Month: February 2018

The Northern Cross Interview with George Weigel

George Weigel

An interview with George Weigel
Mar 2, 2018
Deacon Kyle Eller, N/C

On March 12, St. John the Evangelist Church in Duluth, fresh off hosting the daughter of St. Gianna Molla in October, will host another distinguished guest: George Weigel, who is a distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and public Policy Center, author of three volumes on the life of Pope St. John Paul, and a distinguished conservative Catholic intellectual and media figure.

The event at St. John’s will focus on St. John Paul II. It will begin with Mass at 6:30 p.m. and be followed by Weigel’s presentation, based on his latest book, “Lessons in Hope,” the third of his volumes on John Paul.

Weigel agreed to be interviewed by email in advance of his appearance this month. The interview follows:

George Weigel
The Northern Cross: Would you tell our readers a bit about what you will be speaking on in Duluth? I understand from Father Kunst that it is related to your newest book, about your personal friendship with Pope St. John Paul II.

Weigel: Yes, that’s right. I’ll be talking about “Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II,” but also about the pope and his legacy. “Lessons in Hope” is a book, of stories, quite different in that sense from the two volumes of my John Paul II biography, “Witness to Hope” and “The End and the Beginning,” so I hope the talk (and the book) will help people come to know John Paul is a more personal way.

TNC: Is there an anecdote from that friendship you would be willing share to give readers a flavor of what you will be talking about?

Weigel: In March 1996, John Paul said to me, in respect of other biographical efforts, “They try to understand me from outside, but I can only be understood from inside.” That idea — learning a saint “from inside” — will help frame my remarks. I’ll also be introducing the audience to some of the remarkable cast of characters that surrounded John Paul II, and helped form his “inside.”

TNC: It’s now nearly 13 years since Pope John Paul went to the house of the Father. Those days were so full of powerful, memorable scenes: his last gestures, the large, peaceful crowds, the cries that he immediately be recognized a saint. I’m sure they must often come to mind for you. Now, more than a decade later, is he remembered and revered as you imagined he would be? Or to put it another way, how do you see John Paul’s place in the church as a member of the Church Triumphant?

Weigel: He’s obviously a venerated figure all over the world. Unfortunately, his insistence on the great Catholic “both/and” — truth and mercy, revelation and reason, love and responsibility — is being forgotten in some parts of the church. And it doesn’t seem as if the senior diplomats of the Vatican have learned much from the most politically consequential pope in a millennium, which is a real shame. As for John Paul’s place as a member of the Church Triumphant, I’m sure he’s a powerful intercessor for many people — as well as a continuing model for priests and bishops.

TNC: St. John Paul’s long, fruitful pontificate left a great body of teaching, and many of the issues he dealt with not only remain with us but sometimes have come dramatically to the fore. I’m thinking, for instance, of his Theology of the Body and the meaning and “language” of the body in an adequate Christian anthropology, and how this relates to gender ideology and the definition of marriage; or of his great teachings on the family in light of contemporary ecclesiastical debates about pastoral outreach to those in irregular situations; or of his great encyclical on moral theology in light of debates over the meaning of Christian conscience. What, in your view, are some of the most important things John Paul’s teaching has still to offer us in 2018?

Weigel: The Theology of the Body is the most coherent Catholic response to the cultural tsunami of the sexual revolution ever articulated, and ought to be a much larger part of catechesis and marriage preparation, although it’s already had an effect on both. John Paul’s social doctrine, with its emphasis on the imperative of a vibrant public moral culture for both democracy and the free economy, has a lot to say to contemporary American discontents. And then there is Veritatis Splendor, the great encyclical on moral theology, which tried to re-ballast a Western world collapsing into moral subjectivism; that’s still a huge issue, and there is much still to learn from Veritatis Splendor. I’d also cite his encyclical on faith and reason, which ought to be read by every Catholic educator today, as we try to keep Catholic education, especially Catholic higher education, from imploding into the incoherence you see on so many campuses today.

TNC: Many believe that Pope John Paul II changed people’s expectations of the papacy, because of his great gifts of charisma and communication and his willingness to travel the world and evangelize and be a public figure. Pope Francis is also a pope who seems to embrace that kind of a role. (In fact, some who are younger may not recall that there was a pope with “star power” before Francis.) How would you compare and contrast the way they live out that aspect of their ministry?

Weigel: The pope has been at the center of the world Catholic conversation — and the world’s perception of the Church — at least since Pius IX (1846-1878), and perhaps since Pius VII (1800-1823). There are obvious advantages to this, but there are also disadvantages. The pope cannot and should not be the protagonist of everything in the Church. We all have our roles in the Body of Christ, and we all have a responsibility to live as missionary disciples. Both John Paul II and Francis have insisted on that.

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

SMA-Holy Rosary Campus Kindergarten Round-up on Thursday, Mar. 1, from 12:30 – 2:00

Please enjoy this video from last year, created by Amanda Tessier, one of the Kindergarten teachers, now at the Holy Rosary Campus.  Our name has changed; we are, “Called to Be One,” but the flavor of academic, social and religious guidance hasn’t changed.  We hope to see you at Kindergarten Round-up at Stella Maris Academy, the Holy Rosary Campus, Thursday, March 1, from 12:30 – 2:00.




SMA-Holy Rosary Campus Kindergarten Round-up
Thursday, March 1 at 12:30 – 2 PM

Stella Maris Academy Logo   


Announcing Kindergarten Round-up at the Holy Rosary Campus of Stella Maris

Thursday, March 1 at 12:30 – 2 PM
2802 E 4th St, Duluth, Minnesota 55812
Come explore Stella Maris Academy with your incoming Kindergartner! 
Your child will be able to experience Stella Maris Academy with hand on activities while you learn more about how small class sizes, exceptional teachers, and our focus on growing the whole child can enhance your child’s education.




Stella Maris Kindergarten Teacher, Sue Weber

Special Events
Stella Maris Academy’s Special Campus Events
Please check the Stella Maris Calendar for more events and activities!




Stella Maris Kindergarten
Amanda Tessier

Amanda Tessier, creator of the video, with her present Stella Maris Students












Dear Regular Mass-Goers, the Seats at the End of the Pew Aren’t for You

St. Joseph's Catholic Church

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church

St. John’s & St. Joe’s:

I read this interesting column in America Magazine and realized we are guilty of doing this every day!  You’re welcome to read it to  see if it makes sense to you to change our style!  I’d love newcomers to feel welcome!


By Father Jack Bentz, SJ
For America Magazine

My work took me away from home a lot last fall, and so I was at a different Catholic parish every weekend. All the same Catholic Mass—and, depressingly, the same experience of being the unwelcomed stranger in a strangely familiar land.

Many of the parishes had a greeter smiling at the front door with a bulletin in hand. There was often an invitation from the pulpit for all visitors to stand and be welcomed. At one parish, I even received a shiny little gift bag with a ballpoint pen and a coffee cup, both bearing the name of the parish.

That was nice. I was being officially welcomed.

But it was not working. Why? I think it is because I had to climb over people to get into a pew. Seriously. This happened time and again and in churches that were empty except for the ends of the pews firmly held against all newcomers.

I was raised Catholic. I know the strategy. The first-class seats are at the end of the pew.

I was raised Catholic. I know the strategy. The first-class seats are at the end of the pew. To create a warm and inviting parish, it is apparently much easier to put a welcome blurb in the bulletin or even to station greeters at the front of the church than for parishioners to sit in the middle of an empty pew.

The more parishes I attended, the more people I had to crawl over, the more time I had to think: What scares us about sitting in the center? The wooden pew is just as hard, the view is much the same and we won’t suddenly hear an improvement in the music by sitting on the aisle. Perhaps it is because we know we should be at Mass but are unwilling to really commit. We want to be close to an exit so we can make a quick getaway. So we sit with one foot in the pew and the other in the parking lot.

Do we forget that we are at Mass because it is here the community gathers? It is here that we become the people of God, drawn to each other by the work of the Spirit. And yet we try to sit where we can have as little contact with other people as possible—choosing our seats at Mass as we would on a cramped trans-Atlantic flight with unpleasant strangers.

We want to be close to an exit so we can make a quick getaway. So we sit with one foot in the pew and the other in the parking lot.

We do this without thinking about it, on a level that remains hidden to us but is obvious to newcomers. We bemoan our empty churches and then act as though no one is expected to join us in our empty pew. But here is the deal: The end spots on a pew are for those who arrive after us.

Or do we think we are the last ones who will sit in these pews at all? That we are the final generation of faithful churchgoing Catholics? Thus we don’t need to worry about moving toward the middle because the pew will be largely empty anyway.

Every weekend, in every Catholic Church in the United States, new people arrive hungry for a community to call home. Is this parish for them? Is this pew for them? They come from other denominations, from other faiths and from other parishes. If they cannot find a place to sit, they will not be back. And we will never have a chance to speak the saving Word to them, because, in spite of the official welcome, they understood this was not going to be their church. It was already taken by the guardians at the end of the pew.

The end spots on a pew are for those who arrive after us.

This is hard on the newcomers, but it is equally damaging to the oldtimers, the invested, the parishioners. We can go to Mass weekend after weekend, and every weekend we get just a little bit less hopeful. We begin to see the empty pews as abandoned real estate rather than fresh new lots, ready for families to move into our neighborhood.

Now, this might not apply to families with kids. But if we singles and couples chose to scoot over and occupy the middle we would not only create space for the newcomers but we could get into the habit of hope again in our church. We could hold a space open for all our friends and family who wander in lost and alone on a Sunday morning. And we would begin to rub elbows with the Sunday regulars from the other end of the pew as well.

Then, imagine if we all began to move toward the middle in the rest of our lives—in our choice of media, in our ideological camps. Can you imagine moving to the middle? Or is any movement toward the center seen as a betrayal? Are we selfish enough to continue the move apart when what we need desperately is to come together?

Can you imagine arriving at Mass and choosing to sit in the exact middle of a pew? If you sit there, you boldly state that you are expecting more people to join you. There is room on your right; there is room on your left. You sit in the middle because you are welcoming. You are ready to make that first offer to strangers, the offer of space, of community. You help them begin a first step toward a life with Christ where you are St. Paul, John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary rolled into one: an on-fire, evangelizing Catholic.

Welcoming Stella Maris Academy & Announcing St. John’s Campus Open House

SMA – St John’s Campus Middle School Open House
Thursday, February 15 at 8:30 AM – 2 PM and 5:30 – 7 PM
St. John’s Campus

1 W Chisholm St, Duluth, Minnesota 55803
Come and explore the middle schools at Stella Maris Academy! 

Spend time walking the hallways, connecting with current middle school families, and talking with our wonderful staff. 
You will be able to see why our middle school students shine above the rest! 
We will have 2 interactive sessions for parents and students during the day – 8:30 to 10 AM, 12:30 to 2 PM, and if you are unable to attend during the day, our open house will continue at 5:30 until 7 PM. 
Please RSVP to [email protected] to sign up for a daytime session! (No RSVP required for the evening)


Aliah, Natalyia, Kendra

Father Rich & Stella Maris Altar Servers









Wednesday Mass with Father Rich


Stella Maris Academy is a coming together of a Catholic community for the educational formation of students to become good citizens of this world, loving God and neighbor, and enriching society with the influence of the gospel. As a community of faith, Stella Maris Academy believes the authentic spirit of Catholicism should permeate the curriculum; with truth, beauty, and goodness imbued in all aspects of learning. Guided by the principles of our values, the mission of our academic community is to prepare lifelong learners who lead, love, and serve as Jesus taught, therefore transforming our world one student at a time.

Below is a link to the Stella Maris website.  We look forward to updates from the St. John’s & Holy Rosary campuses, which house our parish students.  Please visit their site and remember Kindergarten Roundup and Open Enrollment is coming soon.  Dates are included via the link below.


Hilaire Hauer, Interim President


“Together, the families, students, faculty, priests, sisters and all here at Stella Maris Academy create the environment where love, truth, mercy and tradition live. We are guided by the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of Christ through the community we build and the learning we foster, through the leadership and stewardship we show, the recognition of the innumerable and diverse gifts God has given to each of us and for the respect for each other and the love of our Catholic identity.

Without a doubt Stella Maris Academy will be known in our community and beyond for the exemplary formation of not only our students, but also of our families and for the great work we do together through Stella Maris Academy. We will be second to none for the depth and breadth of our commitment to bettering the world through our intellectual, spiritual, human and stewardship formation focus. Stella Maris Academy students will go out into the world virtuous and wise.” 

-Hilaire Hauer, Interim-President of Stella Maris Academy


Stella Maris Academy Logo



Please enjoy a sample of the love, joy, academic excellence and religious education enjoyed by our students from last year, just prior to our, “Called to Be One,”  Stella Maris Academy affiliation.  We are working on a video for this year and will share it soon!  We thank Terri Jones, IT instructor last year for this beautiful contribution.


Ash Wednesday 2016: A Commentary & A Psalm

Father Richard Kunst

Ashes, of course, but there’s more to get from Lent

Years ago one of my seminary professors cited a study listing the most well-attended Masses of the year. The first two were obvious — Christmas and Easter — but the third and fourth most attended Masses were a bit of a surprise to me at the time. They were Palm Sunday and Ash Wednesday.

I cannot remember the details of the study or who performed it, but after years of experience I must say I concur. My teacher followed up with a cynical comment, saying more people come to those Masses because they get something, namely palms on Palm Sunday and ashes on Ash Wednesday.

Let us take a  look at the use of ashes and their history in our Catholic faith.   Ash Wednesday is not even a “holy day of obligation,” but don’t tell non-readers that!

Certainly our use of ashes comes from the Jewish faith, as so many of our practices do. We can look back at the Old Testament and see many examples of their use, and when they were used it was to signify one of two things, our mortality or penance for sins committed.

The distribution of ashes in our Catholic faith reflects this reality. Consider the two formulas we can choose when applying them to the faithful’s forehead: The person distributing the ashes can say either “repent and  believe in the Gospel,” which has the theme of penance, or “remember, you are dust and to dust you will return,” which represents our mortality.

Mortality has long been a theme in our Catholic tradition and art. As I have mentioned before, some of the most prominent decorative characteristics in old European parishes are skulls, crossbones and full skeletons. Imagine if your pastor were to have a large skeleton painted on the wall of your parish! But that is a very popular decoration in Europe. The purpose is to remind us of what the ashes remind us of today: We are dust.

The ordinary minister of the distribution of ashes is either the priest or a deacon. If necessary, a layperson is also permitted to distribute. The ashes used are either from the previous year’s blessed palms or from an olive tree.

The Catholic Church has used ashes in its liturgy since at least as early as the tenth century, and of all the rich symbols we have in our faith, the ashes we apply on the first day of Lent are among the most powerful. But Ash Wednesday is only the start. This powerful symbol ushers in the holy season of Lent, which gives us a great opportunity to rely more on God and to get closer to him.

During Lent, many if not most of us will “give something up” as a small penance to get into the spirit of the season, and that is completely laudable and even expected of us. But sometimes our energy in that direction can be misguided.

I once knew someone who quit eating all solid foods during the whole of Lent and only drank malts and energy drinks, all along making a big show of it. That is certainly not the purpose of the season or the fast.

Giving up something like sweets or soda can become an issue of pride or even bragging, which becomes counter-productive to what we are about during this time of year. If we are to use Lent to get closer to God, there might be a better way.

Adding things to our life and spirituality might be better than taking them away. It would be far better to have more people go to weekday Mass than to have fewer cookies eaten. It would be better to have more people go to the Stations of the Cross than to have less pop drunk.

We should be looking for extra things to enrich our faith during this time. Certainly our parishes offer more opportunities.

This is the busiest time of the year for us priests. I would challenge you not to have Ash Wednesday Mass be the only extra thing you do all Lent. Easter is the greatest and most beautiful day of the year on the Christian calendar. It becomes even more so when we put a lot into our Lenten observance.

“Without God, all that remains of man’s greatness is that little pile of dust, in a dish, at one side of the altar, on Ash Wednesday. It is what the Church marks us with on our forehead, as though with our own substance.” 

J. Leclercq,A Year with the Liturgy



To the end, a psalm of David.
  when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had sinned with Bathsheba.
1  Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness: according to the multitude
of thy mercies do away mine offences.
2  Wash me throughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
3  For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.
4  Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified
in thy saying, and clear when thou art judged.
5  Behold, I was shapen in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
6  But lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
7  Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: thou shalt wash me,
and I shall be whiter than snow.
8  Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9  Turn thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.
10  Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
11  Cast me not away from thy presence: and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
12  O give me the comfort of thy help again: and stablish me with thy free Spirit.
13  Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
14  Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou that art the God of my health: and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness.
15  Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew thy praise.
16  For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee: but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
17  The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.
18  O be favourable and gracious unto Sion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19  Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young bullocks upon thine altar.


February 13th: Celebrating St. Valentine’s Day Early with a Commentary from Fr. Rich

Father Richard Kunst

  As you know, I generally utilize all my vacation time leading small private tours to Rome.  Although I enjoy it because I love the Eternal City, and because I love to see people bewildered by the beauty of the city, it is indeed work for me.  We have long days with little sleep, and I am on the clock, bringing people around and explaining to them what they are seeing.  When leading these tours I generally stick to the same routes and sites, but from time to time I will venture to places that are less familiar, and I did just that during my most recent tour. 

          Though I had already been there a few times, during this last tour I brought the group to a church called Santa Maria in Cosmedin.  The church is old, dating back to the 6th century, but it’s not its age that draws the crowds; rather it’s an old drain cover people go to see.  The “Bocca della Verita” (Mouth of Truth) is a massive drain cover from the ancient Roman period.  It is in the image of a large face with an open mouth, and according to tradition if you place your hand in the mouth, and if you are guilty of adultery it will bite your hand.  This of course is a silly tradition, but people like it as a photo op, so you generally have to wait in line to have the chance to test your fidelity.

            The group I brought to Rome this last time was in no mood to stand in line to see the old drain cover, so instead we went through the rest of the ancient church.  On one of the side altars was a simple reliquary holding the clearly visible skull of St. Valentine.  It made me wonder just who this saint was.  In western culture St. Valentine has become hugely popular because of February 14th and the celebration of lovers.  But does anyone really know anything about the man who lends his name to such a popular holiday?  No. No one does.  There is just simply speculation, none of which can be confirmed.

           We had one pope by the name of Valentine who reigned for 40 days in 827 AD, but he is not a saint, so the holiday cannot be named for him.  There are three other options in the official list of saints, which is called “Martyrologies.”  One of the early lists of martyologies has three different saints named Valentine; all of them are celebrated on February 14th.  But any information about them is scant at best.  One was a priest who lived in Rome.  Another was a bishop who was in a place called Interamna.  Both of these Saint Valentines died martyrs’ deaths in the third century.  On the same date is another martyred Valentine who was killed for the faith in Africa, also from the third century.  That is all we know about them.  They are examples of saints who have been lost to history and who undoubtedly lived holy lives and sacrificed themselves for the faith to the point of death.  Because of the lack of record keeping we know nothing more of the three St. Valentines who just so happen to all share the same feast day of February 14th.  In other words, I have no idea whose skull I was actually looking at in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin!

            So why is it that they are the patron saints of lovers?  There are different theories but the one that seems to be the most acceptable really has nothing to do with the saints themselves but with a legend associated with the date of the 14thof February.  According to ancient tradition it was thought that birds began to find their mates on that date during the second and shortest month of the year.  And because there was a time when everything was culturally Catholic it was only natural to see what saint’s feast day fell on an important date.  Because there were three Saint Valentines all on the same date it was only natural to name the day after St. Valentine(s).

            The practice of sending “Valentines” to loved ones and mates is not new.  We have records of the practice going all the way back to the 1300s.  Of course the holy men who share the same date and name would never have had a clue as to what was going to become of their heroic faith and how it would eventually come to mean something very different.  In fact the Church doesn’t even have a liturgical feast day for St. Valentine anymore, and if your go to daily Mass on February 14thyou likely won’t hear a thing about the three St. Valentines.  You will hear a lot about Sts. Cyril and Methodius, two canonized brothers who were missionaries to the Slavic people.  So on February 14th this year instead of sending a card and flowers to your wife or girlfriend, send your Slovenian friends a card and wish them a happy Sts. Cyril and Methodius Day!   —Father Rich

Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Exterior


The Skull of St. Valentine in Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome

“Bocca della Verita” (Mouth of Truth)

Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Inteiror