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Father Richard Kunst: Does the pandemic make these the end times?

I almost always write my columns a couple of months in advance of their being printed. As I sit at my computer writing this column for the May edition of The Northern Cross, it happens to be late March, and although it is spring, it feels like we are in the depths of the cold winter, not because of the weather but because of COVID-19.

Father Richard Kunst

Everybody is in their houses, the streets are quiet, businesses are shut down, and there is a lot of anxiety and fear in the United States and the world. I am hoping by the time you are reading this that things are much improved and that we have this virus contained, but right now, even in secular media I am hearing about stories of the end times. I have had more than a few people ask me about this subject in light of the pandemic, and how the world is reacting to it, so although by May we hope this is all contained, it seems there’s no better time to look at what the church teaches about the end of the world.

First we have to set one important thing straight when it comes to the “end times”: It is not a bad thing. In fact it is a great thing!

Right now we live in a world of pain, suffering, fear, loss, and sadness, so if we are afraid of the “end times” or what we might call the second coming of Christ, then we must like to suffer.

Every part of the Christian message is a message of hope and joy. Towards the end of the book of Revelation, we get a glimpse of just how great things will be at the end of the world as we know it: “Then I saw a new heavens and a new earth. The former heavens and the former earth had passed away …. This is God’s dwelling among men. He shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and he shall be their God who is always with them. He shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away. The one who sat on the throne said to me, ‘See, I make all things new!’” (Rev. 21:1,3-5a). Does that sound like something we should be afraid of? No, we should greatly anticipate it!

Now to be fair, fear comes as a result of the unknown, and although Scripture gives us every reason to be filled with hope and joy, it does not give us great details about how the end will come about, and that is where fear can creep in. Another thing that might cause some to fear is what Jesus says in the 24th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, where he warns about signs that will accompany the start of the end times, such as wars, famines, earthquakes, persecutions, and great tribulations.

Although all of those things sound very scary, they happen all the time! Turn on the evening news and you will see that all those things Jesus warns about are happening on a regular basis in various parts of the world. The point, then, is not to look for signs, but just to be prepared.

So is COVID-19 or the coronavirus one of the signs of the end? Who knows? Jesus says something rather surprising in the Gospel of Mark as to when it will happen, “As to the exact day or hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor even the Son, but only the Father. Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come” (Mark 13: 32-33). God the Son said in his human nature, not even he knows (he is of course omniscient in his divine nature), so why would anyone think they know or even guess that the current pandemic is a sign of the end times?

If we read the earliest writings in the New Testament, such as some of Paul’s letters, in particular First Thessalonians, we see that there was an unhealthy preoccupation on the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. The earliest Christians expected it to happen at any moment, and certainly in their lifetime. As a result, many of them stopped their livelihood and changed everything to be prepared for the end.

We might say that was a bit unbalanced and unhealthy, but we live in a world that is equally unhealthy. Before this pandemic (and even now) people live as if the second coming or the end of the world will never come. That is maybe even more problematic than thinking the end is right upon us.

The current pandemic is nothing like anyone alive has ever seen, and we hope the next one will be many centuries from now, but that does not mean it is a sign of the end of the world. Jesus gives the best advice when he said, “Be constantly on the watch.” We should always be ready to meet our maker, whether it is our own personal end or the end of the world.

And if we are always prepared, then we should greatly anticipate it, because God himself said there would be no pain or suffering in the world he makes new. So bring it on!

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

Father Nick Nelson: Parents are the primary educators of their children

Now that Lent is over, I started to listen to sports talk again here and there. One morning they were doing “Shutdown Shoutouts.” People were to call in to affirm and compliment and recognize those who have been handling the current situation well.

Father Nick Nelson
Father Nicholas Nelson
Handing on the Faith

The producer of the show gave his own “shout-out.” He said, “To those parents out there. Moms and dads. You are teaching your children, doing distance learning while still trying to work from home. You bring home the bacon, you put food on the table, and now you are tasked with teaching your children, juggling limited attention spans and seeing to the education of your children …. Bless you moms and dads for being heroic!”

I agree that many parents are indeed heroic during this time. They are doing so much. But his comment belies a common fallacy today. He may not have meant it, but his comment expresses the common attitude that ordinarily I am not responsible for my children’s education. It says that this COVID-19 situation is a little inconvenient for me because I have to concern myself with educating my children.

And while this idea is common, it is not right. It is not Catholic. The church’s Declaration on Christian Education says this: “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators. This role in education is so important that only with difficulty can it be supplied where it is lacking” (Gravissimum Educationis, 3).

I think many parents, even many Catholic parents, have outsourced and delegated their responsibility for educating their children elsewhere. This is especially troublesome when we consider the state of public schooling. The public school system has become an institution of secular and atheistic indoctrination. There are many good teachers, many good Catholic teachers in public schools, but they are hamstrung by curriculum, rules, and regulations. These teachers are heroic missionaries seeking to bring truth, goodness, and beauty to these children.

But even with great teachers, public schools are inadequate for our children. Our children are taught atheistic evolution. They are taught sex education which says, “If it feels good, do it. Just make sure it’s consensual and safe.” Public schools tell us that our kids have a right to privacy and that there are things that parents are kept in the dark about. Our kids are around other kids who come from families that don’t have the same values and expose our children to things that are spiritually and physically harmful. And if Jesus isn’t allowed in the school, it simply isn’t good enough for our children.

Some will argue that our children can be missionaries, just like the good teachers. But that isn’t the purpose of school for a child. They don’t go to school to be a missionary. They go to learn the truth and to be formed in virtue. They are simply not mature or well-formed enough at 12 or even 17 years to be a missionary.

Whatever model it is, we as pastors, parents, and Catholics at large must work to provide Catholic education from first grade to 12th grade. Whether that be an actual school, homeschool or co-op, or a one room school house. All of these have been done before successfully. They can be done again. There are more and more great examples of this throughout our diocese. Two lesser known examples are Mater Dei Apostolate for ninth through 12th grade in Duluth and the homeschool co-op in Crosby. Models such as this are possible where there aren’t enough numbers for your typical school.

I used to think, just 10 years ago, that if the family is strong, then they can overcome any deficiencies in the public school. I don’t believe that anymore. When your child is immersed for seven hours a day in a culture that is diametrically opposed to us, the battle is almost impossible.

Call me “opportunistic,” or not “allowing a crisis to go to waste,” but many of you are currently doing distance learning at home. And yet, you have yet to go to the loony hospital. You are not duct taped to the ceiling by your children who have staged a mutiny. It is challenging, but you are doing it!

So even if there is no Catholic school option near you, you can homeschool or do some sort of hybrid. Why not never return your kids to the public school? This is a perfect time to transition. It may mean adjusting the budget, sacrificing the annual cruise, or driving the old van for a few more years. But this is that important.

Parishes need to offer resources to support parents in this endeavor. Because it’s the entire church’s responsibility in passing on the faith. But it’s ultimately up to the parents. It’s the parents who got Mater Dei Apostolate and other Catholic education options going.

I think too often we don’t think big. We aren’t magnanimous. We say, “I’m powerless. This is the way it is. We just got to go along with it.”

Baloney! We are the church. You are your children’s parents. You have the responsibility to see to their proper education in truth and you have the power to make it happen. Be not afraid!

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of St. Mary, Cook; St. Martin, Tower; and Holy Cross, Orr. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected]

Duluth priest named bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota

Pope Francis has named the Rev. Peter M. Muhich, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth who currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary and pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea and Our Lady of Mercy in Duluth, to be the next bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota.

Bishop-elect Peter Muhich
Bishop-elect Peter Muhich

Bishop-elect Muhich was born on May 13, 1961, in Eveleth to Louis and Sally Muhich, the second of seven children. Raised in Eveleth, he graduated from Eveleth Public High School in 1979 and entered St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He graduated from St. Thomas with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1983 and continued his studies at the American College of The Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium completing a S.T.L. in sacred theology in 1989.

He was ordained a priest Sept. 29, 1989, for the Duluth Diocese and has served parishes in Brainerd, Grand Rapids, Bigfork, Effie, Aurora, Hoyt Lakes, Proctor, Saginaw, and Hibbing, in addition to Duluth.

Bishop-elect Muhich has also served on the Presbyteral Council, the Diocesan Personnel Board, and as a dean and consultor. He has worked with the permanent diaconate formation program, on the Stella Maris Catholic School Board, was spiritual director of the local chapter of the Catholic Medical Association, and was diocesan Finance Officer. In 2012, he led a Strategic Planning Process for the Diocese of Duluth.

In a statement announcing the news to the faithful of the Duluth Diocese, Father James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator, said: “It is an honor for Father Muhich and for our Diocese that Pope Francis has named him to become the next bishop of Rapid City. I have known Bishop-elect Muhich since we began seminary together in 1979. Throughout college and graduate seminary and more than 30 years of priestly service, we have remained close friends. I know him to be a very good person, an exemplary priest, and a fine friend. He has many gifts that will help him as a bishop. He is kind and considerate, with a keen mind, leadership qualities, and a strong, steady faith. Above all, he has shown himself to be a caring pastor who leads by example, concerned for his people and the mission of the Church. I am happy for him and for the people of the Diocese of Rapid City. I have no doubt he will be a shepherd for them after the example of the Good Shepherd. My prayers and the prayers of all the faithful of the Duluth Diocese go with him as he takes up this new responsibility. May Mary, our Mother, watch over him as he journeys from our Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rapid City and throughout the days ahead.”

Bishop-elect Muhich is only the third priest of the Duluth Diocese to be appointed a bishop. The others were Bishop Timothy Corbett and Bishop Laurence A. Glenn, the first and fourth bishops of the Diocese of Crookston.

The date of Bishop-elect Muhich’s episcopal ordination and installation as the ninth bishop of Rapid City has not yet been set. He succeeds Bishop Robert Gruss, who was appointed to the Diocese of Saginaw last May.

Diocese extends suspension of public Mass through May 18

In a May 1 letter to the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Duluth, Father James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator, announced that the temporary measures the diocese had already adopted to protect against the spread of COVID-19 have been extended through May 18. The measures, which include suspension of public Mass and cancellation of gatherings of more than 10 people, had previously been extended through May 4.

Under these measures, priests continue to celebrate Masses without a congregation, confession and pastoral care of the sick continue to be provided in ways that accommodate social distancing, and churches remain open for periods of time for individual prayer. Funerals and weddings are also permitted, but with major restrictions. Catholics in the diocese continue to be dispensed from the Sunday Mass obligation until it is safe for all to return to church.

In the letter, Father Bissonette, in concert with the bishops of the other dioceses in Minnesota, also outlined a “phased approach back into having public Masses.” While detailed protocols have not yet been published, the letter noted that the first public Masses on May 18 will be limited to smaller groups no more than a third of the capacity of a church building.

“I ask your continued prayers for this effort and your patience as we move through the phases together,” Father Bissonette wrote. “Hopefully, we will soon be able to gather publicly to celebrate the Mass, our greatest spiritual work.”

Betsy Kneepkens: Pay attention to the graces poured out during the pandemic

The world is now different, and hopefully, someday soon, we will return to normal. But for now, we must realize our lives will be challenging. For example, I briefly parked my car in a church parking lot, and incidentally left my car doors unlocked. There were several somewhat valuable items in plain view and a little bit of cash between the seats. When I returned to the car, I found the money, the moderately valuable items, and a backpack untouched. However, on the front seat, I left a partial container of disinfecting wipes, and when I returned, I discovered the tube was taken.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every person in this country and nearly every individual in the world. The newspapers are filled with stories of devastation and hardship. Almost every aspect of our lives has been impacted. Although this sort of situation feels awful and horrendous, we need to discover the hope and blessings richly available within our more substantial experience.

This public health crisis pales in comparison to nearly every other major pandemic in history. For those that have lost love ones, or who have experienced what seem to be horrific symptoms associated with this disease, history means nothing. I know. If we focus on the numbers, we will remain overwhelmed. If we digest every story that is pushed out by media sites, we will feel defeated. The truth is, our society and the world are much more prepared and equipped to deal with this kind of emergency. So we need to feel empowered to live boldly and squeeze every unique opportunity that this granted us throughout this experience.

I am not trying to understate the hardship others are experiencing. And I would be disingenuous if I said my family has enjoyed the government restrictions, financial difficulties, and constant uncertainty brought about by this ongoing health emergency. What I am saying is that there is an abundance of grace being poured out, and if we ignore it, we will have missed one of the holiest moments of our generation.

If we are attentive, we will see that scientists and pharmaceuticals from around the globe are working collaboratively and not competing to find therapies and cures. If we carefully observe, we can be inspired by corporations that have turned their work away from their business model and onto developing items to help the ill, needy, and those providing care. If you listen, you will hear the story of restaurants offering food for the hungry or youth clubs raising money to provide for those most in need. The list of kindnesses to each other goes on and on, and this is holiness in action.

I am encouraged by our church’s attempts to reach out differently. Young priests and staff are using their social media skills to bring the Good News to the faithful. Even more reassuring is when I see older priests, religious, and staff willing to be led by these recently ordained and young professionals. How impressed I am to see our seasoned clerics adapting to these new ways of doing things. When we get back to normal, the church will have even more extensive skills to reach out and impact the lives of the faithful! We are going to be a better, healthier church, and that is the Holy Spirit at work.

This crisis has affirmed my belief that there is nothing better than going to Mass in person. However, there has been much learned from my experience of watching Mass virtually. I can now appreciate how very unified and diverse this church of ours is. I don’t think I am alone when I get moved to see that 157 people viewed a daily Mass or 151,000 participated in an online eucharistic celebration. It is impressive reading in the comments section that I just celebrated Mass alongside someone residing in Kenya. We are one Holy Apostolic Church, and the Internet connection helps us Catholics realize part of God’s plan in all of this.

We have spent generations explaining to our Protestant brothers and sisters the benefit of all the devotionals we enjoy to grow closer to Christ. Whether it is saying the Rosary, lighting candles, praying our holy cards, venerate religious statues, reflecting on the Stations of the Cross, or engaging in lectio divina, the church has given us multiple tools to help us connect with our Creator. This point is particularly true when we can’t rely on the tangible experience of gathering as a community. There is a deep richness to our tradition of devotionals. During this time of separation, we realize how masterful the Holy Spirit was when he inspired the church to give us other tangible means to vary the ways we connect with the Holy Trinity. During this challenging time, we don’t have to rely solely on a Sunday service.

Personally, when give myself time to look at all the goodness God has shown during this pandemic, I am humbled. I have connected with family members whom I have not spoken to in years. Mealtime has become an actual family time with conversations and laughter that goes beyond cleaning the table. I have quickly figured out the difference between wants and needs, and there are not nearly as many needs as I thought. I have enjoyed brief stops at church when I can sit in silence, and noontime Angelus prayed daily with a dear friend over the phone. Although stress has come in different ways, this unexpected time with my husband and children has been unparalleled in goodness. And although three of my children remain a distance away, we are connecting daily in ways that are thoughtful, funny, and loving. If the fruits are signs of holiness, this pandemic has provided an orchard full.

I think we are at the point in this crisis where we all know someone or know of someone that has been affected by COVID-19, and that can be worrisome. We have little control over this disease and its process. We do have control over our willingness to see how God’s graces have been poured out on us as a response to the suffering our world is enduring. The answer in love back to him is the way we respond to those graces. And when those containers of disinfectant wipes become available again, perhaps we can all purposely leave them on our front car seat with the doors open wide.

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

MCC offers webinar for students May 12

The Northern Cross

The Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, will offer a live webinar for students May 12 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. called “Lessons in Advocacy: Students Standing for Life & Dignity.”

Organizers say the goal is to help teachers and parents equip their students with the tools they need to advocate for life and human dignity.

Students will learn:

  • Why Catholic students’ voices matter

  • What the church teaches about defending the life and dignity of every person

  • How their ideas can become laws

  • How to stand up for life and dignity by effectively interacting with legislators

The webinar is designed for students ages 12-18. It will include an opportunity to hear from and pray with Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and a live Q&A with a Minnesota legislator.

Parental registration is required. For more information and to register, visit

Diocese extends COVID-19 measures through May 4

Diocesan Administrator Father James B. Bissonette, in an April 14 letter, extended the measures the Diocese of Duluth has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic through May 4.

In the letter, addressed to the clergy and faithful of the diocese, Father Bissonette said public celebration of Mass will continue to be suspended, the obligation to attend Mass continues to be dispensed, and gatherings of more than 10 people are canceled. However, priests will continue to celebrate private Masses, churches will be open at times for individual prayer, confession is to remain available, and pastoral care of the sick will continue as much as possible. Parishes will also keep office hours in a manner consistent with the state’s stay at home order.

One important implication of the extension is its effect on First Communions and Confirmations. Parishes typically have those celebrations in the spring. Those that were scheduled for the affected time period will have to be postponed, the letter said.

Father Bissonette said the challenging days and the limitations they have imposed have given Catholics a deeper appreciation for the gifts of being able to gather with loved ones, to come together for worship, and to receive Holy Communion.

At the same time, he commended the response of Catholics in the diocese. “The spiritual communions, daily prayers, sacrifices, and works of charity offered up by you, the Catholic faithful, and the creativity and zeal with which our priests have brought us online Masses, podcasts, and the like, to keep us together in worship of the Lord and service of his people, is a graced moment and truly inspiring,” he said.

He asked continued prayers for the victims of the pandemic, their loved ones, and their caregivers. The measures are temporary and could be lifted if the situation should improve more quickly.

For more detailed information, visit the Coronavirus page on the diocesan website.

Schools, parishes, families, and the needy all coping with coronavirus

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

Catholics are praying for those afflicted with COVID-19, their loved ones and caregivers, those who have died from it, civil leaders trying to control it, and all those afraid of it.

But its effects are rippling out in a variety of other ways, too, among families and schools and parishes and the vulnerable in our communities.


Cynthia Zook, director of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Duluth, said the past weeks have “been challenging days” with a lot of hard work at each of the diocese’s schools.

As Gov. Tim Walz closed schools across the state and moved to remote learning, Catholic schools have made the same transitions. Zook said one of the challenges is that communities and schools — and the families of students — may have very different levels of access to the technology and infrastructure needed for remote learning, an issue she’d like to see the Legislature address in the future.

“They’re figuring it out in each individual site,” she said.

That has meant creativity and an acceptance that glitches may pop up at times. The schools in our diocese are sharing ideas among themselves and gleaning wisdom from what other schools around the country are doing, but Zook said the speed with which everything happened left little time for collaborating.

“We just had to jump in with both feet and trust in the Lord,” she said.

She said the teachers are working hard with a “spirit of can-do,” and getting patience and support from their communities, where parents are learning from the experience too.

Zook see a potential silver lining in that the whole thing may end up expanding opportunities to use this kind of technology in new ways in the future, a kind of “pilot project for what could be.” So there is hope and excitement too.

Still, Zook said the situation is hard on families and on students. Some families are experiencing disrupted schedules, challenges arranging childcare, and financial difficulties, even just from kids eating more meals at home.

For students, Zook said they are missing in-person connection with their friends and the experiences outside the classroom, like music lessons, sports, or drama, that may give them a real sense of joy and progress.

“I feel very compassionate toward them,” she said.

At the same time, she said some school families are bonding through these experiences too, in old fashioned ways like board games and picnics on the living room floor.

“Many of them are also, during this holy season of Lent, taking advantage of the churches and going to say their prayers in the church as a family, spending time in the Lord’s house,” she said.

The Hacker family is spiritually coping by remaining grateful and sharing what they’re grateful for with neighbors. (Submitted Photo)

Families are coping too. Clergy are reaching out in various ways and encouraging people to find ways to pray together, especially on Sundays.

Some, like the Hacker family from St. Anthony’s in Ely, are coming up with little practices of their own, trying to “do small things with great love.”

Michelle Hacker said the family shares one thing it’s thankful for on a sheet of paper each morning and hangs it in the window. “We then ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us to reach out to someone outside of our home,” she wrote in an email. Those have included notes to neighbors, making snowmen outside the windows of loved ones, sending letters to friends and family and even a mini reception in their home to honor a cousin whose marriage in Texas had to be canceled.

“We also capture each day on Facebook to encourage and uplift others,” she said.

Reaching those in need

For the agencies caring for the most needy in our communities, there are a variety of challenges depending on where you are in the diocese, said Patrice Critchley-Menor, director of social apostolate for the Duluth Diocese.

One such agency is simply closing down for two weeks as a result of state emergency orders.

“So I’m sure that’s going to seriously impact the people in that area,” she said.

She said that many agencies are being creative and adapting to the difficult circumstances, caring for people who are among the least likely to seek out medical help.

“The agencies I’m working with are really rising to the occasion,” she said.

But with people working from home and even some county offices closed down, money is running short for many agencies. And the anticipation is that the need will increase.

Critchley-Menor said that in addition to praying and staying informed through the diocesan Office of Social Apostolate and the Minnesota Catholic Conference, financial contributions to the diocese for these efforts would also be a way to help, especially given that needs are going to be different in different communities across the diocese and in the rapidly evolving situation.

“We want to have more money in that pot so we can respond and that our response can be flexible enough that it doesn’t exclude some weird case” in a particular city, she said.

She added that it’s also an opportunity for all Catholics to grow in how they see current events through the lens of Catholic social teaching.

“It’s a really interesting opportunity to practice our faith in a way we have not before,” she said.


Also facing challenges are parishes, where, with no congregation on Sunday, there is no passing of the collection plate, even as bills continue to come in.

“Our parishes are on a spectrum of how much emergency reserves they have,” said Franz Hoefferle, chief financial officer of the diocese. Some have enough to weather months, while others don’t.

That could mean potentially reducing staff hours or furloughing people, essentially temporarily laying them off, although Hoefferle said parishes are trying to maintain staffing to the best of their ability and continuing to try to employ people, even if they are temporarily “re-purposed” to different tasks than they normally do.

“I think the parishes are doing everything they can to work with what they have,” he said.

Many parishes that do not already have online giving options are working on that, Hoefferle said. Parishioners can also mail in their offering.

He encouraged parishioners to be aware of the needs of their parish, even as he acknowledged that parishioners are facing their own financial difficulties in the situation, sometimes including job loss.

“You just have to look at what you can do,” he said.

Joe Lichty, director of development for the diocese, says Catholics should think of it first and foremost in terms of their faith.

“All of us have a need and desire to give,” he said. “We give to the church as part of the sacred offering, as an act of worship, joining the whole of our lives, and yes all our gifts, with the ultimate gift offered on the altar — Jesus Christ!”

“Just because activities at churches are suspended doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still offer God our first fruits,” he added. “Making a financial sacrificial offering isn’t a fee for service but an act of worship.”

No public Masses? Pastors takes liturgies and more online

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

The faithful being temporarily unable to receive Holy Communion has been a matter of tears both for some of the faithful and for some of the clergy.

In the attempt to stay connected in a time of “social distancing,” technology has become a real boon, as many pastors from across the diocese have begun broadcasting Masses, rosaries, Divine Mercy Chaplets, the Liturgy of the Hours, parish updates, and more on Facebook, YouTube, or parish websites.

Nothing can substitute for being present at Mass, but at least 16 priests from Brainerd to International Falls are or have livestreamed Masses for the faithful to have some sense of participation in the liturgical life of the parish, joining a host of remote options that already included the televised Sunday Mass on WDIO/WIRT-TV sponsored by the Diocese of Duluth and other broadcast Masses, such as those from EWTN.

Father Paul Strommer celebrates a private Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth March 29. The Mass was livestreamed for parishioners on the Cathedral’s Facebook page.

One priest of the diocese who has drawn attention even from the local secular media is Father Brandon Moravitz, pastor of Holy Spirit in Virginia. He has been an eager adopter, using his Facebook page and parish website and YouTube page to broadcast Masses and prayers as well as doing frequent live updates and coordinating initiatives with parishioners, such as choosing a local small business to support each day.

“It’s been a great light into our community,” he said.

One thing he’s been doing is leading night prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. He said the couple of hundred views on the videos, when translated into the families that accounts for, means there are 500 or 600 people a night praying along. “There’s families of eight that are there praying at night,” he said.

Getting people to pray in their homes has always been a goal, and through recent events he sees it “happening in ways I could never have imagined.”

“We literally have homes all over this town with altars,” he said.

Father Moravitz said he’s getting half a dozen messages every day from people telling him they are experiencing God at home like they never have before. The experience is even reaching non-Catholics and people who have been away from the church and discover they’re missing Mass.

“There’s people in this community that have never set foot in a church that are praying every night,” he said.

“I’ve never felt more like a priest in my 10 years as a priest,” he added.

Father Ben Hadrich, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas in International Falls, said he been expanding his online presence in recent years, for instance posting his homilies and other talks on a blog and podcast, and had recently come back to Facebook, inspired by Bishop Robert Barron.

He’s found Facebook to offer ways to connect beyond the written word.

“It’s a new opportunity and kind of the connection of speaking,” he said, in the days before his first livestreamed Sunday Mass.

He said he likes that people can hear his voice and get what he’s trying to say better than with just text. The challenge is that not everyone uses Facebook, and some don’t have a computer or smart phone at all.

He said he’s been assisted in that endeavor by his ordination classmate, Father Moravitz. “The stuff he’s doing is just unreal,” Father Hadrich said. He added that there is a lot of sharing behind the scenes among the priests to learn to use these technologies.

Father Moravitz said the technology actually doesn’t come so naturally to him.

“I had never heard of a YouTube channel in my life until a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

He said he surrounds himself with people who know how to do things and has three or four people he can call to help him record things, put together videos and podcasts, and use social media site.

“If this was just me, none of this would be happening,” he said.

Coming back to Mass

One possible concern with using this technology is that people might get too used to it — to the point that after they get the all clear to return to Mass, they will mistakenly think watching it on TV or online is the same thing.

Father Hadrich said he thinks most of the faithful Catholics will be back in the physical church and that with the those reached by the technology, parishes may pick up some new people.

Father Moravitz says as long as the focus is on inviting people to a deep relationship with the Lord, churches will be packed when the “all clear” is given.

“If we are evangelizing people and leading people to conversion, we have nothing to fear,” he said.

He has hope that it’s going to be a bridge and an avenue to greater things.

“I just sense the stirring of the Spirit in all of this,” he said.

Finding a local livestream of Mass

Following is the list of parishes and priests in the diocese who are known as of this writing to be livestreaming some or all of their Masses. See or the individual sites for additional details. Please share updates to [email protected] org so that the list can be kept current on the diocesan website.

• Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, Duluth (on its Facebook page)
• Holy Angels, Moose Lake (on the parish website)
• Father Joseph Sobolik, of St. Cecilia and Mary Immaculate (on his Facebook page)
• St. Andrew, Brainerd (through Facebook Live)
• Brainerd Lakes Catholic Churches, Brainerd (through its parish website)
• St. James and St. Elizabeth, Duluth (on its Facebook page)
• St. Benedict Church, Duluth (on the parish website, via father Joel Hastings’ YouTube page)
• Father Blake Rozier, of Immaculate Heart, Crosslake (through his Facebook page and Immaculate Heart’s Facebook page)
• Father Mike Schmitz, of the University of Minnesota Duluth Newman Center (on the Ascension Presents YouTube channel)
• Father Brandon Moravitz, of Holy Spirit, Virginia (on his Facebook page)
• St. Joseph, Grand Rapids (on its Facebook page)
• Blessed Sacrament, Hibbing (on HPAT cable Channel 5 or on the internet channel online)
• Father Nick Nelson, of Holy Cross, St. Martin, and St. Mary (on his Facebook page)
• St. Anthony Church, Ely (on its Facebook page)
• St. Patrick’s, Hinckley, and St. Luke, Sandstone (on their Facebook page)
• St. John’s, Grand Marais, and Holy Rosary, Grand Portage (on their Facebook page)

Betsy Kneepkens: Hectic spring schedule takes a dramatic turn

My April column has taken a dramatic twist. Not too long ago I was overwhelmed by family and work scheduling obligations that were planned for this spring. I was anxious over prioritizing and trying as hard as possible to fit everything in. A part of my article was going to be about how wrong I was that life’s scheduling demands would get easier as my children got older.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

My thoughts were that although parenting younger children requires more day-to-day local obligations, parenting adult children creates
“desired scheduling,” meaning that as a parent you try to take advantage of as many opportunities you can to interact with your adult children when they are no longer at home with you.

I was going to write about the challenges of fitting in all the significant family functions. I was going to share some ideas on how best to accomplish those life memories alongside some special work events I had planned for this time of year. I wanted you to know that I was going to take each day at a time, because being stressed about being overly busy would destroy the main purpose of why life was hectic.

On the docket, I had multiple opportunities from college graduation, confirmations, my son’s wedding, and work-related items, like the women’s conference. I anticipated my schedule would be crazy, but I was excited that most of these events involved my children and other special life moments. I knew I couldn’t do everything; I knew that the time was limited and precious and I did not know what to leave out. These sorts of decisions were bringing me angst.

I knew the pandemic was concerning, but I did not realize how troubling the situation was until I received a phone call from my college senior son. Very distraught, he informed me that his in-person classes were moved online for the remainder of the year. He was most worried about his college graduation being canceled. He can sometimes be overly dramatic, so I told him to settle down, that he was overreacting. Because “educators” told my son a college degree was unrealistic for him, walking across the stage with honors was extremely important to him. I had to de-escalate his concern, because it sure seemed absurd at the time that his graduation two months from now would be canceled.

Shortly after getting off that phone call, my phone rang again. When I answered the phone this time, my daughter who was on the other end of the call was sobbing. Initially it was difficult to understand her. We realized that she was telling us that the state girls basketball tournament she was playing in just got canceled. Like my son’s goal, playing in the state tournament was one of her dreams and something she worked for every day. She was distraught because that moment was taken from her at no fault of her own. Telling her at that moment that this will be a great life lesson wasn’t going to cheer her up. I simply listened and tried to share in the pain with her. There just were no words to minimize the situation at that moment.

Finally getting my daughter to the point where I could hang up the phone, the dang thing rang again. When I answered the phone this time, it was our diocesan administrator, who shared that the Women’s Conference needs to be canceled — a conference that glories in having over 550 women from around our diocese come together in faith, an event that requires planning for nearly a year with a dozen dedicated volunteers, an event I look forward to all year, and a particular privilege because I work alongside some of the holiest women I know. In a matter of moments, the conference was canceled.

In the next subsequent 24 hours a trip to Philadelphia, a dream vacation to the NCAA Division I Women’s Final Four, an address at a Relay for Life in St. Louis, and my future daughter-in-law’s bridal shower were all wiped from my calendar. Shortly after that, my freshman son who attends St. Louis University told me he had to be out of the dorms now, and my son in medical school said his in-person classes were canceled, so he was coming home to study for his boards.

At this point, no one is going anywhere. Three of my adult children are living at home, and a fourth will be here soon. My husband and I have been encouraged to work from home, and homemade meals have now become a priority again. Laundry is piling up. The house is getting messy, and we are dusting off board games. We are filling up time telling stories, baking cookies, and doing some exercising.

Our first streamed Mass together will be this Sunday. So, we are otherwise laughing, contemplating what this all means for the economy, and staying on top of the news together. As a family, we are resolved that we have no control over this matter, and so we say enjoy it anyways.

This pandemic will end, so I must wisely use this time to be present with my family. Certainly, I hope and pray that this horrible virus is driven from our planet, but I can’t help but hope that in this horror there are blessings. I am convicted to remain in touch with the gift of time God has given me to be with my family and free myself of any stress this situation could cause me. Stay at home, and stay well.

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