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Betsy Kneepkens: Enjoying the last moments before the nest is empty

“It goes by really fast.” I could not count how many times older parents shared this advice during my oldest son’s first year. I heeded their warnings and took their message to heart. I always believed the days raising my children would fly by while leaving me with the sentiment of “where did all the time go.”

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

This September marks the beginning of the last year that I will be parenting my youngest child at home before she goes off to college. I’ve read experts’ opinions on how to transition to the empty nest, but I don’t want to waste one minute of this year worrying or working on how I will cope with this upcoming stage in my life. I do know that it will be one of the most difficult transitions I have ever made, but I am willing to put off this mental meltdown in exchange for soaking up as much of this direct parenting experience as I can. I sure hope my daughter can tolerate my constant desire to be engaged in this mother-daughter relationship this year.

I have loved nearly every part of being a mother. I was blessed not ever to need time alone or be overwhelmed by the chaos of children going in six different directions. Although life was messy at times, my husband and I managed to keep what we thought was important very simple. As I reflect, and I will do lots of that this year, there are only four things I disliked about parenting. With some creativity, I was mostly able to avoid those less-than-favorite chores.

I did not enjoy feeding my babies solid baby food. I am without patience when it comes to putting a tiny spoon in what often were clinch lips. I mostly worked around this problem by nursing them until my children were old enough to pick up the food and feed themselves.

I did not enjoy changing linens in the middle of the night when one of my bedwetting children had an accident. I improved this problem by layering the sheets with a plastic crib pad and tearing the wet ones off to a fresh underneath.

I didn’t particularly appreciate helping my children memorize their spelling test words, and I thought that would never end. Technology and my ever-efficient daughter solved this angst for me. She spoke the words into an iPad, the iPad would repeat the word, and she practiced her spelling from there. I wish we had that technology for my other children, because I am sure I would have fewer gray hairs now.

Lastly, I hated teaching my teenagers how to drive. Why is it that driver education instructors have brakes on the passenger side of the car yet expect parents to be the primary teachers with no right side brake? How is that each of my kids couldn’t figure out where the middle of the lane was and that cars are tools, not a source of entertainment? I solved this by pushing off driving lessons until after age 16 and passing on this teaching responsibility to my ever-patient husband.

I embraced, enjoyed, and looked forward to nearly every other parenting activity. The list of my most favorite would be extremely long, so for the sake of brevity, I have picked my top three with hundreds more to follow if asked.

My most favorite family activity was attending Sunday Mass together. I think we are as busy as most families of eight, and nearly every weekend, all that lived at home prioritized Mass attendance as our foundational priority. The most common question asked each weekend was, “When are we going to Mass?” It was the “we” that I loved, and it was the gift of knowing each of us would be celebrating the Eucharist together. There were many moments of tension as we attempted to get everyone dressed and on time for church, but the gift of going as one, discussions afterward, and the meal that typically followed was the best family bonding we could do.

Secondly, I will miss our frequent trips to the cities for sports. As competitive competition goes, most of the action was down in the Cities. Several of my children participated in those sorts of activities. Watching my children compete with different kids was fun, but nothing was more special than the time I was granted with my kids on those long car rides. We recently ended our last travel sporting event, and I took the scenic drive home with a 30-mile detour to soak up every moment of car time together. What I learned from my kids and all that I was able to share with them was worth the price of gold (or should I say gas) and miles on our car. Some think travel sports are a money grab, but having that much time with your teenagers is hard to duplicate in other ways.

Thirdly, the celebrations. When you have six kids, there are so many different life events to celebrate from Holy days, holidays, receiving sacraments, birthdays, and academic to athletic accomplishments. We have rituals, traditions, and special meals for each one of these. We celebrated the first day of school, the last day of school, and feast days. We make a big deal about riding in the front seat of the car at 13 and passing your driver’s license exam. You name it, we celebrate it. I enjoyed pretending like I forgot about the special occasion and then surprising them with having everything taken care of. Since I have never forgotten a special occasion, I think they no longer believe me when I pretend to forget. This supposed forgetfulness is all part of our tradition.

Time has flown by. I knew that next year was going to come, and I am not looking forward to it. I am fine now, but I know that this next stage in life will take some adjusting. I also know that I am still a parent but would be fooling myself if I believe parenting will be the same. My first memory of a child was dreams of being a mother. Indeed, I wish I could have done things differently, and I am sure you will hear about that in further editions, but for right now, I must soak up what I have left.

I am so grateful to my husband and the dear Lord for blessing me with three decades of exceeding joy. I will worry about my emotional state when that time comes, but I am not wasting any time now worrying about how I will deal with this impending change. By God’s Grace, I have a loving husband who, too, will struggle, but I know I won’t be going at this condition alone.

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

What’s a Catholic voter to do?

Q&A with Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, first published in the Central Minnesota Catholic as part of “The Big Question” series.

What does the church say about Catholics’ involvement in political life and voting? Shouldn’t the church stay out of politics? Is there any scriptural basis for its involvement?

Jason Adkins
Jason Adkins

Pope Francis says that politics is one of the highest forms of charity because it serves the common good. Participating in the political process is an act of loving service or charity (caritas) because it is part of our responsibility to love our neighbor (Mark 12:30-31).

To love our neighbor means to work for his or her authentic good. Part of working for the good of our neighbors – whether they live near or far, and whether we know them personally or not – is enacting policies that protect human dignity and promote the common good.

In the church’s social teaching, this responsibility is known as the “call to participation” in community. A community is literally a “sharing of gifts,” and if we do not participate, we deprive the community of our perspective and the gifts that we have been given to share. Certainly, we do not all have the same responsibility, as we have different gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:12) So, even though you may not be the elected official who votes yay or nay to enact a law, you can use your gifts to advocate for good policies. We can do this by building relationships with our elected officials. Each of us cannot do everything, but we can all do something.

Relatedly, if we find that there are some who are excluded from political life, including voting, then we have a special responsibility to work for their inclusion (Matthew 25). We must work to give a voice to those who have none and prioritize the needs of the poor and vulnerable who often don’t have the resources or organization to bring an effective voice to the public policy conversation.

Voting is one small but important part of the call to participation. In a representative government, it is important to carefully choose those who make important decisions on behalf of those whom they represent and the broader political community. But we cannot reduce the call to participation in public life to voting and be content with checking that box.

Taking part in the political process is an activity of service where people come together to discuss how we ought to order our lives together. It should not be a power game. People who object to the church offering its moral perspective on the issues of the day or the participation of religious people in public life often view politics through the prism of power. In this way, they do not want religious people imposing their views on others who do not share their faith.

Catholics, too, can fall into the trap of viewing politics solely through the lens of power, and not wanting the church to undermine its ability to reach people with the Gospel by causing stumbling blocks for people. But the church calls us to see politics through the lens of service and a community conversation about what serves the common good. Therefore, we cannot sit on the sidelines of these important matters.

When we engage in the political process in the right way with the right principles, our witness will be evangelical and bring people closer to Christ. The political arena is mission territory (Matthew 28:20). That is certainly my experience after almost ten years serving in this position.

What principles/values should we take into account when casting our vote? Should Catholic social teaching be our guide?

We need to FORM our consciences with the right principles, and then INFORM our votes. Doing so will help TRANSFORM our legislatures.

The church does not tell us how to vote in every election. Rather, it provides the principles for shaping our participation in community life. Formed in those principles, we go out and transform the world and restore all things in Christ.

Catholic social teaching is that toolbox of principles. It is not a set of prescriptions or ready-made answers. Instead, it is a mental model for well-formed Catholics to guide their actions. How those principles apply in addressing social problems or when voting is a question of prudence. Prudence is a virtue that allows us to do the right thing in the right way at the right time.

Sometimes, Catholics will differ in their prudential judgments, that is, the application of the principles of Catholic social teaching in politics and in elections. That is OK. The key, however, is for Catholics to be operating on the firm foundation of the right principles. To do so, we must form our conscience (conscience means “with knowledge”).

If we fail to form our conscience in the truth of the Church’s teachings, or malform our conscience with the opinions of TV news talking heads, we will not only fail to bring the Gospel into public life, we may do more harm than good.

“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” identifies two temptations in public life that can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity: 1) a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity; and 2) the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. How should Catholics navigate through these two temptations?

First, READ “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” to be rooted in a consistent ethic of life that protects human life from womb to tomb and promotes human flourishing in between.

Not all issues are created equal. But the full spectrum of issues should be part of the voting calculus. An issue may not seem like it affects you or be your issue of preeminent concern, but it likely affects someone else and needs to be considered. That is called voting in solidarity with others.

Further, as Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si,’ everything is connected. For example, if you are concerned about marriage and the well-being of the family, you should also be concerned about economic policies and social supports that help create the conditions for stable family life.

Second, avoid starting with a preferred voting outcome and then working backward to justify it. People can take some portion of the church’s social teaching to justify almost any vote. But we should strive to think with the mind of the church and let our actions and our votes be rooted in the right principles.

What if you feel no candidate for a particular office fully embraces a commitment to the dignity of the human person? How do you decide for whom to cast your vote?

Again, voting is a question of prudence. Catholics can come to different conclusions about the wisdom of various choices. Because we operate in an electoral system dominated by two parties, with candidates chosen by a small group of very ideological activists, we are sometimes not given a choice between two good candidates, but instead we are picking the lesser of two evils. We ask ourselves, “Which candidate will do the least damage to the dignity of the human person and the common good?”

In some cases, a person in good conscience cannot vote for either of the major-party candidates. Voting for a third-party candidate or skipping a vote in a particular race are legitimate options. They are not “wasted votes” but actions taken out of principle and in good conscience.

Not voting altogether because one does not like the options at the top of the ballot seems imprudent. There are many other candidate races on a ballot that merit study and careful consideration. As we have been reminded during this pandemic, major decisions are made at the state and municipal levels, and we cannot ignore those candidates and issues out of disgust at what goes on in Washington.

That being said, some Catholics, such as Dorothy Day, rarely voted. Though one cannot ignore voting and public life, it may reach a point where the refusal to vote is its own form of witness. Voting is important, but it’s not a sacrament. Ultimately, it is a question of conscience. Like everything else we do, how we vote should reflect Gospel values and a commitment to seeking first a kingdom that is not of this world.

What are some do’s and don’ts for Minnesota parishes when it comes to election season?

MCC offers a guide to permissible political activities during election season. It can be found at

Parishes are often afraid of overstepping permissible bounds and endangering the parish’s tax-exempt status, and therefore avoid any election-related programming. This is a mistake. Parishes have broad latitude to offer non-partisan educational material and events to inform voters.

A few key recommendations: Avoid endorsing candidates explicitly. Similarly, to avoid the appearance of a strongly implied endorsement, do not distribute voter guides from partisan organizations that are not approved by your bishop.

What resources and tools does Minnesota Catholic Conference offer to assist Catholics in having a voice in public policy and advocacy after Election Day?

First, ahead of election day, we are equipping parishes to help Catholics get to know the candidates. This year, for the first time, we are encouraging parishes, with the support of our state’s bishops, to host parish town halls with their state legislative candidates. It is a great way to help inform parishioners about who the candidates are, and where they stand on issues important to Catholics across Minnesota and issues that matter to people in the pew at that particular parish.

We have created an extensive toolkit for parishes who wish to host a townhall. It can be found at

To stay informed year-round, join the Catholic Advocacy Network. Go to to register. By joining, you will receive regular updates on what is happening at the legislature, ways for you to bring your faith into the public arena, and action alerts that allow you to send a message to your legislators on issues impacting life, dignity, and the common good.

Statement regarding the resignation of Bishop-elect Michel Mulloy

Father James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth, has issued the following statement:

I have learned that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has accepted the resignation of Bishop-elect Michel Mulloy. Sadly, that notification was accompanied by an announcement from the Diocese of Rapid City of an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor made against Father Mulloy as a priest of that diocese. We grieve with all who have suffered sexual abuse and their loved ones. I ask you to pray for the person who has come forward with this accusation, for Father Mulloy, for the faithful of our diocese, and for all affected. We place our hope and trust in God’s providence as we await, again, the appointment of our next bishop.

Father Mulloy was to be ordained and installed as Bishop of Duluth on Oct. 1. Father Bissonette will continue to serve as diocesan administrator until the Holy Father appoints a new bishop for the diocese.

Please see this statement from the Diocese of Rapid City for further information.

Deacon Kyle Eller: What does being pro-life have to do with wearing a mask?

My social media circles, which include people from varied political and religious perspectives, have included a lot of conversation about an unusually obscure topic — how pro-life beliefs correspond (or don’t) to wearing a mask in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

Cards on the table: As a matter of conviction and principle, I am unapologetically and unconditionally pro-life. As a matter of obedience and prudence, I am conditionally pro-mask.

On social media, I have repeatedly encountered the claim that people who are pro-life on abortion but who resist mask mandates are hypocrites. My gut reaction is to dismiss it — whatever truth there may be in it seems overwhelmed by the vastly worse hypocrisy going the other way.

I mean, it’s been hard to bear weeks of listening to people who favor an unlimited license for the deadly violence of abortion, which directly, purposely, and with virtual certainty destroys a tiny person’s body, as they lecture others on the sanctity of life over wearing a piece of cloth on one’s face just in case one is sick without knowing it and might unintentionally infect someone else, posing a small risk of death.

It’s like listening to a Mafia attorney sanctimoniously scold someone for reckless driving.

But even an outrageous hypocrite can say something true. Is there merit? Reflecting on the question is fruitful for better understanding what Pope St. John Paul II called the “Culture of Life.”

The most aggressive form of the “pro-lifers who don’t wear masks are hypocrites” argument goes something like this: “If you really believe every life is infinitely precious, you should do anything that might save even a single life.”

That’s easy enough to refute, because it’s a totally impossible standard no one can or does follow. Being pro-life doesn't involve imagining one can eliminate every risk, and one can literally always do something more to reduce the risk of people dying.

A few examples illustrate the point. Flu is normally not as deadly as COVID-19 seems to be, but it still kills people every year. We could lock down the country every flu season, and it would likely save some lives. But we don’t, because collectively we consider the disruption disproportionate to the gain in public safety.

Or consider cars. Cars in 21st century America are much safer than they once were, as those of us who predate seat belt laws and air bags and car seats can tell you. But people die on the roads every year, and cars made even safer could save some of them. We could keep making cars safer and safer until they became so expensive to make that no one could afford one. Society regards that, too, as disproportionate.

Does that mean we value money or convenience more than human life? It seems to me it depends. At some point cutting corners on safety plainly is greed and wanton disregard for human life. But at some point the pursuit of safety plainly verges into something unworkable and unrealistic. In between is a range of places people of good will might draw the line.

Traffic laws, workplace safety, regulation of food and medication, building codes, and countless other areas of life all offer similar situations, where society has to make choices balancing safety and what is practical, a line that often shifts over time with new possibilities and sensibilities.

These situations pose real moral questions, but of a different kind than situations like abortion or euthanasia, where causing death is literally the objective.

That distinction is so glaringly obvious it feels crazy to have to spell it out, but welcome to 2020 America.

There is a better version of the argument, though. Our pro-life Catholic beliefs are rooted in the dignity of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God and precious in his sight. Even in situations that don’t involve direct attacks on human life, where there are difficult judgments to make and room for legitimate disagreement, shouldn’t our pro-life convictions strongly influence the way we approach them?

Again, the answer seems obvious to me: yes. A business owner who publicly professes pro-life convictions while running a notoriously unsafe workplace would rightly raise questions — and eyebrows. Where convenience and money come into tension with protection of human life, being a people of life and for life should mean we noticeably err on the side of life, even when those intrinsic evils aren’t involved.

It’s in this framework that I suggest we consider the mask debate. Not wearing a mask is not an intrinsic evil like abortion. But if our reflection ends there, we’re falling into a form of legalism. How should our conviction at the heart of why we’re pro-life — the dignity and inherent value of every human person, particularly the vulnerable — influence our approach? I’ve already given you my conclusion, and I don’t say it’s the only one a person could reach in good faith, but it’s worth wrestling with.

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

Faith in the Public Arena: The abolition of man and woman

By David Crawford, Michael Hanby, and Margaret Harper McCarthy
Faith in the Public Arena

The commonplace assumption of American liberalism, that courts merely preside over contests of rights, conceals the limitless power of the judiciary to decide questions of truth without thinking deeply or even honestly about them. Bostock v. Clayton County is a case in point. Justice Gorsuch claims, in writing for the majority, that the Court’s decision to include LGBT identity under Title VII’s definition of “sex” is a narrow ruling about “sex discrimination” in employment, leaving concerns like locker rooms and religious liberty for future litigation. But underneath the false modesty of this declaration lies a much more fundamental decision with vast implications. The Court has intervened in the most bitterly contested question of our time — a question of philosophy before it is a question of law — and codified a radical new conception of human nature with a dubious ideological history. It has inscribed the abolition of man and woman into law.

Faith in the Public ArenaThe entire argument of the case, repeated ad nauseam throughout its 30 long pages, is that adverse employment decisions based on LGBT status are necessarily a form of “sex discrimination.” Why? Because it is impossible to make these decisions without treating similarly situated individuals differently, based on their sexes. If a male employee who “identifies” as a woman were in fact a woman instead of a man, he would not have suffered adverse treatment. Hence, Justice Gorsuch confidently tells us, “she” is necessarily the victim of discrimination based on sex.

The argument would be laughable were its implications not so humanly disastrous. Crucial to observe are the argument’s presuppositions. Justice Gorsuch thinks that a man who “identifies” as a woman is similarly situated to a woman who “identifies” as a woman. For him to think this, he must assume that the relationship between our embodiment as male and female and our personal subjectivity (as expressed in “identity”) are essentially arbitrary and that they therefore lack any organic or natural unity. These assumptions then imply that a man who “identifies” as a woman might really be a woman, that to be a woman is a mental state, that we really are Cartesian “ghosts in the machine.” Without such assumptions, Justice Gorsuch could not claim that such a man and woman are similarly situated.

These are metaphysical judgments. Yet Justice Gorsuch naively fails to recognize that the crux of his argument relies on and effectively codifies them. The question of sex discrimination in employment is relatively unimportant compared to the momentous imposition by law of these very questionable philosophical propositions with their vast implications for society.

It is impossible to redefine human nature for just one person. When a fourth-grade girl is required to affirm in thought, word, and deed that a boy in her class is now a girl, this does not simply affirm the classmate’s right to self-expression. It radically calls into question the meaning of “boy” and “girl” as such, thereby also calling into question both her own “identity” and that of everyone in her life, from her mother and father to her brothers and sisters, and all of her friends and relatives. As well it should. If each of us is defined by a sexual or gender “identity” only arbitrarily related to our male and female bodies, now relegated to a meaningless biological substrate, then in fact there is no longer any such thing as man or woman as heretofore understood. We are all transgender now, even if gender and sexual identity accidentally coincide in a great majority of instances.

To settle questions of truth by force of law is a characteristic of totalitarian regimes. And this example shows just how totalizing this ruling really is. It requires everyone to live for all public and practical purposes as if what they know to be true in their pre-ideological experience of reality — an awareness we drink in with our mother’s milk — were officially false, a “stereotype.” Even worse, it requires everyone to live for all public and practical purposes as if what they know to be false were officially true. Ironically, what is now “true” is nothing but stereotypes, that bundle of mannerisms, dress, make-up, and hairstyles by which one imagines what it feels like to be a woman or a man. Worse still, it prefers them especially when they are at odds with one’s actual sex. The war on pronouns, an assault upon the very language by which we recognize a world in common, follows of necessity. What we are dealing with here is nothing less than a war on the very principle of reality itself. And everyone has just been pressed into service.

There is no totalitarianism so total as that which claims authority over the meaning of nature. Increasingly we find the courts assuming this authority, though this power is typically exercised in part unconsciously, or even ignorantly, and in part dishonestly and subversively, all under the pretense of “neutrally” mediating between interests, rights, powers, and authorities. Or in this case, simply parsing “plain English.” But this is bosh, and no one believes it. Not for a second.

The burdens on free speech, free exercise, and perhaps most fundamentally, free thought, are obvious. But the burden on the basic unity of human society is even weightier; for the Court has just abolished the fundamental fact on which every civilization depends, indeed on which the human species depends. We have just been pushed over the edge. It’s breathtaking.

As C.S. Lewis said in “The Abolition of Man,” we will now need the “beneficent obstinacy of real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses.” We can only hope that such children will come along to point out the naked truth to our new Emperors.

David Crawford, Michael Hanby, and Margaret Harper McCarthy are professors at the John Paul II Institute. This piece originally ran in the Wall Street Journal.

Action Alert

Sept. 1st: World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

In 2015 Pope Francis established World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation as an opportunity for individuals and communities “to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”

In stewarding creation, we must recall Pope Francis tells us in Laudato si’ that our bodies place “us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings.” Therefore, we must learn to “accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning” and value our bodies in their femininity and masculinity.

You can learn to become a better steward of all of creation with the “Minnesota, Our Common Home” resources including a six-week study guide and the “Ecological Examen” – a prayer resource. Find these by visiting

Bishop Muhich ordained for Rapid City Diocese

‘I know he is the right fit for our diocese’

Bishop-elect Michel Mulloy wrote the following for the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, for the ordination of Bishop Peter Muhich, who came from the Diocese of Duluth.

Bishop Peter Muhich
Bishop Peter Muhich

The sede is not vacante any more. In other, English words, the seat is not vacant. Hurray! Sound the trumpets. I have been excited about Bishop Peter Muhich coming to Rapid City since I first heard the good news from our Papal Nuncio. The United States and Vatican City have a diplomatic relationship, and Archbishop Christophe Pierre is the ambassador to the United States from Vatican City. He handles any state matters between our countries, as well as church affairs, including the notification of future bishops and their dioceses.

I was excited, not just because we were receiving a new bishop, but also because I have known Father Muhich for some years. We have attended training seminars together and in January spent a week in Rome during the ad limina visit for our region. I know him to be a man of deep and steady faith. He also has a long history of pastoral experience in a variety of parishes. I know he is the right fit for our diocese.

That was confirmed when I called him. I sensed right away his calm acceptance of this new ministry. His unhesitating response to the statement, “The Holy Father has selected you to be the Bishop of Rapid City,” was reassuring to me. I knew he wanted to come, and I knew he was ready for this challenge. After his announcement, that initial experience was confirmed during further conversation with the administrator of the Duluth Diocese, who was and is a personal friend of our new bishop, as well as other bishops in our region.

It is important to realize that our new bishop is in fact, new. He has never been in this role. Although his years of pastoral experience qualify him for this assignment, he has not managed a diocese before. I only mention this so that all of you — priests, deacons, staff, and laity — will allow him the time he needs to come to know our diocese and the many facets of being a bishop. Allow him to explore. Take the time to share with him all that is wonderful and good about our diocese. Give him time to come to love our way of life and the unique brand of Catholicism that we live and celebrate. Because I have led you for a year and have worked among you for many more years, I know that Bishop Muhich will love and cherish all the people of the diocese. That is just what happens when we take the time to listen, to understand, and to seek unity in our lives together.

Jesus gave us an example of service in washing the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper. Jesus asked us to do the same for each other. I know Bishop Muhich wants to serve you and be attentive to you. Please take his motto and apply it to your response to him. See in him Jesus washing your feet and allow him to do that. Then, offer back to him your service. Wash his feet, too. In this way you will all grow as disciples and my joy at this moment will become your joy, multiplied in each of you throughout the Diocese of Rapid City, joined together with your new shepherd as Christ’s body, the church.

‘I will miss having him around’

By Laurie Hallstrom
West River Catholic

Father Tony Wroblewski has known Bishop Peter Muhich for over 25 years. When Father Wroblewski was first ordained in 1995, he was in a religious community and assigned to work in the Diocese of Duluth. “I actually met him as a transitional deacon in Duluth on New Year’s Day. An older priest that was a friend of his held a party to which I was invited. I ended up being friends with him and a few other priests who were of the same generation and age. We all got along very well. Though after three years I was assigned outside of the diocese, I came back as a pastor in 2001. Our friendship picked up where we left off, and Bishop Muhich, Father Jim Bissonette, and I have been the three from that original group who have remained best of friends,” he said.

Bishop Muhich takes possession of his diocese
Bishop Peter Muhich is seated in the cathedra (chair), which symbolizes the place from which he will lead the Diocese of Rapid City. (Photo by Laurie Hallstrom / West River Catholic)

Bishop Muhich and Father Wroblewski have pastored a couple of the largest parish clusters in the Diocese of Duluth. Those were in a rural area, meaning lots of driving. The two were asked to chair or be on a variety of committees. Most recently, before Bishop Paul Sirba died, they were deans of two of the five deaneries in the diocese, which also meant they served together on the Personnel Board. Both have been on the College of Consultors, too.

“Bishop Muhich is probably the most organized person I know. Since I will be succeeding him at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, I am most grateful for that. He is always well–spoken and respectful in any public setting,” commented Father Wroblewski.

“As friends, he is very enjoyable to be around. He has a great sense of humor. We have had many, many good discussions. He knows what he believes, and he will always defend it, which is great for a bishop!” he added, “His parishioners and others he has worked with him love him, and I will miss having him around.”

Father Wroblewski was asked what gifts the new bishop would bring to the Diocese of Rapid City. “He is a good listener. He is able to take a situation and assess it quickly and correctly. He has an ability to relate well with a variety of different people, from those who have ‘means’ in the Cathedral parish to the poor who find themselves at the downtown parish where he was pastor as well. Finally, he has had some major building projects, and he knows administration. He will be a great asset to your diocese.”

Recalling the many good times the three priests have shared, Father Wroblewski recalled they would get together on Sunday evenings and Mondays. “This would include making a meal together. But as I have said, he is known for order, and he likes cleanliness. Well, he would sometimes inspect our cleaning, like wine glasses. Once, he made us rewash the wine glasses. So, when he left the room, I took them, and pulled the glasses already in the cabinet forward, and put the recently washed ones in back. That way if he inspected them, he would be inspecting the ones in front which he already washed himself some other time. We never told him what we did.”

‘May you be a blessing for each other’

By West River Catholic

Father Jim Bissonette is the diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth. He met Bishop Peter Muhich in the fall of 1978.

“We traveled with our diocesan Vocation Director to St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul to take part in a ‘live-in’ weekend so we could see what life was like at the seminary. We were both from small towns in northeastern Minnesota. I was from Babbitt, and he was from Eveleth. We struck up a friendship, and the following year we entered St. John Vianney Seminary together. Our friendship continued through theology studies overseas, Bishop-elect Peter in Leuven, Belgium, and me in Rome, Italy. Both of us were ordained for the Diocese of Duluth. Our friendship has continued to the present day.”

papal mandate
From left, Father James Bissonette, diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth, Bishop Peter Muhich, and Bishop-elect Michel Mulloy, who served as diocesan administrator of the Diocese of Rapid City and will be ordained bishop of the Duluth Diocese Oct. 1, listen to the papal mandate at Bishop Muhich’s ordination in Rapid City. (Photo by Laurie Hallstrom / West River Catholic)

The two priests were associate priests and first time pastors at the same time. “I became involved in church law through the chancery and Tribunal while Bishop Peter assisted in the areas of catechesis, deacon formation, and most importantly, Diocesan Strategic Planning,” said Father Bissonette.

Bishop Peter has always been a man with a strong faith in Jesus Christ and the church, according to Father Bissonette. “He is thoughtful, kind, and a very good friend. He is a fine priest. We have similar interests and enjoy each other’s company, and many a time we have traveled together, visited friends, and shared meals,” he said. “We have enjoyed learning about other cultures and appreciating the lakes, the trees, and the outdoors in our own neck of the woods.”

Among the pastoral gifts Bishop Muhich will bring to his ministry here, Father Bissonette said, “He always tries to put Christ first, front and center. Not in a showy way, but as the source of grace for his and our lives. He is intelligent, logical, straight forward, and consistent. He has a wealth of pastoral experience, and he is a good administrator. He is compassionate and encouraging in the ways of the faith.”

It is hard to see his longtime friend leaving Duluth, “I will miss Bishop Peter as a brother priest and a friend, but I know that this is what God wants him to do, so I am happy for the Diocese of Rapid City. You have a good man for your next bishop, and I also know that he is very much looking forward to getting to know the clergy and people of his new diocese. May you be a blessing for each other.”

Father Michael Schmitz: What can we do when people don’t love us?

I think that my mom loves me, but I don’t know. She clearly loves my sister more than she loves me; they joke around and have a much easier relationship with each other. She seems more annoyed by me, and I just wish she would love me more. It is really painful for me. What can I do?

Father Mike Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Thank you so much for being so honest in sharing this part of your life. I can imagine that this has affected you in more ways than one. We all have people in our lives who do not love us, or people who do not love us like we want them to. And that can be very painful. But when those are people who ought to love us, the pain can increase a great deal more. So please know that what I will offer here comes from a place of understanding and compassion.

Before anything else, what I hear in your question is the temptation to believe that there is something in you that is “wrong,” something in you that in unlovable. That needs to be addressed. You are not unlovable. Yes, there might be people who do not love you, but that does not mean that you are unlovable. As I noted above, we all have people we want to love us who do not. But that is less a reflection on you and more of a reflection on the world in which we live.

The first thing every one of us needs to acknowledge and accept is the fact that the people around us are afflicted with two distinct attributes: they are human and they are broken.

Here’s what I mean. As humans, we each have different likes and dislikes, personality traits, and interests. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. But because of this, every single one of us will find certain other people a bit easier to like. You know that this is true in your own life. Have you ever had the situation where one person says something to you and you laugh at it, and another person says the exact same thing and you are annoyed by it? What was said (and sometimes even how it was said) could be identical, but because we get along with the first person, we are able to receive it with patience and good humor. This isn’t always because that first person is a “better” human or because the second person is a “bad” human; sometimes it is simply because we naturally get along with the first person better.

Backing up and looking at our relationship with those people we find it difficult to enjoy, we can usually identify certain behaviors or traits that we dislike. But if we examined the relationships with those whom we do enjoy, we would find certain traits in them that we don’t appreciate as well. For whatever reason, we simply find it easier to overlook those behaviors in some people. Again, this is not because one group is good and the other is bad. We (as humans) have our preferences, and that tends to come out in who we choose to spend our time with.

There are some people with whom you will share interests. You might find it incredibly easy to have an animated conversation about those interests because you just “click” with them. This “clicking” is not necessarily based off of character or virtue, it is most often based on personality or temperament. And it isn’t that a person is more lovable or less lovable, or that they are good or bad. It is a “valueless” reality. We are all human in this way.

I have seen this go the other way as well. I’ve seen parents who have tried everything to invite their children into their hobbies and interests (or have asked to be invited into the hobbies and interests of their children) only to have the kids reject the presence of their parents. Sometimes, we can more clearly see the ways our parents have failed to love us than we can see the ways we have failed to actively love them. Which brings us to the second distinct attribute of the people around us.

They (and we) are also broken.

Let’s just assume that your mom and your sister have more in common that you and your mom do. Let’s just assume that your mom finds it naturally easier to share thoughts and have conversations with her. Again, this might solely be based on personality and has nothing to do with your ability to be loved or your worth. But the next thing your mom (and all of us in these situations) is called to is to give of herself. You are right: Your mom probably ought to love you better. And you probably ought to love her better. (And I ought to love the people around me better!) And this is what we are made and called to do as followers of Christ: love our neighbors (and even our enemies). But we fail to love as we ought. Why? Because we are broken.

This is true for every person in our lives who has not loved us as they should. This is true for parents, spouses, siblings, friends, priests, religious, and every other person whose role it is to love us well. We do not love each other as we should. When I don’t give the time or the attention that another person deserves, it isn’t because of them, it is because of my broken and anemic heart. When the people in our lives who do not love us as they should, it isn’t because you and I are unlovable, it is because of their shallow and wounded heart.

In these cases, this affords us the opportunity to do two things: extend grace and receive grace.

Your mom (and you) are broken. She doesn’t love like she should. And you don’t love like you should. So what do we do? We don’t expect others to give what they don’t have. We give them the grace to be broken. We give them the grace to accept the love they do offer without the condition that they have to love us how we would prefer. This takes more than we typically have within us.

Because of that we need to receive grace. The people in our lives do not love us the way they should. But why are we waiting for the broken people around us to give what God our Father already offers? The people in our lives will always struggle and will always fail to love us well. But our Father in heaven loves you perfectly. He is not burdened by “personality” or brokenness. With him, you are not only lovable, you are loved.

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.

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.