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Father Richard Kunst: Are you afraid of going to confession? Fear not

Alfred Hitchcock is awesome. I have seen several of his movies and have always found myself wanting the story to keep going even after it is over. He is a master storyteller who weaves webs of great suspense and thrills.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard Kunst

One of his great movies is called “I Confess.” It stars Montgomery Clift as a young priest who is framed for murder, only to have the murderer come to him and confess the sin in the context of a sacramental confession. The movie ends in classic Hitchcock style with great drama and a better plot.

What I really like about this movie is how it represents one of the most sacred aspects of the Catholic faith, and that is the Seal of Confession.

Confession is the most exhausting part of my ministry as a priest. One half hour in the confessional can wear me out.

The reason it zaps my energy is that I truly give my whole self to the process. I know people are coming into confession in the most vulnerable way. They expose the darkest and weakest parts of themselves, so I do everything I can to be fully present to them, and that is tiring.

But the priests certainly are not the only ones who approach this beautiful sacrament with trepidation.

People have all sorts of reasons they fear going to confession. The number one reason, of course, is telling someone all the bad things you have done or said. Who likes to do that?

Confession is great because it keeps us humble; it forces us to take responsibility for our stupidity and weaknesses.

Confidentiality preserved

Another reason some people may be afraid is that they think the priest might tell others about their sins. Let me categorically say: That will never happen. Ever!

For a priest to break the Seal of Confession would amount to the greatest of sins. In fact, if a priest does break the seal, even at the risk of his own life, or as Hitchcock portrayed, even while being framed, then there is a very special penalty. It’s called “latae sententiae” (automatic) excommunication.

The priest is not only no longer a priest, but also he automatically gets kicked out of the Catholic Church. The only way the excommunication can be lifted is by the pope himself. Needless to say, this is serious stuff.

Let’s look at this in a very practical way. To become a priest takes years of education and years of schooling and discernment. Seminarians are vigorously screened and evaluated every year.

Priests give up the potential for a lucrative career and, even more, give up the possibility of having their own wife and family. Why in the world would a priest exchange all that he has sacrificed to become a priest just to tell someone the sin you confessed to him? On the face of it, it is ridiculous.

The philosophy of confession that we are taught in the seminary is to treat what happens in the confessional as if it didn’t happen. We are to think of what has been said as not having been said at all.

So if Joe Sixpack confesses that he has a problem with shoplifting and I see him later that week, I can’t even ask him, “How’s that shoplifting going? Doing any better?” As a priest, I cannot even bring up the sins confessed to the person who confessed them.

You aren’t the only sinner

On a very personal note, and I don’t mean to sound scandalous, but as exhausting as hearing confessions is to the priest, I also find them to be boring. That might surprise you, but the only reason why I say that is because we all sin, and depending on our state in life, we all sin the same way.

I have been doing this long enough that if you are a young mom, I can pretty much tell what your sins are before you go to confession.

If you are a senior citizen or a college student or almost anything else, I can come pretty close to guessing what you are going to confess. Human nature in a very real way is predictable, and we all struggle with the same things. So why would a priest break the seal of confession, just to tell of a sin that so many others also struggle with?

One of my favorite authors once wrote that “the confessional is not a living room, it’s a war room.” It is indeed a war room, but a war room of God’s mercy, not of judgment.

We come to confession baring our souls to the priest. All the things we don’t want anyone else to know we tell the priest.

And in turn, he tells no one.


Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen.

Jason Adkins: Environmental debates need prudence, principles

Americans are more conscious than ever of their responsibility to be good stewards of the environment. Years of successful public relations campaigns and the work of tireless activists have ensured that protecting creation is at the forefront of public discourse.

Jason Adkins
Jason Adkins
Faith in the Public Arena

Yet, the debates over some of the biggest environmental challenges — climate change, hydraulic fracking, soil and water contamination, air quality, sustainable agriculture, the global competition for scarce natural resources — seem to be dominated by false choices, as though being stewards of the created order and fostering a proper “human ecology” is a zero-sum game.

What is worse are the debates themselves, either dominated by nakedly ideological sound bites that operate as rhetorical tools of special interests, or scientific jargon that is inaccessible to laypersons and leaves people wondering whom and what data to trust.

How should a person of faith approach these important questions as they relate to public policy?

For decades, the church both in the United States and around the world has been deeply considering the challenges facing the created order, and the relevant principles needed to address them.

One resource from the American bishops, though specifically addressing climate change, is particularly valuable as a framework from which to consider many questions of environmental policy.

In “Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good” (2001), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not seek to urge a particular policy solution for the problems of climate change, but instead to “call for a different kind of national discussion,” to move past the ineffective environmental debates previously mentioned.

They note that global climate change, like many environmental questions, is not about political platforms or special-interest group pressures. Rather, “it is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family. It is about protecting both the ‘human environment’ and the ‘natural environment.’ It is about our human stewardship of God’s creation and our responsibility to those who come after us.”

The bishops state that any response to climate change must be rooted in prudence, which requires us to continue to research and monitor the phenomenon, as well as take steps to mitigate possible negative effects in the future.

Poor should not suffer the most

Further, in a debate often dominated by special interests, special attention must be given to the impact of environmental problems — and the solutions designed to address them — on the “poor and vulnerable.”

According to the bishops: “Inaction and inadequate or misguided responses to climate change will likely place even greater burdens on already desperately poor peoples. Action to mitigate global warming must be built upon a foundation of social and economic justice that does not put the poor at greater risk or place disproportionate or unfair burdens on developing nations.”

Among the different considerations when examining potential policies to address environmental problems, the bishops identify “stewardship and the right to economic initiative and private property”; the needs of “future generations”; “population and authentic development”; and “caring for the poor and issues of equity.”

The common good will be built up or diminished, the bishops contend, by the quality of the public debate.

The debate over climate change, and many other related issues, continues.

Wilderness and wonder

Is there a possibility that today’s challenges can be addressed in the rational manner that the bishops propose?

Experience tells us the answer is “yes.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act, which created the National Wilderness Preservation System. It will not receive as much attention as the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, passed the same year, but it is also an extraordinary piece of legislation.

Using almost poetic language, this piece of legislation recognized wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Since its creation, Congress has designated more than 106 million acres of federal public lands as wilderness: 44 million of these acres are in 47 parks and total 53 percent of National Park System lands. Wilderness area, protected from unnecessary development and exploitation, now accounts for 5 percent of the entire landmass of the United States.

The creation of the Wilderness Act represents an inspiring moment in history when the political community acted with foresight and with the recognition that the natural environment is good for its own sake.

If Catholics can add some leaven to the environmental debate with the principles of Catholic social teaching, it is possible that we will again be able to tackle the toughest environmental questions with legislation that truly serves the common good.

Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Betsy Kneepkens: Some of life’s big tests await college-bound son

It seems my third oldest son has spent the past year taking tests as he prepares to go off to college. He had his regular school tests, ACT/SAT testing, tests for scholarships and AP exams.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

One would think that he is all tested out, but truth be told, the real exam is just around the corner. In a few short weeks he will be headed off to college. This experience will undoubtedly test him more than he has ever been tested before, in ways he has never been tried before.

As I reflect on my son’s impending life examination, I found myself reflecting on Matthew 7:24-29:

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

My husband and I are left wondering: Is the “house” of character and virtue that we encourage our son to build placed upon rock, or was is built on sand? Can it sustain the storms he will inevitably encounter, or will his foundation deteriorate under pressure?

Temptations are great

As my son stresses over future coursework and class examinations, I believe the challenges in the classroom will pale in comparison to the challenges he will encounter in the environment of higher education.

I am optimistic that his roots are deep and his foundation is strong. However, I am realistic. I know that temptations accompanying the college experience are great and will call him to make virtuous choices that are often countercultural.

I hope he is realistic about the level of courage needed to live a faith-filled Catholic lifestyle on a college campus which is often directing emerging adults away from the good and the holy.

I am also hopeful that he is aware that the new freedoms he will have can, if not properly managed, come with a hefty price tag. Sometimes that price is financial, but the worse cost can be emotional and spiritual.

If my husband and I helped him build a strong foundation, he will know that freedom without discipline leads to slavery, that freedom without the context of others creates selfishness, and that freedom lived outside of the divine order is disordered and leads to ungodliness.

Freedom has been a gift given by God from the very beginning of time, but like any gift it needs to be respected and appreciated or it turns into sinfulness. We hope our son knows this.

Reason to be optimistic

I am also hopeful that he sees that a firm foundation is based on the reality that there is an absolute truth. Unfortunately he will encounter those who claim otherwise. Hopefully his foundation is firm enough to know that they are intentionally or unintentionally misleading him.

I am hopeful my son knows that people certainly can believe different things or have a different perspective, but that does not negate the fact that an absolute truth does indeed exist and needs to be sought out. We are optimistic that he will seek truth in honesty and not allow contemporary social or political pressure to persuade him.

I am also hopeful that his foundation is centered on the dignity and respect for all others and for creation. We know there is a great amount of attention given to “-isms” while in college. We are hopeful that he knows that over emphasizing “-ism” sorts of issues is not necessary if one is living out an authentic Catholic life.

As a follower of Christ my son has been called to a sincere respect for all peoples and to hold those differences in reverence and appreciation. Living in accord with Christ does not categorize people, nor does it leave others without the dignity they deserve.

We are optimistic that he understands reverence is separate from tolerating everything about everyone, and real charity is calling others to become all the greatness they were created for even at the sacrifice of being different or not being tolerated.

Search, but with discretion

I also hope that his foundation encourages him to search out the world that is currently unknown to him all while being keenly aware of the trappings of intellectual adoration. In an environment where the intellect is frequently praised, it is not difficult for a young adult to hold that intellect up higher than any other sort of good, including God.

I am hopeful that his foundation has informed him to understand that real adoration is reserved for the Blessed Sacrament and all that flows from there. The further he steps away from this ideal, the more likely he is to fall into praising and worshiping those things that the secular world values.

When what he knows gets challenged and even persecuted at times, I am hopeful he turns to Mass and his faith, where the source of all truth flows. If he is disciplined toward this grounding, he will be given the best opportunity to discern with the most clarity and be most in touch with what is good and deserving of being glorified.

It was 19 short years ago that God entrusted my husband and me with my third son. I can hardly believe this phase of parenting is coming to an end, and I relish every moment of those 19 years.

I am optimistic he knows what an absolute joy it has been for his parents to raise him so far. I am additionally hopeful he knows how very proud we are of all of his accomplishments, but more importantly of the character he displays on a daily basis.

Although I will pray that his foundation can weather the worst of storms, I know now that the other real test becomes my own. As a very good friend of mine shared, parenting is one of those jobs where, if done well, you work your way toward unemployment.

My test: working toward being unemployed.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.

Abortions in Minnesota drop to lowest since 1974

The Northern Cross

Abortion numbers have dropped for the seventh straight year in Minnesota, to their lowest level since 1974, according to an analysis of the state’s Abortion Report by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

The annual state report was released July 1 by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The 2013 total of 9,903 abortions is a reduction of 7.5 percent from the previous year’s 10,701 total. More than half were performed on women in their 20s. A total of 12,164 women received the Woman’s Right to Know informed consent information, meaning 2,261 women chose not to abort after learning about fetal development, abortion risks and complications, and abortion alternatives, said MCCL officials.

The report also showed that taxpayer funded abortions grew to 34.8 percent of all abortions reported in the state, the highest since the 1995 Doe v. Gomez Supreme Court ruling requiring taxpayers to fund abortions.

This percentage has increased nearly every year since the court ruling, MCCL said. Taxpayers have funded 69,265 abortions since the decision.

More than 40 percent of abortions in 2011 were performed on women who had undergone at least one prior abortion; 306 women had four or more previous abortions.

The report also shows that African Americans remain a target of the abortion industry, according the MCCL analysis. They represent 5 percent of the state’s population, yet 23 percent of abortions were performed on African Americans.

The report also showed that Planned Parenthood performed more abortions even as the state total decreased significantly; the organization accounted for 44 percent of the state total.

The report showed that 123 different people performed abortions in 2013, an increase of 20 over the prior year, and seven physicians each performed more than 500 abortions last year. Minnesota’s five abortion facilities (in six locations) performed 98.8 percent of all abortions in 2013.

Late-term abortions (after week 22) decreased from four to one. The latest abortion was performed at 23 weeks. (In 2012 the latest was at 28 weeks.)

Less than 1 percent of women cited rape or incest among their reasons for choosing abortion, while 69 percent said they did “not want child at this time” and 27 percent cited economic reasons.

MCCL said the declines reflect the success of pro-life laws that have been passed in the state, and said the abortion

total could have been even lower had addition such laws been passed.

“As governor, Mark Dayton has vetoed seven protective measures, at least four of which would have protected women and further reduced the number of abortions last year,” said Scott Fischbach, MCCL executive director.

“Dayton’s defense of the abortion industry has been at the expense of unborn babies and their mothers, who are nonetheless rejecting the self-destruction, dehumanization and death that result from abortion.”

MCCL officials cited efforts that have helped reduce the number of abortions including Positive Alternatives, which funds programs that help women with health care, housing, education and transportation; the Woman’s Right to Know informed consent law; and the state’s parental notification law for minors considering abortion.

“Most women don’t want to abort their unborn babies, and today’s report is further evidence that the greater the access women are given to factual information and abortion alternatives, the fewer of them resort to abortion,” Fischbach said. “MCCL has always been focused on empowering women to choose life, and our efforts are clearly working.”

Kyle Eller: War on Conscience is a war of choice

A subtle point about the War on Conscience seems to me both important and neglected: Compelling a person to act against his conscience is worse than preventing someone from acting on his conscience.

Kyle Eller

Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

At first glance that may seem like the worst kind of hair-splitting, but I think examples illustrate both the truth and the importance of this distinction.

For instance, I believe I have a duty in conscience to speak out against abortion, and I have acted on that conviction in places ranging from newspapers to street corners to private conversations. Limiting my ability to do that in most cases would be gravely wrong.

But suppose instead of preventing me from acting on my conscience the law compelled me to act against it. Suppose instead of merely barring me from voicing my convictions in a newspaper the law attempted to force me to contradict them, to write a column defending legal abortion against all I believe to be good and just.

Wouldn’t that obviously be the more invasive and tyrannical thing, and a much more fundamental violation of my dignity as a person?

Let me put it this way. If a law tried to prevent me from speaking against abortion, I would consider civil disobedience and perhaps even be obliged to it. But if a law attempted to compel me to speak in favor of abortion, I pray God would give me the courage to resist to the death. It simply admits no compromise. Better death than sin and hell.

Note well: I would no more want this done to someone who holds the opposing view — one I consider gravely evil — than I would want it done to me.

A matter of principle and truth

You may think my example extreme, but real life is more so: There have been active attempts to compel medical workers not merely to speak in favor of abortion but to actually perform them.

The principle here is rooted in a moral truth. The moral life has negative commandments (think of the “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments) and positive commandments (think of “feed the poor” and “speak out against injustice”). Both bind us, but as St. John Paul II taught in his great encyclical on moral theology, and for clear reasons, they do so somewhat differently.

“[T]he negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid,” he wrote. “They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance.” In other words, it’s never right to do what I know to be morally wrong.

The positive precepts don’t oblige in that “always and in every circumstance” way, not because they are less important but because while there is a minimum, they have no “upper limit,” and because we have to make choices about how to apply them in different circumstances. In other words, at literally any moment of any day there are almost an infinite number of good acts I could be doing, and many different ways of doing them, so I have to choose.

St. John Paul II concluded: “Finally, it is always possible that man, as the result of coercion or other circumstances, can be hindered from doing certain good actions; but he can never be hindered from not doing certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than to do evil.”

A provoking government

There are complicated questions that require deeper examination. Some would abuse these principles with convictions (racist ones, for instance) that are morally evil. Some might abuse them as a convenient excuse to shirk some obligation. And how do these things apply to corporations? And what about taxes? Don’t we all pay taxes that end up funding things that are morally wrong?

But even without resolving these questions, we can see with certainty the wisdom, the prudence given our plurality, and indeed the moral imperative of government striving to avoid such controversies in the first place. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the case of compelling someone to act against his conscience.

Instead we see the opposite. Government has repeatedly gone out of its way to provoke these situations, on the most trivial of pretexts.

The Hobby Lobby decision is a case in point. Even if one accepts the utilitarian argument that good enough ends justify the evil means of coercing a business owner to do evil, what is this great public good here? The notion that contraception, qua contraception, is “preventive health care” is laughable. Fertility is not a disease.

But even accepting that absurd proposition for the sake of argument, was there a widespread lack of access to contraceptives in 2010, prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act? If so, did it truly constitute a grave public health crisis? If it did, was this the least coercive means of addressing it?

Obviously the answer to each question is “no,” and even a single “no” among them refutes the notion of a compelling need for the attack on conscience.

Minding a higher law

Both Catholic teaching and the classical liberalism baked into the founding of United States, whatever their points of tension, have placed a high value on conscience and on the notion that there is a law higher and more binding than a government’s “because I said so.”

Perhaps no one puts the point so eloquently as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” justified his civil disobedience by citing St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas to argue that an unjust law — one, he says, that contradicts the natural and divine law — is no law at all.

The War on Conscience is a war of choice. It is increasingly hard to escape the conclusion that its intent is to forcibly “convert” those of us who dissent from the government’s adopted moral views on human sexuality, marriage and the dignity of the human person. We could even say that militant secularism is now our de facto state religion, and a singularly intolerant and coercive one at that, masking itself in a disguise of “neutrality.”

That ought to scare the daylights out of everyone who values conscience, even those who disagree vehemently with the Catholic Church on these issues.

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

Editorial: For what would we be willing to die?

One of the marvelous beauties of God’s providence is that he brings good out of evil, and in his mysterious workings in history he very often chooses for the task his “little ones” — people whom the world may regard as of little importance but who loom large in his eyes.

Consider the young Sudanese mother of two small children, Meriam Ibrahim. A 26-year-old Catholic woman who was imprisoned and given a death sentence on a charge of “apostasy” and sentenced to lashes on a charge of “adultery.”

We would consider it bad enough for government to punish apostasy and adultery at all, let alone with such harsh penalties. But the charges against Ibrahim do not even mean what we would understand those terms to mean. Ibrahim was charged with “apostasy” for not practicing a religion she never professed. She was considered in the eyes of the law a Muslim because her father was one, even though she was raised Christian.

Likewise, “adultery” doesn’t refer to a relationship outside her marriage but to her marriage itself. Since the law considered her Muslim, it considered her marriage to a Christian invalid.

Despite the impending threat of death — and despite giving birth to her second child in a Sudanese prison — Ibrahim refused to renounce her faith. And in God’s providence, her plight came to the attention of the world.

After international outcry and many prayers, and after additional harassment by the Sudanese government even after she was initially released, she was finally able to leave the country, after which she met Pope Francis, who thanked her for “her steadfast witness of faith,” in the words of the Vatican spokesman.

Her story, moving in itself, also puts a personal face on the suffering and persecution facing so many, in places around the world, notably in Iraq.

Ibrahim is indeed a steadfast witness of faith, and a woman of extraordinary courage.

There are existential questions we all face: Who am I? Why am I here?

But another is: For what would I be willing to die?

Here is a woman who would die for Jesus Christ, as have so many of our sisters and brothers down the centuries.

Pray for the suffering church.

Schools Briefs August 2014

The Northern Cross Schools in Brief

August 2014

St. John students earn presidential academic awards

The graduating sixth-grade class of St. John’s School in Duluth was honored to have 10 of its 17 students earn the Presidential Education Award for Scholastic Excellence. This is the largest number of graduates in school history to receive this award. To qualify for this award, these students had to maintain a cumulative A average in math, social studies and English during their fourth, fifth and sixth grades. These students also needed to score in the top 90 percent of the standard national testing of math, social studies or English. The school family also said goodbye and good luck to Marge Kaufer. The retiring six-grade teacher dedicated 21 years to teaching the children at St. John’s in faith-based academics.

Holy Rosary teachers learn about Developmental Design

Six Holy Rosary School teachers in grades five through eight attended a week-long conference in June to support middle school planning and enhancements for the upcoming year. The conference drew educators from around the country to learn more and share ideas about Developmental Designs, a relationship based approach to working successfully with middle school students. This fall the upper grades at Holy Rosary School in Duluth will have a new look, with a strong and positive feel.

Holy Rosary expands foreign language classes

In the coming school year, Holy Rosary School in Duluth will begin having students explore and learn a foreign language at an earlier age. The youngest students can be the most curious and enthusiastic about their learning. They also absorb and subconsciously process their experiences in a way that has immediate and long-terms benefits. Holy Rosary will expand its foreign language program to reach all students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Father Nelson, parents to speak at education dinner The “Feast of Faith” 2014 Banquet to Benefit Duluth Area Catholic Schools will be held Sunday, Sept. 28, from 5:15 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Greysolon Ballroom, 231 E. Superior St., Duluth. Featured speakers will be Dr. Thomas and Mrs. Yolanda Nelson and their son Father Nick Nelson, a Catholic school graduate who recently was ordained to the priesthood. This dinner is the major fundraiser for the Duluth Area Catholic Schools in order to support tuition assistance and special projects at each school. Watch for more details in your parish bulletin.

Schools have openings

Call your local Catholic school in the Diocese of Duluth for openings for students for the 2014-15 school year. Catholic schools in the Diocese of Duluth are:

Brainerd: St. Francis of the Lakes School, 817 Juniper St.; (218) 829-2344,; grades pre-K through eight Cloquet: Queen of Peace School, 102 Fourth St.; (218) 879-8516,; grades pre-K through six
Duluth: Holy Rosary School, 2802 E. Fourth St.; (218) 724-8565,; grades pre-K through eight
Duluth: St. James School, 715 N. 57th Ave. W.; (218) 624-1511,; grades pre-K through eight
Duluth: St. John the Evangelist School, 1 W. Chisholm St.; (218) 724-9392,; grades pre-K through six
Duluth: St. Michael’s Lakeside School, 4628 Pitt St.; (218) 525-1931,; grades pre-K through five
Grand Rapids: St. Joseph’s School, 315 S.W. 21st St.; (218) 326-6232,; grades pre-K through six
Hibbing: Assumption School, 2310 Seventh Ave. E.; (218) 263-3054,; grades pre-K through six
International Falls: St. Thomas Aquinas School, 810 Fifth St.; (218) 283-3430,; grades pre-K through eight
Pine City: St. Mary’s School, 815 Sixth Ave. S.W.; (320) 629-3953,; grades pre-K through six
Virginia: Marquette School, 311 S. Third St.; (218) 741-6811,; grades pre-K through six


Catholic education is God's will, August 2014

The Northern Cross Schools Article

August 2014
Catholic education is God’s will

By Ruth Tomczyk

Catholic education is God’s will. How do I know this, you ask. Well let me tell.

When my first child was approaching school age, I started thinking and praying about my choices for education in my local area. There was, of course, the public school system, but I really wanted God to be the center of my children’s education.

I considered home schooling. I have a friend with six children, all home schooled and all fantastic children, but did I have the patience for home school? I didn’t think so. There was a Christian school in a nearby town, but my husband and I are Catholic and wanted the Catholic faith taught to our children.

In this same town was a Catholic home school co-op operated out of the local Catholic Church. This seemed like our best choice, but after an open house visit, my husband and I realized that we wanted a more traditional education for our children, similar to the education we both received at Immaculate Conception in Columbia Heights (our hometown).

Heaven sent?

Shortly after our visit to the home school co-op, we received a brochure in the mail for St. Mary’s Catholic School in Pine City. Neither of us had any idea there was a Catholic school in this nearby town. It seemed to me like a message from above.

So I went to check out this school in Pine City. The moment I walked into the kindergarten classroom at this tiny unknown school, I knew what my choice would be: St. Mary’s.

It was small, traditional, Catholic, friendly and inviting. This school was the answer to my prayers. After discussing the school with my husband, the next day I signed my first child up for preschool with a commitment to attend kindergarten at St. Mary’s in Pine City.

Now with this commitment to attend St. Mary’s came the commitment to drive our children to and from school every single day. We lived in the Rush City school district and St. Mary’s is in the Pine City school district. The drive to and from school each day was an 80 mile per day commitment.

When we first started out, gas prices were affordable, no problem, but they quickly rose to unaffordable and a problem. I began to fret every day about how I was going to afford to drive our children to school. Our gas bill was more than our tuition bill.

Well, my fretting turned into prayer, and I asked God for help. I am always frank and open in my prayers to God, talking to him as if he were in the seat next to me, so one day, after filling up the car with gas and again wondering how I could afford this educational choice, I turned to God and said, “If St. Mary’s is indeed where you want our children to go to school, you’ll have to help us out here. We can’t afford the gas.”

More help from above?

Now, I wasn’t asking for money to fall from the sky, I was willing to work for it, extra hours at work, a second job, whatever it took. I just needed direction. These talks went on for a few weeks, and I continued to wonder how my husband and I would afford the gas bill to and from school.

Then one day, I dropped the children off at school and as I was leaving a woman stopped me. I had never seen this woman before. I had no clue who she was. She asked me if I drove from Rush City every day to bring my children to school at St. Mary’s.

I told her yes and then she asked me if I was aware that the Rush City school district would reimburse me for my travels. I was dumbfounded. I began to shake. I questioned her further. Turns out because there is no alternative form of education in my school district, and I want to enroll my children in an alternative school, outside of the district, I will be reimbursed from my school district for my travel.

I asked the stranger for the name of the person to contact in Rush City, said thanks and got back in my car. Immediately I started to praise and thank God. I was awestruck by what I perceived as a miracle, an answer to my prayers and validation that God’s will was for my children to attend St. Mary’s School.

As soon as I got home, I called the contact in Rush City (turns out she was a St. Mary’s graduate), inquired about the program and requested the paperwork to be mailed. Within a week, I was set, and my worries over the gas bill vanished.

I have never since then worried about the gas bill and never doubted where my children should go to school. I know it is God’s will that my children should attend St. Mary’s. Every once and a while I still cringe at the total on the gas pump when I am filling up on my way to school, but I very quickly remember it’s OK.

It’s God’s will. It will be OK.

Ruth Tomczyk is a parent of St. Mary’s School students.


Monastery Jubilees August 2014

The Northern Cross Local News in Brief

August 2014

St. Scholastica Monastery celebrates sisters’ jubilees

The celebrations of significant anniversaries have already begun for the jubilarian Benedictines at St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth.

Sister Barbara Ann Vierzba, Sister Lois Ann Glaudel, and Sister Mary Susan Dewitt celebrated their Golden Jubilees July 19, at Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at the monastery. Sister Petra Lenta (75 years), Sister Theresa Jodocy (60 years) and Sister Kathleen Hofer (60 years) will celebrate their Diamond Jubilees Saturday, Aug. 16, also at Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel.


Sister Petra Lenta

Sister Petra Lenta was born in Duluth and attended Sacred Heart elementary and high schools. Her parents were Italian immigrants and devout Catholics. Sister Petra’s father, Louis, was a stonemason who helped to construct St. Peter’s Church. He also built the monastery’s Sacred Heart shrine, the pillars at the entrance to the monastery cemetery, the bridge over Chester Creek, and helped in the construction of Tower Hall. After graduation from high school, Sister Petra attended the College of St. Scholastica and entered the monastery following her freshman year. Graduating from the college in 1942, she entered a three-year program of the Institutum Divi Thomae in Cincinnati that specialized in cancer research. Upon her return to Duluth in 1945, she and Sister Agatha Riehl established a cancer research unit at the College of St. Scholastica. Sister Petra taught in the biology and chemistry departments at the college. The cancer research unit was active for more than 30 years, after which Sister Petra taught science to students of Assumption School in Hibbing. Returning to Duluth, she did catechetical teaching in Superior, Wis., worked at the monastery information center and cared for her aged parents.


Sister Theresa Jodocy

Sister Theresa Jodocy is a native of Upper Michigan. Her parents were Peter Jodocy and Clemence Nizette of St. Nicholas, Mich. She attended the College of St. Scholastica for her senior year after transferring from Northern Michigan in Marquette. She entered the convent that January, graduated in June and received the habit July 11, 1953, as well as the name Sister Matthias, her priest-brother’s name. She taught elementary grades in Minneapolis, Brainerd, International Falls, Hibbing and West Duluth for the next 13 years. She completed a master’s degree in education administration and was assigned as principal to St. Thomas the Apostle in Phoenix in 1967. During the summer she attended the University of San Francisco and completed a master’s degree in theology. Sister Theresa taught four years at Xavier High School for Girls in Phoenix and served as chair of the theology department at Notre Dame High School for Boys in North Chicago for five years. Returning to Phoenix, she went back to her baptismal name Theresa and served as pastoral associate in charge of adult education and ministry of care in three Phoenix parishes. After 45 years in the mission field, she returned to St. Scholastica Monastery in 2012.


Sister Kathleen Hofer

Sister Kathleen Hofer grew up in the small town of Michigan City, N.D., where her father was a banker. She entered St. Scholastica Monastery in 1953, made first vows in 1954 and taught in elementary schools in the Diocese of Duluth. She received her bachelor’s degree from the College of St. Scholastica with majors in medical record administration and psychology. After completing an MBA in health care administration from George Washington University, she began her extensive and successful career in health care. At the College of St. Scholastica, Sister Kathleen was chair of the Medical Record Administration Department and the first chair of the Division of Health Sciences. She was active in the Minnesota and American Medical Record Associations, serving as president of both. She was also active in the International Congress on Medical Records. Sister Kathleen served at various times as the CEO of the Benedictine Health System and, for 15 years, as CEO of St. Mary’s Medical Center. She also served as board chair of the Benedictine Health System, St. Mary’s Medical Center, SMDC Health System and Essentia Health East Region. Active as a Benedictine sister of St. Scholastica Monastery, Sister Kathleen was prioress, treasurer and served on the monastery council and BSBA Board. She also served on and chaired the Board of Trustees of the College of St. Scholastica.


Sister Barbara Ann Vierzba

Sister Barbara Ann Vierzba was born and raised in Brainerd. She knew early on that she wanted to be a sister as a result of her experience with the Benedictine sisters who taught at St. Francis School in Brainerd. She received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in education. Her ministry in the elementary schools took her to Cloquet, Chicago, Phoenix, West Duluth and Brainerd. In West Duluth and Brainerd she was both teacher and principal. Other ministries included working in the business office in accounts receivable and cleaning houses for the elderly in the Sisters’ Care program in St. Paul. After completing the CPE program at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth she become chaplain at St. Gabriel’s Hospital and St. Otto’s, an extended care facility in Little Falls. In 1999, Sister Barbara Ann was asked to be the subprioress at St. Scholastica Monastery. She was willing to serve the community in this position and found her training in CPE very helpful in her new responsibilities. She loved the variety in that ministry, serving for 12 years. She counts that among the many blessings of her 50 years as a Benedictine sister.


Sister Lois Ann Glaudel

Margaret Ann Glaudel was born in Minneapolis, May 7, 1944. She attended and graduated from Our Lady of Victory School, where she was taught by the sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery. She then attended Stanbrook Hall High School in Duluth, which was where her thoughts began to center around entering the convent. On Sept. 8, 1962, Margaret entered as a postulant and on July 11, 1964, made her first profession, having taken the name Sister Lois Ann in honor of her mother. She continued her education and graduated with a degree in elementary education. Sister Lois Ann began teaching at St. Leo’s School in Hibbing and then at St. Francis School in Brainerd, where she played guitar and sang for children’s liturgies. After her years in Brainerd, she taught in Pine City until 1982, and then in Chicago where she taught at several schools including St. Timothy, St. Hilary, St. Matthias, Pope John the XXIII and most recently at St. Mary of the Lake. Community, family, friends and former students have always been important to her. She says that God has blessed her in so many ways with many “golden” moments.


Sister Mary Susan Dewitt

Sister Mary Susan Dewitt grew up in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., with 12 siblings, a faithful, long-suffering mother and father (both devout Catholics), and one lone bathroom. In 1961, fresh out of high school, she went to Duluth, eager for new horizons. In those days, religious life never appealed to her (too tame) until she met the warm, lively sisters at the College of St. Scholastica. In her sophomore year of her nursing degree program she finally recognized the call of God and entered the convent at the “Villa,” becoming Sister Mary Susan. Six years later, diploma in hand, she was on her way to operate a clinic in Antofagasta, Chile, the Benedictine mission in South America. Over the next 12 years she came to know for the first time this amazing healing God who had called her; the goodness, beauty and simplicity of the Chilean people; and the seven wonderful Benedictine sisters on the mission with her. Twelve years later Sister Mary Susan returned to minister in a new but just as beloved mission — as chaplain at the Benedictine Health Center, a position she holds to this day. Sister Mary Susan says, “I am celebrating 50 years of walking with an amazing God and the incredible women of this community to which he called me.”



Local Briefs August 2014

The Northern Cross Local News in Brief

August 2014

St. Kateri statue installed at Holy Family

A new St. Kateri Tekakwitha statue was donated by the Kateri Circle members of Holy Family Church on the Fond du Lac Reservation, Cloquet. On July 14, the statue was installed and blessed by Father Justin Fish, pastor, at a special Feast Day Mass. A potluck meal followed the ceremony.

St. Anne’s Circle installs new officers

St. Anne’s Circle 592, Daughters of Isabella, of Queen of Peace Church in Cloquet, installed new officers at a recent meeting. Anne Lankey, the state regent, presided at the installation, and Deacon Steve Langenbrunner, chaplain, blessed each officer as she was presented to the members. Following the installation, lunch was served and a business meeting was held during which two new members were welcomed. The Daughters of Isabella is a charitable, fraternal group of Catholic women, and all women in the area are welcome to join. The next project is the annual Next to New Sale that will be held on Friday, Aug. 22, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the gym at Queen of Peace School, 102 Fourth St., Cloquet. For information about the circle or the sale contact Regent Bonnie Kloskowski at (218) 879-5805.

Magnificat to host lay minister Brendan Case

Our Lady of the Lakes Magnificat, Walker, is hosting a two-day event with presenter Brendan Case, a dynamic preacher and Catholic lay-missionary who travels the United States with guitar in hand. The event will be held Sept. 5-6 at St. Agnes Parish, 210 Division St., Walker. Both events are open to both men and women. Case is a member of the Catholic charismatic covenant community, the City of the Lord. He is the founding servant of the Companions of the Holy Spirit, a lay missionary community. Case has written worship music and is the author of books and Bible studies. His works are online and will be available at the retreat at no cost. He and his wife, Andrea, are the parents of nine children. They live in the mountains of Arizona in the town of Lakeside. On Friday, Sept. 5, Case’s ministry will open with the celebration of the Mass at 6:30 p.m. Confessions will be available after Mass, and there will be prayers for healing. Saturday, Sept. 6, he will give his testimony and reflections on “Evangelization, Jesus the Way, By the Power of the Holy Spirit” at a Magnificat breakfast. Magnificat registration begins at 8:30 a.m., followed by breakfast at 9 a.m. Lunch will be provided, with the day ending at 3:30 p.m. Mass will be available at St. Agnes at 4 p.m. Cost for Saturday is $20. Reservations are required by Sept. 1. Mail reservations and $20 payment to Magnificat, c/o Lorri Henning, 3080 20th Ave. N.W., Hackensack, MN 56452. The Magnificat ministry brings many to Jesus and renews the faith of many who are struggling. The only Magnificat chapter in the state of Minnesota is in Walker. If you wish to learn more, visit its new website at

Assumption welcomes all-class reunion

As the city of Hibbing welcomed back former alumni with an all-class reunion, Assumption Catholic School celebrated Catholic education in the community, which began with the McGolrick Institute in 1912. The event started with the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass, concelebrated by Father Gabriel Waweru, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church, and Father Paul Larson, an alumnus of Assumption School. Father Larson spoke of the sacrifice of parents in providing their children with a Catholic education while still financially supporting the public school system. He reflected on the day’s scripture passage from the Prophet Isaiah, saying that just as the seed that lands on fertile ground will yield a fruitful harvest, so are those seeds of faith sown in the hearts of the alumni to bear a good fruit. He also spoke of the influence to the children educated under the guidance of the Benedictine Rule, “Ora et Labora,” meaning “pray and work,” as a model for living. More than 500 people participated in the celebration as Father Larson lit a memorial candle for the deceased priests, religious sisters, teachers, parents, grandparents, alumni and all who planted the first seeds of Catholic education in Hibbing and nurtured and supported it through the years. A lunch, tours of the facility and pictorial memorabilia dating back to the McGolrick Institute were on display.

‘Theology Around the Fountain’

Father Fredrick Njoroge, a university chaplain and director of communications from the Diocese of Eldoret, Kenya, spoke in Hibbing at Blessed Sacrament parish’s summer program Theology Around the Fountain. The topic was on happy marriages and families. Father Njoroge listed and expounded on 14 habits to cultivate in order to build happier and stronger families, for their good and the good of society. The approaches he cited are: resolve to be happy, dream the impossible, cultivate a habit of listening, pray together, follow the truth — do not lie to each other, share your joy with each other, think fresh — have new ideas, be sincere, learn to forgive — it is divine, stop worrying, cultivate a sense of humor, take responsibility — say you are sorry, be a student always — Jesus says “learn from me because I am meek and humble of heart,” and spread happiness from your family to other families. The summer program continues every Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m. in the Courtyard at Blessed Sacrament Church, 2310 Seventh Ave. E., Hibbing, until Aug. 13. An ice cream social concludes each evening. Everyone is welcome.

Blessed Sacrament holds Corpus Christi procession

Blessed Sacrament parish in Hibbing celebrated its Feast Day on June 22 with the annual Corpus Christi eucharistic procession. Fathers Gabriel Waweru and Anthony Craig carried the Blessed Sacrament around the perimeter of parish property. Children who had recently made their First Communion were invited to assist in leading the procession. Mary’s Maids, a group of teenage girls in the parish dedicated to prayer and learning about the lives of saints to be emulated and service to the church, helped with the preparations and participated in the procession. The celebration included Benediction and an ice cream social afterwards.

Diocesan Assembly

The Diocese of Duluth’s ninth annual Diocesan Assembly will be held on Saturday, Oct. 4, at the Marshall School auditorium in Duluth. The speaker will be Thomas Smith from Ascension Press on “Walking Toward Eternity: Making Choices for Today.” Participants will learn to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ through the daily exercise of love, faithfulness, and prayer. Thomas Smith, a former Protestant minister, is an international speaker and a guest on EWTN and Catholic radio. This is a day to gather with our bishop and others from throughout our diocese to grow in your faith and to become better equipped to hand the faith on to others. All are invited to attend. Teachers, catechists, parish staff and parish leaders are especially encouraged to participate. Registration deadline is Sept. 22, includes continental breakfast, lunch, study materials and “Praying Scripture for a Change” by Dr. Tim Gray. Registrations after Sept. 22 are not guaranteed lunch and materials. Registration fees: general $30, $40 after deadline; student $15, $25 after deadline; spouse: $15, $25 after deadline (if spouse has registered at general, student or deacon rate and sharing materials), clergy and religious free (but please register). Registration is open at Contact Annette Merritt at (218) 724-9111 for more information. Marshall School is handicapped accessible.

Eagan parish to host charismatic leaders

National charismatic renewal leaders, Sister Nancy Kellar of the Sisters of Charity in Scarsdale, N.Y., and Peter Herbeck of Renewal Ministries in Ann Arbor, Mich., will present “The Lavish Gifts of God,” at a Rally Day sponsored by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office, Saturday, Aug. 9, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Trinity School, 601 River Ridge Pkwy., Eagan. The event is $20 at the door. No pre-registration required. Call (763) 571-5314 or visit for more information.

Father Lange visits Blessed Sacrament

Newly ordained Father Timothy Lange returned to Blessed Sacrament parish, where he spent a summer as a seminarian. He was there to give his first-year priestly blessing to parishioners. A lemonade and cookie social was held in his honor.

Totus Tuus visits Hibbing

At Blessed Sacrament parish in Hibbing, 80 children from first through 12th grades attended the Totus Tuus program. The summer retreat gives children the opportunity to immerse themselves in prayer, Mass, eucharistic adoration, scripture and also to participate in many fun activities. The traditional water fight concludes the week, pitting the kids against the youth leaders and the priests. Thanks to the Hibbing Fire Department and their providing a fire truck and hose, there were no winners; everyone got soaked. Totus Tuus was hosted by a number of parishes throughout the diocese this summer.