life.”

He said moving is something he’s used to, and the hard winters don’t daunt him.

“I learned a long time ago that you learn to love where you are and you learn to be happy where God places you,” he said. “So I’m not worried about that piece at all.”

A South Dakota native

Pope Francis’ appointment of Bishop-elect Mulloy for the Duluth Diocese was announced June 19 in Washington, D.C., by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States. His episcopal ordination and installation have been set for Oct. 1.

Bishop-elect Mulloy, 67, is a native of Mobridge, South Dakota. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, June 8, 1979, and incardinated into the Diocese of Rapid City in 1986 after being on loan to the diocese for a few years for parish ministry.

He was born May 20, 1953, to Silvin and Ethel Mulloy, joining one brother, Colin Dean, and two sisters, Madonna and Roxan. His older brother Llewellen died at birth. He grew up attending St. Joseph Catholic Church and the public school in Mobridge. His dad was a mechanic and car dealer, and his mother cared for the home and assisted her husband with bookkeeping.

In 1967, his mother died of an aneurysm. His father moved with Michel’s brother to Keystone, South Dakota, in the Black Hills in 1968, where he met and married Amelia (Babe) Cordes.

That same year, Michel entered the minor seminary at O’Gorman High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as a sophomore. Michel attended what is now St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona. He graduated in 1975 with a bachelor of arts in classical humanities.

From 1975 to 1979, Michel attended St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul for theology, the archdiocese’s graduate-level seminary, which has graduated 33 other priests later ordained bishops, among them Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a candidate for sainthood.

After Bishop-elect Mulloy was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Sioux Falls in 1979, he served in parishes in both the Sioux Falls and Rapid City dioceses before being formally incardinated in the Rapid City Diocese. He has served as the Rapid City diocese’s vocations director and director of its Office of Worship. He has also served on its priests’ council, college of consultors, diocesan finance and pastoral councils, and the Sioux Spiritual Center Board of Directors.

In 2017, Bishop-elect Mulloy became the full-time vicar general of the diocese and returned to Rapid City. In 2019, he was elected diocesan administrator when Bishop Robert D. Gruss was named bishop of Saginaw, Michigan.

Bishop-elect Mulloy is close to his immediate family and his extended family with cousins living throughout the country. His brother Colin died in 2003. His father and stepmother also are also deceased. Colin’s two daughters and two granddaughters live in San Diego.

His sister Roxan lives in Rugby, North Dakota. She has two daughters and four grandchildren. His sister Madonna and her husband, Allen, live in Milliken, Colorado. They have two sons and a daughter and 14 grandchildren.

Connections to the Duluth Diocese

Bishop-elect Mulloy will succeed the late Bishop Paul Sirba, who died unexpectedly Dec. 1, 2019, and he said some of his first thoughts after he learned of the new assignment were of the late bishop, whose funeral he had attended.

“When I found out I was going to become the bishop, I went into the chapel in the chancery where I work, and one of the first people that came to my mind was Bishop Sirba,” he said. “And so I said, ‘I need you to help me.’ And I believe he heard that and he will. So I’m also honored to be following in his footsteps, because he truly was a wonderful, holy man.”

There are other connections, too. Father James Bissonette, diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth, who introduced the new bishop-elect at the press conference, said the two of them had recently come to know each other better.

“Because of Bishop Sirba’s untimely death, the two of us went as diocesan administrators with the bishops of the province to Rome together,” Father Bissonette said. “So you might notice I use a cane, and I have cerebral palsy, and I yanked on his arm all the way through Rome last January. So luckily, fortuitously, gracefully, we know each other.”

“We’re very glad to have our bishop-elect, and one of these days we can drop the ‘elect’ and he’ll just be our bishop,” he added.

Bishop-elect Mulloy’s duties as diocesan administrator in the Diocese of Rapid City also bring a connection to Duluth, as that diocese is preparing for the ordination and installation of a Duluth priest, Bishop-elect Peter Muhich, on July 9.

Asked about what in effect works out to be an unusual “swap” between the two dioceses, Bishop-elect Mulloy said, “I think God has an enormous, wonderful sense of humor, that’s what I think.”

“You’re losing a good priest; I hope you’re getting a good one,” he added. “I think we’re getting a good bishop; I hope you’re getting one.”

He described the opportunity for ministry among Native Americans in the Diocese of Duluth another special connection between the two dioceses. The Rapid City Diocese, he said, has one of the largest populations of Native American Catholics in the United States, and there is a cause for canonization for one of them, Nicholas Black Elk, a catechist who led many people to the Catholic faith.

“There’s something very holy about Native American people that I’ve experienced or been around,” he said, adding that he was anxious to get to know the Native Americans in our area.

Reactions

Father Bissonette, in delivering the news to the clergy of the diocese, said Bishop-elect Mulloy brings a wealth of both pastoral and administrative experience, having served in parishes from 1979 to 2017 and having served in many capacities for the Diocese of Rapid City since the late 1980s.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, also welcomed the news.

“I have come to know him in his great work as diocesan administrator of the Diocese of Rapid City and am confident that he will be a faithful servant and shepherd to the people of northeastern Minnesota, building on the ministry of Bishop Paul Sirba,” Archbishop Hebda said.

“I very much look forward to collaborating with him as he joins the bishops of our state,” he added.

In the Diocese of Rapid City, Chancellor Margaret Simonson said in a message to the faithful that Bishop-elect Mulloy had left a legacy there.

“The Lord has blessed this diocese abundantly through Father Mulloy’s priestly ministry,” she wrote. “Throughout his 40 years of priesthood he has been an integral part of our presbyterate and left a faith-filled impression on the parishioners that he served. He will be greatly missed; however, the people of the Diocese of Duluth will gain a faithful and joyful shepherd. Today is a day of great joy for all of us but especially for the people of the Diocese of Duluth.”

Catholic News Service and Maria Weiring of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, contributed to this report.

Deacon Kyle Eller: What we need most now is mercy — God’s love where we’re hurting

Mercy — both receiving it and granting it — is among the sweetest of human experiences, and of course it is at the very heart of the Gospel.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

The word itself as used in Scripture and in our faith is rich in meaning. We often speak of mercy as a matter of forgiveness of sins, but it is that and more. It’s also the corporal works of mercy, like feeding the hungry and visiting the sick and imprisoned. It’s also the spiritual works of mercy, like counseling the doubtful and comforting those sorrowing and forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.

God’s mercy for us is like this. That one term embraces his forgiveness of our sins and his meeting of our needs and his caring for us in our distress and his loving presence in our lives. The late Bishop Paul Sirba’s beautiful description of mercy — “God’s love where we’re hurting” — is so beautiful because it enfolds that whole reality in the true context, God’s unfathomable love for us meeting our misery.

Psalm 85, as we pray it in the Liturgy of the Hours, speaks of God’s mercy and saving help this way: “Mercy and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced.”

Who doesn’t treasure the experience of this? When I am finally able to forgive some hurt I’ve experienced, when I receive someone’s forgiveness for a wrong I’ve committed, when I am unexpectedly pulled from “another fine mess” I’ve gotten myself into, when some old grudge is brought out into the open and reconciliation begins, when I finally understand someone’s point of view that had eluded me, when I finally feel like I’m understood, when I’m in need and I learn a friend has been praying for me, when I see someone struggling and lend a hand, and in many similar moments, I experience not just freedom and relief from a suffering alleviated but the joy of God’s loving presence. I really feel touched by his love, with all the gratitude and joy that accompanies it.

These last months have, in an intense way, involved human misery in myriad forms. That should be an invitation. Pope St. John Paul II, in his letter on the Christian meaning of suffering, said there is a vast “world” of suffering with both personal and collective meanings, but which calls for solidarity.

“People who suffer become similar to one another through the analogy of their situation, the trial of their destiny, or through their need for understanding and care, and perhaps above all through the persistent question of the meaning of suffering,” he wrote. “Thus, although the world of suffering exists ‘in dispersion,’ at the same time it contains within itself a singular challenge to communion and solidarity.”

In other words, it calls for mercy, for God’s love where we’re hurting.

Sadly, that seems to be the last thing on many minds. Or if there is mercy, it is too often a cheap mercy, a willingness to forgive and excuse and address the suffering of ourselves and those we already love while reserving none for those perceived as enemies.

In some cases, this may be more or less explicit, where reconciliation and forgiveness are directly repudiated as goals. More often, it’s implicit in the way we act, ascribing the worst possible motives to people based on the smallest deviation from the party line, enforced with public denunciation; online and in-person mobs; and personal, social, economic, and sometimes legal shunning.

More and more, people give no quarter, apparently lacking the humility to entertain the possibility they could make a mistake or the imagination to consider how someone might disagree with them in good faith.

This is not new, of course. One of the parables of Jesus I find most haunting is the unmerciful servant, who is forgiven a massive debt but then goes and attacks a fellow servant who owes him a pittance. It’s such an easy trap to fall into.

But it seems to me that, barring a merciful divine intervention, upon which we have no right to presume but for which we may rightly beg, there is no hopeful future for a society that abandons mercy and reconciliation on a broad scale. How can we go on this way?

Be that as it may, among followers of Jesus, who commanded forgiveness and mercy and love of our enemies, it must not be so. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.

May our little leaven leaven the whole loaf with the mercy we need — God’s love where we’re hurting.

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

Bishop-elect Michel J. Mulloy appointed for Diocese of Duluth

Pope Francis has appointed Father Michel J. Mulloy, from the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, to be the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Duluth, it was announced today.

Bishop-elect Michel Mulloy
Bishop-elect Michel Mulloy

Bishop-elect Mulloy was born May 20, 1953, in Mobridge, South Dakota, and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1979. He served parishes in both the Sioux Falls and Rapid City dioceses before being incardinated formally in the Rapid City diocese in 1986. He has spent most of his priestly ministry serving in parishes until his appointment full-time as vicar general of the Rapid City Diocese in 2017 and his subsequent election in 2019 as diocesan administrator after Rapid City’s bishop was transfered to another diocese.

Among other roles in the Diocese of Rapid City, Bishop-elect Mulloy has served as vocations director and director of the Office of Worship, as well as serving on the presbyteral council, the College of Consultors, the diocesan finance and pastoral councils, and the Sioux Spiritual Center Board of Directors.

His episcopal ordination and installation have been set for Thursday, Oct. 1.

Bishop-elect Mulloy will succeed the late Bishop Paul Sirba, who died unexpectedly on Dec. 1, 2019.

 

Clergy assigments

Father James Bissonette, diocesan administrator, has announced the following clergy assignments, effective (unless otherwise noted) July 15, 2020.

Father Peter Muhich, rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Mary Star of the Sea, and Our Lady of Mercy, Duluth, has been named bishop-elect of the Diocese of Rapid City. He will be installed July 9.

Father Paul Strommer, parochial vicar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Mary Star of the Sea, and Our Lady of Mercy, Duluth, to administrator of St. Joseph, Chisholm, and Sacred Heart, Buhl.

Father Anthony Wroblewski, pastor of St. Francis, Brainerd; All Saints, Baxter; and St. Thomas of the Pines, Brainerd, to administrator of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Mary Star of the Sea, and Our Lady of Mercy, Duluth.

Father Ryan Moravitz. pastor of St. Lawrence, Holy Family, and St. Joseph, Duluth, to administrator of St. Francis, Brainerd; All Saints, Baxter; and St. Thomas of the Pines, Brainerd. He remains vocation director.

Father Elias Gieske, pastor of St. Joseph, Crosby; St. Joseph, Deerwood; Holy Family, Hillman; and Our Lady of Fatima, Garrison, to administrator of St. Lawrence, Holy Family, and St. Joseph, Duluth.

Father Anthony Craig, pastor of St. Joseph, Chisholm, and Sacred Heart, Buhl, administrator of St. Joseph, Crosby; St. Joseph, Deerwood; Holy Family, Hillman; and Our Lady of Fatima, Garrison. He remains assistant to the Marriage, Family, and Life Office.

Father Blake Rozier, pastor of Immaculate Heart, Crosslake, and St. Emily, Emily, to administrator of St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, and St. Augustine, Cohasset.

Father Drew Braun, pastor of St. John, Duluth, and St. Joseph, Gnesen, to administrator of Immaculate Heart, Crosslake, and St. Emily, Emily.

Father Seth Gogolin, pastor of St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, and St. Augustine, Cohasset, to administrator of St. John, Duluth, and St. Joseph, Gnesen.

Father Matthew Miller to parochial vicar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Mary Star of the Sea, and Our Lady of Mercy, Duluth.

Update from Father Bissonette in light of new executive order

Announcement of a New Executive Order
May 23, 2020

Saturday of the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Dear Faithful and Clergy of the Diocese of Duluth,

I wish to let you know of an important breakthrough in our state that will allow for greater worship opportunities for all people of faith. This breakthrough is consistent with our need, as Catholics, to both protect public health and to gather together to pray. Concern for the common good and concern for the faith lives of believers are concerns that we share.

In a few days, Governor Walz will issue a new executive order that allows faith communities to publicly worship inside using 25% of their church up to 250 people. Public worship outside the church is allowed up to 250 people, as well. This order will take effect beginning Wednesday, May 27.

Governor Walz and his administration hope that when faith communities gather, they will do so consistent with public health guidance. We will endeavor to do this by being mindful of the state’s recommendations as we dovetail them with our own Diocese of Duluth COVID-19 Protocols.

The Catholic bishops of Minnesota believe that the prior rules limiting faith-based gatherings to ten people unreasonably burdened the liberty of the Church to bring Mass and the sacraments to the faithful. Because we believe that the Eucharist is the bread of everlasting life and the source and summit of our faith, we were prepared to move ahead and allow larger Masses without support from public officials. The life of faith was receiving unequal treatment, as allowances were made for other, less essential activities. The new executive order removes that unreasonable burden on the Church and allows us to celebrate and receive the Eucharist.

I would like to express my gratitude to Governor Walz, Lieutenant Governor Flanagan, and the other members of the governor’s administration. I am thankful we could come to a consensus about a reasonable and safe path forward that allows greater numbers of people of faith to safely return to public worship.

The bishops of Minnesota are also grateful for the help of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty which provided sound legal counsel in defense of the liberty of the Church to offer the sacraments, especially in our conversations with the Walz Administration. Thank you also to the law firm Sidley Austin for its work on this matter.

Although we had previously announced that a broader participation in public Mass could begin May 26, we need to move that back one day to May 27. This is to allow the executive order raising the allowed capacity for gatherings to go into effect. We will also make small adjustments to our protocols consistent with the guidance that will be issued by the Minnesota Department of Health. We can be thankful that the removal of the limitations will allow us to have Mass in the Easter season and come together on Sunday, May 31 for the celebration of Pentecost.

Going forward, as a reminder, the bishops of Minnesota have told our pastors and faithful that they should only return to public Mass when they are able to follow the protocols. Parishes should only open when they are able to implement the protocols. Again, if the faithful feel safer at home, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains lifted. We also strongly encourage those over the age of 65 or who are especially vulnerable not to attend for now.

Let me express my gratitude to our priests, their parish staffs and our Diocesan Pastoral Center staff. Our priests have been on the front lines of the pandemic — ministering to the sick in their homes, hospitals, and care facilities.

Finally, let me express my thanks to you, the faithful of the Diocese of Duluth. While unable to receive the Eucharist — the real presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus — for the past two months, you have creatively and patiently found ways to attend Mass online and to learn about and live your faith. You have made spiritual communions, supported your sisters and brothers in need, supported your parish, and stepped-up to help others. I encourage you to continue these efforts on behalf of those who must remain at home while desiring to be with us in church. Their prayers are special graces for us.

Please remember to pray for all those who have lost their lives in this pandemic, for those who grieve them, and for those who are sick and care for them. Also pray for the women and men in the health care field who daily risk their health to take care of our sisters and brothers who are sick. May our prayers also bring a swift end to this pandemic.

May God bless you and your families as we look forward to a return to broader worship until that day when all our people can return to Mass in our churches.

Yours in Christ,

Very Reverend James B. Bissonette
Diocesan Administrator

Statement from Father James Bissonette regarding broader public celebration of Mass

 

Father James Bissonette, diocesan administrator, issues the following statement in conjunction with a letter he and the bishops of Minnesota released today regarding broader public celebration of Mass:

It is the teaching of our Catholic faith that we follow just laws and, whenever possible, work in harmony with civil leaders. Out of love of God and love of neighbor, as a church we have supported and responsibly carried out the reasonable restrictions Governor Walz has put in place over these past few months. At the same time, our highest allegiance is to God (Acts 5:29, Mark 12:17). We hold that the Church has a fundamental right according to our teachings and according to the Constitution to offer the worship we owe to God. We believe the worship of God is essential to a fully human and spiritual life. For Catholics, this worship is centered above all in the celebration of the Mass. For the common good, in consultation with experts and public officials, we will take cautious and gradual steps to safely reopen the public celebration of the Mass. As we do this, I ask everyone to continue to pray for and care for all affected by the pandemic. I also ask that we pray for the civil authorities tasked with difficult decisions in these challenging days.

 

Father Mike Schmitz: How open can I be with people?

I am wondering how much I can be vulnerable with people. I have been able to tell some key people in my life about struggles of mine, but when can I tell others?

Thank you very much for writing. As I see it, based on the rest of your letter, there are two issues at work here.

Father Michael Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

The first is your very good question about when to be vulnerable with others. In my years of working with young people, I find this is a lesson that is often learned the hard way. It usually goes something like this: A young person makes a connection with another young person and they become “instant friends.” Because this might be the first new friend they have ever had (all other friends are either family members or people they have known for their entire life), this relationship has a lot of new elements that those other relationships don’t. For example, those other relationships are close because of the very nature of the relationship. A situation in which a group of cousins who have been raised together doesn’t require that each cousin “bare their soul” to the others in order to have a solid friendship. What is more, when they do reach a point in their lives where they share deeper things, there is a history and a knowledge to guide that process.

And this is the missing piece. In a relationship that has just started, it is necessary to reveal things about yourself to the other. That is one of the key ways two people get to know each other. And yet, since they are still getting to know each other, they do not know the degree to which they can trust each other. And herein lies the problem: In order to be known, I have to reveal myself. But in order to know the depth to which self-revelation is wise, I need to know if I can trust the other person.

The solution? Patience.

Every one of us has had to learn that just because we have bonded with another person over sports, comic books, or even God, that doesn’t mean that we can trust another person with our heart. We want to be known. We want to know the other person. And there can be, at the start of a friendship, a certain urgency to share. But if we have ever made that mistake, we know that real wisdom in this situation demands slowing down and being wise. We have learned that trust has to be earned.

I want to repeat that: Trust must be earned.

How can you be vulnerable with people? By naturally sharing some things and seeing how the others respond. Do they honor those things you have shared? Do they fail to respond well to them? Over time, do they demonstrate that the are a “friend for a moment” and “friend for a season,” or a “friend for a lifetime”? That can only be known over the course of time. They truly have to prove themselves. And you will have to prove yourself as well.

Some might think that this is incorrect. They might claim that friendship ought to be freely given. I disagree. Love can be freely given. A person might not have to prove themselves in order to be loved. But we are not talking about whether or not someone is “worth loving.” We are talking about whether or not someone is worth trusting. The fact is, many people do not deserve your trust and being vulnerable. They have to prove themselves.

Now, onto the second part of your question.

You mentioned in your letter that the issues you are talking about are things that you struggle with. You further clarified that you’ve brought these things to confession and have shared these with close family members and a couple of select friends.

My question to your question is: Why does anyone else need to know?

I would imagine that this primarily comes from the (good) desire to be known. We all have this. It is the recognition that we are made for relationship. And in real relationship, there is a certain depth of self-revelation and “knowing” the other person. So it makes sense that you would want to share these things in order to be known more deeply.

But the issue as I see it is that you have “identified with” these actions or with the shame attached to these actions to such a degree that they are what you want to share, as if they are your true self.

But that is not true. You are not your sin. You are not your shame.

Of course, you might want to share these with others so that you can be reassured that you can share your shame and still be loved, but you have already done that with important people and with God. And they still love you. God still loves you. Why are you still carrying your shame? Jesus has already forgiven you, he does not want you to torture yourself over what he has already suffered in order to forgive you and set you free.

You are not disqualified from God’s love. You are not your shame. You can share it with those who have proven themselves worthy, but you can also leave it at the foot of the cross.

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.