Sunday, January 31, 2010

Family, friends contribute to discernment, explains Anchorage vocations director

The call to the priesthood does not occur in a vacuum. Family, friends, clergy and religious play crucial roles — their input is part of the calling process. This was one theme that emerged from the Anchorage Archdiocese’s recent vocations dinner, in which 11 men came to explore the priesthood.

From the community

“I think everyone should answer the question of whether God is calling them to the priesthood or religious life,” Father Tom Lilly, vocations director for the archdiocese, told the Anchor. But in order to hear the call, most will need parents, teachers, pastors and friends to encourage them, he added.

Last month's gathering at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Anchorage included college students, soldiers and business professionals who came to consider whether they might be called to be priests.

Despite varying backgrounds and ages, the men shared one thing in common — someone had actively encouraged them to at least consider the priesthood.

If the Catholic Church is going to reverse the disturbing trend of dwindling numbers of priests, the whole community must participate, Father Lilly explained.

That includes official vocations dinners but also many informal moments that might consist of a passing comment or observation.

“There are vocation events in families, schools and parishes,” he said.

Catholic schools play an important role in this, Father Lilly noted.

“Any good teacher encourages students to rise to their full potential, whether it be as writers, scientists or other things,” he said. “Along with that, teachers may see the potential for a student to be a priest or woman religious or a deacon or a brother. A good teacher encourages students to think about that possibility.”

Dominican Brother Dominic David, who is in formation to become a priest and currently serving at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, agreed that community is key in discerning one’s call.

“Your call comes from the community,” he told attendees. “It is something you hear from those who care about you — it should come from within but also from without.”

Seminarians share

The archdiocese’s two seminarians also attended the vocations dinner last month, where they dispelled a few myths and shared how they discerned their vocation.

For 42-year-old seminarian Arthur Roraff, his exploration of the priesthood picked up speed after a friend urged him to sell his business and begin searching in earnest.

This fall, he entered St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota.

When first considering seminary, Roraff said it was difficult to imagine a life without the potential for a marital relationship and children.

“Those are good things that you give up,” he told those gathered at the vocations dinner. But he added, that within celibacy God does not call men to be priests by giving up their manhood.

“Realize that God will not stop you from being men if he calls you to be a priest,” he said. “In fact, in this culture, we need real men to be priests.”

And for seminarians who ultimately discover that the priesthood is not their calling, the seminary is still helpful, Roraff said.

“If you are called to be a husband and a father, this is still good ground for you,” he said. “If you have this question and you don’t get it answered, there is potential that this will linger in your mind. If you don’t at least discern and check it off, then you may regret it later.”

But the discernment process is not just about seeking personal happiness, Roraff said.

“If you are searching for your own happiness, you will not find it, because it is a by-product of having Christ in the center of your life,” he said.

The archdiocese’s other seminarian Patrick Brosamer also shared some of his experiences of seminary.

A fourth-year seminary student, the 35-year-old Brosamer has three years of formation left and is attending Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon.

He reiterated Roraff’s point that it is a mistake to think of seminary as a waste of time if one ultimately discerns no call to the priesthood.

“Even if you drop out, that’s okay,” he said. “Some guys leave seminary but they don’t regret it, because it makes you a better man.”

For Brosamer, seminary confirmed many of the lingering thoughts that he has carried for a long time.

“I’ve known since I was a little boy that God wanted me to be a priest, it just took me a long time to answer his call,” he explained. “It took a quarter century.”

God still calls

Speaking to the vocations dinner attendees, Father Ben Torreto, the archdiocese’s assistant vocations director, said that after 25 years as a priest, he still has great joy in celebrating the sacraments, especially when he sees lives transformed and renewed.

A native Filipino and only child, Father Torreto said, growing up, he was keenly aware of not having any siblings.

“But in becoming a priest, I have gained many brothers,” he said of his enduring friendships with fellow clergy. “The fraternity is very significant for me. Maybe some of you will join us in the priesthood.”

Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz [formerly Bishop of Duluth] closed the gathering by reminding the men that Christ called imperfect human beings to be his Twelve Apostles and is still calling priests to carry on his work.

“God wants to use us and to show his power in our weakness.” Catholic News Agency

Saturday, January 30, 2010

St. Joseph's in Mandan is being transformed

Climbing around on scaffolding covered with plaster dust, the Rev. Patrick Schumacher’s pristine black overcoat somehow stays black, a small miracle considering everything else is coated chalky beige.

A regiment of metal grids rise to the ceiling, marching down the nave of the Church of Saint Joseph in Mandan, holding the temporary wooden floor in their upraised hands. Up three flights of gray steps, the newly replastered expanse of ceiling looms overhead. A worker seated on a counterweighted platform strips layers of paint from the wooden arches holding the church’s century-old stained glass windows.

Redoing the 1904 Mandan church is a major project, $1.1 million worth of upgrades and redecoration, new flooring, renovated pews and three large-scale murals. In early December, the parishioners of Saint Joseph began holding Mass in the attached school’s gym while the work crew transforms the church at Collins Avenue and Third Street Northeast.

When this phase is complete, Saint Joseph will have had a complete facelift, inside and out. The church’s brick exterior was completely restored in 2007.

Inside, slate flooring will be installed and the ceiling of the gathering space inside the entrance coffered and lowered to match the lines of the nave. The church’s pews are being refinished and the end pieces replaced in Dickinson. Carpeting will be installed, along with a sound system, Romanesque pendants and recessed fixtures to wash the interior with good light, Schumacher said.

Schumacher said he hopes the work will be done by April 24, though earlier is not out of the question.

It is the first church he has been responsible for renovating inside and out, he said. Saint Joseph was upgraded in the 1940s, the 1970s and the 1990s, he said, “but this is the most extensive (work) the interior has ever seen.”

When the condition of the church was assessed, two major needs were identified: Repairing plaster that had deteriorated over the years, in some places down to the bare lathe, and new lighting.

The electrical system he said, seemed to be installed “as if they weren’t sure if electricity was here to stay,” he said jokingly.

The gathering space will now be more integrated into the design of original church, he said, “recognizing that it was built in 1904, not the 1970s.”

The goal is to restore it to period, he said. That doesn’t mean it’s moving backward, he said; the goal is a “real, dignified liturgical design.”

The murals that will go behind the altar are being painted on canvas in St. Paul, Minn., and will have a classic Renaissance feel, Schumacher said.

Symbolizing the Trinity, God the Father in the central mural is shown presenting his crucified son; the Holy Spirit is depicted as a dove, Schumacher said. The flanking murals show Saint Joseph at the birth of Jesus, and Jesus present at the death of Saint Joseph, “the journey from life to death encompassed by the Holy Trinity,” he said.

On site, Doug Henning, of Henning Church and Historic Renovations of St. Paul, pointed out the gold composite and gold leaf used to layer the arches above the murals. The ribs of the arches will be painted in blue and then stenciled, he said.

Henning’s renovations work began with his father-in-law’s father, Louigi DeNardo, who emigrated from Italy in the early 1900s to work as a stone setter of marble for St. Paul Statuary, he said.

By the early 1940s, a lot of the 1900-era churches needed painting and decorating, so DeNardo began doing that, he said. His son, Louis DeNardo, worked there as well. In 1970, Henning went to work with his father-in-law until the older man’s death in 1982.

Henning Restorations is a small family company primarily serving Catholic churches in the Dakotas and surrounding area. Henning has worked at the Cathedral in Fargo, St. Michael’s and Mary’s in Grand Forks, St. Patrick’s in Dickinson and gilded the crosses at St. Mary’s at Assumption Abbey in Richardton.

Schumacher said he likes working with the artists who bring the vision to life in their work: They see things in a new way, he said.

Architect Al Fitterer of Mandan, who designed the Church of Spirit of Life in Mandan and redesigned St. Patrick’s in Dickinson, is getting to redefine his own church, Schumacher said.

To follow the progress of the project, go to Bismarck Tribune

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bishop Sirba comes to supper

Bishop Sirba

Duluth received its much-prayed-for shepherd when Bishop Paul Sirba was ordained in December, a little more than a year after our previous bishop was named archbishop in Cincinnati. Many of us attended the Solemn Vespers and Ordination, and came away with the sense that our diocese was very lucky indeed.

This past Sunday, Bishop Sirba came to the monastery for Evening Prayer and supper. He chose to come an hour early, spending the time meeting each of the retired sisters on Benet Hall one-by-one, thanking them for their months of prayer for unknown bishop-to-be.

A sister who had entered religious life decades before Bishop Sirba was born was a bit surprised to hear this was the bishop. “Oh! A good-looking young bishop!” she exclaimed. “Well,” he said humbly, “I am pretty young as bishops go.” Not to be denied, our sister said, “Yes, and good-looking too!” With a bit of a blush, he went on to meet the next sister.

After supper, Bishop Sirba spoke a few words to us, thanking us for our work in this diocese and our prayers. His words were sometimes lighthearted, sometimes more serious – always personable. His blessing was heartfelt and powerful – and we were glad to receive it.

I hope this is just the first of many visits with Bishop Sirba. Sr. Edith, Monastic Musings

Archbishop Nienstedt: Nurturing More Priesthood Vocations

One of the great statistics that I have enjoyed sharing with people is the fact that this archdiocese began the current academic year with 68 seminarians studying for the priesthood. There are 38 in the theologate and 30 in our college program.

I know of no other diocese in this country that can boast of such numbers. This is a great testimony to the vitality of the lived faith in the parishes of our archdiocese as well as to the personal investment of our priests and, in particular, my predecessor, Archbishop Harry Flynn, in the work of vocations.

We have two very fine seminary programs in St. John Vianney (College) Seminary and St. Paul (Theological) Seminary. It is my privilege to visit both houses once a month to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with them and to share a meal.

Frequently, I ask the men to tell me their vocation story. I am al­ways fascinated to hear what they have to say. Some, like me, can trace the first promptings of their call back to the strong faith of their families. It was there in the practice of attending Sunday Eucharist, in the daily recitation of prayer as well as in the example of virtuous living that the seed was planted and the desire began to grow.

Others may have toyed with the notion at one time or another and then forgotten about it. But later, due to some event or experience, the idea came back to them with greater clarity and attraction.

Still others never considered the idea, until one day they were literally blindsided by a conversation or a special insight that instantly informed them that God might be calling them.

Listening to these stories always confirms in my mind and heart that God is truly at work in our lives, inviting us in loving and caring ways to do his will.

Model behavior

One of the key instruments that God uses to call men to the priesthood is other priests. That was true in my life, and I think it is true in most cases. The way a priest celebrates the Mass, his care for his parishioners, his concern for religious instruction, his attention to the sick — all these attributes can spark a desire in the heart of another to be “just like Father.”

At a recent Clergy Day, Father James Mason, former vocation director for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., spoke to our deacons and priests on the topic of the priest as “Promoter of Vocations.”

Two things he said really stood out for me. First of all, in a national survey by Father Stephen Rosette, 92 percent of the priests surveyed said that they found fulfillment in their ministry. The New York Times did a completely independent survey and found that 91 percent of all priests were happy in their work. That is one incredibly high incidence of job satisfaction!

Second, Father Mason invited us to engage the imagination of young people, especially by letting them see the seminary firsthand. I guess my imagination was “engaged” as a boy when I “celebrated” Mass at home every week in a “re-enactment” of the Sacred Liturgy.

Young men can also become engaged by seeing the actual seminary space and meeting seminarians who are healthy, normal, dedicated individuals. I am grateful that St. John Vianney Seminary has their “Vianney Nights” the first Thursday of the month. They also are open to visits at other times as well. Again, I encourage our priests to bring young candidates to “come and see” (John 1:39) where the Lord may be calling them.

Call Father Peter Williams, our vocation director at (651) 962-6890, or St. John Vianney Seminary itself at (651) 962-6825 to find out more information.

Remember to pray

Lastly, I encourage all of us, as parish communities and as individuals, to pray for vocations to the priesthood at Sunday Mass, before meals, at meetings and other church gatherings.

More than that, I ask you to join me personally in fasting from meat on Fridays for this intention. I made the same request eight years ago in New Ulm and still maintain the practice today. Surely, God accepts this and other such practices as sacrifices pleasing to him. It also adds a sense of urgency to our prayers. Catholic Spirit

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Forming parish leaders a top priority for the archdiocese planning process

Like many Catholics, Stephen Kingsbury “graduated” from CCD as a teenager, marking the end of his formal Catholic education.

Or so he thought.

As an adult, Kingsbury began volunteering at his parish, Guardian Angels in Chaska. Over the years, he became more involved at the parish — heading up the Building, Grounds and Gardens Committee; joining the Knights of Columbus; teaching confirmation classes; and occasionally conducting Word and Communion services when a priest wasn’t available.

Gradually, he transitioned from occasional volunteer to dedicated parish leader.

Kingsbury credits the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in St. Paul for giving him the knowledge and the tools he needed to become an effective leader.

“The Catechetical Institute helps you put your faith into action,” said Kingsbury, who is considering pursuing the diaconate after he completes his studies at the institute in May.

Founded under the direction of Archbishop Flynn in 2008, the Catechetical Institute aims to deepen Catholics’ knowledge of the faith so they can become more competent pastoral leaders in their parishes — one of the goals Archbishop John Nienstedt has set for the archdiocesan planning process currently underway.

“We have very fine lay men and women who are serving the church in various capacities in parishes, and we have priests who are serving well and endeavoring to pastor parishes at a high level of excellence,” said Father Peter Laird, vicar general and co-chair of the archdiocesan Strategic Task Force for Parish and School Planning.

In setting forth this goal of competent pastoral leadership, Father Laird said, the archbishop is asking: “‘How do we continue to ensure that, moving forward, priests as well as lay leaders have the resources as well as the training and ongoing formation necessary to help them meet the needs of the church in the third millennium?’”

Ongoing formation

During a recent interview with The Catholic Spirit, Father Laird mentioned possible outcomes of the archdiocesan planning process with regard to forming competent leaders.

“One likely outcome could be a more standardized approach to ongoing formation for priests,” he said. For example, priest study days, a practice the archbishop already has begun, give priests opportunities to come together on a regular basis to examine particular topics, such as marriage or the role of the priest, Father Laird said.

“I think we also want to look at ways in which we can provide in-service for lay leaders — pastoral ministers in parishes — in a more comprehensive fashion,” Father Laird added.

Planning principles

In his March 2009 column in The Catholic Spirit, Archbishop John Nienstedt emphasized that the planning process will ensure:

1 Full sacramental ministry.

2 Competent pastoral leaders.

3 Special concern for the needs of the poor, marginalized, and immigrant.

4 Catholic school support and inclusion in the planning process.

5 Every parish will be involved in this discussion.

6 Every parish will be expected to evaluate their own resources and adjust accordingly.

7 Respect, patience and honesty in all discussions to build on strengths.

• What do you think?

There are several ways Catholics can share their ideas, hopes and concerns for the planning process with the Strategic Planning Task Force:

» Via the Web:

» By voice mail: (651) 291-4435.

» By postal mail: Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, PST — Planning Process Comments, 328 Kellogg Blvd. W, ST. Paul, MN 55102.

Read more about the planning process at
As the church confronts the reality of fewer priests and larger parishes, building on the strengths of lay leaders while maintaining the central role of the parish priest will be important, Father Laird said.

“The real key going forward is finding the way in which ordained ministers and lay ministers complement one another,” he said. “They have different spheres of expertise and different responsibilities in the church, and yet the more we can leverage their complementary nature, the more the archdiocese is going to benefit.”

One effort the archdiocese has implemented to improve lay leadership in parishes is a training program for Latinos, a rapidly growing demographic in the archdiocese.

Since 2002, about 170 people have graduated from the Hispanic Leadership Development Initiative, according to Estela Manancero, archdiocesan director of Latino Ministries.

Juan Cuzco Tenezaca, director of religious education at Holy Rosary in Minneapolis, completed the program in 2004. A native of Ecuador, Cuzco Tenezaca had been working as a catechist at the parish when his pastor encouraged him to enroll in the program. He said it helped him improve his management skills, better understand cultural differences, and make connections with the larger church community.

Identifying leaders

One way the archdiocese can improve leadership in parishes is to help lay people identify their gifts, then invite them to take on leadership roles that make use of those gifts, said Jerry Roth, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Parish Leadership in Burnsville.

“Maybe that means an education process to help parishes understand how to do that, maybe it’s a sharing of success stories from parishes that have done that well so that it spurs the creativity of other parishes and other leaders,” Roth said. “It’s so critical to invite and recruit leaders of all ages.”

However, there are several challenges that the archdiocese must consider.

“Time and money are two obstacles,” Roth pointed out. “I think a third one is visibility. . . . Whatever these things are that the diocese can provide and support, will people be aware of them? How do you get the word out in an effective way?”

Another potential outcome of the archdiocesan planning process, according to planning task force member Sister Mary Ma­donna Ashton, CSJ, is that parishes may be required to share resources in the fu­ture. “That includes personnel,” she said.

“I think there’s going to be a real en­couragement for parishes to maybe even combine some of their programs so that they have the best leadership possible for them,” Sister Mary Madonna said. “And, there’s going to be a lot of emphasis, I think, on deaneries working more closely together within their own geographic area.”

Sister Mary Madonna said the task force listened carefully to the input people provided during listening sessions held throughout the archdiocese in recent months.

“I think people should be at ease about the fact that nothing is going to happen without a lot of consideration of the cultures, the particular abilities and the individual natures of the different parishes,” she said. Catholic Spirit

Archdiocesan finance officer report

The following comments elaborate on the condensed financial statements of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009
The year was one of more financial consistency than of recent. During 2009, net assets increased $272,000 as compared to a decrease of $3,193,000 in 2008. The improvement in results reflects three primary factors:

1. In 2009 there were no additional restructuring costs while $1.4 million was recognized in 2008. The restructuring costs related to a program of voluntary staffing reductions initiated in 2007.

2. In 2008 an expense of $3.6 million was recorded to recognize the potential for losses on amounts due from parishes and $1.4 million was expended to support the debt of a high school. During 2009, provision was made for an additional $1.2 million for potential losses and no support was required for the debt of the high school.

3. Revenue in 2009 was consistent to increased over 2008 except for a loss of $450,000 in total investment returns typical of the market. This represents a reversal of return of $1.8 million.

Revenues and gains

Total revenue for 2009 reached $35,029,000 as compared to $35,532,000 in 2008.

The revenue decrease of $500,000 reflects the reversal of investment returns that offset gains of $1.3 million from regular income streams, primarily assessments on parish income. The principal sources of support for archdiocesan activities are parish assessments and the Catholic Services Appeal, which increased by 8 percent and decreased by about 4 percent, respectively. Since both sources are reflective of the generosity of the faithful, the disparity in results seems counter-intuitive but evolves from differences in timing. Assessments for 2009 were determined by parish results of fiscal 2007 and the Appeal is more real time. Thus the decrease in Appeal revenue is likely driven by the reversals in the general economy over the last several years.

Operating expenses

Operating expenses totaled $34,800,000 in 2009 as compared to $37,400,000 in 2008.

The decrease resulted from the changes noted above in regards to allowance for doubtful accounts from parishes and other related entities and the debt support. Before considering these items, operating expenses were $33,600,000 in 2009 and $32,400,000 in 2008. Of the increase of $1.2 million, $630,000 is attributed to higher claims in the General Insurance Program. The expense structure of archdiocesan staff and programs thus increased by $570,000 from 2008 to 2009, or about 2 percent.

It is important to note that archdiocesan support and subsidy of programs such as Catholic Charities, Hispanic and Indian Ministries, prison and hospital chaplaincies, promotion of Catholic values in regards to family and life issues, encouragement and support of seminarians, aid to rural and inner city elementary schools, and secondary school tuition grants as well as support of our Venezuelan mission remain at levels consistent with previous years. These programs are funded to a large extent (approximately 76 percent in the aggregate in 2009) by the Catholic Services Appeal. Without the generous response to the Appeal that has traditionally been enjoyed, these programs could not be sustained.

Following is a chart that displays the purpose of archdiocesan program expenditures for 2009. The proportion of costs to the various programs is very similar to the preceding year.

Financial position

Net assets of the Archdiocesan Corporation were $33,402,000 at the end of fiscal 2009, or $272,000 more than the year before. Unrestricted and temporarily restricted net assets increased $426,000 while permanently restricted net assets decreased $154,000 due to decline in the market value of underlying investments.

After adjusting the change in net assets for revenue and expense items that did not result in or require cash, operations in 2009 generated $1,250,000 of additional cash, compared with a surplus of $4,390,000 in 2008. The difference between years was caused primarily by the timing of cash received within the General Insurance Program.

From the $1,250,000 of cash sourced by operating activities, augmented by a $75,000 reduction in short-term investments, net payments to parishes on loans and deposits required cash of $1,300,000 in 2009, which is likely a sign of cash stress within some parishes. After expending $638,000 on deferred structural improvements to archdiocesan property, debt was reduced by $200,000. Thus the cash position of the archdiocese declined by $807,000 since 2008.

The archdiocese has for many years extended guarantees as credit enhancements for third-party loans to parishes and schools. The exposure to this contingent liability was reduced by $9 million to $75 million at the end of 2009.

In summary

During 2009, the basic cost of operations has stabilized and the quality of the archdiocesan balance sheet continued to be improved. However, the evaluation of the accounts due from parishes continues to raise serious questions about the financial viability of segments of the parish organizations. Because parish assessments are required for support of the archbishop’s primary obligations and functions, the collection of assessments is crucial. Thus parish financial viability will be a key focus in the coming years.

John Bierbaum is chief financial officer of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
pdf Condensed statement of activities 51.86 Kb
pdf Chart - 2009 Program Expenses 44.24 Kb
pdf Chart - 2008-2009 Program Expenses 40.38 Kb
The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Nienstedt's address at the Prayer Service for Life at the Cathedral/Shrine of St. Paul last Friday

My dear friends, young, old and in between, it is great to see you here today! Thank you for coming! I wish to begin my remarks by saying that even on a sad day such as today, when we commemorate the tragic 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in this country, once known for its great moral vision and that led to the hurt, shame, and yes, the death of so many of our brothers and sisters in their mother’s womb, our hearts are yet filled with gratitude. And there’s a very good reason to be grateful, even today, even in these circumstances, even facing the terrible political challenges that we do. Our reason to be grateful lies in the fact that -- you are here. You are here in this beautiful Cathedral to pray for a conversion of hearts, hearts of a society that have grown cold, hearts of a nation that have become insensitive, hearts of a country that have veered off course, hearts that can find no welcome or compassion for the most vulnerable among us, the unborn, living in their mother’s womb. You, my dear friends, are a source of great hope in a world that can seem so very, very hopeless. Thank you for being here!

Last week, a terrible earthquake struck Haiti, a country already submerged in unimaginable poverty. The earthquake, measuring a staggering 7.0 on the Richter scale, devastated that Caribbean island, leaving a nation in ruins. Then, this past Wednesday, another 6.2 aftershock occurred, adding to the mayhem and destruction. We all have been shocked by the images that have accompanied the terrible death tolls, now estimated at somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who are merely trying to survive in such terrible circumstances.

In the midst of this natural and humanitarian disaster, thousands have felt compelled to act. Tragedies such as these give us all an opportunity, as unwelcome as the circumstances may be, to go beyond ourselves and to serve those who are our brothers and sisters in a shared humanity and a shared faith – to sacrifice our plenty in order to assist the bare sustenance of those who have lost everything! Allow me to take this privileged opportunity to ask each one of you – have you done anything to assist those who have been affected by the disaster afflicting Haiti? Have you made a donation to any of the many worthwhile charities serving the needs of the victims? Equally, if not more important, have you sacrificed your valuable time to pray for those in such dire need?

There have been some commentators who have suggested that this disaster was somehow brought on the Haitian people through their own doing. The earthquake, it is said, was a punishment sent by God. To this claim, bordering on the absurd, I adamantly and forthrightly say this cannot be! God does not desire the death of anyone, and his Sacred Heart burns with compassion for the many victims who search for his presence in the rubble. In the face of such tragedies, we must admit the presence of a mystery, a mystery that cannot be solved this side of heaven, but must rather be confronted with faith and hope. Answers will not be always found, but compassion and generosity must be given.

In many ways, the tragedy of abortion is not unlike this Haitian nightmare. Like that earthquake, the scourge of abortion leaves some victims dead and others severely wounded. How many women, having chosen abortion as the only option available to them, now walk through their lives buried under the rubble of pain, depression and regret? How many fathers of unborn children, realizing the part that they played in an abortion, are now stuck in the aftermath of guilt, self-loathing and shame? And how many children, your potential classmates, colleagues and friends are now no longer with us, having been eliminated by legalized abortion?

But we must admit that unlike natural disasters, the horror that is abortion, and the culture of death that allows it to exist, are, without a doubt, man-made nightmares. And I am afraid we cannot console ourselves with the idea that this evil has been imposed upon us through legislative fiat. We all must be willing to admit, and to grieve, over the fact that yes, we too have had some hand to play in the presence of abortion within our culture.

At its most basic level, the culture of death is a culture of apathy and deep self-centeredness. It is a culture in which the individual is encouraged to proclaim in the presence of poverty, violence and injustice: “It’s not my fault.” It’s a culture that says, “Don’t bother me with your needs or your wants.” It’s a culture that makes the individual, and his or her comfort, the source and summit of all things, even when we can see our neighbor in need. “What’s in it for me?” is the real question that underlies the culture of death.

But my dear brothers and sisters, by committing yourself to the pro-life cause, you are committing yourself to a way of life that is at odds with this debilitating vision of “me first.” This must push you far beyond legislative lobbying and far beyond the comfort of your day-to-day life. The question that I put before you today is, “Are you living a life for others?” How are you caring for those in need? Are you, in fact, your brother’s keeper?

As I have said before, the critique leveled against us by those who support the legalized barbarism of abortion is unfortunately justified when such critics respond to our lobbying with the accusation that we are not completely pro-life, because we are only pro-birth, meaning that once born, we lose interest in the well-being of mother and child. Against this accusation, our lives must witness to our concern and care for all human life, from conception until natural death. In other words, we must be pro-life twenty-four seven!

For us, as Catholics, we are fortunate to have such a witness in Mary who is not only the Mother of God, but she is also the model disciple. She hears the voice of the Lord, delivered through an angel, and she responds in faith. She does not hold back, she does not ask what this will cost her in terms of her reputation or her daily schedule. She responds in loving trust with her “yes” as she commits herself to a life that will be lived totally for others.

In 1531, Catholics believe that our Blessed Mother, this woman of faith, this woman for others, appeared to a simple native convert named Juan Diego and told him of her Son’s love for him and his people. Our Lady of Guadalupe, honored each year by the Church on December 12, is now venerated by the Catholic Church as the patroness of the Americas and, significant in a special way for our service today, the patroness of the unborn. It is into her maternal and loving arms that Catholics have placed the important work of pro-life action and apostolates.

One of the reasons for this patronage lies in the fact that the image, that miraculously appeared on Juan Diego’s tilma, bears witness to the presence of the Christ child within Mary’s womb. Mary’s “baby bump” tells everyone who views that image that she is not alone – she comes bearing the Son of God.

Significantly, at the time of Mary’s appearance on Tepeyac Hill so many years ago, the practice of child sacrifice was widespread. According to some research, at the time of the apparition, as many as one in five children were sacrificed to the Aztec gods. Thus, you see, struggles to protect innocent children from death are not unique to our present day and age.

Like what we experience in our present culture, those Aztec children were sacrificed at the altar of a false religion. But through acceptance of the Gospel, and the culture of life that it demands, this pagan practice brought an end to this cruel practice. Just as the child within Mary’s womb was accepted by the Aztecs, so too was the way of life that He brings, a way of life that leaves no room for the slaughter of the innocent.

But let us be clear: to struggle for the rights of the unborn is not a religious issue. It is not just a cause only for the person of Faith. This is a question of basic human rights, the rights which all people of goodwill and common sense can acknowledge. As we stated last year in this same setting, the Declaration of Independence, that great document proclaiming to all the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is not a religious document. And yet within that most powerful text is found a statement to which we all can agree – a right to life, life in its fullness. The opportunity to flourish as a human being, therefore, is a universal human right.

Finally, I have to share with you the great apprehension that I have with regard to the present health care legislation that is now being so vigorously debated at the federal level of Congress. And I say that despite what happened in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

Our bishops’ conference has asked basically for three very reasonable requests: no federal money for abortion, conscience clauses for doctors and nurses, and a clear prohibition on active or passive euthanasia.

Make no doubt about it – we need health care reform, but not at any price. We are a people of moral principals and what has so far been proposed, especially in the Senate bill, goes strongly against that tide. We need to raise our voices in protest. Health care should be about enhancing life, not destroying it!

My dear brothers and sisters, I challenge you today to get up out of your seats and take a stand for life, to embrace the challenge that is the culture of life and love. Through the intercession of Mary, the mother of Christ and mother of the Church, may we persevere in our struggle to abandon a way of life that is only focused on what is convenient or comfortable and to welcome no, really to embrace all our brothers and sisters, those in our family, those in Haiti, those who are yet to be born.

May God bless each of you for being here today!, may God bless this country’s pro-life movement, and, yes, may God bless America!
Catholic Spirit

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wausau Priests try out new media

Catholic priests in central Wisconsin [Diocese of La Crosse] cautiously are entering the digital age, experimenting with social media to spread God's word over the Internet.

Steve Martin, the youth and family ministry director at St. Therese Catholic Church in Rothschild, isn't a priest, but he's taken it upon himself to reach out to the youth in his community through

Martin said the page allows him to befriend young people with connections to the church and stay in touch with others. It also allows youth members to talk about issues, such as a family death, with Martin without having to schedule a personal appointment.

"This is a way to get around their busy schedules," Martin said. "Kids are so plugged in that they'll check the site constantly.

"If there's a family problem or stress, it (Facebook) gives you a chance to be personally connected to their lives," he said.

Martin hit the Web even before Pope Benedict XVI's recent suggestion that priests across the world use new media, such as videos, blogs and Web sites, to reach out to their communities and spread the Gospel.

Many local priests acknowledge that technology will play a role in the church sooner rather than later.

"We've been talking about it for quite a while," said Bob Thorn, a priest at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Wausau. "It's a good way to reach the youth."

St. Matthew, like other Catholic churches in the Wausau area, has its own Web site, but it's designed to provide basic information about the church, such as Mass schedules, news bulletins and staff listings. The Web site does not provide videos, links to Facebook pages or blogs.

The Rev. Bill Grevatch, a priest at St. Michael Catholic Church and the Church of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, both in Wausau, said he sees the value in new media, but prefers to stick to what he knows and loves best -- personal, face-to-face communication.

"New media can be so impersonal," Grevatch said. "I prefer asking people questions in person and seeing the reaction in their eyes."

What's wrong with this picture?


Rockville Centre offers buyouts for 1,500 workers

Wednesday January 27, 2010

You can add my neighbor to the East, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, on Long Island, to the growing list of dioceses facing tough times -- and taking some drastic steps to deal with its economic challenges:
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre plans to offer buyouts to 1,500 of its 6,000 employees next month as part of a cost-cutting plan to save its schools and parishes amid stagnant revenue and rising demand for charitable services, church officials said Tuesday.

Officials would not say how many jobs they ultimately planned to eliminate in the sprawling Long Island diocese, which has 1.3 million Catholics in 133 parishes across Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

They said that many of the jobs cut would be parish-level positions like outreach workers, maintenance staff, nonunionized elementary school teachers and parish administrators, while about 50 jobs would be created at diocesan headquarters in Rockville Centre for a new Office of Parish Administrative Services.

The office will consolidate many of the purchasing, accounting and other management functions now handled separately by each parish, officials said. News of the buyouts and reorganization was first reported Tuesday in Newsday.

In a letter to parishioners posted Jan. 13 on the diocesan newspaper's Web site, Bishop William F. Murphy seemed to prepare parishioners for the announcement.

"Generous as you have been and continue to be, today the expenses associated with the ministries and services we provide," exceed the donations that "you, as good stewards, make," the bishop wrote.

Along with rising expenses for personnel benefits and building maintenance, he wrote, the diocese has "seen a steady increase in demand for many of the church's services" while donations have remained level.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bishop Kettler of Fairbanks, formerly of Sioux Falls, starts abuse reconciliation mission

For Bishop Donald Kettler, Monday’s bankruptcy settlement is taking him on a continuing journey he began in August 2002 when he was ordained the fifth bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese.

Kettler’s appointment came 22 months after the death of the Most Rev. Michael Kaniecki in 2000 and when the Catholic sexual abuse cases were just being publicly filed.

In a 2002 interview, the former Sioux Falls, S.D. parish priest and canon lawyer said he had just six hours to accept or reject the vacant Fairbanks bishopric.

“It was a shock; I didn’t expect it,” Kettler said at the time. “It was too much to be a coincidence.”

In the nine years since, Kettler has been at the center of hundreds of sexual abuse lawsuits levied against the missionary diocese. In March 2008, the diocese declared bankruptcy.

Following Monday’s reorganization settlement and as the diocese emerges from bankruptcy, Kettler faces a new deadline from by the Creditors Committee, which represents nearly 300 abuse victims.

A non-monetary section of the settlement puts the burden of making personal amends to the hundreds of abuse victims and their communities on the bishop.

Kettler will be making personal visits to apologize to victims who wish to meet with him, and he will read a statement of apology from the pulpit in communities where abuse took place and encourage parishioners to support victims. He will also hold healing ceremonies and continue holding listening sessions.

“It was something we had hoped for and it said to me you’ve got a lot of work to do for healing, and a lot more work yet to do.

“I have no objection. Most of what they asked us to do I had already started to do,” Kettler said. “It will be my primary task.”

The bishop’s list of directives is extensive and specific. It ranges from identifying by name all the sexual abuse perpetrators who have served in the diocese to encouraging all future abuse victims to report abuse to law enforcement or health care professionals.

All of Kettler’s visits to rural parishes will have to be publicized in advance in specific places announced on radio station KNOM in Nome.

In addition, a general letter of apology will be posted for 10 years on the diocese Web site with the names of suspected abusers.

Kettler said he is going to ask an Intercultural Advisory Group in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region for advice on how to communicate the message he wants to give in the healing services.

At Monday’s court hearing, California attorney James Stang, representing the abuse victims, said it was an honor to represent Alaska constituency.

Stang, who has been involved with five other similar diocese bankruptcy cases, said, “These people are certainly unique and their ability to come forward is a testament to their bravery. The remoteness of people from each other makes it more extraordinary.”

“This has been mostly about money,” Stang said, referring to the settlement. “But those non-monetary provisions are just as important, if not more important. All we want to make sure is that this does not happen to anyone ever again.

“Oftentimes, this is a final chapter, but there is no final chapter for the survivors. This case has become part of who they are. It just doesn’t end with them. It affects their children, their grandchildren and it affects the whole Alaska society.”

More on the new blog from St. John's, "Pray Tell"

The previous post was the introductory letter for the blog "Pray Tell" that saw its first Post December 30. Father Anthony Russ, O.S.B., a professor of liturgy at St. John's University in Collegeville is the blog coordinator. But it is to be a group blog with lots of participants.

I have never had any formal studies in liturgy or theology. But I have heard a lot and many will say that the liturgists of St. John's and their Liturgical Press were active participants in many of things that 45 years later many of us would like to see changed: removed or changed back to the way they were.

So the initial reaction to news of a blog coming out of SJU will be one of suspicion and avoidance.

I don't know that that is entirely justified. First of all some of the participants who will be blogging weren't born at the time of the the Second Vatican Council. They are bloggers. Bloggers generally are younger. And we all know that our younger priests are much more traditional than some of the older priests. Of course, not all older priests are enamored of the changes of the Spirit of Vatican II. And probably some younger priests are!

There is no huge ground swell for a return to Latin in the Archdiocese. Likewise, except for the usual suspects, most of the parishes follow the wishes of the bishop in the celebration of their liturgies. Music might be the most controversial issue in the archdiocese, I am thinking.

Most interesting about the scope of Pray Tell are these two paragraphs by Father Ruff in his welcome letter:

  • Some people speak today of “liturgy wars.” (Maybe we should be grateful for such evidence of high interest in liturgy!?) Some talk of a “Reform of the Reform,” which apparently wants to undo the “damage” of the past 45 years. Some zealots on the Right have an unmistakable focus on the musical and archeological and ceremonial externals: east not west, propers not hymns, kneeling not standing, and so forth. [Full disclosure: I personally rather like Latin propers, and kneeling, and the eastward orientation of the Eastern churches.] This blog arose from our sense that the conversation needs to broadened, deepened, redirected. Moderate and progressive voices need to be in dialogue with zealous traditional voices. The “spiritual import” which is the “real nature of the liturgy” needs to be reemphasized. The fundamental pastoral intent of the Second Vatican Council, and of the larger ecumenical liturgical movement of that era, needs to be restated, refined, defended.

  • Some will ask, Is this to be a liberal blog? Well, what else would you expect from Collegeville?! But more needs to be said than that. If liberal means open-minded, self-questioning, ecumenical, attentive to contemporary culture, and avoidant of romantic nostalgia, then we surely hope to be liberal. But if liberal means yesterday’s progressivism, yesterday’s ideals as if the culture and the churches haven’t changed dramatically since the 1970s or 1980s, then we hope to be not at all liberal. Those in the “old guard,” if there be such, can expect to be challenged and engaged.

Father Ruff will not be the only blogger on Pray Tell. And there will be lots of comments, most of them initially from liturgical departments of universities around the country, and perhaps the world. The list of the contributors to the blog contains 24 names, half of whom have already posted, or commented to another post. That bodes well for the future. I don't frequent the taverns where liturgists hang out, so I only recognized two of the names, Fr. Michael Joncas, who needs no introduction, and Johan van Parys, the liturgist at the Basilica who has a PhD from Notre Dame in liturgy.

Recent posts include:

I've read a few of these posts and I have seen nothing at all controversial. There might be some things with which I wouldn't agree, but far fewer than I initially expected.

I am hoping and praying that Pray Tell will be a positive and powerful forum for educating and straightening out the abuses of the liturgy that regularly occur and most importantly, provide aid in assisting bishops and pastors in the implementation of the new translation of the Mass that will be coming out in 2011 or 2012. That will be a difficult task. Resistance to it is already being organized.

There's a new blog in town; And it should be worth reading, carefully

Welcome to “Pray Tell”!

“For some time the phrase ‘liturgical movement’ has been entering with increasing frequency into current speech. … It is for the furtherance of a [liturgical] awakening that we, the editors of Orate Fratres, are herewith launching a liturgical review…”

That’s how Orate Fratres (now Worship) was launched in 1926. Today PrayTell is launched from the same Benedictine institution, Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville. More precisely, this blog is a joint venture of Liturgical Press and Saint John’s School of Theology•Seminary. (And while we trust in the prayerful support of the good monks, we hasten to add that “any opinions expressed here are not necessarily…” – you know the rest.)

“Our general aim is develop a better understanding of the spiritual import of the liturgy. … [We hope] that many persons may find in the liturgy the first answer to the intimate need of their souls for a closer contact and union with the spiritual and the divine.”

This hope remains as valid in 2010 as it was in 1926. But how the times have changed! Communication is faster, and our attention spans are shorter. Newspapers and print journals are struggling. Churches face declining membership and church attendance. For young Catholics, Vatican II is “back there” somewhere with the Civil War and the Council of Trent, and young Catholics who are interested in religion often enough go for the really central things like indulgences and cappa magnas (to use the American plural). Plenty of people today meet their souls’ “intimate need…for a closer contact…with the spiritual” not in public worship, but in support groups or recovery programs or New Age esoterica. This blog aims to respond to all these realities…with hope, good will, wisdom, and humor.

“Many and varied interests meet in the liturgy. … There are the literary, musical, artistic, even ethnological and archeological aspects, all of which are worth fostering… [But these are] always in subordination to the more fundamental aspect, that of the spiritual import, which is its true essential nature. Should any of the secondary aspects and interests break away from their proper relation to the real nature of the liturgy,… we should have to confess to the keenest disappointment of our hopes…”

Some people speak today of “liturgy wars.” (Maybe we should be grateful for such evidence of high interest in liturgy!?) Some talk of a “Reform of the Reform,” which apparently wants to undo the “damage” of the past 45 years. Some zealots on the Right have an unmistakable focus on the musical and archeological and ceremonial externals: east not west, propers not hymns, kneeling not standing, and so forth. [Full disclosure: I personally rather like Latin propers, and kneeling, and the eastward orientation of the Eastern churches.] This blog arose from our sense that the conversation needs to broadened, deepened, redirected. Moderate and progressive voices need to be in dialogue with zealous traditional voices. The “spiritual import” which is the “real nature of the liturgy” needs to be reemphasized. The fundamental pastoral intent of the Second Vatican Council, and of the larger ecumenical liturgical movement of that era, needs to be restated, refined, defended.

Some will ask, Is this to be a liberal blog? Well, what else would you expect from Collegeville?! But more needs to be said than that. If liberal means open-minded, self-questioning, ecumenical, attentive to contemporary culture, and avoidant of romantic nostalgia, then we surely hope to be liberal. But if liberal means yesterday’s progressivism, yesterday’s ideals as if the culture and the churches haven’t changed dramatically since the 1970s or 1980s, then we hope to be not at all liberal. Those in the “old guard,” if there be such, can expect to be challenged and engaged.

“Our hopes are not based on any exaggerated appraisal of our own powers or endeavors. … A liturgical awakening is necessarily a collective event, and therefore needs the cooperation of many. One of our hopes is to furnish a common medium of exchange… To this end we extend a cordial invitation to all who feel sufficiently interested, to join us in the expression of their beliefs and hopes, to offer their suggestions, or to ask for the experience of others.”

Only time will tell how much interest this blog will arouse. The primary scholarly periodical from Collegeville is and remains Worship magazine. This blog is meant to compliment the more traditional media, and to offer new modes of communication and dialogue. We welcome unsolicited contributions, all of which will be seriously considered for posting. Our policy on readers’ comments is here.

“All human effort is fruitless unless is it blessed by Him who alone gives the increase.”

Amen! Pray Tell

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Newsweek Could Have Just Asked Colleagues at WaPo About Young Pro-Life Women


2010 March for LifeKrista Gesaman of's Gaggle blog could have saved herself from the indignity of making the absurd claim that young women were "missing" from protests marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by merely searching through the past coverage of the March for Life by the Washington Post, Newsweek's sister publication. In past years, the Post has highlighted the "youthful throng," the "large turnout of young people," and has quoted from teenagers participating at the annual pro-life March.

My colleague Ken Shepherd noted Gesaman's beyond faulty conclusion on Friday, and highlighted a recent Marist poll that indicated that "58 percent of persons aged 18-29 view abortion as 'morally wrong.'" Members of this age were all born after the 1973 Roe decision by the Supreme Court, so it's not that surprising of a statistic. He also underlined how "hundreds if not thousands of busloads teeming with teenagers and college students, many of them young women, descend on the nation's capital for the annual March for Life."

The Washington Post's coverage in recent years has supported Shepherd's assertion. Post staff writer Michelle Boorstein covered the March in 2006 (she also co-wrote articles on the pro-life demonstration in 2007 and 2009), and highlighted the youthful component to the March in an article titled "Protesters See Mood Shift Against 'Roe.'" She mentioned the "large turnout of young people, who filled the march route along Constitution Avenue and lined the walls outside the Supreme Court in cheerleader jackets, black leather outfits with studs and T-shirts that read, 'Abortion is Mean' and 'Sex is good, the pill is not.'" Later in the article, Boorstein also described later how "[t]he mood [at the March] was closer to a party than a political protest, and the soundtrack of the day was the laughter of young people." Near the end of her article, the writer noted that a small group of pro-abortion counter-demonstrators in front of the Supreme Court were "drowned out by dozens of young abortion opponents shouting, 'Boo!' On the other side of the wide sidewalk in front of the court building, rows of teenagers stood in a silent protest, a single strip of red tape across their mouths with the word 'life' written in black."

Boorstein's 2006 article also touched on one topic that Gesaman noted in her article: how the younger generations express their views on abortion on the Internet, and specifically mentioned the involvement of young women:

Charmaine Yoest, a vice president at the Family Research Council, told a morning gathering of 40 antiabortion bloggers that the demise of Roe would mean a battle within each state over whether abortion should be legal -- a more localized, grass-roots fight....The bloggers, a mix of middle-aged men in suits and young women who are college or graduate school students, said they are part of an increased sophistication in the movement that speaks to young people today.

Two years later, the Post even more explicitly highlighted the young adult contingent at the annual March. Staff writer Sue Anne Pressley Montes titled her January 23, 2008 article, "A Youthful Throng Marches Against Abortion," and highlighted the attendance of three pro-life teenagers. Exactly a year later, Boorstein, with Jenna Johnson and William Wan, reported that "[a] morning youth concert and Mass yesterday at Verizon Center...filled up -- there were 20,000-plus seats -- and crowds were sent to nearby churches." The three later reported that the "mood on the Mall yesterday was upbeat, with throngs of teenagers chatting, chasing one another and laughing."

Wan was the sole author of the Post's Saturday article on the 2010 March for Life, which was on the front page of the Metro section. It's interesting to note that just as his colleague at Newsweek tried to write off the attendance of young women at demonstrations marking the anniversary of Roe, the Washington Post writer himself only mentioned the youth presence at the March in passing, devoting two sentences to the topic:

The events began early Friday morning with a youth rally at the Verizon Center. The rally, organized by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, featured religious bands, a Mass conducted by bishops from across the country, including Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, and a 'confess-a-thon,' in which more than 100 priests heard confessions at stations set up in the arena.

As a veteran of the March for Life (attended 1998-1999, and then 2001-2010), I can personally attest that Gesaman doesn't know what she's talking about, at least when it comes to the annual pro-life demonstration. I attended my first March as a senior in high school, and one consistent aspect to the annual event is the significant participation of teenagers, college students, and young professionals, who often join the contingents of their alma maters.

My colleague Ken Shepherd mentioned in his post on Friday about the article how he wanted to update his post "his post with pictures of attendees at the March for Life, particularly pictures featuring the young women Gesaman thinks are NOT there." I will do this below with some of the pictures I took on Friday at the March (I had heard about Gesaman's article at the March via Twitter on my cell phone).

2010 March for Life, taken by Matthew Balan |

2010 March for Life, taken by Matthew Balan |

2010 March for Life, taken by Matthew Balan |

2010 March for Life, taken by Matthew Balan |

2010 March for Life, taken by Matthew Balan |

2010 March for Life, taken by Matthew Balan |

The Year of the Priest: Pro Ballplayer quits to enter seminary!

Highly touted Athletics prospect Grant Desme retires from baseball to enter priesthood

As a top prospect for the Oakland Athletics, outfielder Grant Desme might've gotten the call every minor leaguer wants this spring.

Instead, he believed he had another, higher calling.

Desme announced Friday that he was leaving baseball to enter the priesthood, walking away after a breakout season in which he became MVP of the Arizona Fall League.

"I was doing well at ball. But I really had to get down to the bottom of things," the 23-year-old Desme said. "I wasn't at peace with where I was at."

A lifelong Catholic, Desme thought about becoming a priest for about a year and a half. He kept his path quiet within the sports world, and his plan to enter a seminary this summer startled the A's when he told them Thursday night.

General manager Billy Beane "was understanding and supportive," Desme said, but the decision "sort of knocked him off his horse." After the talk, Desme felt "a great amount of peace."

"I love the game, but I aspire to higher things," he said. "I know I have no regrets."

Athletes and the priesthood have overlapped, albeit rarely.

Al Travers, who gave up 24 runs during a one-game career for a makeshift Detroit Tigers team in 1912, became a Catholic priest. More recently, Chase Hilgenbrinck of the New England Revolution left Major League Soccer in 2008 to enter a seminary.

Desme spoke on a conference call for about 10 minutes in a quiet, even tone, hardly sounding like many gung-ho, on-the-rise ballplayers. As for his success in the minors, he said "all of it is very undeserving."

The Athletics picked Desme in the second round of the 2007 amateur draft and he was starting to blossom. He was the only player in the entire minors with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases last season.

Desme batted .288 with 31 homers, 89 RBIs and 40 steals in 131 games at Class-A Kane County and high Class-A Stockton last year. He hit .315 with a league-leading 11 home runs and 27 RBIs in 27 games this fall in Arizona, a league filled with young talent.

Desme went into the AFL championship game well aware it might be the last time he ever played. "There was no sad feeling," he said. He homered and struck out twice, which "defines my career a bit."

The Big West Player of the Year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Desme was ranked as Oakland's No. 8 prospect by Baseball America. There was speculation the Athletics might invite Desme to big league spring training next month.

Rather, Desme intends to enter a seminary in Silverado, Calif., in August. He said abbey members didn't seem surprised someone who would "define myself as a baseball player" was changing his life so dramatically.

Desme said he didn't consider pursuing his spiritual studies while also trying to play ball. His family backed his decision and he said the positive reaction to his future goal _ the surprising news spread quickly over the Internet _ was "inspiring."

"It's about a 10-year process," he said. "I desire and hope I become a priest." In a way, he added, it's like "re-entering the minor leagues."

Desme's first two years in the minors were beset by shoulder and wrist problems. He said his days off the field gave him time to think about what was most important to him, to read and study the Bible and to talk to teammates about his faith.

In retrospect, he said, those injuries were "the biggest blessings God ever gave me." Duluth News Tribune

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, "Fr. Z" received a message from a friend with this further information on Grant Desme:

What you may not know is that the young man, Grant Desme, is from the Latin Mass community of San Clemente in Bakersfield. What you also may not know is that he served Latin Mass for you and for me (he would have been 7th-8th grade when you were in Bakersfield, and was a high schooler during my time there).

Friday, January 22, 2010

My, aren't we getting such wonderful Bishops these days from Pope Benedict?

Bishop Léonard of Namur, Belgium, this past week succeeded Cardinal Danneels of Brussels, who recently retired. This appointment was not greeted with rejoicing by many Catholics in that country. Cardinal Danneels was very liberal; Archbishop Léonard is not, to say the least.

In 2006 he was interviewed rigorously by a Belgian reporter. The transcript may be found here. Some of the more interesting issues discussed:

Other animals also have a form of consciousness.

LÉONARD: Of course. Animals also respond in an adapted manner to their surrounding, but they are not aware of the deeper meaning of those responses. They also do not develop strategies to fundamentally change their environment. That is why animals have no history, no culture. A modern cat leads roughly the same life as a cat in ancient Egypt. Only man has the capacity to change his environment. Animals respond to what is, man can also consider that which is not. And so he has the pretense to say: things are not as they should be. And so man is an animal that creates values and norms. Animals do not do that.

It didn’t make us really happy, did it?

LÉONARD: (laughs) Exactly, that is precisely it. I used to give this example to my students: give a cat a tomcat, some kittens, a ball of wool, some milk and a basket to sleep in. I don’t think that a cat in those circumstances would long for a different world. That is totally different for humans. Give someone as much money and fun as he can handle and he still won’t be happy. . . .

Then who or what is God for you?

LÉONARD: (bracing himself) The first important question is: where does the information come from that precedes us and that works in the world? We know by now that matter is able to organise itself. But some information must be available before that. Elemental particles already contain some information. Where does that come from?

Nobody knows.

LÉONARD: But everyone wonders. There are two possible answers. Either matter has no beginning and is therefore eternal. But there is a problem with that. In our experience information is always preceded by thought. Information can never exist by itself. But it is clear that humans are not at the source of information. That is why there is a second possibility: at the origin of matter is a thought, a desire. Not ours, but a different thought, a different desire. Namely, God's. . . .

Is it our duty to fulfill this world? Or will God do that?

LÉONARD: It is our responsibility to improve the current state of the world, knowing that we will never make it into a paradise. We can improve a lot, but we can also destroy much – but the final change will come from above. Everything we do to improve the world is like a foretaste of what is to come. Just like the miracles of Jesus in the gospel: those were also not definitive solutions. All the people that Jesus healed, fell ill again later. And the people he brought back to life, did not stay alive forever.

So Lazarus died twice.

LÉONARD: And they had to pay for his funeral twice. (laughs) Those miracles of Jesus were no definitive solutions. But they were signs, a promise, a prophecy. The message is that humanity is not created to suffer and to die. . . .

What is your explanation of evil then? That God wanted it?

LÉONARD: No, certainly not! If I may use a philosphical term, I’d call evil contingent – something that exists, but does not necessarily have to exist. It exists, but could just as easily not have existed at all. That is why I think it is so important that we keep interpreting the original sin as a spoiling of the world, not as a required element of it. . . .

Good comes from God, evil from what we do ourselves?

LÉONARD: Yes, that is our reasoning. The modern world, in which evil is so prominently present, is not part of the original intention of the creator. God is not content with the current situation. God has no sympathy for evil.

Why doesn’t he intervene?

LÉONARD: (sighs) That is the hardest question there is. And it is difficult to answer in words. Someone suffering does not want to hear an intellectual explanation. You could say that their decline and death are in accordance to the laws of nature. And that’s good, because life would be horrible if we lived eternally, biologically speaking. Imagine if we lived forever, who would want to be in charge of pensions? (laughs) Who would dare to promise to be faithful to his partner? A hundred years? Five hundred years? A thousand years? Admit it, it would be unbearable.

Death makes life bearable?

LÉONARD: It does. (Suddenly serious) But that message will not comfort a mother who has lost her child. That is impossible. A possible answer can be found in the death of Christ on the cross and his exclamation of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me . . . ?”

What is your first question to a candidate priest?

LÉONARD: I must verify if that person wants to be a priest to serve the Lord and the Church and the people. Not because he has nowhere else to go. I must also verify if he is balanced, if his vocation is not a dream or an illusion.

Must you also ask if he is homosexual?

LÉONARD: That is indeed an important point. It is very meaningful for a priest that he is a man. Why don’t we ordain women? Not because they’re not capable. On the contrary. But a priest is someone who acts in the person of Christ. And theologically speaking, Christ is the bridegroom of the Church. Who does the Church symbolise? A woman: Mary. And who represent Christ as the bridegroom of the Church? Men. (shows his ring) That is why the bishop is a man and wears a ring. The ring symbolises that I must love my diocese and my people as a man loves his wife. . . .

Do you think that the Belgian Church has been too quiet in the last years on important ethical topics?

LÉONARD: I think it is painful that there hasn’t been a bigger reaction to the euthanasia laws in Belgium, for example. We are too passive. The reactions from the Church and the people is much more intense in France, Italy, Spain and even Germany. (silence) In our society we do so much to make death possible, that we eventually don’t put any effort into life. . . .

In closing: what is the purpose of life, monsignor?

LÉONARD: The purpose of life is to prepare for a life that never perishes. We are on a launch platform, so to speak. We can use the years we spend here on earth to get to know God, so that we are not homeless when we come to Him later. The purpose of life, in other words, is to know the deeper meaning of our existence as well as possible. Why do I exist? What am I doing here? What is the ultimate goal of this existence? And I find all those answers thanks to my faith. . . .

Brainerd based "Project Haiti" landing in damaged country

A team of medical personnel put together by a Minnesota group is scheduled to go ashore Wednesday in Haiti.

Brainerd-area surgeon and Project Haiti founder Dr. Paul Severson won't be with the team, he'll be by his phone managing logistics. The mission is an unusual one for a doctor in a state with a small Haitian population.

Severson's commitment to the impoverished Caribbean nation is rooted in a chance meeting two decades ago with another surgeon who was born in Haiti.

Severson has made 40 trips to Haiti over the past 20 years. He's not making this trip he said because he's answering phone calls from other medical doctors around the country volunteering their help.

On Wednesday, a Project Haiti medical team is scheduled to go ashore there with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard. Severson said the U.S. Government's willingness to work with private sector groups including Project Haiti is unlike anything he's witnessed in the past.

"We're seeing cooperation between our government, our military and private sector that I don't know really existed before," Severson said.

Severson created Project Haiti, a non-sectarian humanitarian relief agency, in 1992. Since then, he said the group has sent 450 medical volunteers and others on trips to Pignon, Haiti, where the agency does much of its work.

"Right now we have a total of ten teams projected to provide continuous medical support to the hospital of Pignon for the next three months," Severson said.

About 30,000 people live in greater Pignon on Haiti's north central plateau, about 70 miles by road from Port Au Prince, the city destroyed by last week's earthquake.

Severson said Project Haiti volunteer medical personnel report tens of thousands of residents have left the capitol city. He said the charity hospital his group supports in Pignon is setting up shelter and trying to find food and water for refugees.

Death toll numbers from the earthquake, some as high as 200,000, make it difficult for outsiders to put a face on the disaster.

Not for Severson.

He knows some of the victims, and is stunned at both the breadth and depth of the toll. He remembers the faces of students in a nurses training program that were studying to work in the country's health system.

"We had just been down and toured that school and been through classrooms with these nurses all stood up and greeted us and met our professors, our nursing professors from Minnesota and met the administration," he said. "That school, the 108 nurses, were in class with their professors and the school collapsed and all of them are dead. All of them."

Severson said there are up to 45,000 Americans working in Haiti at any given time. They include U. S. government workers, and thousands of others working for charities from all around the country including Minnesota-based Project Haiti.

Paul Severson, 57, is a native of St. Paul's Merriam Park neighborhood. He said he thought he'd become a Catholic priest when he grew up. Instead, Severson graduated from the University of Minnesota medical school as a surgeon.

He heard about Haiti in 1988. Severson was being inducted into the American College of Surgeons and met another American surgeon, Dr. Guy Theodore, who later retired and returned to Pignon, the city of his birth, to start a charity hospital.

"The college had allowed him to put up a booth to try to get volunteer surgeons to come down and help him and here was a man who was taking care of 180,000 people alone, just one doctor, and I couldn't conceive of it," he said.

Severson said part of the motivation for his work in Haiti is what he describes as the depth of suffering there. It's beyond anything he's seen in this country.

"These are people who don't have enough food to eat that day, can't find a clean source, are sick all the time because they can't drink clean water, who have no ability to help themselves, who have 80 percent unemployment," he said.

Or as someone said to Severson recently, it should be an embarrassment that such conditions should be allowed to exist in a country in our hemisphere. Minnesota Public Radio

Sioux Falls Church Realignment Proposal Spurs Debate

MessagAfter six months of study and discussion, a Catholic study group unanimously approved this week its final recommendations for allocating four priests among 10 area parishes including Yankton. However, the 10 parish representatives expressed strong differences of opinion — and high levels of passion — throughout the process.

In fact, Monday’s meeting in Lesterville produced a 6-4 vote on one proposal. At the end of the evening, all of the members voted for the final package of one preferred proposal and two alternatives.

In the end, Bishop Paul Swain of the Sioux Falls Diocese could reject all recommendations, said Deacon Roger Heidt, the diocesan planning director. Proposals are limited to four priests in the region, with no priest celebrating more than three Masses per weekend. “Once the bishop makes a decision and announces it, he will come to one of these parishes and have a meeting,” Heidt told the group Monday. “He will answer questions and discuss his decision with you.”

The Yankton study group’s major discussion has fallen along three lines. Members have talked about the needs of the two Yankton parishes with a combined 2,100 families; keeping alive rural churches that might be closed; and which parishes should be combined under one priest.

Swain has said changes are needed because of a growing priest shortage in the diocese, covering the eastern half of South Dakota. Swain will receive the Yankton study group’s proposals later this month.

The proposals will also be sent to the diocesan planning committee, priest council and affected pastors. The preferred proposal would have one priest at St. Benedict in Yankton; two priests (a pastor and associate pastor) at Sacred Heart in Yankton; and one priest at Tabor, Scotland and Lesterville. The Sacred Heart associate pastor would also celebrate Mass at Sigel and Mayfield parishes on alternating weekends. He would provide other leadership and sacramental ministry in those parishes.

In addition, Springfield and Tyndall parishes would move to another planning group and unite with Assumption Church of Dante. It is also proposed that the pastor of these parishes be responsible for ministry at the state prison and academy in Springfield. Finally, St. Boniface of Idylwilde (rural Freeman) would be assigned to a group of parishes that includes Parker and Lennox.

A Heavy Burden

During Monday’s meeting, study group members talked about the priests’ possible workload. The two Yankton members — Lori Leader of St. Benedict and Colleen Chase of Sacred Heart — noted an even greater burden on priests if they are required to serve three or even four parishes.

The proposals place the weight on the priests, not the parishioners, Leader said. “I have some concern of the message being sent to Bishop Swain,” she said. “All three plans we send, only one group is sacrificial here, and it’s the priests. I don’t think we as a people are being very sacrificial.” Leader worried the heavy workload would lead to burnout or even worse for the priests. “There is only so much that humans can do and take. You can only stretch them so far,” she said. “Then, they may have guilt because they feel they are not doing what they have taken vows to do, and they can have depression.”

Leader fears that men will leave or not enter the priesthood if they face an overload of responsibilities. “They lead by emotion. I have family and friends who are in the priesthood, and I know their struggles,” she said. “They are not going to be too interested if they are going to be running (many) parishes. They will not be taking vocations.”

Chase believed the study group discussions were moving the wrong way. Under the proposals, the priests were being forced to travel long distances to serve multiple parishes, she said. “With the bishop’s proposal, we are (supposed to be) bringing people to the priests. Here, the priests are being taken to the people,” she said.
“I think we are changing it around (with these proposals). For the priests of Yankton to take it on and travel all over, I don’t know if it’s feasible.”

However, study group member Joe Healy of St. Columba at Mayfield said the rural parishes are taking on a share of the burden. “I thought that Tyndall and Springfield are willing to sacrifice, and Mayfield and Sigel are willing to accept alternating Masses,” he said. “I think we try to do the best we can to help out the priests with the work they do.”

The rural parishioners’ needs must be met, said study group member Lawrence Andersen of Idylwilde. “What would you do, throw these smaller parishes to the wolves? They need to be served,” he said.

Looking At The Numbers

The Yankton deanery shows a wide variety of membership among area parishes. In 2012, the diocesan Web site forecasts there will be 119 households for St. Boniface at Idylwilde, 158 for St. George at Scotland, 228 for St. Wenceslaus at Tabor, 306 for St. Leo at Tyndall, 875 for St. Benedict and 1,234 for Sacred Heart. The Web site does not list 2012 estimates for four other parishes, which would no longer have regular liturgies under a current plan. However, the diocese currently lists 37 families for St. Agnes at Sigel, 53 for St. Vincent at Springfield and 44 for St. Columba at Mayfield. Another parish, St. John the Baptist at Lesterville, did not have figures listed for it.

The small churches offer a strong bond and should be kept alive, said study group member Bernie Hunhoff of St. Agnes at Sigel. “Smaller parishes have value. We have 180 or more parishes that have already consolidated,” he said. “I don’t think you just come and say, ‘You’re closed.’” The bishop did not allow the study group to include options such as foreign priests and retired priests, Hunhoff said. He hopes those avenues are restored. “We can send a message that small parishes are very important if they are viable and active,” he said. The priest shortage affects more than just small churches, Hunhoff said. “It’s gotten to the point where we won’t have enough priests for larger parishes,” he said. “We have to make it work in the future with fewer priests.”

Andersen worried that rural parishioners will lose their close-knit relationships if they are forced to attend large parishes.

It’s up to each Catholic to strengthen his or her faith, Leader responded. “You can be as involved as you want to be,” she said. “You can be as active as you want in a large parish, or as lost as you want to be in a small parish. You can be as involved or you can get lost in either parish.”

Parish membership is not the only measure of a priest’s workload, Heidt said. The number of Masses, sacraments and ministries are also part of everyday life, he said.

Under one of the study group’s proposal, Sacred Heart Church in Yankton will be cut from the current four Masses per weekend to three.

That could create problems for the proposal, said study group member Martin Sieverding of St. George in Scotland. “I believe the sticking point (is limiting) Sacred Heart to three Masses and one priest,” he said. “There isn’t enough for two but too many for one.” On the other hand, priests serving multiple rural parishes face challenges, Sieverding said. “If you take into account the prep time for a Mass or funeral, then you need to take drive time into account,” he said.

Discussion also arose over the possible grouping of parishes under one priest.

Ken Kocer, a study group member from St. Wenceslaus of Tabor, recommended some changes among the proposals’ parish assignments. “I don’t think the load is fairly distributed,” he said. “Putting Tyndall and Tabor together is a big load.”

Sieverding agreed, suggesting a swap of Scotland and Lesterville under one proposal. He also expressed concern about confusion over alternating Mass times under the proposals.

The meeting featured one newcomer, as Greg Schneider of St. Leo in Tyndall filled in for regular member John Cihak. “It’s been a difficult process,” Schneider said. “The group did the best it could with the parameters before you. I commend you from a spectator’s point of view.”

Keeping The Faith

Monday’s meeting drew reaction when the floor was opened for audience comments. One man said priests should expect to work long hours and travel great distances. “If Jesus would tell His disciples that they don’t have to go away, where would Christianity be?” he asked. “If you go into the priesthood, (you) have to travel from Day One.” The audience member said traveling priests make financial sense. “With this economy, all these people travel to one priest who is further away than one priest who comes closer to the people, with the parish paying for the gas?” he asked. “Should we always expect to go to the priest, when he could go to the people and spread the Word?”

One woman wondered if the Broom Tree diocesan retreat, near Irene, couldn’t be incorporated with parish activities at St. Columba at Mayfield and St. Agnes at Sigel.

Heidt commended the study group members for their dedication. “It’s a long process, but it’s really important to go through the process,” he said.

While the seven planning meetings sparked spirited discussion, they also brought a sense of hope and optimism for the area parishes. Many of the meetings drew a full room, as audience members spoke of the importance of their Catholic faith and keeping their parishes alive.

The planning process has brought numerous benefits, Heidt said. “It’s a blessing for us to come out and learn about the deep faith that people have,” he said. “The Catholic faith is important to us as individuals and as a community. I’m glad to see the deep faith in these communities.”

After growing up on a small farm near a small town, Father Bob Lacey of Sacred Heart Church in Yankton said he understands the passion for rural parishes. “I have been (assigned) to Aberdeen and Pierre, and now here, and it’s been a great blessing to serve so many parishes,” he said. “I look forward to serving you (rural parishes) someday.”

Similar optimism was expressed by Father Joe Puthenkulathil of St. Wenceslaus Church in Tabor and St. John the Baptist Church in Lesterville. “I am grateful to all of you,” he told the audience. “I hope they find a way to keep all of these parishes open.” Yankton Press & Dakotan