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Father Michael Schmitz: When sharing the faith, don’t just rely on the three Ps

I am a member of a parish here in the diocese. I have a co-worker with whom I get along very well who has taken a deeper interest in Catholicism. How do I best direct him to a parish that will make him feel welcome and engage him in a personal way?

Thank you for being so willing to help your friend in his journey to the Catholic Church. The fact that he knows you as a Catholic is to your credit. So many of us live and work in such a way that no one we work with would have any clue whether or not we belong to Christ. You must be living out your faith in such a way that he not only knows it but finds it attractive. Praise God for your willingness to be a public follower of Jesus!

Father Michael Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

That said, I see three issues with the question as you present it: Programs, Professionals, and Procedures.

As Catholics, we can tend to be a bit preoccupied with these “three Ps.” When it comes to sharing the faith or helping someone come to a deeper relationship with Christ and his church, we default to the question about Programs. “Is there a class happening somewhere for people interested in Jesus?” “Where can my friend get ‘plugged in’ in this parish?” “What does the parish offer for those who are on the fence?”

Now, as someone who appreciates the usefulness of Programs (and who has written and filmed a few of them), I need to offer a word of caution. Programs don’t replace people. Jesus never called people to show up to participate in a Program. He didn’t send the Apostles out into the world to create Programs. And the church has not spread across the globe through her fantastic use of Programs. Yet this is often our default.

We next look to the Professionals. We will say things like, “If only we had a priest who was more friendly and welcoming.” Or if your priest is welcoming, we may wish that he was more accessible. “If only my friend could meet Father and spend time with him, I bet Father could answer all of his questions.” If we don’t look to the priest, then we look to the paid staff of the parish to perform this task. We have become a church where we want to give the everyday work of the ordinary disciple to the Professionals.

Of course, our priests have the role of being missionaries themselves, and priests must take that call seriously and actively. And yes, we want the staff of the parish to share themselves with the world beyond the walls of the church building. But as the past four or five popes have been reminding us, the missionary work of the church is not limited to a certain “class” of Christian; it does not belong to the Professionals. It is the work of the average and ordinary disciple to reach out to people and in places where priests and staff cannot.

Because of the truth that reaching out is not the result of a good Program and is not solely the responsibility of the Professionals, we know that outreach is the job of the person in the pew. A problem with this, even when Catholics agree with this and want to live it out, is that the tendency is to ask for a Procedure. “What is the proper Procedure for sharing my faith with my friend?” “What are the steps that I should lead them through?” “Is there a set of questions and answers that I should lead my friend through?”

I acknowledge that we most often bring up these kinds of questions because Catholicism can often seem so “Procedure bound” and so complex that we assume that there must be something like “How to Share Your Faith With Anyone (in Five Easy Steps).”

The response that I offer here is to raise your eyes above the need to rely exclusively on Programs, Professionals, and Procedures. Instead, begin to trust in a fourth P: Personal. Rather than hoping that your friend meets a friendly, welcoming priest or community, why not be the friendly, welcoming Catholic?

Your co-worker doesn’t immediately need a relationship with some random stranger at the parish, they already have a relationship with you. You are their connection to the Catholic Church. You are the one who will give them the sign regarding whether or not they will meet people at the parish willing to allow their schedules and lives to be “interrupted” by a stranger who wants to know Jesus better. If you, who already have a relationship with them, are not willing to share your relationship with Jesus with them, who in your parish will? If you are not willing to make the effort to invite them to brunch after Mass with you and your family, who in your parish will randomly notice the new person sitting in the pew and ask them?

St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica about how he interacted with them. He wrote, “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). The model Apostle highlights that he was not going to rely upon Programs, Professionals, or Procedures. He would allow the Gospel to be Personalized through him.

Your coworker already has a connection with your parish: you.

One last note on “sharing your faith.” That sounds an awful lot like giving a lesson on the Catechism. It doesn’t have to be. It can simply be this: Sharing your relationship with Jesus with the people who are interested. But more on that later.

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at

Father Richard Kunst: That long genealogy on Christmas Eve? It’s worth your attention

Hands down the most heavily attended Mass of the entire year in my experience is the vigil Mass (the earliest one) on Christmas Eve. This is the Mass where the ushers have to bring up 50 to 75 folding chairs from the church basement to accommodate all the people, many of whom I have not seen since last Easter.

I like this Mass for all sorts of reasons. (It’s Christmas after all.) One of the reasons is because of the Gospel we read during this liturgy: Matthew 1:1-25. This is one of two genealogies of Jesus listed in the Gospels, the other one being in Luke.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard Kunst

We all should be familiar with the genealogy. You know the one, it goes something like this, “Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph …” (Matthew 1:6). I love reading the genealogy, but on more than one occasion I have actually been criticized for it. The liturgy often gives us options in the Mass to read a longer version of the Gospel or the shorter one, and this is the case for the Christmas Vigil on Christmas Eve.

I could skip the first 17 verses of this passage, but I never do.

I remember one year a man came up to me and basically said, “Father Rich, why would you read that long Gospel when there are so many young kids? Many of them are crying because they want to get home for their presents.”

There are many reasons why I read the long version!

While Luke’s genealogy goes back to Adam, Matthew’s goes back to Abraham. This is significant, because Matthew was writing his Gospel to a Jewish population, so the entire Gospel is one in which he goes to great pains to show that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Messiah. Matthew starts with Abraham because he is the father of the Jewish people, and in Genesis God promises Abraham that kings would stem from his lineage (Genesis 17:6).

After Abraham, the next big name that Matthew’s genealogy gives most focus to is King David. Matthew mentions Abraham, David, and Christ as the three most significant names to illustrate kingship. In verse 17, the Gospel author divides the genealogy into three units of 14, which is also significant for more than one reason. (If you were to travel to Bethlehem, you would see a silver star that marks the exact spot of the traditional place of Jesus’ birth, and that star has 14 points).

Matthew stresses 14 to show that Jesus is the long-awaited son of David; David is the 14th name listed in the genealogy. More importantly, the ancient Hebrew language assigned numeric values to their words, names, and letters, and the numeric value of David’s name in Hebrew is 14. The number 14 can also be considered significant in that it is a multiple of seven, the number representing perfection and divinity.

Another significant aspect of the genealogy we will hear on Christmas Eve is that there is an inclusion of several women, which was very unusual for the time. (These include Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah.) But more unusual is the fact that all the women are gentiles (non-Jews), and three of the four are associated with sexual immorality! This was normally something that would have been hidden or kept out of genealogies, since the purpose of a genealogy was to illustrate someone’s significant ancestry.

Some speculation of their inclusion is that they foreshadowed that gentiles would be included in Christ’s salvific act. Another speculation is that the author wanted to show Jesus came from a regular family line, which includes saints and sinners alike. He was completely and fully human in every way except sin, including his very human family.

There is so much more that can be said about the genealogy portrayed in Matthew’s Gospel. Suffice it to say I hope that you are more attentive to it when it is read this Christmas Eve. It is a beautiful and theologically rich passage, packed with symbolism.

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen. Reach him at

Collections for recent natural disasters raise nearly $300K

Over the past few months, a series of natural disasters have struck the United States and surrounding nations, leading to a series of “second collections” at Mass for area Catholics seeking to help.

Help they have.

Franz Hoefferle, finance officer for the Duluth Diocese, says that as of Nov. 16, with collections not even yet complete, those collections have raised more than $296,000 for relief efforts.

Hoeffere said that to put the numbers in context, all the national collections combined typically bring in about $423,000 per year.

“The response to the needs of those affected by these disasters has been tremendous,” he said. “… People in our diocese have big hearts, and the response to these tragedies shows this.”

Hoefferle said the collection for Hurricane Harvey so far has brought in $153,068, the collection for Hurricane Irma has brought in $78,656, the collection for Hurrican Maria has brought in $49,004, and the collection for the earthquake in Mexico has brought in $16,217.

He added that some churches had delayed taking up the collections because of conflicts with other parish activities, so the final numbers likely won’t be known until the end of the year.

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Four men ordained permanent deacons

Deacons Kyle Eller, Daniel Goshey, Michael Marvin, and Steven Odegard were ordained to the permanent diaconate Sunday, Nov. 26, the Solemnity of Christ the King. A near capacity crowd of family, friends, and faithful filled the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary to witness the sacrament and celebrate.

In his welcoming remarks, Bishop Paul Sirba expressed gratitude for “the great blessing to the local church” that the four new deacons represent. In his homily, he referenced the Kingship of Jesus to draw a pronounced contrast between fallible secular leaders and the example of servant leadership set by Jesus. “We are called to be good leaders,” he said, noting that the newly ordained deacons should not be ”spectators but witnesses to the Gospel.”

From left, Deacons Daniel Goshey, Kyle Eller, Steven Odegard, and Michael Marvin pose with Bishop Paul Sirba following the diaconal ordination Nov. 26. The men will serve parishes in Crosby, Duluth, Hinckley, and Pine River. (Buzzy Winter / For The Northern Cross)

Looking to the words of Ezekiel from the first reading, Bishop Sirba outlined the new deacons’ roles. “Find the scattered sheep. Go to the fringes and find the lost. Help the priests in your parishes,” he said. Noting the rising number of “nones” (those who claim no religious affiliation at all), Bishop Sirba encouraged the deacons to “help them find Jesus.” Referencing Pope Francis’ call for prayers for the immigrant, the refugee, and the downtrodden of our world, Bishop Sirba reminded all of the faithful that [the Gospel of] “Matthew says we will be judged on how we love.”

Acknowledging the essential role that the deacons’ wives and families play not only in formation but as partners in the diaconate ministry, Bishop Sirba thanked them for their faith and support. He asked the faithful to “bless those called to the diaconate” and to pray for them. As he handed the Book of the Gospels to each newly ordained deacon, he charged them with this mission, “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”

From doubt to the diaconate

Deacon Eller grew up in Moose Lake and met his wife of 22 years, Sandy, at Augustana College. They have three children. Deacon Eller has worked for the Diocese of Duluth for 12 years as the editor of The Northern Cross and communications director.

Growing up as a “pretty serious Lutheran,” Deacon Eller fell away from his faith during college, where he became a “committed relativist and agnostic” who was nevertheless drawn to the Catholic faith as he sought answers to his doubts and questions about God, Jesus, and genuine belief in both. He eventually converted and joined the church.

His intermittent thoughts for several years about the diaconate led a spiritual director to encourage Deacon Eller to “discern more formally.” He said he was also inspired by the death of his middle daughter, Anna, at age 14 months. “It was an incredible privilege and grace to be with her,” he says, and it led him to “think about being present in a similar way with others.”

During the formation process, Deacon Eller says that “God made a way” through challenges, and he learned to trust in God and discover joy even when pulled out of his comfort zone.

Although professing to be an “introvert,” Deacon Eller says he looks most forward to “walk[ing] with people where they are and help[ing] them encounter Jesus” through his diaconal ministry. He has the unique honor of being the fourth deacon from St. Benedict’s Parish to be ordained in four years, and he will serve his home parish. “I’ve learned that discernment doesn’t end with ordination; in important ways, it’s just a beginning.” He says he’s experienced God’s presence, healing, and mercy and has eyes and “a heart for people who are on the fringes or maybe seem a little cast off.”

Surrendering to God

As the youngest of 11 children growing up in St. Paul, Deacon Goshey lived a typical “cradle Catholic” life. He received the sacraments, including marriage, at his home parish of the Church of the Holy Childhood in St. Paul, where he attended the parish school until eighth grade and was also an altar server, reader, and choir member. Serving in these parish roles stirred in him the beginnings of a vocational call when he was a teenager, although he was unsure about the priesthood and “had never heard of a deacon.” Although feeling conflicted, he felt the call to marriage and family life was stronger than to the priesthood, and he married his high school sweetheart, Julie, with whom he shares two children. As Deacon Goshey pursued his radio broadcasting career and raised a family, however, “the call to be of more service to the church never really went away.”

After a move to Crosby, Deacon Goshey and his family joined the parish of St. Joseph, where he met Deacon Phil Mayer and began to learn about the diaconate. Through 15 years of conversation, discernment, and spiritual direction from both Deacon Mayer and his pastor, Deacon Goshey entered the formation process, which he describes as “a series of surrenders. First I surrendered my agenda, then my deficiencies and weaknesses, then my sinfulness, then my agenda again, then my personal preferences in life …, then my agenda again, then my fears, then my agenda again.” He described the journey as one of “finding layers of myself that I had been clinging to” and then sometimes loosening his grip on them, and sometimes having God rip them out of his hands. Because of learning challenges, Deacon Goshey found the academic preparation of formation to be quite challenging, and the effort it took to master it contributed to the depth of the transformation he felt. “Life these last five years has been the most difficult and challenging [time] of my whole life, yet I have never been more at peace and joy-filled.”

Throughout the discernment and formation journey, Deacon Goshey credits his wife Julie with the strongest “earthly” support and influence he felt. “Not only has she supported me in this process, and accompanied me through the green pastures and the dark valleys, but there have been times when she was actively leading me where I was afraid to go,” he said. This unwavering support has led to what Deacon Goshey describes as “the greatest gift of all — the transformation of our marriage.” Because wives of deacon candidates attend all of the same classes as their husbands, their role is as crucial to the formation process as all the other aspects of it. Julie’s commitment to her husband’s formation is all the more remarkable because she was not Catholic when he began formation. As the process went on, Deacon Goshey said his wife came to him and said “she was also feeling a call to the church and couldn’t stay away any longer.” Now, they will serve their home parish of St. Joseph, in Crosby and Deerwood, together as a team.

As to his future ministry, Deacon Goshey hopes to help simplify and relate the message of God and his church to those who may find it hard to understand. He says sometimes even the vocabulary used in the church leaves people like him with a ‘deer in the headlights’ look and hopes to use his public speaking skills, sense of humor, and joyful heart to try to connect with people. “The Lord has given me compassion and empathy and a true desire to help others know the love of God.”

Vision for the word of God

In the practice of optometry, Dr. Marvin helps his patients see the world more clearly. As a convert to the faith, Deacon Marvin’s own journey to the diaconate was filled with scrutiny and scholarship, which overcame his doubts and sealed his beliefs. As a newly ordained deacon, he will bring those he ministers to a clearer vision of God’s Word and deeper understanding of the Catholic faith.

Deacon Marvin grew up in Brainerd as the fourth of six children in a close-knit family. He describes his family as “loose Christians” who irregularly attended a Congregational church. After graduation from the University of Minnesota Duluth and then optometry school in Oregon, he married his high school sweetheart Carrie, and started practicing in the Brainerd Lakes-Pine River area, where he continues to practice today. He and Carrie raised four children, all of whom are married, and have six grandchildren.

It was through Carrie and her family, “serious Catholics,” as he describes them, that Deacon Marvin began to learn more about Catholicism. Before his marriage, Deacon Marvin’s father advised him “not to become Catholic just because it would be easy …. Instead, he suggested I should wait and convert [only] when, and if, I truly believed in Catholicism.”

As their family grew and he continued to attend Mass with his wife, he began to take faith more seriously and attended some Promise Keeper stadium events. After experiencing questioning of the validity of Catholicism, Deacon Marvin felt “pushed to the point of needing to determine the true Christian faith as revealed by Jesus Christ.” After exploration, study, and reflection, Deacon Marvin found that “Catholicism was the clear winner,” and he converted to the faith.

At the time of his conversion, Carrie’s mother suggested that he should consider becoming a deacon, which he did, off and on for several years, and then let it go. Then, one day while praying before morning Mass, Deacon Marvin said a “from out of nowhere a thought came into my mind: ‘You should consider becoming a deacon.’” Stunned into disbelief, he and his wife discussed the idea that evening and decided together to “answer God’s call and pursue the permanent diaconate.” In addition to his and his wife’s parents, Deacon Marvin also credits Father Mitch Pacwa and Father Larry Richards as influences on his faith.

Deacon Marvin says he considered the coursework for formation “challenging but rewarding” and says it “dramatically broadened my understanding of Catholicism.” As members of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Pine River, which is part of the Lakes Area Parishes, Deacon Marvin and Carrie will be serving their parish alongside Father Mike Patullo. Deacon Marvin hopes to assist with RCIA, adult education, marriage preparation, and the homebound ministry.

Divine chain of command

As a military man, Deacon Odegard understood what it meant to respect the chain of command. As a Missouri Synod Lutheran married to a Catholic woman, he began to wonder about which version of Christianity was truly “commanded” by God. After a long period of exploration and questioning, Deacon Odegard found the answer he had been seeking.

Deacon Odegard was born and raised in Pine City. During a five year stint in the Air Force, he met and married his wife, Mary. After leaving the service, Deacon Odegard and Mary moved back to Minnesota, with plans of “staying only for a year.” Five children and more than 30 years later, Mary and Deacon Odegard live on a 12-acre farmstead in Pine City and have recently started a new career in the winery business. After their move, Mary decided that she wanted their children to be “raised in one church,” so she became a Lutheran. She spent 19 years in the Lutheran church and then returned to her Catholic faith, which prompted her husband to question what church was the true church of Christ. Deacon Odegard’s journey to Catholicism was all about the heavenly “chain of command,” a concept he understood from his years in the military. He says when he “realized it was not the congregation” that received the keys from Christ but Peter, his conversion was complete. He entered the church on Pentecost in 2006.

Shortly after his conversion to the faith, his pastor at the time encouraged Deacon Odegard to consider a calling to the diaconate. As he explored the inquiry process with Deacon Daniel Schultz, he says his decision was “solidified.” The formation process was “challenging and lengthy” for Deacon Odegard. He began in 2007, but because of pressing family issues had to pause his formation training for two years. In retrospect, Deacon Odegard says, “it was the best thing we could have done,” as he and Mary were able to attend to their family’s needs and are happy to have them positively resolved. Although the “academics were hard,” Deacon Odegard says he “learned so much about the church and [its] tradition.”

He is looking forward to beginning his ministry, serving with his pastor, Father Joseph Sirba, and Deacon Jim Mostek at his home parish of St. Patrick’s Church in Hinckley, but says he is “patiently awaiting the graces God will give me at ordination so that through me, the Holy Spirit can bring more to Christ.”

— By Kris Jarocki / For The Northern Cross

Bishop Paul Sirba: Here are some passages of Scripture to pray with this Advent

Sometimes we are left wanting more. Hopefully, Advent is a season like that for us! We should long for the coming of the Messiah. Advent has a two-fold character. It is a preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas and expectation for the Lord’s return in glory. Like the appearance of the star of Bethlehem, it is a flash, a brilliance of grace and light, found in silence and waiting.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

This year our watch is cut short. The fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve. This is Advent at its shortest ebb. Be mindful of the days. Now don’t get any ideas of skipping Mass on the fourth Sunday. The faithful are obliged to attend Mass at least twice; at least once for the fourth Sunday of Advent (which can be anticipated on Saturday, December 23) and at least once for Christmas. Sorry, no “two for one” deal, but who would want to miss out on the free gift!

The Church assists our Advent preparations by remembering and proclaiming salvation history in the Sacred Scriptures. Take a passage like Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.” What is referred to as the protoevangelium, or the “first Gospel,” is the passage containing the first promise of a redeemer for fallen humankind. Prayerfully reflect on God’s merciful love in bringing good out of Adam and Eve’s sin. Thank God for the gift of the Sacrament of Confession and make time to go.

Pray with Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.” Israel’s unfaithfulness does not prevent God’s initiative. For the Christian the Incarnation is the ultimate expression of God’s desire to be with us. Emmanuel means “God is with us.” He is with us today in the midst of natural disasters, sin, and apathy. May our charitable response be not only a financial gift but a joyful encounter with the poor, personally.

How about spending some silent moments with Micah 5:1-2? “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, least among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne.” Salvation will come through an anointed ruler. The greatest gift comes from the smallest and most out of the way place. God in hidden majesty lies before us each and every day. Do we see Him? Do we look for Him?

Look up for yourselves the passages Numbers 24:7; Deuteronomy 18:15; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 11: 1-10; Jeremiah 23:5; Malachi 3:1. Open your heart to God’s love for you in the Sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament during these short Advent days of waiting. Find meaning for your life.

I also encourage you to accompany someone back to Mass this Christmas. Pope Francis has been reminding us again and again to accompany our brothers and sisters on the walk of faith. Jesus Christ is the light of our world and our lives. Only He can bring us peace. Souls can be transformed when someone, namely you and me, can be an instrument, a friend to accompany them on the journey.

Sometimes we are left wanting more. Jesus is the more we are made for and long for. Come, Lord Jesus!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Daughter of St. Gianna Molla comes to Duluth

It’s not every day you meet the daughter of a canonized saint. But 300 to 350 people were there to do so when Dr. Gianna Emanue- la Molla appeared at St. John the Evangelist Church in Duluth Oct. 30 to speak about her “saint Mom and holy Dad” and a project to preserve and restore the family home in Italy.

Dr. Molla is the daughter of Pietro and St. Gianna Beretta Molla. The saint, a physi- cian like her daughter, died in 1962 a week after giving birth to her namesake. During her pregnancy, St. Gianna was diagnosed with a tumor and given three possible courses of treatment. She chose the “riskiest solution” and insisted on putting her child’s life first, her daughter told the standing-room-only crowd at St. John’s.

Dr. Gianna Molla
Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of St. Gianna Molla, embraces a member of the faithful who greeted her after a presentation at St. John the Evangelist in Duluth Oct. 30. (Photo courtesy of Mary Rasch)

“And my Dad respected Mom’s decision,” she said. “My life was saved, and Mom went on living another seven months before the delivery.”

There was a week of “agony” after the deliv- ery as complications arose, and as it became clear God was calling her to Paradise, St. Gi- anna decided she did not want to die at the hospital and returned to the family home, where she died at age 39.

“I would not be here with you this evening if I had not been loved so much,” Dr. Molla said.

She began her presentation, which followed an evening Mass, by reading from some of the beautiful letters her parents had written to each other both during their marriage and during their courtship. She said she had also come to learn more about her mother when she spent seven years caring for her father from the time he became ill at age 90 until he died at nearly 98 years of age.

During that time, St. Gianna was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II, and Pietro was able to attend. Dr. Molla said she was happy to see a statue of St. John Paul II, the pope who both beatified and canonized her mother, in the church.

She noted that her mother has been called a “saint of everyday life.”

She said she feels “very moved and touched” to hear about graces received through her mother’s intercession, and that the most common of these is babies. She hears from married couples who cannot have children or have had many miscarriages. “They pray to Mom, and they have a child.”

“I’m happy to take into my arms these babies,” she said.

Dr. Molla said both of her parents came from deeply Christian parents and big families with great faith and great devotion to the Virgin Mary, and who loved and served their neighbors. Both of her parents prayed for holy spouses and wrote in their letters to each other of their shared faith.

Dr. Molla said that in one of her letters to Pietro, St. Gianna wrote, “I was always told that the secret of happiness is to live moment by moment, and to thank the Lord for all that he, in his goodness, sends to us day after day.”

She also wrote that she wanted God to make their family a “little Cenacle,” referring to the Upper Room where Jesus and his disciples had the Last Supper, where Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, where the early church met and prayed together, and where the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples at Pentecost.

“Mom and Dad truly lived the sacrament of marriage as a vocation and as a path towards holiness,” Dr. Molla said. “They always lived their life in the light of faith.”

She said she has learned several lessons from the holy lives of her parents. She said it’s important to “live a life of Christian witness.”

She also spoke of the Way of the Cross as being the right way to follow Jesus and also the way of joy. “Even walking along the Way of the Cross, we can live in joy,” she said.

Finally, she said that she has learned from her parents the sacredness of life — from the moment of conception, as her mother, a patron saint of the pro-life movement, teaches, to the moment of death, as her father’s long life teaches.

“I pray to the Lord and to the Virgin Mary to be as worthy as is possible for me of my ‘saint Mom’ and my ‘holy Dad,’” she said.

Dr. Molla also spoke of plans to restore the family home and nearby property, including a small church, as a holy site. Plans include a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament present, a place for a religious order, and the Saint Gianna Beretta Molla International Center, dedicated to life and family.

Father Richard Kunst, the pastor of St. John’s, who organized the visit and other appearances by Dr. Molla during a three-day stay in Duluth, urged donations. He said that the visit raised just over $56,000, most of it in a private dinner the night before her appearance in the parish.

After her talk, Dr. Molla greeted members of the faithful individually and posed for pictures, including one with several Giannas who were named for her “saint Mom.”

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Father Michael Schmitz: When not liking the liturgy leads family to stop going to Mass

Question: My family refuses to go to Mass because there are too many “extras” (like baptisms), too much singing, and too many announcements. Why can’t we have a “low Mass” without all of that stuff? Isn’t the church supposed to adapt and keep up with all the people?

Answer: There are a couple of elements in your question that I would like to address individually.

Father Mike Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

If you are asking whether or not it is possible to celebrate a beautiful and reverent Mass without music, announcements, and other sacraments, then the answer is very straightforward: yes. A number of parishes I am familiar with offer a more “simple” Mass like you described. Sometimes this is the Saturday evening Mass or the early Sunday morning Mass.

Of course, not all parishes are able to offer this, since there are an increasing number of situations where a pastor is responsible for more than one parish. Because of this, there are sometimes fewer Masses offered on the weekend. In those cases, it would make sense that, due to the reduced number of liturgies, a parish would want to celebrate as full and as beautiful a Mass as possible for the Lord and for the people.

But the simple answer is: Yes, it is possible to have Mass without the elements you described.

If you are asking why we occasionally have baptisms as a part of Mass, I would say that it is because a human being becoming an adopted son or daughter of God is something worth celebrating! And not merely with that child’s family, but with the entire community. This is obvious, unless I don’t care about the other people who make up the Body of Christ or if I dislike the extra five minutes it takes to witness the miracle of a person becoming a child of God.

I truly understand liking less singing. I prefer less singing, as well. I will rarely use chant at Mass, because it doesn’t help me pray and because I think that there are other ways to pray the Mass that are just as beautiful. I can find it annoying or excessive.

Yet I wonder if the issue has less to do with the “extras” and more to do with something deeper. While I don’t know your family members, I would say that the issue has more to do with their minds or hearts than it does with singing or announcements.

As you briefly described it, the issue is one of two deficiencies. Either your family doesn’t care that much about God, or your family doesn’t understand what the Mass is. I write this tentatively, since I know neither the mind nor the heart of your family members. I have been to plenty of Masses where I was annoyed by the homily, the music (why do you insist on singing all of the verses, choirmaster?), or some other element that I found distracting or distasteful. I, too, have found it difficult to focus, to pray, or even to appreciate the efforts of those involved during those times. I think I know where you are coming from!

But here is the critical piece: That doesn’t lead me to refuse to go to Mass. If a person refuses to go to Mass because they don’t like the style, there is a serious problem. There is a difference between not liking the “extras” and refusing to go because of the “extras.” Your email did not describe the case of people who love God and desire to worship him at the Mass, but who wrestle with certain elements of the liturgy. You said that your family refuses to go to Mass.

If I know that God has commanded that we worship him in the Mass, but I refuse to do it because I don’t like singing, what other conclusion is there? Either I don’t love God much or I don’t understand what the Mass actually is.

I wonder where the idea that Mass should be “an hour or less” originated. If the Mass is truly divine worship, and if it truly is “heaven kissing earth,” why do people get antsy when it lasts longer than 60 minutes? As Saint Josemaria Escriva said, “You say the Mass is too long …. I say your love is too short.” He went on to say, “Isn’t it strange how many Christians, who take their time and have leisure enough in their social life (they are in no hurry), in following the sleepy rhythm of their professional affairs, in eating and recreation (no hurry here either), find themselves rushed and want to rush the Priest, in their anxiety to shorten the time devoted to the most holy Sacrifice of the Altar?”

We all need to be reminded at times that the Mass is not about us. It is worship. And worship must always be directed towards God. But how many times do we hear someone complain that they just “don’t get anything” out of Mass? Now, aside from the fact that we get the Word of God proclaimed to us, we get to receive the Jesus himself in the Eucharist, and we get the chance to worship God (which is no small privilege!), I always want to stop someone who makes this complaint to highlight the fact that that is literally the point! The point of worship isn’t to get anything; it is to give!

When there are added elements of the worship that Sunday by way of singing or baptisms that are annoying, you get to give God your annoyance and those extra five minutes as another sacrifice of love for the One who died and rose for you.

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at

Father Richard Kunst: Learn from St. Hubert — don’t skip church to go hunting

If you are an outdoorsman, November is the most wonderful time of the year! Hunting is in the air, and although hunting is an interest of both sexes, I certainly see more wives alone at Mass during this time than I see husbands. Often, women will refer to themselves as hunter’s widows.

Though I was born and raised in northeastern Minnesota, I was never a big hunter. For several years, I would hunt pheasant on my family’s property, but I personally never got into big game like deer or bear. But I sure appreciate hunters, and I have to admit I am attracted to the idea of going hunting more often than I do. (Last time I went, I got a tick with Lyme Disease.)

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard Kunst

Some of the more rural parishes in our diocese have special hunters’ Masses — Masses that are added or scheduled in such a way to make it easier for the hunters to make it to church. I like this idea. One of the parishes I used to be pastor of had such a practice, and we would pack the church every year with blaze orange. A lot of venison would come my way because of it!

Now, at this point in the column, I have a message to those readers who are hunters: Do not skip Mass to go hunting. It is a bad idea.

The story of the patron saint of hunters makes this perfectly clear. St. Hubert, whose feast day is fittingly in November (the 3rd) had his conversion due to a stern and miraculous warning from God after the future saint skipped church to hunt.

Because the story is ancient and legendary, there may be different versions, but the gist of it is as follows: Hubert (656-727 A.D.), when he was a young man, was very fond of hunting. One Good Friday, the most solemn day of the Christian calendar, he skipped church to go hunting. It is one thing to skip Sunday Mass frivolously, but to skip Good Friday was just plain dumb. As he was chasing a stag, they reached a clearing in the woods, and when the stag turned around to face its pursuer, Hubert was amazed to see a crucifix between the horns of its rack!

As if that weren’t enough, the crucifix started to speak! The voice from the crucifix said, “Unless you turn to the Lord, Hubert, you shall fall into hell.” What do you suppose the young Hubert did in response? He dropped to his knees and probably even wet himself! Then the future saint asked the crucifix what he should do, and the voice told him to go to the local bishop, named St. Lambert, who would guide him as a spiritual director.

Not long after this encounter, with the spiritual guidance of the holy bishop, Hubert divested himself of noble family honors, as well as giving his money to the poor. Eventually he became a priest. According to the legend, St. Lambert encouraged Father Hubert to go on pilgrimage to Rome, and during the time he was away, St. Lambert was killed. The legend states that at the time Lambert was killed, the pope had a vision of his death and was told by God to make Hubert his successor bishop.

As bishop St. Hubert became known for many miracles and his evangelization of the pagan population in his diocese. Soon after his death, he was considered a saint by the local population, but the story of the stag and his conversion experience made his popularity extend far beyond his native Netherlands.

St. Hubert’s popularity continues to grow all throughout the world. This otherwise obscure saint has had many new devotees as the popularity of hunting continues. It is fairly easy to find new holy cards and medals being produced of St. Hubert because of his being the patron saint of hunters. The emblem of this hunting saint is also found on bottles of the liqueur Jagermeister, which literally means “master hunter.”

So as you plan your hunting trips this month, make sure you do not repeat the mistake of the young Hubert, who thought it was a good idea to skip church in order to hunt. And while you are out on your deer stand, maybe say a little prayer for the hunting saint’s intercession. Who knows, you may end up bagging the legendary 30-point buck.

St. Hubert, pray for our hunters!

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen. Reach him at

Betsy Kneepkens: Hefner death, NFL controversy show that our bodies reflect our souls

I can’t help but get excited when the secular world unwittingly reports beliefs imparted by the Catholic Church and does an exceptional job proving those teachings true.

This past month, two entirely different news stories were widely published, frequently discussed, and commented about on social media: the ongoing story of NFL players who have opted to kneel during the National Anthem and coverage of the death and legacy of Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy and a progressive in the area of what has been termed “sexual freedom.”

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

These stories share common threads that reflect something the church has been saying since the beginning, but about which the world refuses to listen. Specifically, the church has taught what we do with our bodies speaks a language, and that language impacts others.

The first news story has to do with the reports surrounding NFL players kneeling or standing for the National Anthem. Whether a football player stands or kneels for the anthem is undoubtedly a social statement, but it is not a Catholic issue. However, the fact that the country seems to be obsessing over what these players do with their bodies indeed reflects a reality claimed consistently by the Catholic Church.

Many Americans want us to believe we can do whatever we wish with our bodies, and those activities are our own business. Our preoccupation with this anthem issue says that this is just not true. Our human form embodies our soul, or, put another way, our bodies share the message of our soul.

A significant part of this controversy is the perception that the body is showing disrespect. Our souls can undoubtedly be disrespectful, and the only way to reveal the message of our soul is through actions of our body. Similarly, our souls can be respectful, and that can be reflected in the body as well. The substantial connection between the body and the soul is shown by society’s outcry, which knows that these players’ souls are speaking.

This brings me to the second story in the news, which goes deeper into this subject, with the death and legacy of Hugh Hefner. According to reports, society saw Hugh Hefner as a significant force behind the sexual revolution, starting with his publication of Playboy Magazine. Hefner’s concept basically treats the body as separate from the soul and therefore suggests what we do with our bodies does not affect the soul. When reporters covered the life of Hugh Hefner, they celebrated his financial accomplishments and credited his industry with a litany of women he made famous. Hugh Hefner was a leader in making pornography mainstream.

Hefner’s pushing of the sentiment that bodies are tools for carnal pleasure opened the way to making it acceptable to use the body as an object for a profit, because without the matter of our soul, the actions of our body are inconsequential. Furthermore, this division that Hefner promoted allowed the intimate union between a man and woman to become “freed” from the sacredness that ultimately demands responsibility and obligation to another. Hefner typically appeared in the media as happy, surrounded by doting women, while displaying a sense of peace with all that he created.

In the many stories that covered his life, reporters listed numerous women who “got their start” by being centerfolds for his magazine. The stories of these women, like Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith, I think better suggest that Hefner’s concept was wrong and even harmful. Hefner’s campaign for sexual freedom left a trail of centerfolds who had lifelong issues with alcoholism, addiction, multiple marriages, disease, abuse, premature deaths, and suicide. Many of these women had fruitful careers and had financial riches, but it appears the suffering of the soul was insurmountable, leading them to what most consider troubling lives.

Not surprisingly, several clippings which covered the last part of Hefner’s life told stories of his loneliness, isolation, and attachments to material items. You can only be left wondering if he too suffered. I can only surmise that since you cannot separate the body from the soul, when Hefner’s soul talked, his body may have been lying. Years of lying with your body undoubtedly wreaks ruin on your soul, and suffering will follow.

The NFL and Hugh Hefner never went out to teach concepts espoused by the Catholic Church. For some, it can be difficult to understand why the church teaches what she teaches, but using current events certainly makes these teachings more clear. The Catholic Church may be the last ray of hope insisting and proclaiming that the human body is a composite with our soul, no matter what an individual or an industry push.

As Catholic parents, we are surrounded by contemporary issues to be used to teach our children. Sometimes, reporting unknowing proves the Catholic Church gets it right again. Especially in these cases, we can show our children the importance of living chaste lives, where our bodies speak a language that tells the truth of our soul’s dignity.

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

Four permanent deacons to be ordained Nov. 26

Bishop Paul Sirba will ordain four men, Kyle Eller, Daniel Goshey, Michael Marvin, and Steven Odegard, to the permanent diaconate at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth.

The ordination takes place on the Solemnity of Christ the King, as has been the custom of the Diocese of Duluth for many years.

Eller and his wife Sandy are from St. Benedict’s Church in Duluth. They have three children, Elisabeth, Anna (deceased), and Maria.

Goshey and wife Julie are from St. Joseph’s Church in Crosby. They have two children, Nellie and Joseph.

Marvin and his wife Carrie are from the Lakes Area Parishes, Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Pine River. They have four children, Anna, Christa, Lara and Joe.

Odegard and his wife Mary are from St. Patrick’s Church in Hinckley. They have five children, Jessica, Melissa, Joel, Kimberly, and Sarah.

All the Catholic faithful are invited to witness the sacrament and to celebrate.

— The Northern Cross

Correction: The headline has been corrected from the print edition of this story.