Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Archbishop Carlson had strong sense of family growing up

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When Archbishop-elect Robert J. Carlson’s sister learned that he was being appointed as St. Louis’ next archbishop, several things immediately flashed through her mind.

While she’s never visited St. Louis, Cathy Percival of Bloomington, Minn., in a recent interview with the Review, seemed very much in tune with what’s going on in the Gateway City.

“I’m kind of the sports nut in the family, so I thought, ‘Oh yeah, St. Louis Cardinals,’” said the 60-year-old social worker. “There’s the Arch, and wasn’t the women’s (NCAA) Final Four just there?”

Of course, she also couldn’t forget some recent big news about one of St. Louis’ own: Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who was just installed as head of the Archdiocese of New York.

Now, Percival can add her brother’s new assignment to her ever-growing list of knowledge about St. Louis.

Asked what she wanted St. Louis to know about her brother, Percival said: “He’s a good person and a very hard worker. He has a ton of energy and he loves what he does — being a priest and a bishop. He’ll like learning from the people there. I know he’s excited.”

Early family life

Archbishop-elect Carlson was born June 30, 1944, in Minneapolis, to Robert Sr. and Jeanne Carlson, who are now both deceased. He is the oldest child and only boy in the family.

The archbishop-elect also has another sister, Patty Carlson, 57, who lives in Eden Prairie, Minn., and works for a law firm. Percival said her sister was on a trip to New Zealand during their brother’s announcement, and only recently learned the news via text message.

Robert and Jeanne Carlson, who were married 62 years, also had two other daughters, Penny and Barbara, who died of childhood illnesses. In fact, Jeanne had 13 pregnancies, most of which ended in miscarriage, the archbishop-elect said in a recent interview with Faith Saginaw, the quarterly magazine of the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich.

Robert worked many years as an insurance salesman for Prudential while Jeanne stayed at home and raised their children. During their childhood, Percival said the family moved quite a bit because of their father’s job. The family mainly stayed in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, although they moved to Chicago for a brief period.

The Carlsons spent most of their time in Annunciation Parish in Minneapolis, where Archbishop-elect Carlson celebrated his first Mass as a priest.

Robert and Jeanne raised their children to be church-going Catholics who were active in parish life, but “they weren’t the holier than thou type of people,” explained Percival. “They were very normal, too.”

A lasting memory of growing up in Minnesota is family life, Archbishop Carlson said.

“Our family was very, very close. My father travelled a great deal, so every Saturday night we could not go out. We could have our friends over. And we had a big dinner.”

A few things were required before those Saturday evening meals, he said. “You had to go to Confession and take a shower. And you had to be at the dinner table by 6.”

The family would watch a movie on TV, play Monopoly or another game or stage a play or carnival, he said.
Friends would be invited, but his parents would be a part of the activity.

Even when the children were in high school and the family nights became tougher to pull together, “we still had to be there for dinner,” Archbishop Carlson said. “My dad was adopted, and family was very important to him.”

On holidays, other relatives would be asked to come to their home, he said. At one time his family lived by a lake, and that was an attraction for the visitors, he said.

One memory involved the family dog, Duke, who ate a large amount of raw hamburger that was set out for a barbecue.

Archbishop Carlson recalled telling his mom that the dog was sick. “My mother said, ‘Good.’”

Duke was a lucky dog, though, because his mother refrained from acting on her impulses, the archbishop added with a smile.

Answering the call

Percival said she was quite young — probably an eighth-grader — when her brother announced he wanted to enter the seminary.

While the archbishop-elect told Faith Saginaw that his father somewhat hesitated at his decision at first, the family overall was supportive, said Percival.

“He played football at Cretin High School (a Christian Brothers high school in St. Paul) and dated. I don’t think anyone was expecting” that he would enter the priesthood, she said.

After spending one summer discerning a vocation with the Christian Brothers, Archbishop-elect Carlson changed his mind and entered St. Paul Seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1970 at the Cathedral of St. Paul for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

In 1983, at the age of 39, he was tapped to become an auxiliary bishop for his home archdiocese. He was consecrated on Jan. 11, 1984.

In 1994, Archbishop-elect Carlson was appointed coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., and the next year succeeded Bishop Paul Dudley as the seventh bishop of that diocese.

In December 2004, Pope John Paul II appointed him to the Diocese of Saginaw, where he has served since his installation on Feb. 24, 2005, at the Cathedral of Mary the Assumption.

Personal interests

When Archbishop-elect Carlson moves into the archbishop’s residence on Lindell Boulevard, it’s likely that visitors will get to meet his three labrador retrievers — Erin, Katie and Lizzie.

Percival said her brother’s dogs have always followed him whenever he’s moved to a new place.

“They’re very well trained,” she said. “They’ll even sneak into church now and then.”

In addition to growing up playing sports, the archbishop-elect also has an interest in the outdoors, said Percival, including a more recent hobby — pheasant hunting with his dogs.

Growing up, “he’d always go fishing with grandpa,” she said. “He’d go to Boy Scout camp in the woods. The rest of us had zero interest in that.”

Percival said that while he won’t readily admit it, her brother is “very down to earth and very generous. He’s always been that way.” Even with a busy schedule, the archbishop-elect has taken the time to baptize and marry his six nieces and nephews as well as three of their children.

He’s also a good cook, said Percival. “You name it, he can do it. He really likes people, so he has them over a lot to share a meal or have Mass.”

With any new job, “you want it to be a good match,” she said. “I thought, that’s going to be a good match for the people of St. Louis, and it’s going to be a good match for him, too.” St. Louis Review


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