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Duluth priest named bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota

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

Bishop-elect Peter Muhich
Bishop-elect Peter Muhich

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diocese extends suspension of public Mass through May 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life briefs

Together for Life banquet

Together for Life had planned its annual fundraising banquet, this year supporting its Star of the North Maternity Home, for April 19. After the COVID-19 pandemic brought that to a halt, the organization is moving the “banquet” online.

The event includes an online auction that opens May 10 at 6:30 p.m. An online program, emceed by Father Nick Nelson and featuring keynote speaker Nic Davidson, runs from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. May 17. The program will also have an invocation by Superior Bishop James Powers and will include presentation of the annual Father Crossman Culture of Life Award.

The maternity home has sheltered eight women and five babies with 24-7 care and currently has three women, with two babies due in April and a third due in September. Demand for the service remains high.

Both auction and program can be found at

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

Tax-funded abortions level off in Minnesota

Abortions funded by Minnesota taxpayers in 2018 dropped 2 percent to 4,256 after rising each of the previous four years, according to a report just released by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Planned Parenthood, the state’s leading practitioner of abortion, increased its state-funded abortion total to a record-high 2,723. “Government reimbursement allows Planned Parenthood to bolster its abortion numbers with the offer of ‘free’ abortions to economically vulnerable women,” says MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. “This is an injustice to the helpless human beings whose deaths are bankrolled by the same government that is supposed to protect them. It’s an injustice to the women who aren’t given the help they actually need. And it’s an injustice to the Minnesota taxpayers who are forced to be part of it.” The 2018 tax-funded abortion total is the third highest ever and a 26 percent jump since 2013. Taxpayers reimbursed abortion practitioners $1.03 million for abortions in 2018 (down from $1.06 million in 2017); Planned Parenthood accounted for a record-high $614,445. Since the 1995 ruling, taxpayers have spent more than $26 million on more than 90,000 abortion procedures.

Faith in the Public Arena: COVID-19 and equality of care

By Lynn Varco
Faith in the Public Arena

The unprecedented scale of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing efforts to provide critical hospital care have raised serious questions about rationing (limiting access) based on disability or age. Although, like everything else, healthcare is subject to the problem of scarcity, principles exist for determining the appropriate allocation of medical resources, especially during a pandemic.

COVID-19 offers an opportunity to reflect on those principles and to consider how they apply in concrete circumstances to avoid discrimination. Those considerations underscore the importance of Catholic hospitals and Catholics, more generally, to witness to the broader community the best care practices that value human dignity and uphold the common good.

The problem of rationing

According to the Center for Public Integrity, 25 states have scarce resource policies and protocols for hospitals. These policies could potentially harm people because they may limit access to life-saving medical equipment such as ventilators.

States are using a patchwork of rationing protocols in hospitals: first come, first serve (first to the hospital gets treated); a lottery (random selection sidesteps triage); categorical exclusions (age, disability, pre-existing conditions place you at the back of the line); resource intensity (less care if your care drains resources); and fair-innings (if you’re “late in the baseball game,” your resources are allocated to someone younger). Depending on the level of scarcity and patient need, each protocol can lead to discrimination.

A recent Hastings Center essay noted that Minnesota’s “resource intensity” model permits prioritization based on expected or documented length of need, either in the initial decision to allocate a scarce medical resource or in a later decision to re-allocate the resource. Some might argue that this is appropriate because it does not imply an overt prejudice against people who are disabled. But, according to the author, this protocol can slide into less obvious forms of discrimination when categorical exclusions creep back in and inform an unspoken rationing policy.

Avoiding discrimination and bias

The problem of healthcare rationing reveals biases based on a medicalized view of disability and older age which can place less value on such lives compared with younger or able-bodied persons. Catholic bioethicist Charles Camosy has recently warned, “If rationing arrives, we must stand up unambiguously for the marginalized and vulnerable, the elderly and disabled, lest what Pope Francis has decried as the modern throwaway culture deems them expendable.” Resource scarcity shouldn’t be a driver that overtly devalues certain persons and the dignity of their lives.

Healthcare decisions must be made primarily on clinical factors such as the patient’s condition and his or her ability to respond to certain forms of treatment. Disability and age should not be used as categorical exclusions when deciding the allocation of scare resources like ventilators. Furthermore, if we ask caregivers to balance an individual patient’s “quality of life” possibilities against the medical needs of everyone else, there’s greater risk of bias and discrimination. To avoid this, the federal government should issue national triage protocols based on sound principles to make certain that care is allocated in a fair and equitable manner that doesn’t discriminate.

To prevent unjust discrimination, organizations such as the Catholic Health Association and National Catholic Bioethics Center have outlined sound principles for providers to address these challenges during a pandemic. And the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ensure Catholic hospitals follow appropriate principles and ethical norms.

Cautionary tale

Ultimately, COVID-19 hospital care is a cautionary tale for other issues. We should support a consistent ethic of life where care is based on the dignity of the human person and not their perceived “value” to others. Rationing often works against this idea in the same way as physician-assisted suicide (PAS), which has been justified on similar discriminatory grounds, that is, that life can be ended when it’s thought to no longer have meaning or purpose.

Just like with PAS, however, the current pandemic is a powerful reminder that we ought to more fully support better forms of care, such as palliative and hospice care. There is an urgency to create holistic care models that support the medical needs of all people.

Lynn Varco is a member of the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, an advocacy partner of the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The views represented here are solely the author’s own.

Deacon Kyle Eller: ‘Social distancing’ is taking a toll

When I was a kid, the Jetsons were still a popular cartoon, and while we still don’t have the flying cars of that futuristic vision, we did finally end up with video phones, for good or ill.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

There is no doubt technologies like that have come in very handy the last few weeks, as the COVID-19 pandemic has sent us into the isolation of our homes. I’ve had video calls with family and friends, video meetings with colleagues and for ministry, I’ve been involved in livestreamed Masses and have even livestreamed the Liturgy of the Hours from my prayer corner at home for parishioners.

I’m not sure if my coworkers fully appreciate the irony of the office Linux nerd encouraging everyone to get set up on Microsoft Teams so we can all virtually meet together.

But while there are things to be truly grateful for with this, and much to be commended in the way people, including our pastors, have taken the opportunities God in his providence has provided to maintain some kind of connection with people through technology, overall the experience has impressed on me how deeply inadequate it is at the level of human experience.

If the best connection you can make with your loved ones is through the screen of a tablet, you’ll do well to take it, of course. But it is really no substitute for being there.

Even for an introvert like me, who finds much of working from home enjoyable, there is a real poverty in such a radical shrinking of human interaction.

A world in which that is ordinary life and technology our primary form of interaction would be a less human world, even an anti-human one. We are by nature embodied and social, born into a web of relationships and made for communion. Nothing will feel quite right until it’s restored.

This is all the more true of our personal and communal relationship with God, the most fundamental relationship of all.

I was really grateful to hear Pope Francis address this directly in one of his recent homilies. He said that the “difficult situation that the Lord is allowing” with this pandemic is something we have to deal with, but that’s never the ideal of what the church is, and that the Catholic faith is always personal and communal and sacramental.

We’re not meant to watch Mass on a screen, and we should not get used to it.

On a purely human level, I was thinking about one of the coronavirus fears that has twisted my stomach at times: the thought of a loved one being gravely ill in the hospital and unable to see even the closest family members.

I have spent countless hours in hospital rooms and waiting rooms, and in adult life I have been at the death bed of three close relatives, a grandfather, a daughter, and my father. Each experience was different from the others and left its mark on me, but I was grateful for the opportunity, by my presence, to show them in their last moments that they were known and loved.

Again, if all you have for that is a screen, you go with the screen, of course, and thanks be to God that the opportunity exists. But as the norm? As an adequate substitution for being there? Not a chance.

I do not mean to argue with the steps that have been taken on a temporary basis to protect the public good. I’m not an expert on infectious disease or public health policy, and I’m genuinely grateful not to be tasked with making such hard choices. As best I can tell, the steps taken have been basically prudent ones, and in any case, I think it’s best to cut the people responsible for these decisions quite a bit of slack. God bless them and give them wisdom.

I know, too, that there remains a great deal of uncertainty, and that is likely to continue much longer than any of us would like.

But I’m troubled when I hear pundits talk about a “new normal” that is ever more electronic and isolated and physically separated. Even before the pandemic hit and “social distancing” became a household term, it was as clear as could be that such isolation is one of the major problems facing our society. It’s not good for us. I am morally certain that real human progress looks like just the opposite of this — that it involves more genuine human connection, not less — and further, that the longer this goes on, the more loudly every human heart will bear witness to that truth.

Perhaps that is one of the blessings the Lord means to bring to us out of this present suffering — a deeper appreciation for true human connection and communion.

When I was a kid, those video phones on the Jetsons seemed awesome, and they were a long time in coming. But now that it’s a commonplace part of everyday life? They begin to seem like something we can be grateful not to have to use.

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

Editorial: Easter is a season of hope for us

With unexpected force and suddenness, great change is upon us. Quicker than we could have imagined, deadly disease has spread, and with it fear. Vast portions of public life have been shuttered for weeks, millions of jobs have been lost. Even a walk past our neighborhood playgrounds, normally so happy and busy in the spring — now empty save big warning signs indicating their closure — signify why we are ill at ease.

And into the midst of this comes Easter, the season when we celebrate the conquering of death, the season when God turns apparent defeat into the greatest of victories, the time when he makes all things new, the season when, as Pope Francis said in his Easter Vigil homily, “we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope.”

Christian hope is not a naive optimism that some worldly solution to every problem is right around the corner. It is a confident trust in God even in the midst of a clear vision of the suffering we and those around us are enduring, a confident trust that God will bring good from everything and that no earthly trial can separate us from his love, from his promise of redemption and from the hope of heaven where all is made right.

Easter couldn’t come at a better time.

Clergy assignment

Effective March 31, 2020, Father James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator, made the following assignment:

Father Steven Daigle, from pastor of St. Mary, Deer River; St. Joseph, Ball Club; and St. Charles, Cass Lake, to retirement.

Why We Can’t Do Evil Even If Good May Come

There is a curious and intriguing passage in the third chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, which in the context of the missive seems almost tossed-off, but which has proven to be a cornerstone of Catholic moral theology for the past two thousand years. Responding to some of his critics, Paul says, “And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come?’ Their condemnation is deserved” (Rom. 3:8)! One might formulate Paul’s somewhat convoluted statement as follows: we should never do evil that good might come of it. There are indeed truly wicked people who seem to take delight in doing evil for its own sake. Aristotle called them vicious, or in extreme cases, “beast-like.” But most of us who do bad things typically can find a justification for our behavior through appealing to a good…


Father Richard George Oberstar, MSF, 90
Father Oberstar
Father Richard George Oberstar, MSF

Fortified with the sacraments of Holy Mother Church, Father Richard George Oberstar, MSF, entered eternal life on Holy Saturday, April 11, 2020.

He was born June 28, 1929 in Eveleth, Minnesota to Fred Oberstar and Angeline (Mooster) Oberstar. He had one brother and four sisters. Father Richard entered Holy Family Seminary in St. Louis in 1956. He entered the novitiate and made his first profession of vows on August 15, 1959. He was ordained to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ on April 3, 1965, at St. Louis Priory Church in St. Louis. Since his ordination, he served in: the missions in Mexico (Coahuila); the Dioceses of Brownsville, Texas (St. Cecilia Church in Los Fresnos and St. Joseph Church in Donna), Corpus Christi, Texas (Our Lady of Victory Church in Beeville), and Duluth, Minnesota (Holy Family Church in Hillman and St. Matthias Church in Fort Ripley); and the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas (Sacred Heart Church in Gonzales and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Braunfels).

Due to health issues, he moved to Heartwood Senior Living in Crosby, Minnesota. May he rest in peace! Contributions in memory of Father Richard are greatly appreciated. Please mail your gift to the Missionaries of the Holy Family at 3014 Oregon Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63118. Donations can also be received through the order’s website at

Father Gerald J. LaPatka, 92
Father LePatka
Father Gerald J. LePatka

Father Gerald J. LaPatka, 92, of Willmar and formerly of Duluth, passed away from this life peacefully on Saturday afternoon, April 18, at the Bethesda Grand Nursing Home in Willmar.

Mass of Christian Burial at the Church of St. Mary in Willmar will be held at a later date following the COVID-19 pandemic. Interment will be at Calvary Cemetery in Virginia. Memorials are preferred to the Catholic United Financial Foundation, c/o Msgr. Richard J. Schueler Seminarian Fund, 3499 Lexington Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55126-9989. Arrangements are with Peterson Brothers Funeral Home in Willmar.

Father Gerald John LaPatka was born on July 20, 1927, in Virginia, the son of Thomas and Mabel (Ridgewell) LaPatka. He grew up in Virginia and graduated from Roosevelt High School in Virginia. From 1945 to 1947, he served in the U.S. Army. Following his honorable discharge, he attended Mesabi Junior College and St. John’s University in Collegeville. He studied philosophy and theology at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul and did advanced study at the North American College in Rome. Father Gerald was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Duluth on June 2, 1956, by Bishop Thomas A. Welch at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Duluth.

His pastoral service to the Diocese of Duluth includes the parishes of St. Anthony in Ely; Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Cloquet; Good Shepherd in Duluth; St. Anthony in Duluth; St. Joseph in Beroun; Mission Lakewood in Duluth; St. Joseph in Gnesen; St. Casimir in Cloquet; Immaculate Conception in Cromwell-Wright; St. Alice in Pequot Lakes; St. Christopher in Nisswa; Our Lady of Lourdes in Pine River; Sacred Heart in Hackensack; St. Agnes in Walker; Sacred Heart Cathedral in Duluth; St. Mary in Silver Bay; Mission at Taconite Harbor; St. Martin in Tower; Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Buhl; St. Joseph in Chisholm; St. Benedict in Duluth, and St. Lawrence in Duluth.

Additional areas of service include as director of the Pontifical Association of the Holy Childhood; director of Propagation of the Faith; chaplain for Catholic girls at Bethel Home; religion teacher at Stanbrook Hall and Cathedral High School; episcopal vicar, senator-consultor; coordinator of chancery matters; Presbyteral Council; clergy member for Renew Core Team at the Pastoral Center; sisters confessor; dean of Duluth Deanery; charismatic liaison; assistant spiritual director of Cursillo; and spiritual director of Magnificat.

Father LaPatka was the assistant pastor at St. Anthony in Ely when the church and rectory were built in 1956. He retired from the Diocese of Duluth in 1998 and then served in pastoral care at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church in Mesa, Arizona, for over 15 years.

Father LaPatka enjoyed all types of music and art, traveling, and doing magic tricks.

He is survived by one brother, George (and Ann) LaPatka of Willmar; numerous nieces and nephews, besides other relatives and friends.

He was preceded in death by his parents and four brothers, James (in 1945 in Germany during World War II), Lawrence (in 1989), David (in 2003) and Thomas (in 2004).