Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sioux Falls Diocese Narrowing Options When it Comes to Reducing Parishes

The decision regarding how many priests should serve area parishes came one step closer to the end Tuesday night.

The Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls — which covers the eastern half of South Dakota — is facing a shortage of priests in the next decade, which puts some area parishes at risk of closing. A 10-member study group that has been looking for alternatives; the group settled on its three main options Tuesday night at a meeting at St. Leo Catholic Church in Tyndall.

“We’re going from six priests to four priests in this area some time in the future,” said Deacon John Devlin, who represented the diocese at the meeting. “It depends on some decisions by the bishop, and it depends on retirements and things like that — but the reality is, it’s going to happen.”

The first proposal calls for a priest from Dante to serve Tyndall and Springfield, with another priest serving Tabor, Scotland and Lesterville, and three priests serving Yankton, Mayfield and Sigel.

The second proposal calls for two priests in Yankton — one for St. Benedict and one for Sacred Heart — and two priests to serve a combination of Tabor, Tyndall, Springfield, Scotland, Lesterville, Sigel and Mayfield.

The third proposal calls for one priest to serve St. Benedict, two to serve at Sacred Heart (with one of them serving Scotland, Lesterville, Mayfield or Sigel) and one priest to serve Tyndall, Tabor, Springfield or Lesterville.

All three proposals specify that a parish in Idylwilde will be assigned to a group of churches in Lennox and Parker.

Ken Kocer of St. Wenceslaus in Tabor spoke in favor of the first proposal.

“I think it’s thinking out of the box, and it really serves the parishes in our area the best,” he said. “I think it’s the best way to serve our parishioners.”

Due to the number of parishes the priests would be serving under the proposals, Masses would have to be held on an alternating basis between communities.

This was not looked at favorably by some of the group members.

“I personally don’t like the idea of alternating Masses,” said Martin Sieverding of St. George in Scotland. “Would I want to go to Mass in Scotland one Sunday, and then have to go someplace else the next Sunday? After a period of time, how would I end up? Would I keep doing that, or would I go someplace else (to attend Mass)? And I’ve come to the conclusion I would go someplace else.”

Bernie Hunhoff of St. Agnes in Sigel said, “I think the saddest thing about this whole series of meetings ... is the way it’s kind of come down to what’s more important: the parish versus priests. And that’s a sad situation.”

The three proposals will be sent to Bishop Paul Swain of the Sioux Falls Diocese to be considered in his final decision.

A final meeting of the study group will be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 18 at St. John the Baptist Church in Lesterville.
Yankton Press & Dakotan

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Vespers and Vigil Mass, New Years Eve, 4:30, Sacred Heart, Robbinsdale

Celebration of First Vespers and Mass of Mary, Mother of God
at the
Church of the Sacred Heart
in Robbinsdale, MN.

Father Bryan Pedersen, Pastor and Cantor
Vespers will be chanted in English and Latin according to the order of the Liturgy of the Hours

  • What: First Vespers and Mass of Mary, Mother of God
  • When: Thursday, Dec. 31. Vespers at 4:30, Mass at 5:30.
  • Where: Church of the Sacred Heart, Robbinsdale, MN
Exit Hwy 100 at 42nd Ave. N, East to "downtown Robbinsdale" map

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pius XII's real wartime record

A recent papal decree moved Pope Pius XII, among others, closer to sainthood -- returning to the forefront the controversy over his role in World War II and the Holocaust.

Growing up Jewish in Queens, I never dreamt I would be defending the man I once believed to be a Nazi sympathizer and an anti-Semite. But my work since 2002 with my wife, Meredith, and the Pave the Way Foundation has led me to this point.

We founded Pave the Way to identify and eliminate nontheological obstacles between religions. Thus, despite our early prejudices, we decided to investigate the papacy of Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli), one of today's greatest sources of hurt between Jews and Catholics.

Pius XII: Unfairly tarred as Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite.
Pius XII: Unfairly tarred as Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite.

After years of research in documentary evidence and eyewitness testimony, what we found shocked us. We found nothing but praise and positive news articles concerning Pius' actions from every Jewish, Israeli and political leader of the era who lived through the war.

A few articles in the postwar era suggested that he should have done more to confront the Nazis -- but it wasn't until 1963, in the wake of the fictitious play "The Deputy" (written five years after Pius died), that accusations began flowing that he had failed to act, that he was a cold-hearted Nazi sympathizer who couldn't care less about the Jewish people.

The evidence strongly suggests this was part of a KGB-directed and -financed bid to smear Pius, a Soviet disinformation campaign meant to discredit the Catholic Church, which at that time was profoundly anti-Communist.

In any case, the facts simply don't match what so many have come to believe about Pius.

It is unquestionable that Pius XII intervened to save countless Jews at a time most nations -- even FDR's America -- refused to accept these refugees. He issued false baptismal papers and obtained visas for them to emigrate as "Non Aryan Catholic-Jews." He smuggled Jews into the Americas and Asia. He ordered the lifting of cloister for men and women to enter monasteries, convents and churches to hide 7,000 Jews of Rome in a single day.

Among the 5,000 pages of documents that Pave the Way has located, there is abundant evidence that Pacelli was a lifelong friend of the Jews. Some highlights:

* In 1917, at the request of World Zionist Organization Director Nachum Sokolow, Nuncio Pacelli intervened with the Germans to protect the Jews of Palestine from extermination by the Ottoman Turks.

* In 1925, Pacelli arranged for Sokolow to meet with Pope Benedict XV to discuss a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

* In 1930, Pacelli supported the German bishops' orders excommunicating anyone who joined "the Hitler Party."

* In 1938, Pacelli intervened to defeat a Polish anti-koshering law.

* In 1939, A.W. Klieforth, the US consul general based in Cologne, Germany, wrote a confidential letter to Washington reporting on the "extremeness" of Pacelli's hatred of National Socialism and of Hitler.

* In 1947, at the United Nations, he encouraged the 17 Catholic countries out of the 33 in favor to vote for the partitioning of Palestine to create the State of Israel.

* A 1948 deposition by Gen. Karl Wolff, the SS commandant for Italy, revealed the Nazis' wartime plan to kidnap the pope, kill countless cardinals and seize the Vatican.

But the personal tales may be more compelling. Pacelli's childhood best friend was Guido Mendes, an Orthodox Jewish boy. He tells how Pacelli shared Shabbat meals with him. Mendes taught him Hebrew, and Pacelli helped him to emigrate to Palestine in 1938.

Pius XII's detractors prefer to criticize rather than simply look at the evidence. Two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI ordered the opening of the Vatican's archives up to 1939, containing much evidence of Eugenio Pacelli's activities leading up to his papacy. According to the sign-in sheets, few of Pius' critics have bothered to come to the archives to view the material.

Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish historian, theologian and Israeli ambassador, stated that the actions and policies of Pius XII saved as many as 860,000 Jews.

Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, the chief rabbi of Palestine, the chief rabbi of Rome and the heads of every Jewish organization showered praise upon him during his lifetime.

Were all these witnesses who lived through the war misguided? New York Post

Gary L. Krupp is president of the Pave the Way Foundation, which has many of the documents noted here online at and which will soon publish a book with the main evidence in English, Hebrew, Spanish and French.

Prayer for the Cathedral of St. Paul

His Excellency, Bishop Lee Piche, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and Episcopal Vicar of the Cathedral of St. Paul, requests that the faithful join him in praying that hearts will be moved to support the restoration effort for the Cathedral of St. Paul.

Prayer for the Cathedral of St. Paul

Almighty God, through the intercession of Saint Paul, we ask you to assist us in the challenging task of retiring the debt on our Cathedral.

By your grace, inspire the hearts of the faithful to be generous in their support of our mother church.

May the Cathedral of Saint Paul remain for years to come a magnificent visible sign of our unity in the Catholic faith.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche, a community centered around people with mental disabilities that has now become a global movement.

The Wisdom of Tenderness
The Canadian philosopher and Catholic social innovator, Jean Vanier, founded a community centered around people with mental disabilities, L'Arche, that has now become a global movement. To many, he is simply one of the wise men in our world today — an icon of lived compassion. We speak about his understanding of humanity and God that has been shaped across a fascinating lifetime by the likes of Aristotle, Mother Teresa, and people who would once have been locked away from society. He has spent his life practically exploring the most basic, paradoxical teachings of Christianity — notions about power in humility, strength in weakness, and light in the darkness of human existence — that resonate as Christmas draws near.

{ This program was first released on December 20, 2007. }

A Physical Study in Paradox
I had wanted to interview Jean Vanier for many years, especially after we created an early program on L'Arche from our radio pilgrimage to the community in Clinton, Iowa. Even at 81, Vanier travels widely, though he says he is slowing down; it took years to make his rare visits to the U.S. and our production schedule converge.

I sat down with him early on a Sunday morning at a retreat center in rural Maryland where he was leading a weekend gathering for college students. A few of them came to meet us before he arrived for the interview, clearly energized by their encounter with Jean Vanier. But energized is really not a big enough word — "enraptured" is perhaps closer. They were visibly joyful after being in his presence, and poised to head back out to their futures in our gorgeous, confused, hurting world with a new sense of peacefulness and purpose.

Being in Jean Vanier's presence brings qualities like that together — peacefulness and purpose — that in our culture can seem at odds. There is something deeply countercultural about this man and the movement he has created. He never set out to change the world. He follows Gandhi's good advice, he tells me, that none of us can change the world; what we can change is ourselves. Vanier has always insisted that L'Arche communities are not a "solution" to the fact of disability in our world, and the human challenge of that, but a "sign" of another way forward.

The central countercultural message of L'Arche happens in the course of daily life in small communities. The suffering and "imperfect" bodies and minds of the "core members" of each community — people with mental and intellectual disabilities — are not treated as a problem to be solved. They are honored as a mystery of the human condition — the simple fact that some human beings have been and always will be born with brokenness that is physically rooted, visibly debilitating.

But Jean Vanier the philosopher and wise soul has long seen through the true challenge humanity faces before this mystery. He asks, "How do we stand before pain? Why are we frightened of people with disabilities?" After a lifetime steeped in these questions, he answers, it is because we all struggle so fiercely to subdue, deny, and hide the suffering and imperfections in ourselves. Core members at L'Arche are often transformed by the practical love and care they receive. But equally dramatically, the able-bodied, strong-minded individuals who come to share life with them quickly learn that they too are being healed, made whole.

The phrase we've taken as the title of this program — the wisdom of tenderness — came to me through Jean Vanier's words, but also through the lasting impression of being in his presence. Like the vision he's brought into the world, he seems a physical study in paradox. Even at 81, and well over six feet tall, he still has the distinguished, powerful bearing of the naval commander he was in his youth. He also radiates the intellectual intensity one would expect of the philosopher he later became, and he is manifestly energized and delighted when we briefly discuss Aristotle. Underpinning all of this, he exudes the tenderness of spirit that L'Arche communities embody in the most practical, ongoing way. I very much had the sense that I was sitting with a great teacher — of life, not just of thought.

And though this is not a Christmas program per se, Jean Vanier is, as he says, a lifelong "friend of Jesus." The spirituality at the heart of his life and his vision puts the contradictions of this season in Western culture in stark relief. We've taken the story of the birth of Jesus as a baby — an ultimate moment of human frailty — and overwhelmed it with frenzy and consumption. Jean Vanier's tenderness is not a condemnation of this, but it does provide an open-hearted contrast — not a solution, but a sign.

Becoming Human by Jean Vanier
I Recommend Reading:
Becoming Human
by Jean Vanier

Becoming Human is one of Jean Vanier's most beloved books, providing insight into his theology, anthropology, and spirit. And, The Heart of L'Arche (out of print but available used) is his lovely, slim history and introduction to L'Arche.
Speaking of Faith, American Public Media, Krista Tippett

'We Gotta Bingo!' opens Jan. 8 in Minneapolis

“We Gotta Bingo!,” the Actors Theater of Minnesota’s wildly popular and hilariously interactive dinner theater experience is moving across the river for a Minneapolis run Jan. 8-31, at Hennepin Stages, 824 Hennepin Ave.

Centered around the reluctant merger of two small and feuding Catholic parishes — one Irish, one Italian — “We Gotta Bingo!” invites audiences to join in a raucous bingo fundraiser set in Der German Brew Ha Ha, a beer hall.

During the rollicking evening, the audience is transformed into bingo-playing, Irish or Italian parishioners (complete with requisite jokes) competing for cheesy prizes.

Time out is taken for polka dancing led by the Voekal Chords, a three piece band showcasing accordionist Nancy Lovegrin Lewandoski who can fire off “Beer Barrel Polka” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya” with equal aplomb.

Dinner features hors d’oeuvres, lasagna and desert, plus Helmut Voekel’s fully-stocked bar including beer. If the two factions succeed in raising money to support their expanded congregation, the diocese will even provide matching funds.

Bucky Fuller is the cocktail-swilling ladies man emcee and Mary Ed Sullivan navigates the crowd in her tricked-out, motorized bingo-mobile wheelchair.

The proudly dysfunctional Dimini family with Rudy, Rosa and Jeremy Dimini, who is also the youth choir director, keeps the volume up while Irish Father Duncan holds the roof down.

Hennepin Stages is known for its intimate, off-Broadway shows and audience-friendly productions. Current and upcoming shows are “A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol” running through Jan. 1, and the outrageously trashy “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” set for Feb. 9-28.

Show times are 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday (no 8:30 shows Jan. 9 or 16); and 5 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets for dinner and the show, range from $49.50 to $69.50. Tickets may be purchased in person at the State Theatre Box Office, 805 Hennepin Ave., online at, through Ticketmaster by calling 1-800-982-2787 or visiting a Ticketmaster Ticket Center. Groups of 10 or more should call 612-373-5665 for information and reservations. Mason City Globe-Gazette, would you believe

Cincinnati's Archbishop Dennis Schnurr tackles sex abuse, lapsed faithful

The new leader of the Cincinnati Archdiocese says he believes a return to the church can help heal spiritual wounds suffered by clergy abuse victims and help non-practicing Catholics better understand their faith and purpose in life.

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr took over this week as leader of the 19-county archdiocese of nearly a half-million Roman Catholics - one where a $3 million fund was set up in 2003 to settle sex abuse claims. The now-retired Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk established the fund after entering a no-contest plea on the archdiocese's behalf to charges that officials failed to report abuse of minors to authorities.

Schnurr told The Associated Press, commenting on issues facing the church and the archdiocese, that he realizes the hurdles involved in reconnecting with Catholics who have pulled away from the church - for whatever reason - and knows those hurdles are especially high with clergy abuse victims.

"These are deep wounds, and any deep wound takes a lot of time," Schnurr said.

The 61-year-old archbishop said church leaders have established new policies around the country to prevent abuse and are working on a study to determine its causes.

"If we can zero in on the causes of this, then we can even go further in putting together the safeguards that we need in order to better ensure that this will never happen again," Schnurr said.

The Iowa native said he talked with victims in Duluth, Minn., where he was bishop from 2001 to 2008, and apologized to them on the church's behalf.

"It's difficult for them to return to an environment where they felt they were safe and secure and in a place where they were going to be nurtured spiritually," Schnurr said. "I would invite them to consider coming back to the church because we believe that the sacraments are the place for real healing."

Schnurr said there is a need to reach out to all non-practicing Catholics as studies and pastors indicate fewer people attend Mass on a regular basis. He attributed that to various causes but said the church didn't always have a good religious education program.

"We haven't helped our people understand adequately the teachings of Christ and the sacramental life of the church that Christ has given to us and how that is important in our lives," Schnurr said.

Schnurr said he will continue to urge more church involvement from all Catholics in dealing with challenges, including the priest shortage and tight finances.

A priority for the new archbishop, who tripled the number of seminary students in Duluth, is to recruit more priests in an area where they have dropped from about 900 in the 1980s to 482. Schnurr traveled about 22,000 miles throughout the archdiocese the past year and said many of those trips involved talking with young men about the priesthood.

Some lay Catholics and others suggest that allowing priests to marry would increase the priesthood ranks. Schnurr said priest celibacy is a church discipline that could be changed because it is part of man-made cannon law.

"Do I think it's going to change? No," he said.

"Based on my life as a priest, if I tried to do both priesthood and married life, I would probably be a lousy priest and a miserable husband or father," he said with a laugh. "There just isn't time."

The archbishop also talked of new approaches to fundraising through more transparency.

"The more information we give our people on how the money is being managed, the more confidence they have," Schnurr said.

He said reports of money being misappropriated at some parish and diocesan levels around the country are disheartening. He said he advocates transparency along with good money management and accounting practices.

Schnurr said more involvement by lay people and everyone in the church is a key to success for the church and the archdiocese.

"I am very optimistic about what can happen in the church today," he said. Marion (Ohio) Star

How Guest House saved my life, by "Father Bill"; The Story of the founder of the Guest House and Hazelden Treatment Centers


In 1956, Austin Ripley, a Catholic layman and recovered alcoholic, founded Guest House to treat Catholic clergy and Religious suffering from alcoholism. Since then, it has been the means for more than 7,300 priests, Brothers, Sisters, deacons, and seminarians to be released from the ordeal of active alcoholism and drug dependency. Today, many of these men and women lead sober and productive lives. Dan Kidd, president and CEO of Guest House, quotes one participant: “Guest House made me the priest I always wanted to be.”

The National Council of Alcoholism and Related Drug Problems is now an affiliated program/service of Guest House. For more information on Guest House, visit or call 800-626-6910.

“You’re not going to live six months,” the doctor told me. The sad thing was, I didn’t care. The year was 1974, and I was an alcoholic in denial.

I can’t claim I didn’t know what alcohol could do to a person, especially one with a family history of it, which was the case with me: All but one of my uncles died of alcoholism, and my father had warned me and my siblings about the dangers of drink. Ironically, I was ministering to alcoholic priests when my addiction began in earnest. In January of 1963, six months after my ordination, my bishop asked me to take care of a priest who’d been an active alcoholic for years. When I arrived at the parish, things were in complete disarray. The mail lay in piles on the floor. Bills had not been paid. The electric company and the gas company were threatening to shut off the power and heat. This was my first glimpse of what alcoholism could do to a priest. It wasn’t my last.

Over the years it began to get to me, and a daily pattern developed. When I’d come home from my high school teaching job, I would sit down with the priest I was ministering with at the time, who was an alcoholic. I would share the news of my day over a drink with him: a little whisky, a little scotch, maybe a beer on a hot day. I was seeing a good Catholic psychiatrist for depression, but in the end, the alcohol won. Alcohol worked better than any therapy or antidepressant my doctor prescribed. It eased my anxiety and gave me comfort. When I was drinking, I felt good. But my life was going down the drain.

In 1969, after drinking and taking sedatives, I nearly died in a car accident on the way home from my parents’ house. I passed out on the drive and later awoke to the sight of police, people pulling me out of my totaled car, a crowd of horrified onlookers. I had fractured teeth, a concussion, lacerations in my head, cracked vertebrae. But in the depths of my addiction, I refused to make a connection between my drinking and the accident. In my mind, I didn’t even have a drinking problem. I got a friend to smuggle alcohol into the hospital for me so I could drink while I was recovering.

After that, things got worse. My stomach was shot. I lost control of my bowels. My body was a mess. My parents confronted me every chance they got. “Can’t you see what the alcohol is doing to your life?” they’d say. Friends and superiors confronted me too. But I wouldn’t listen.

When I bottomed out in Christmas of 1974, I was consuming three packs of cigarettes and a quart of whisky a day. I had walking pneumonia, strep, and bronchitis. The doctor had to give me antibiotics, but they wouldn’t do a thing because I wasn’t eating properly. “I can’t do anything for you anymore,” my doctor told me finally. “You’re going to die.” But I was in a state of despair. I didn’t care what happened.

he turning point came in May of 1975, when my bishop forced me to act. “Bill, you’ve got to deal with this,” he said. “You told me you were going to deal with it. You’re not. I want you to go to treatment. If you don’t, you’re finished. You can’t function anymore.” He told me he was sending me to Guest House, a treatment center for clergy and Religious.

I was terribly hurt and resentful, even outraged. I was also a little indignant — my bishop drank a fair bit himself. But he was firm.

“You have to go,” he said. “I’ve set it up for you. You have to go tomorrow.”

Reluctantly, I agreed. But when he left, I was very angry. I went to see my spiritual director, a fellow priest. “Bill,” he said, “what harm can it do for you to go up there and be evaluated?”

On the drive back to my rectory, I passed the cemetery where my mother, who had died in 1971, was buried. It was a warm, humid day in June, but there was a slight breeze, and it seemed to carry a grace to me. I thought of the work I was doing at the time, educating developmentally disabled people. I was urging them to exert themselves to do the simplest chores like putting on a shirt or clothes, or wear a helmet so if they had convulsions they wouldn’t fall down and hurt themselves. If I can ask them to do all these things, I thought, why can’t I do what the bishop asked me? And so I finally surrendered to it, and grace began to come into my life. The war was over. Now I had to deal with the damage and find a way to rebuild.

It wasn’t going to be easy. A lot of difficult steps lay ahead, the first of which was to explain to the people I worked with what was going on. At the time I was pastor of a small parish. I was also directing diocesan programs for the developmentally disabled as well as a program for the elderly. On that very day, June 11, I went to the place where I was ministering these programs and told the staff that I was probably an alcoholic, since I was being sent for evaluation. The staff all congratulated me for going along with the bishop. While I was gone, the bishop’s office would arrange for people to come and help with the work I was doing. They wanted me to focus on my health.

The next day, on June 12, 1975, a priest classmate of mine took me to Guest House for treatment. We made a stop on the way to get me my last drink so I wouldn’t go into a shaky delirium. But it was only putting off the inevitable. I was in the hospital the next morning, fevered and shaky. Catholic Digest - end of part one

Guest House had put me in the hospital to make sure I was detoxing properly. I also had to be treated for pneumonia and bronchitis. But once I had made up my mind that I was an alcoholic, the following day I actually had no desire to take a drink. That was a great grace; not everyone is that lucky.

There are no shortcuts to treatment for alcoholism. You just have to work with nature and pray for some kind of recovery. I was in treatment from June until September, during which time I received a lot of encouragement, especially from the sober priest from Chicago who was appointed my “guardian angel” for eight weeks and visited me during my time in the hospital. The more I surrendered to the process, the more peace came into my body and mind. Everyone at Guest House was so respectful and loving and kind that I began to relax and understand how sick I was.

Every priest, Brother, or nun who goes through Guest House programs — including me — becomes an expert on alcoholism and addiction. At the same time that I was learning, I was attending AA meetings where I would learn strength and hope from other people’s experiences. I’d learn how to deal with it a day at a time by not taking that first drink, by going to my meetings, by getting a sponsor, by doing what I was told.

I learned to follow that routine on a daily basis. I would eat properly, go to AA meetings, see my doctor, keep my appointments, interact with the other priests in treatment, and learn to get to my true feelings. I still had a certain amount of shame and remorse. Guest House has helped me to deal with that through group sessions. I’d often been told that alcoholics were bad people, but at Guest House, I learned that I wasn’t a bad person; I was a sick person trying to get well. A big turning point came when I received the Anointing of the Sick through a Guest House program. I felt that God was working with me, not against me; that God wasn’t going to judge me. I just had to focus on getting well and staying well one day at a time by living the principles of the program. Over time, I began to live a healthy emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual life.

That takes time, though, and I ended up needing more treatment than I’d thought. I went back to my diocese in early September, but they put me in the chancery, which was a mistake. I’m not a chancery person. I went into a depression again, so I returned to Guest House in late February and stayed until June of 1976. After that, my diocese sent me to a wonderful parish with a pastor who understood alcoholism and was very supportive and understanding. I was able to get my head on straight, develop a routine in my priestly life, and then take my recovery one day at a time.

My last drink was on June 12, 1975. I’m now in my 35th year of sobriety. Over the years since my time at Guest House I’ve been giving back through my involvement with the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism and Related Drug Problems (Guest House has a policy that each person who finishes its program receives a membership). I went to my first NCCA conference in 1977, and it just blew me away. They were talking about developing policies to intervene for alcoholic priests. When I came back to my diocese, my bishop said, “Bill, do what you can to establish a health care policy to help other priests who are sick.” After eight years of evaluation and study, we established a health committee. I was really determined to help.

My involvement with NCCA has been one of the great joys of my life. In 1985, I was working at a sabbatical program in Rome and was asked by Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini to give a talk at the first conference of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, established that same year by Pope John Paul II. Mother Teresa was sitting right in front of me, which made me more nervous. But when I finished my testimonial she thanked me for my talk; I was thrilled to death. Cardinal Angelini invited me to tell my story again at the Vatican in 1991 and I was introduced to Pope John Paul II. In that same year I became certified for substance abuse counseling and have maintained my certification ever since.

We take it for granted in this day and age that an alcoholic can live a sober life, but for years, many people didn’t think that was possible. That’s what AA has done for our country. I’ve lived without a drink for 34 years. That’s a long time for an alcoholic to go without a drink. That’s a miracle. And it’s not just me: Through Guest House, through the NCCA, we’ve restored so many priests to service. It’s a very great privilege to be part of that.

Today, I’m a retired priest. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about six years ago, and it has been much less stressful to simply deal with the spiritual aspect of being a pastor (Mass, Confession, etc.), than to deal with the administrative responsibilities of the role. I also give a lot of serenity retreats to recovering alcoholics. I’m 73 and Parkinson’s is progressing my age, so it’s getting a little harder for me to get around. But I’m a joyful person despite my struggles. I get by with a little help from my friends, as the Beatles say. It helps to live closer to my family, who are thrilled about my sobriety, and my doctor.

My faith helps keep me going. Along with a sense of humor. A lot of people don’t understand how alcoholics can laugh about their sickness. They think, How can they laugh about getting drunk? This is serious. But at AA, we all know that. The point is that the alcoholic has survived. When I went to Guest House, I was in an advanced stage of alcoholism, a sickness that had progressed over a period of 10 years. Alcoholism was taking my life, but with the help of Guest House, I took it back. Catholic Digest - end of part two


Nothing mysterious about author's mission[but it doesn't seem to be that well known in Minnesota]

This month’s issue of the Catholic Digest, a publication of the Roman Catholic Church, features an article “How Guest House saved my life,” by Father Bill, a priest of that faith whose life had been trapped by his addiction to alcohol. He tells of ministering with another priest who had been an active alcoholic for years, and in the process became addicted himself.

He found himself “consuming three packs of cigarettes and a quart of whiskey a day.” After 10 years of this addiction, his bishop sent him to Guest House, a treatment center for Roman Catholic clergy that had been founded by an recovering alcoholic, Austin Ripley, a devout layman and parishioner of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Menomonie.

Guest House, still going strong, was the a project conceived and established by mystery writer, Austin Ripley, a recovered alcoholic who came to Wisconsin in the early 1930s and settled in Dunn County in a home overlooking upper Tainter Lake.

Mystery writer

It was there he wrote what he called “Minute Mysteries,” featuring Professor Fordney. The series found its way not only in more than 100 newspapers, but also in school classrooms where English teachers found that the short little mysteries aided “ inferential thinking and reading for details... and productive to start each day ...with a minute mystery that the class tries to solve.”

Ripley also conceived a new feature, “Photo Crime,” starring detective Hannibal Cobb who solved hundreds of cases based on one or more photographs combined with a few sparse paragraphs that held the clues for the readers of Look Magazine to solve in every issue. One memorable story was set in Menom-onie, and there were others with apparent local ties.

That was the way he made his living, but as a recovering alcoholic, he felt he must help others with the addiction he had fought for most of his life. In 1947, five years after he stopped drinking, he founded Hazelden, a treatment center in Minnesota specifically for alcoholic Roman Catholic priests.

Two years later, other key supporters decided that the patient base should be incorporated “ a sanatorium for curable alcoholics of the professional class.” Today there are Hazelden units located in several states, and in London, England, and it is still growing and open to all faiths.

New beginning

Although Ripley was rightly proud about his successful launch of Hazelden, it appears that he felt that opening the facility to the “professional class” did not fulfill his vision of what would be best for the reclamation of alcoholic clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Four years later, in 1951, he found an answer in establishing a retreat that he called “Guest House” in nearby Chippewa Falls, dedicated to the treatment of Roman Catholic priests, deacons, brothers ad seminarians to, as he put it, “save the individual; save the vocation.” It was a new beginning.

It wasn’t long before the new facility in Chippewa Falls became inadequate to the needs. Ripley found that newspaper magnate William Scripps’ mansion in Lake Orion, Mich., valued at moe than $2 million, was available for a mere $185.000.

Ripley came up with part of the money to buy the estate, and the Archdiocese of Detroit paid the balance. Ripley’s Guest House had found a new home.

Today, the Michigan-based Guest House has an annual budget of more than $7 million and operates two major licensed and accredited treatment centers — Lake Orion and another in Rochester, Minn. Services of the Guest House now involve cooperative ventures with Roman Catholic centers in Downingtown, Pa., and in Mangalore, India.

Austin Ripley’s original concept remains “devoted to caring for Roman Catholic priests, deacons, brothers, seminarians, [and since, 1994, women religious], suffering from alcoholism, chemical dependencies, and other addictions involving food and gambling It has been estimated by one source that more than 9,000 priests, male religious, and women religious have passed through the doors of Guest House, with a nearly 75 percent success in recovery. This has been great achievement for a mystery writer, a recovering alcoholic himself, who succeeded in his own pursuit of healing.

Snap assignment

During the early 1940s, I worked Sunday afternoons at Lee’s Drug Store. Mr. Ripley always stopped in after church to buy a newspaper, and he always had time to visit. He was a tall gentleman, always impeccably dressed, and I valued his friendship.

After I returned from WWII, I enrolled in journalism at UW-Madison. On one occasion, to test our ability to write under fire, we were assigned to interview a “famous” person visiting Madison. It was a snap assignment for me — Ripley happened to be in town that week and granted me an interview.

My instructor was very pleased and a little surprised that I was able to interview Ripley. Dunn County (Wisc.) News

Pew Research Poll Maps Religion in America

According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center, Mississippi is the most religious state in the country, while Vermont and New Hampshire are tied for most godless. The poll is based off a 2007 survey that asked Americans about "the importance of religion in people's lives, frequency of attendance at worship services, frequency of prayer and absolute certainty of belief in God." Mississippi ranked highest in all of these categories, averaging at 82 percent religious, followed by Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. On the other end of the spectrum, Vermont, 36 percent, was joined by Alaska, Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut. 56 percent of people nationally self-identify as religious.

Read original story in The New York Times Economix Blog | Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009

Clever people have surveyed the nation and come up with a ranking of the most religious states in America. You will be incredibly unsurprised, and probably feel smug when you see it.

Via the New York Times Economix blog, the Pew Research Center polled people, back in 2007, on:

...the importance of religion in people's lives, frequency of attendance at worship services, frequency of prayer and absolute certainty of belief in God.

The national average, for percentage of people who were religious under those measures, was 56 per cent. The top ten were:

Mississippi (82%)
Alabama (74%)
Arkansas (74%)
Louisiana (73%)
Tennessee (72%)
South Carolina (70%)
Oklahoma (69%)
North Carolina (69%)
Georgia (68%)
Kentucky (67%)

And the bottom ten (note: states with too small a sample size are combined):

New Hampshire/Vermont (36%)
Alaska (37%)
Massachusetts (40%)
Maine (42%)
Connecticut/Rhode Island (44%)
Colorado (44%)
Oregon (46%)
New York (46%)
Montana/Wyoming (47%)
Wisconsin (47%)

Our intrepid statistics expert, Dr. Gabriel Snyder, has correlated the religious-ness rankings with the state happiness rankings from earlier this week on the following chart. Longer bars mean a higher ranking for the state. His analysis: there is no correlation. So get out there and be heathen-ous!

Click on Image for sharper definition

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Survey Results: Affiliation

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Survey Results: Portraits

Survey Results: Comparisons

Survey Results: Full Report/Key Findings

Pew Research study shows South Dakota ranks in middle of U.S. states in attitudes, participation

An overwhelming majority of South Dakotans say they believe in God, but only about half of the state's residents say religion is very important in their lives, and a smaller portion than that attend services each week, according to a new survey examining religion.

The degree to which South Dakotans are religious ranks the state firmly in the middle of the pack compared to other states, according to findings by the Pew Research Center.

Mississippi, followed by several other Southern states, was tops in religious fervor, according to the survey, which asked questions about worship attendance, frequency of prayer, belief in God and religion's importance in one's life.

Some clergy in Sioux Falls said they would have expected South Dakota's ranking to be higher.

"Particularly in terms of volunteerism," said Father James Mason, pastor at St. Lambert's Parish. "When I had a rural parish, if I thought out loud, it got done. There was no one on staff; everyone just did the work."

Pastor Paul Stjernholm, senior pastor at Peace Lutheran Church, said he thinks the actions of people in South Dakota demonstrate their faith.

"When I look at what I'll call the quality of life that we have here in South Dakota, that is possible because there are people who are, though they might not be going to church every week, they are choosing to live their faith."

The Pew study shows that no state has worship attendance higher than 60 percent.

In Catholicism, Mason said, there is a strong emphasis on practice and the communal aspect of religion, which is atrophying across the country, not just here.

"We live in an individualistic society," Mason said, "People can believe in God and never practice the faith. We have lost the importance of community and the communal aspect that is essential. Catholic means universal, the coming together to celebrate the Eucharist."

He added: "I would say the most popular religion is 'me-ism,' where you can take a little bit of everything."

The other states at the top of the list in terms of how important religion ranks in the lives of citizens are Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and South Carolina, where at least seven in 10 people say religion is a big part of their lives.

At the other end of the spectrum, with populations professing the least importance of religion, are several Northeastern states - Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont - as well as Alaska. Fewer than four in 10 people in these states say religion is very important to them.

For South Dakotans, about 56 percent say religion is a big part of their lives, which also is the national average.

South Dakota's strongest showing in the survey results comes in the number of people who say they believe in God: 79 percent.

"That would be my observation," Stjernholm said. "Even people who haven't been in church five years or more, they still have a belief in God."

South Dakota falls slightly below the national average in fervor for prayer, with 58 percent of the population saying they pray at least once a day.

The portion of South Dakotans who attend weekly worship services is 42 percent, but the state with the highest attendance, Mississippi, has only 60 percent.

"This next generation of adults that is coming into its own, their entry place is not the worship services, the traditional entry point," Stjernholm said. "Their entry point is through being involved with the members of the church in activities outside of the church - service, or service projects or social activities."

That sort of religious participation was not addressed in this survey.

Building relationships with those involved in fellowship or study, Stjernholm said, then develops interest in the more traditional settings.

"Worship is the end of the process, not the beginning."
Sioux Falls Argus Leader

Priests from southern India and the Caribbean island of Grenada spread the ‘Good News’ of God in much, much cooler rural Minnesota's Winona Diocese

Effective Jan. 6, 2010, Fathers Mark McNea and Leo Charles Koppala will begin a new chapter in their faith journeys as Catholic priests.

Father McNea’s new assignment will take him east where he will serve 854 households, in addition to the parochial school, in the Wells, Easton and Minnesota Lake parishes.

Father Koppala, a native of South India, who most recently served at Rochester’s Church of Resurrection, will fill the Blue Earth and Winnebago post vacated by Father McNea.

For the two men, it is an opportunity to meet new people while also spreading the ‘Good News’ of the Lord.

“There is no difference between India and the USA on Catholicism,” says Father Kappala, or Father Leo as he likes to be called. “The Roman Catholic Church is a universal church where the celebration of the sacraments here and there is the same.”

He says India’s culture, caste system, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment and general status of the country cause the only difference he sees in the church.One of seven children born to a poor family in T.N. South India, Father Leo says his father found it difficult to educate his children, so he sent two of his sons and one daughter to a boarding school and seminary where their lives were dedicated to God.

As a result of their background, he and his brother entered into the priesthood where they dedicated their lives to educating the poor and orphaned children in India. His sister, Sr. Hilda Mary, is serving in a school educating children.

Father Leo holds a Masters Degree in classical music from Bharathidasan University and a diploma in Roman liturgy from Bangalore.

Ordained on April 29, 1994 at the Diocese of Nellore, A.P. South India, Father Leo served in his native country as the co-director at the Regional Catechist Training Centre; served as co-pastor at Our Lady Shrine; pastor at the Leprosy Centre; spiritual director at Sagar Sangam Ashram; director of Gypsy Children and pastor at Duvvur parish.

Additional responsibilities Father Leo assumed in India included teaching catechism and evangelization; caring for lepers; serving as the music director, as well as teaching the liturgy and music at St. John’s Seminary. When he arrived in the U.S. on Sept. 29, 2008, he served as the parochial vicar at Resurrection Church in Rochester.

In his spare time, he says he enjoys gardening, reading, teaching, music listening, painting, playing musical instruments, doing electrical and electronic repair work in addition to working on the computer and solving puzzles in mathematics. He also enjoys football, basketball, chess and caroms.

Since his arrival in Blue Earth on October 16, Father Leo has been mentored by Father McNea. He has been introduced to the workings of and the people who comprise the parishes of Blue Earth’s St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church and St. Mary’s in Winnebago.

He says many priests from India are serving in the U.S. In fact, he is the 30th priest from his diocese to serve outside of India. Not only are his fellow priests in India serving in the various states here, but also in the countries of England, Germany, Australia and in Rome.

Father Leo says priests come from India to serve as a missionary. It is also a way for them to support their own dioceses comprised of the very poor. Many of the missionary priests, such as himself, send money to the Indian parishes.

Unlike here, where there is a shortage of Catholic priests, Father Leo says there is an excess of priests in India, but a shortage of Catholics.

“India is 80 percent Hindu and only a minority of the people are Christians,” he explains.

He says priests come here by agreement to spread and live ‘Good News’ of the Lord and to become an instrument of Christ’s peace.

Already Father Leo has noted how the churches in the states are run by the parishes instead of the diocese.

“In India, we cannot expect money from the families and there is no weekly or monthly contribution by the people,” he explains. “Most of the parishes don’t have councils or leaders. The priest is the only leader in a village and the people depend on him spiritually, medically and materially.”

He says the churches in India are formatted as more missionary in style.

The sermons in India are longer than here, he says, since many people cannot read. As a result, they are used as a teaching tool for the people to better understand Christianity.

“When I first saw the homes in the states,” says Father Leo, “I said to myself, ‘the Almighty God loved and blessed the Americans!’”

Father Leo says the children here should be grateful to God and to their parents for all they have in comparison to the children in India.

Father’s main goal while serving the parishes here is to bring people closer to the altar by preaching the Gospel.

“The Gospel of the Kingdom of God is serving (sacrifice) and sharing (charitable),” says Father Leo.

Father McNea agrees saying, “preaching the Gospel is the bottom line.”

These are certainly appropriate words to be uttered by the Granada native who earned a degree in business from Minnesota State University-Mankato before entering the priesthood.

Even though Father McNea says he was baptized and raised as a Catholic, he also grew up attending the Congregational Church in Granada.

He says he always thought of himself as a Catholic, but never thought he would become a priest.

But this was the direction he would eventually take.

“I remember when I was in the fifth grade the teacher asked us to draw a picture of ourselves as we thought we might look in the future,” says Father McNea. “I drew myself wearing the clothing of a priest. That career idea lasted about two weeks. I didn’t think of it again until I was about to graduate from college and was visiting the Newman Center in Mankato.”

Father McNea says the priest at the Newman Center told him he should think and pray about entering the priesthood instead of going into the business field.

“That Christmas break the idea kept bouncing about in my head,” says Father McNea.

In February, just before he was to graduate during Spring quarter, he and three others went to Winona to investigate what becoming a priest would involve.

“There was something inside of me calling...God is calling me,” says Father McNea.

He registered for the fall term and spent the next years studying at Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) which is connected to St. Mary’s University in Winona. He then attended St. John’s Seminary in Boston, Mass. for his theology studies.

Ordained in 1989, Father Mark McNea says pastors get appointed for a period of six years. They are assigned by the Bishop. After six years, there is an option that can be worked out for a priest to remain in the same parish for another six years. Father McNea has not used this option and as a result has served parishes spanning the bottom two tiers of Minnesota counties from the Mississippi River to the South Dakota border. He served in Slayton, Iona, Lake Wilson, Rochester, Albert Lea, Winona, and Worthington before coming to Blue Earth on Nov. 26, 2004.

Father McNea says the biggest changes he has seen within the church are the decrease in the number of priests and in those attending church. But on the positive side, he says he has seen the faith life of those people who do attend, really grow.

When he has not been serving the spiritual needs of the approximate 500 households he ministers to, Father McNea enjoys reading and listening or singing to music.

“I think it is really unique I am only moving 20 miles away,” says Father McNea. “I will still have some Blue Earth and Winnebago connections.”

As January 6, 2010 approaches, Father McNea and Father Leo are ready to continue their faith journeys. Faribault County Register

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bird Island priest's Italian Nativity scene grows into a biblical metropolis

Each figure in the Rev. George Schmit’s Fontanini Nativity set stands only 5 inches tall, but his entire collection is no little town of Bethlehem.

His Fontanini Nativity set collection began as a simple creche handed down to the Bird Island priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church nearly 20 years ago from a parishioner at his former parish in New Ulm, Minn.

Today, Schmit’s set has grown into a miniature biblical metropolis on display in his basement, complete with hundreds of figurines, structures, flora and fauna.

Fontanini Nativity sets have graced mantels in homes for more than 100 years. Handcrafted in Italy, Nativity scenes from the family-owned Fontanini Co. are internationally recognized. Each of the hundreds of figurines in the collection contains a name and a historically accurate story, included inside each collector box. Today, there are more than 600 pieces in the Fontanini set.

Schmit is well on his way to acquiring the entire collection, though the miniature world of Fontanini was unknown to Schmit until he discovered several more pieces to the collection tucked away at a gift shop in St. Cloud.

“I wasn’t aware that an entire village existed beyond my Nativity scene,” Schmit said.

Schmit purchased the marked-down pieces to the collection at the gift shop after Christmas. His Nativity grew that day to include a poultry shop, bakery, pottery shop and an inn. Schmit’s passion was ignited with this first purchase of collectible pieces.

“I figured since I’m buying these, I’m buying every darn piece,” Schmit said.

And he wasn’t kidding. Schmit’s collection expanded with each purchase of the hand-painted figurines.

Nearly 112 figurines and more than 23 structures later, the Fontanini collection spans the length of three tabletops in Schmit’s basement.

Each year, Schmit picks up several more pieces to the collection. His collection has grown so large that he can no longer determine which pieces he already owns without the aid of his note card, which contains an alphabetized list of the hundreds of pieces he already owns.

Every element of the collection, from the palm trees peppered throughout the village to chickens pecking around the chicken coop, is a Fontanini collector item. The collection is displayed year-round, as the set itself took years to complete.

The Holy Family, along with the hundreds of other characters in Schmit’s collection, have taken permanent residency in the set Schmit constructed himself. Schmit constructed the base of the set using insulation which he sculpts and paints dark brown to give the entire set an authentic feel. Hamster bedding is used to replicate terra firma for the miniature Bethlehem.

Schmit’s time invested in his village is not spent on just himself; he opens his basement around Christmas each year for children in his congregation to view the village.

Though he is careful to include only Fontanini items in the village, there are certain pieces of the collection he refuses to purchase: soldiers, angels and the St. Francis of Assisi figurine.

“I won’t buy angels because they weren’t in the village,” Schmit said. “They were in the sky.”

Schmit believes he is far from owning the entire Fontanini collection. He plans to expand his set as often as necessary to accommodate his growing collection.

“I keep adding and telling myself I’ve got to stop sometime,” Schmit said. West Central Tribune

Thursday, December 24, 2009

St. Mary's Cathedral in New Ulm: Almost Ready for Christmas

So you think you've had a hard time getting your home ready for the holidays?

Be glad you don't have the kind of last minute projects that St. Mary's Catholic Church in New Ulm has been undertaking as it rushes to finish most of its sanctuary remodeling in time for Christmas Eve services today.

The project has been underway since June to turn the church's sanctuary from a nice, comfortable wood-paneled rec-room look to a dramatic limestone wall that draws all of one's attention to the altar and the tabernacle.

The wall has the look of an ancient temple, or maybe a gateway to the New Jerusalem, with its large blocks and its archway capped by 5,000 pound lintel. The floor of the sanctuary has been stripped of its carpet and paved with limestone matching the wall. The altar has been replaced with a dark red granite altar imported from Italy, with a matching lectern.

While the Christmas Eve and Christmas services will unveil the largely finished sanctuary, the blessing of the new altar will take place at 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday, with Bishop John LeVoir presiding.

The altar is the focal point of any Catholic church. "It is on the altar that bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. In a very real way, an altar is where heaven and earth meet," according to the church's bulletin.

Underneath the altar are the relics of four saints, which had been stored at St. Mary's for many years. The relics include St. Luke the Evangelist, the apostle of Jesus, who lived and died in the first century; St. Bonaventure, (1221-1274), bishop and Doctor of the Church; St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639), known for his tireless work for the poor and his devotion to prayer, and St. John Vianney (1786-1859), universal patron of priests.

On Tuesday, workers from Twin Cities Tile and Marble were busy moving the granite altar pieces into place. A large base was set in the floor, covering the aperture where the relics of the four saints are being kept. Four columns on the corners support two large slabs of granite that make up the altar table. All together, the altar weighs about 6,500 to 7,500 pounds.

The workers also placed the matching lectern, which weighs about 2,500 pounds.

Meanwhile, crews from Heymann Construction were grouting the floor stones and putting plasterboard up along the side walls.

Tim Clyne, who is overseeing the engineering for Heymann Construction, the contractor on the job, estimates the wall itself contains about 60,000 pounds of stone. The wall also includes several tons of structural steel in back, and there are tons of supporting steel below holding it all up.

Msgr. Douglas Grams, pastor of St. Mary's said the work on the inside of the church began in June when footings were sunk in the basement, six feet into the ground. Supporting steel pillars and crossbeams were added to support the weight.

Upstairs, the wood panel faade behind the altar was removed while work crews cut two large vertical windows behind the sanctuary, to throw natural light around the side of the stone wall. The paneling was moved forward to cover the construction from view during the week when Sunday Mass was held upstairs. Daily masses were said in the church basement.

The church should be ready for Christmas Eve services today. The only parts remaining to be placed are the seven-foot tall tabernacle, the cabinet that holds consecrated hosts, that will stand in the archway, and a new presider's chair for the altar, and a new lighting system for the church.

When all is finished, it will complete the remodeling project on the church that has been in the works since plans were first presented and approved to diocesan committees in 2000. A $1.3 million capital campaign is financing the work, which included a needed repair of the church roof, the addition of offices on the north side of the church, a new faade over the front entrance and a bell tower that houses the old bell and statue of St. Mary salvaged from the former St. Mary's Church and School next door.

The project this year included paving the parking lot near the church, remodeling the kitchen and basement bathrooms, and a new sound system for the church.

The design work was overseen by Fr. James Notebaart, a liturgical consultant who has overseen many projects throughout Minnesota, said Msgr. Grams. R.L. Engebretson was the architectural firm overseeing the project, and Heymann Construction was the main contractor. New Ulm Journal

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fr. Joseph A. Sirba: US Catholics leaving the Church in droves: what can be done?

Hmmmm. It looks like Duluth has two first rate priests with the name of Sirba now!

A recent survey of the religious beliefs and practices of Americans shows a large drift of Catholics from their Church to other churches or to no-religion, a pattern resembling Australia's. Fr Joseph Sirba, a parish priest in the Duluth Diocese, Minnesota, analyses the causes of the drift and suggests what needs to be done to reverse the trend.

The following is a shortened version of Fr Sirba's article which was first published in 'Homiletic & Pastoral Review'. An electronic copy of the complete article is available on request.

From 8 May to 13 August 2007, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life surveyed over 35,000 adults seeking to learn more about current religious beliefs and practices within the United States. The first report on survey findings entitled U.S. Religious Landscape Survey was released on 25 February 2008. The full report can be found at

Most of the survey's findings are reported as a percentage of the adult population in the United States and not as absolute numbers. Adult population is defined as those individuals eighteen years of age or older. At the time of the survey, the adult population in the US was estimated at approximately 225,000,000.

The US adult population is now just over half Protestant, 51.3%, an historic low in terms of percentages. Throughout the 1980s, the Protestant percentage was relatively stable and varied at between 60 and 65% of the population.

The number unaffiliated with any church has grown dramatically in recent years to 16.1% of the adult population which is more than double the number of adults who say that they were unaffiliated as children (7.3%). Furthermore, of those in the 18-29 year age group, 25% identify themselves as unaffiliated. Note that within this category, the Report includes atheists (1.6%), agnostics (2.4%), secular people (6.3%), and religious people who belong to no organised church (5.8%).

The percentage of adults who have left the religion of their parents (excluding Protestants who have switched from one Protestant denomination to another) and moved to another category stands at 28%. If those who moved from one Protestant denomination to another are included, the percentage of those who have left the religion of their parents rises to 44% of the overall adult population.

23.9% of the US adult population (or 53,775,000) identifies itself as Catholic. The survey notes that this percentage is roughly the same as it was in 1972. On face value, this does not look too bad compared with Protestant losses as noted.

In fact, massive Catholic losses have been hidden by the large number of Catholic immigrants. Of the present 23.9% of adults who call themselves Catholic, about 23% of that number (or 12,368,250) are immigrants, mostly Hispanic.

Massive losses of native-born Catholics have not only been significant but in fact staggering, so much so, that those who conducted the survey wrote in their analysis, 'Catholicism has lost more people to other religions or to no religion at all than any other single religious group.'

10.1% of the adult population in the United States now consists of people who have left the Catholic Church for another religion or for no religion. To put it another way, one out of every 10 people in the United States (or 22,725,000) is an ex-Catholic.

These are individuals who were baptised and raised Catholic but who now no longer identify themselves as Catholic.

Further, if one excludes immigrants and converts from the calculations, the Catholic Church has lost to other religions or to no religion at all, 35.4% or more than one-third of the 64,131,750 of its native born members to other religions or to no religion. This amounts to almost 7 out of every 20 adults who were baptised as Catholics.

So where has the 10.1% of the population which has left the Catholic Church gone? What has happened to these 22,750,000 people who have left?

Over six-and-a-half million former Catholics have joined Evangelical Protestant Churches while unaffiliated accounts for almost ten million former Catholics. Recall that unaffiliated includes atheists, agnostics, secular people and religious people who belong to no organised religion.

The survey does contain some good news. Of the 23.9% of the adult population that identifies itself as Catholic, 2.6% (5,850,000) are converts from other faiths or from no faith at all. This growth in the Church partially offsets the 10.1% of the population which has left the Catholic faith and leaves the Church with a net loss of 7.5% of the population (or 16,875,000).

A significant gender gap was reported among nearly all Christians favouring women over men. Both Catholic and combined Protestant traditions have the same numbers: 46% are men and 54% are women. On the other hand, the gap is reversed among the unaffiliated. For the atheists, 70% are men and 30% are women; it's 64/36 for the agnostics and 60/40 for the secularists.

Signs of hope

So, what are we to make of all this? Well, the numbers speak for themselves but they also confirm and quantify what many seasoned pastors have known or suspected now for years. We have lost a massive part of the Church. It explains why we have been able to cut back the number of Masses in many places, why there are so many grey heads in many places, and why there are so many empty pews.

In fact this survey merely quantifies what pastors across the country have been aware of for many years, namely, that large numbers of individuals who were baptised Catholic have left the Catholic Church. It also reveals that if we exclude the Catholic immigrant population, we are doing far worse at retaining members than even the weakest of the mainline Protestant denominations.

So what's to be done? Is there any hope? Yes! With God all things are possible.

In recent years, faithful Catholic groups and organisations have networked and now form a solid foundation that is beginning to rebuild and renew the faith. They are being supported by a growing contingent of bishops who recognise how deep the rot has gone and are determined to do something about it.

There are more and more young people who are on fire with the love of God and who are willing to live the faith to its fullness. They are certainly not a majority but they are now present and visible in many places. Not a few have entered the seminary or novitiate. It will be these young people of today who will be rebuilding the Church in America.

Causes of problem

If this rebuilding is to have maximum success, we need a plan.

The first step in solving any problem is to admit that a problem exists, something many Church leaders have thus far been unwilling to do. However, the survey results make it painfully clear that we do have a problem. That said, the next step in solving any problem is to identify its causes.

Saint Paul said that 'If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle (1Cor 14:8)?' Clearly, for those Catholics of the baby boom generation, uncertain notes were the only ones being played with the result that one-third of our fellow Catholics have now left the field.

Furthermore, of those 53,775,000 American Catholics who remain in the fight, except for the elderly, most are so poorly catechised that they continue to be highly vulnerable to invitations from Evangelical congregations or to the secularising influences in our society.

In a word, our problem has been dissent tolerated by weak leaders which in turn has led to confusion as to what we as Catholics believe and how we should live.

The final step in solving any problem is action. To that end, we must work to stem further losses and then begin to seek those who have left and invite them to return. I might add that this survey is a godsend because it has already identified for us where our work is most urgent.

Like generals marshalling their forces, our bishops need to do several things. First, make sure that everyone is presenting a clear message. All remaining dissenters must be expunged from their positions within the diocesan offices, major parishes and influential positions in the Church.

This is especially crucial in Catholic colleges and universities which form the weakest link in the nascent renewal we are experiencing. For the most part, they are still seriously undermining the faith of our young people, young people who will be our nation's leaders.

This must stop if we ever hope to have well-formed Catholic leaders in business, education, politics, science, the arts and medicine. Bishops and donors must apply pressure to our Catholic colleges and universities to reform their theology and philosophy departments.

Bishops must also apply pressure to the religious orders who run many of our schools to support the needed reforms.

Second, the survey results reveal that the faith is weakest among the young. We must act immediately to reverse this trend before we lose the better part of yet another generation.

We have to take a good hard look at our Catholic schools. Often, lots of money is spent with little to show for it. We end up offering an alternative to public schools to parents who do not practise their faith. I think all pastors would agree that when parents are not practising the faith, our efforts to educate their children are almost fruitless.

We need to reconsider what role Catholic schools should play in the 21st century. Perhaps parish funds could be better spent on well designed religious education programs or by supporting on-line schools that don't require expensive infrastructure.

Third, aggressive steps must be taken to retain the many Hispanic immigrants coming into our country (who now number nearly half of all Catholics aged 18 to 29). We cannot let these people slip away into the Evangelical congregations or into the growing unaffiliated group.

Fourth, while men and women have an equal dignity before God, they are not the same. We must recognise and acknowledge the significant psychological and emotional differences in men and women and how they view the world. The overt and covert feminisation of the Church must end. Men and boys need strong male role models to look up to and to emulate. Masculine approaches to the faith must be developed and affirmed if we are to erase the significant gender gap that now exists and retain more of our male members.

Lost sheep

Finally, we must reach out to those who have fallen away. They are the lost sheep of today. As this group is diverse, we must address at the very least, the larger segments within it.

For example, it has been this pastor's experience that many former Catholics who have joined Evangelical congregations tend to be very zealous members of their new congregations. For the most part, they are good, faithful people who love God but who were not fed in their Catholic parishes. They were attracted to these congregations because of clear and strong homilies, Bible studies, youth programs for their children and good music. They need to be shown that Scripture alone is not enough and that we need the Eucharist and the rest of the Sacraments as well.

Former Catholics who are now part of the educated, unchurched secular group need to see that science alone cannot explain all we experience in the world and in our hearts. To that end, because few pastors have the ability or the knowledge to answer or address all of the questions and concerns specific to each group, diocesan programs need to be developed to reach out to these groups and others.

It's now far beyond the time for half measures. We must act now to clean up the messes that remain and to develop reasonable, workable plans to move forward.

Jesus said, 'He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters (Mt 12:30).' Tolerating dissent has led us to where we are today. It's time for some intolerance.

Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 22 No 4 (May 2009), p. 8

Archbishop Schnurr succeeds Archbishop Pilarczyk in Cincinnati

Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, 75, as head of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He is succeeded by Coadjutor Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, 61.

Cincinnati Coadjutor Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr waves after concelebrating a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Cincinnati in this Dec. 7, 2008, file photo. - CNS photo/Tony Tribble, Catholic Telegraph
The resignation and succession were announced at the Vatican Dec. 21.

Pope Benedict named Archbishop Schnurr coadjutor archbishop of Cincinnati Oct. 17, 2008. As coadjutor, he automatically becomes head of the archdiocese upon Archbishop Pilarczyk's retirement.

Archbishop Pilarczyk turned 75 in August, the age at which bishops are required by church law to submit their resignations to the pope. He had been archbishop for 27 years, longer than any other currently serving archbishop in the United States.

He said the archdiocese "is blessed to be getting such a skilled, dedicated and spiritual pastor" as Archbishop Schnurr. "'Floreat,'" Archbishop Pilarczyk added. "May he flourish."

His successor was bishop of Duluth, Minn., for seven years until being named to his new job. In the past year Archbishop Schnurr has maintained a heavy schedule of activities taking him to all corners of archdiocese.

The Cincinnati Archdiocese has almost 500,000 Catholics, covers 19 counties in southwest Ohio, and has 220 parishes and 113 primary and secondary schools.

"One year ago, when Pope Benedict XVI appointed me coadjutor archbishop of Cincinnati, I was humbled and honored," Archbishop Schnurr said.

"Today, after having had the opportunity to visit so many of our parishes, schools, and other institutions over the past months, I feel even more grateful and privileged," he said. "The welcome has been overwhelming, and I look forward to working with our priests, deacons, religious and laypeople in building upon the solid foundation of faith that is so evident in our communities."

Before being named to Duluth in 2001 by Pope John Paul II, then-Msgr. Schnurr served for six years as the general secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops-U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington, now called the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He played a major role shepherding efforts to combine the twin conferences into the USCCB. The name change and new statutes reorganizing the bishops' national structures took effect in July 2001.

In 1993 he organized World Youth Day in Denver, which brought Pope John Paul II to the United States.

A native of Sheldon, Iowa, Archbishop Schnurr was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, in 1974. He studied for the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. In 1980, he earned a doctorate in canon law from The Catholic University of America in Washington.

In the Sioux City Diocese, he served in several parish assignments and as vice chancellor and chancellor. He was subsequently assigned to the staff of the apostolic nuncio in 1985 in Washington, where he gave advice on canon law, monitored financial affairs and researched issues of interest to the church.

Then-Father Schnurr joined the bishops' conference in 1989 as associate general secretary and was elected general secretary in 1995.

Archbishop Pilarczyk was named archbishop of Cincinnati Oct. 30, 1982. He also served as president of the U.S. bishops' conference in 1989-92 and as vice president in 1986-89. He also served as a consultant to the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

He has been chairman of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative since 2003. Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago launched the initiative shortly before his death in 1996 in an effort to end polarization in the U.S. church and bring reconciliation and healing.

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Archbishop Pilarczyk holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome and a doctorate in classics from the University of Cincinnati. He was ordained a priest of the Cincinnati Archdiocese Dec. 20, 1959.

He served the archdiocese as chancellor and was on the faculty of St. Gregory Seminary. He was named an auxiliary bishop of Cincinnati in 1974.

He has written more than a dozen popular books and many pamphlets and articles. His commentary on the daily Mass readings is heard on Catholic radio stations around the country, on the Sirius/XM Satellite network and online at

In retirement, he will continue to live in Cincinnati and celebrate the sacraments. Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr becomes Archbishop of Cincinnati


The Rev. Dennis M. Schnurr, coadjutor archbishop of Cincinnati since October 2008, has succeeded Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk as leader of the 19-county Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the archdiocese announced Monday.

Schnurr becomes the 10th presiding bishop of the archdiocese since its founding in 1821.

Pilarczyk on clergy abuse: 'I'm sorry'
Pilarczyk's 'exit interview"

The move follows Pope Benedict XVI’s acceptance Monday of Pilarczyk’s resignation, which he submitted when he turned 75 on Aug. 12, 2009, in accord with church law. Pilarczyk had been archbishop for 27 years, longer than any other currently serving archbishop in the United States.

“One year ago, when Pope Benedict XVI appointed me coadjutor archbishop of Cincinnati, I was humbled and honored,” Schnurr stated. “Today, after having had the opportunity to visit so many of our parishes, schools, and other institutions over the past months, I feel even more grateful and privileged. The welcome has been overwhelming, and I look forward to working with our priests, deacons, religious and lay people in building upon the solid foundation of faith that is so evident in our communities.”

Schnurr, 61, has a long background in the church as a canon lawyer, diocesan administrator, member of the papal nuncio’s staff, organizer of the first World Youth Day and general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Iowa native was bishop of Duluth for seven years until being appointed coadjutor archbishop of Cincinnati.

Pilarczyk, a native of Dayton, Ohio, was the longest currently serving active bishop in the United States, as well as the longest-tenured archbishop. He is a nationally known churchman who was president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1989 to 1992.

Pilarczyk said the archdiocese “is blessed to be getting such a skilled, dedicated and spiritual pastor.” “FLOREAT,” Archbishop Pilarczyk added. “May he flourish.”

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati is the 26th largest Catholic diocese in the country, with almost 500,000 Catholics, and has the eighth largest network of Catholic schools in terms of enrollment. It includes 218 parishes and 113 Catholic primary and secondary schools.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Archbishop Nienstedt preaches joy and conversion to prison inmates

Tim O’Meara, 50, heartily shook Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Most Rev. John Nienstedt’s hand and grinned broadly, his excitement transparent. He had been anticipating the archbishop’s visit for a while, he said. O’Meara is one of about 990 men who are currently in the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Rush City. Arch­bishop Nienstedt celebrated Mass and visited with inmates Dec. 15. The visit coincided with Gaudete Sunday — the Sunday of Advent that calls people to rejoice in the Lord.

In his homily, Archbishop Nienstedt spoke about God’s gift of joy and the faithful’s need to rejoice. He also spoke of conversion, which is at the heart of St. John the Baptist’s message in the Gospel.

“These Scriptures speak to everyone in the church, no matter what condition he or she finds themselves,” he said. “Even in this situation of being incarcerated, there can be real joy in the realization that God is here in your midst, calling you to a change of heart. . . .”

“The past is what it is,” he continued. “The future lies open to what you want to make of it.”

Twenty-one men attended the Mass, a number that slightly disappointed inmate Eric Dahlin, 28. “There should be more people than this, but there’s not, and that’s OK,” he said.

“[The archbishop’s visit] means a lot to us,”added Dahlin. “It brings up our day — spiritually and mentally.”

The visit was arranged by Deacon Michael Martin, a parishioner at St. Gregory in North Branch who has been assigned to minister to the offenders in Rush City since his September 2008 ordination.

A time for transformation

After Mass, Archbishop Nienstedt fielded questions from the inmates, who asked about the difference between Catholics and Lutherans, and when a new pastor would be assigned to Sacred Heart in Rush City.

Until his new appointment to St. Albert in Albertville and St. John the Baptist in Dayton Oct. 31, Father Xavier Thelakkatt served as pastor at Sacred Heart and visited the prison twice monthly.

In the absence of an assigned priest, Deacon Martin and other volunteers have offered Communion services in the facility’s modest chapel.

“The Eucharist is important to them because without it they would be left abandoned from their faith,” Deacon Martin said.

Deacon Martin also preaches the Gospel, and the men have a chance to think about it and ask questions.

However, they miss a priest, he said. “The men are yearning for confessions,” he noted.

Prison can be a spiritually transforming time for offenders, said Rush City Cor­rectional Facility chaplain Gail Nord. In the seven months she’s been working there, she’s seen the role faith plays in the lives of some of the men.

“It can give them hope, it can give them meaning, it can give them a foundation to deal with all the challenges of day-to-day life in a place like this,” she said.

The archbishop’s visit was significant to the men because it was a sign that they are remembered, “particularly at this season, which is very difficult,” she said, as men are away from family and friends during the holidays.

Being at the correctional facility has deepened the faith of 51-year-old inmate Jeff Bauer, he said.

“I’m very strong in my Catholic beliefs,” he added. Bauer encourages men to join him for Mass and talks about the Scriptures with them. He also prays the rosary every night, he said.

Joy and happiness’ possible

Although this is the first time Archbishop Nienstedt has visited a prison in the archdiocese, he visited prisons while he was bishop of New Ulm and auxiliary bishop of Detroit.

While living at the North American College in Rome, he also visited English-speaking offenders every Saturday at Regina Coeli, a prison named after the convent whose building it repurposed.

“They literally turned the [monastic] cells into cells,” he said. “There was no central heating, no central bathrooms. . . . It was overcrowded,” he recalled.

“So early on, I knew this was a very valuable ministry,” he said.

During Mass, Archbishop Nienstedt prayed for the men and their families. “There were looks of concern on their faces, and skepticism, I suppose; unhappiness,” he said. “What a wonderful Sunday to come to preach joy and happiness.”

Archbishop Nienstedt said he would be “very willing” to visit other correctional facilities within the archdiocese. “I think that’s an important thing for a bishop to do on a regular basis,” he said.

A rewarding ministry

On this particular Sunday, Deacon Martin was accompanied by three volunteers, including Jim Noon, a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Rush City who has been visiting prisons for 10 years, he said.

Dan Chippendale, a parishioner at St. Gregory in North Branch, has also been helping with Mass or Communion services once per month.

“I felt drawn to it,” he said. Yet, initially he was “very intimidated” by the thought of prison ministry, he said. However, as he started to volunteer, his fears were tempered.

“You see the faces of the people, and they’re pleased to see you,” he said.

Deacon Martin describes his experience as “very rewarding.”

“What I appreciate . . . is that for the majority of the men who show up, this is bringing Christ,” he said. “I’m called, as a deacon, to be an icon of Christ, so I bring Christ to them, and they’ve been very receptive.” Catholic News Agency from the Catholic Spirit