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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.

Life briefs

FertilityCare introductory sessions

Northland Family Programs, a FertilityCare Center, holds free Creighton Model FertilityCare System introductory sessions. CrMS is based on the knowledge and understanding of the naturally-occurring phases of a woman’s fertility and infertility. A woman can know her cycles and use this information for the maintenance of her health. Further, couples can use this knowledge to plan their family and build their future together. To get started, call (218) 786-2378 or visit

Letter to the editor

Pray for vocations yes, but don’t forget to encourage and foster as well

If parents and grandparents realized the tremendous graces and blessings that flow from a vocation in a family, it’s my belief that our seminaries would be full with a waiting list. So, why is it that there appears to be a shortage of priestly vocations?

I have heard many opinions throughout the years but the top three seem to be: the sexual abuse scandal, I want grandchildren, and celibacy would be too lonely of a life. These seem on the surface to be relevant, but I believe the biggest reason is that we are not currently encouraging and fostering vocations to the priesthood. No doubt enough men have been called. The problem is that we are not supporting and nurturing that call.

Let me share with you three easy ways to encourage and foster a possible vocation in your family. Number one, simply ask your son, “Have you ever thought about being a priest?” The answer may surprise you.

Second, surround your children with as much priestly influence as possible. When my sons were growing up, we had many priests over for dinner. We attended several priestly ordinations. These priests were great role models for my sons.

Third, watch for any movement of God’s grace in your children in order to encourage any possible invitations to the priesthood. Some may be obvious and others harder to detect. One Sunday while I was at Mass with my wife and my four sons, one of my son’s lips were moving continuously during the Eucharistic prayer. Puzzled by this, I asked him after Mass what he was doing during the Eucharistic prayer. He told me that he had memorized the Eucharistic prayer and was following along with the priest. That opened the door to the vocation discerning process, and I’m very happy to say that my son now is a Catholic priest.

God is definitely hearing our vocations prayer at Mass each Sunday, but let’s all do our part to encourage and foster vocations to the priesthood.

Steve LaFlamme Sr.

Deacon Kyle Eller: Looking at work in light of COVID and our Catholic faith

As Labor Day comes this year, it’s helpful to look at work through the lens of the past several months of quarantines and lockdowns and through the lens of Catholic social doctrine.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

One thing that jumps out immediately is that many of the people whose work we have deemed essential for the past many months are people whose work pre-COVID-19 was deemed menial.

Go back a year and it was easy to find people scoffing at the idea of a $15 minimum wage that would give a living wage to people who check groceries and stock the shelves with toilet paper and flour or serve a burger from a drive-through. Probably some of those people are still scoffing, but I think most of us have gained a whole new appreciation for those workers and how important their efforts are to our collective way of life.

It suggests to me a certain unreality in the way we think about work. Market logic has a real and important place in the economy and our civil life, but unless it is guided by deeper principles, it can profoundly distort things, where we forget that cost and value are not the same thing. Some things are more valuable precisely because they are essential. As much as I enjoy them, I could easily go a lifetime without ever seeing another football game, but I could live only a short time without food. It would seem markets struggle to really account for this, in the way we value the people and institutions needed to provide these two things, one a luxury and the other an essential for life.

We’ve also seen people lose jobs on a vast scale, with countless more facing uncertainty, wondering if their job will be next. The fears that naturally arise from this should make us more attentive to the role of work in supporting family life and our personal well-being. It’s how we sustain ourselves and others.

But it’s more, because work is part of being human. In the biblical view, while the toilsomeness of work in this life is a consequence of original sin, work itself is not: It’s part of who we are and what we’re made for. God gave Adam the responsibility to tend the Garden of Eden before he fell into sin, not after. Work is good for us.

The whole context of that biblical story also is suggestive of the view Catholic social doctrine takes of work, of playing our part in respectfully developing the goods of creation as a service to the good of others — for ourselves and our families and our communities.

I think many of us have discovered that at home, because of course that vocation to work includes more than just the stuff someone pays us for.

Take, for instance, the hobby I took up seemingly seconds before it became all the rage — making sourdough bread. For most of quarantine, I have been making at least a loaf or two a week, from sourdough starters (yes, plural) I started from scratch. Nice byproducts have included sourdough pizzas and pancakes and focaccias and crackers and hamburger buns and even sourdough chocolate chip cookies. (Just ask my Facebook friends.) I’ve shared starters with friends and no doubt bored many people to despair with discussions of autolyse and bulk ferment.

I have discovered that while, like any work in this fallen world, it can be toilsome, overall I enjoy it. I enjoy the process of it, the creativity, the craft, the attention to detail, the tools and techniques, and simply the pleasure of handling the dough. I even mostly enjoy that moment of truth, when you pull the lid off the Dutch oven and discover how successful your work was.

No one is paying me for this, although some have suggested to me that they would and the thought has crossed my mind. But when I do it, I feel in my bones I have accomplished something worthwhile that day, and that joy is made complete in the happiness of family and friends who eat it.

This is surely why sourdough became an unlikely sensation in 2020, and no doubt people have experienced similar things being at home and making homecooked meals or tending gardens or working on projects that previously they “didn’t have time for.”

Quarantine has taught us a lot of lessons, and I truly hope that one of them is a deeper appreciation for the dignity of work, as a good of life, as something worthy of a living wage, as a way of showing love and a way of being human.

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

Editorial: Support and pray for our students

The time has arrived — it’s back to school, whatever that means in 2020.

The end of the last school year was unlike any our students — or their parents and grandparents for that matter — ever experienced before, as the global pandemic sent everyone home to finish school there, often alongside parents who were unexpectedly working from home too.

Now, as fall brings a new school year, that situation is not really resolved. Across the country, many schools themselves, including Catholic schools, are struggling financially in an economic downturn and logistically amid all the uncertainty. Those in homeschooling report an increase in interest from other parents who are considering giving that a try, given that no one is entirely sure how much time students will actually be able to spend in a school building with their friends and classmates this year.

Extracurricular activities are not much refuge either — for instance, whole sports have been canceled for the year.

That’s to say nothing of those who depend on things like school lunches to be sure they’re well nourished.

The pandemic is hard on everyone, of course, but perhaps it’s especially hard on young people. The call, then, is simple: They need our support, through our prayers, our encouragement, sometimes our tutoring, our listening ears, and whatever financial support we’re able to give. Please consider supporting your local diocesan school in any way you can.

Obituary: Deacon Luverne ‘Vern’ Anderson, 79

Deacon Luverne “Vern” Lee Anderson, 79, of Aitkin, was called home to be with our Lord peacefully on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, in Aicota Healthcare Center, Aitkin, with his beloved wife of 58 years by his side. He was born May 3, 1941 in Aitkin to Andrew and Phyllis (Rydell) Anderson. Vern was Postmaster of Aitkin and a deacon at St. James Catholic Church of Aitkin. Vern loved his church, his family, playing cards with family and friends, gardening, and watching the Minnesota Twins. Vern will be forever remembered for his love of God and compassion. And we can’t forget his witty comments. Vern will be greatly missed.

Deacon Vern
Deacon Vern Anderson

Vern is preceded in death by his parents and half sister, Charlene Young.

Vern is survived by his loving wife, Betty of Aitkin; children, Tim (Pauline) Anderson of Aitkin, Tom (Dana) Anderson of New Hope, Lori Anderson of Burnsville, Heidi (Chad) Larson of Aitkin, Eric (Amy) Anderson of Hermantown; 13 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren; brother, Mauritz (Norma) Anderson of Stillwater.

Mass of Christian Burial was held Friday, Aug. 28, at 11 a.m. in St. James Catholic Church, Aitkin, with Father David Forsman as the celebrant. Visitation was Thursday, Aug. 27, in St. James Catholic Church from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. with a rosary service at 7:30 p.m. Visitation was also held one hour prior to the service at the church on Friday. Private interment will be in Diamond Lake Cemetery, Farm Island Township, Aitkin County. To sign the guestbook, go to: Arrangements are with Sorensen-Root-Thompson Funeral Home and Cremation Service, Aitkin.

Local news in brief

Grandparent ministry

Some of the Blessed Sacrament Parish Grandparent Ministry met for the first time since the COVID-19 virus shut-down. The mission of the ministry is to hand down the faith to children and grandchildren and to be a support for each other as members live out their mission. The participants enjoyed the outdoor gathering as well as the homemade ice cream, cookies, and ice tea.

Latin Mass

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary was celebrated at St. Mary’s in Cook with the Traditional Latin Mass, followed by a procession through the city. A statue of Mary, patroness of the parish, accompanied the faithful as they venerated the Mother of God with song, the rosary, prayers, and incense. Little children made a path of rose petals as they went. Returning to the church at noon, Father Nick Nelson, pastor, led the people in praying the Angelus. The celebration concluded with an ice cream social in the parish hall. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were prevented from going to church to worship and receive the Eucharist, Father Nelson brought the Eucharist to the streets, holding numerous eucharistic and Marian processions through the cities of Cook and Tower, giving public witness to the faith, interceding on behalf of the people and glorifying God.

Widows of Prayer

The Widows of Prayer of Blessed Sacrament parish hosted a prayer vigil at City Hall in Hibbing. The event was open to anyone who wanted to pray for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and those who were suffering from the illness as well as the needs of the nation and of the church.

Real Presence Radio’s Incredible Parish Challenge

The Real Presence Radio network serves almost 1,000 parishes throughout 10 dioceses. These parishes support RPR by publishing information about fundraising events, sharing the RPR mission through parish talks, and displaying RPR parish stands and marketing materials. RPR is returning their kindness by including parishes in the Incredible Parish Challenge during the upcoming Fall Live Drive, Oct. 6-9.

During the Live Drive, participating parishes have the opportunity for a 20-minute on-air interview where the priest or a parish representative will showcase incredible happenings unique to their parishes. Donors who then call in during the Live Drive can pledge their support to RPR, mention the parish name, and their donation will be attributed to that parish in the challenge. There will be two first prizes and two second prizes awarded. One $1,000 prize will go to the parish that raises the most money for RPR. The second prize of $1,000 will go to the parish that has the most call-in pledges. The second-place prize in both categories will be a $500 public awareness campaign that can be used within the next year.

Tune in to Real Presence Radio October 6-9 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to hear more about these incredible parishes, inspirational stories of faith and hope, and your chance to win one of the daily drawings including books, gift cards, RPR gear, and a few surprises.

MCC webinar

The Minnesota Catholic Conference will host a webinar Sept. 9 in conjunction with the Memorial of St. Peter Claver. MCC is hosting “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Catholic Church Confronts Racism.” It will be a Zoom webinar featuring Bishop Shelton Fabre, bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, who is the chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. There will also be a panel of speakers and time for a moderated Q&A. The webinar is aimed at clergy, educators, and lay ministers but is open to the public. It is free, but registration is required to get the Zoom link. Full details and registration are available at

Senior officer joins Catholic United Financial

Catholic United Financial, the oldest fraternal life insurance provider domiciled in Minnesota, announced that its board of directors has hired Paul Zastrow to become the association’s senior vice president and secretary/treasurer. In this role, Zastrow joins the board of directors and serves as the association’s chief financial officer, responsible for the day-to-day operations of the billion-dollar insurer, including the oversight of finance, accounting, investments, operations, member services, technology, and industry compliance. He succeeds Michael Ahles, now president and CEO of Catholic United, in this role. “Catholic United is a special organization given the way we protect the financial interests of our members and support our Catholic and broader communities,” Ahles said. “That’s why Paul, with his deep knowledge of insurance, financial services, and finance, coupled with his extensive leadership experience and drive, plus his Catholic faith, is an exceptional fit for us. We’re so lucky to have him.” Zastrow and his wife, Patty, live in Mendota Heights and are active members of the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in St. Paul. They have eight children, all of whom attended Holy Spirit School.

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.

Mater Dei bringing high-school age hybrid education model into second year

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

The high school students and faculty at Mater Dei Apostolate in Duluth may have had an easier time than most did when the coronavirus pandemic hit in the spring.

Mater Dei online class
When students from the Mater Dei Apostolate had to go online during the pandemic last year, the hybrid model of education they were used to made the transition “pretty smooth.” (Submitted photo)

“When we had to go online last spring, of course there’s challenges with it, but we had a pretty smooth transition,” said Marie Mullen, the apostolate’s executive director.

“It’s a hybrid model to start with, so it’s already more conducive, I think, to switching temporarily online,” she added.

That hybrid model, something that is being attempted elsewhere across the country as well, blends elements from more familiar approaches of traditional schools with classrooms and lockers on the one hand and the homeschool approach on the other. The students are technically homeschool students, but Mater Dei hires instructors for each class and provides an education center with classrooms, a lunchroom, lockers, and so on.

“So they have the experience of a traditional school in that sense,” Mullen said.

The apostolate rents and has renovated facilities at Holy Family Church in Duluth, and it was already using a learning management system with a remote learning component. So this past spring, instructors were able to continue teaching live at their normal times — just online.

And because of the way things are organized at Mater Dei, based around a home school curriculum, the students were already used to more independence and not seeing their teachers every day.

“So they’re already used to managing their own work to some degree,” Mullen said.

Now in its second year, Mater Dei is planning for in-person instruction, but not only is the remote option still in place, organizers are setting things up so that students can take advantage of it whenever it’s helpful to them. All the classes will be available online even when students are able to be there in person.

Mullen said there are already families planning to take advantage of that, including students who live in neighboring communities and may only come into town a couple of days a week. So if another shutdown happens, they’re ready.

Meeting a need

The idea for Mater Dei arose through Mullen and other families seeking an option for Catholic high school for their children. Mullen said she had not been a home school parent herself until it proved to be a good option for one of her sons, and she had hired tutors to help him with some of those classes.

That started the wheels turning. Why couldn’t that same concept work on a larger scale?

The hybrid model allows parents to enroll their children on a per-course basis, similar to college. Each course has an instructor. Some of the students continue to participate in extracurricular activities through public schools.

Part of the idea is to be organized in such a way that families that have never homeschooled or who may even find the idea intimidating can give it a serious look.

The apostolate began with ninth grade courses last year and this year is adding 10th grade as well, building as students come in.

And Catholic identity is built in. Not only is the curriculum Catholic, but the schedule is also, including daily Mass and opportunities for adoration.

Paying the bills

Another notable facet of the Mater Dei approach is the tuition: Unlike most similar efforts, Mater Dei doesn’t charge any, although the majority of families are participating in a Monthly Match Program that would be akin to a tuition.

“We feel very confidence and passionate about truly having this option available to all families,” Mullen said.

The Monthly Match Program means that there are individuals, businesses, and organizations that have donated to Mater Dei, but the apostolate doesn’t have access to the funds until there are monthly donors to match.

And if the pandemic wasn’t the curve ball it might have been for students and faculty, it was for finances, since a major benefit scheduled for May had to be canceled. That was going to feature a keynote speaker and the roll-out of the Monthly Match Program.

Going into year two

Mullen said the first year was tricky, with unexpected challenges involving building codes and permits and more, and they had to rely on divine providence.

“It was a lot of obstacles to get through,” Mullen said.

This year, there are 20 students enrolled and 15 faculty members. Mullen said with uncertainty in the public schools, there have been more inquires and may be more registrations.

“I definitely have had more inquiries,” Mullen said. “… They’re looking for these new options.”

You can learn more about the apostolate at

Finding a Place

I will arise and go now to a place you have prepared.
I will arise with confidence that I know the way
though your leading is revealed just one step at a time.
You had no place to lay your head yet every place is yours,
marked by your miracles, touched by your hand,
shaped by your love.
I will remain still in this familiar place
and I will know it for the first time.
Your welcome encompasses me, Lord my God.
I know my place and it is here with you.

—from the book A Retreat with Saint Anthony: Finding Our Way, by Carol Ann Morrow