Our local church celebrates a significant milestone on Sept. 22. This date marks the 125th anniversary of the creation of the Diocese of St. Cloud by Pope Leo XIII.
Our history as a people of faith in central Minnesota, however, predates the diocese’s formation in 1889. Father Francis Xavier Pierz arrived here in the 1850s from what today is Slovenia to minister among the Native Americans and European settlers.
Traveling from town to town was not as easy then as it is today. Documenting one of his trips, Father Pierz wrote:
“Two-thirds of the distance was made on foot over poor roads through brush and timber and one-third was made by water. We crossed six lakes in a birch-bark canoe weighing two hundred pounds, which my catechist had to carry on his shoulders when crossing portages. … My burden was the whole portative chapel with the articles needed for mass and the books, as well as blankets weighing seventy pounds. … It is impossible to travel on horseback in summer because the road lies through five deep, dirty swamps and over thousands of fallen trees and execrable hunters’ trails. For two days we traveled amid indescribable hardships. On such a wretched way I often stumbled over roots and I once had such an unfortunate fall that I was obliged to remain where I fell for some time until I was rested and could rise (“Father Francis Pierz, Missionary” by Sister Grace McDonald, OSB).
Despite the hardships, others came to serve as well. Next were the Benedictine monks and sisters, followed by the Franciscan sisters, Poor Clare nuns and Crosiers. Together, with the settlers of the area, they helped to establish monasteries, convents, parishes, schools, universities and hospitals — many of which continue to this day.
These men and women sank deep roots into our central Minnesota soil, helping the church to flourish in the 16 counties that make up our diocese. For that, we owe them a great debt of gratitude.
This 125th anniversary is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our heritage of faith. But it also is a good time to look ahead toward the future and how we will continue to build on our forebears’ ministries of prayer, charity and evangelization.
While our diocese is not without its challenges, we are thankfully blessed with a strong faith life. I’ve seen it again and again during my first year as your shepherd on my visits to parishes and schools and in the work being done by dedicated priests, laypeople, religious and deacons who serve the church in so many important ways.
And, I see it in the tireless efforts of Catholic Charities, Catholic health care facilities and other Catholic organizations that assist the poor, the ill and all those in need of Jesus’ friendship and compassion.
It is this strong faith that gives us hope for the future as we work to build strong families and a culture of life, nurture vibrant parishes and Catholic schools, and combat the rising tide of secularism that too often relegates religion to the sidelines.
Today, we need to be a prophetic voice in welcoming the growing number of newcomers to our communities — no longer the German and other European settlers from our diocese’s beginnings, but immigrants from Latin America, Africa and may other places around the world who likewise desire a better life for themselves and their families.
As recent world events have demonstrated, it is increasingly important to build bonds of cooperation and peace with members of other Christian denominations and other faiths. And, in light of our rural traditions and increasing threats to the environment, we must strengthen our efforts to care for God’s creation.
Our brothers and sisters in faith left us a wonderful legacy to carry forward for another 125 years and beyond. I invite you to offer thanks and celebrate the rich history of our diocese. Please join me for a Mass commemorating the 125th anniversary at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 21 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. A picnic supper will follow on the grounds of the cathedral.
Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud