‘I know it’s time for a fresh apostle’

Categories: Around the Diocese

A Visitor interview with Bishop John Kinney

After suffering a bout of pneumonia and other ailments this fall, Bishop John Kinney is upbeat because the medical folks caring for him say he’s ahead of expectations in his recovery, so he fully expects to be at St. Mary’s Cathedral when Bishop Donald Kettler is installed as his successor Nov. 7. He reminisced as he sat for an interview with The Visitor.


Bishop John Kinney in 1995.

When there is an opening for a bishop in his province, a bishop always wonders if he might be appointed to fill it, Bishop John Kinney acknowledged.That was the case in 1995 when St. Cloud Benedictine Bishop Jerome Hanus was assigned to become the Archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa.Yet, when Bishop Kinney received the call to move from Bismarck, N.D., to become the ninth bishop of St. Cloud, it was still a surprise.

“It’s always a surprise,” said the bishop with a smile. Drawing on a memory from 18 years ago, he added, “It was a very important move for me in that I’d been in Bismarck for 12 or 13 years.

“I’m of a mindset that if you can’t do what you set out to do in such a given period of time, you’ve never going to get it done.”

Eighteen years later, the 76-year-old bishop said he has been blessed by being assigned to the Diocese of St. Cloud, but he feels he was blessed and graced in every post the church has called him to serve.

“I probably wouldn’t have chosen any of the assignments I’ve had, but I would choose each and every one again if I had the chance.”

He was the vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis when the pastorate of a small parish, St. Leonard of Port Maurice, in a predominantly black neighborhood in south Minneapolis was added to his duties.


Bishop John Kinney in 2012.

“That assignment changed my life,” he said. He came to understand what an intentional community is, as he put it, “in the beauty of that little parish community’s struggle to survive, seeing a group of people — a mix of people from everywhere who wanted to be there, and they wanted to be there together.”

In on Vatican II excitement

He became a priest in 1963, ordained just as the Second Vatican Council was beginning. They were “heady” times, he said, when it was exciting to use the new liturgy. “It was so thrilling to be part of that moment of the church, when you could feel the Holy Spirit moving.”

Among his experiences he remembered hearing Pope John Paul I because he was in Rome during that short papacy, calling him a wonderful catechist and teacher of the faith.

Although church rules require a bishop to tender his resignation when he reaches the age of 75, Bishop Kinney said he would have sought retirement even if he hadn’t reached that age back in June 2012.

“I know it’s time for a fresh apostle,” the bishop said. He told of meeting Blessed Pope John Paul II, who asked how old he was. “When I answered 39, he said, ‘You are very young.’

“I look in the mirror now and say, ‘Where did it go?’ “

He’s extremely pleased in the selection of Bishop Kettler — “It’s a sign of the Holy Spirit at work,” he said, and he sees the same Holy Spirit at work in the election of Pope Francis. “What a joy in waking up and seeing Pope Francis and seeing what he’s doing,” Bishop Kinney said.

“The Holy Spirit is still at work; Pentecost was not a one-time event.”

Meeting challenges

When Cardinal William Keeler asked him to chair the first U.S. Bishops’ committee on clergy sexual abuse, Bishop Kinney recalled, “I couldn’t say no. It was very important.”

That was in 1993. From day one, he said, he had a tremendously strong group of bishops around him on the committee. “We learned so much we just plain didn’t know about sex abuse,” he added, but his own great learning moment was when he realized that sexual abuse was a societal problem, not the world view that it was just a Catholic priests’ problem.

Bishop Kinney said it was most difficult to listen to the victims of clergy sexual abuse, something he did both in listening sessions he held around the diocese and in meetings with individual victims.

“You go home and you weep and you cry,” he said.

“There were just cries for healing. We need to keep addressing them.”

Closing parishes was also painful for him.

“I dreaded every one of them,” the bishop admitted.

“We have all these beautiful churches in this diocese. The challenge is how to provide the appropriate ministries — not just priests. How do you keep especially the small, rural faith communities dynamic and active — not so much the status quo but a strong, dynamic faith community and making it, thriving?”

Part of every parish family

What he loved, though, was visiting Catholic school classrooms and Catholic parishes. In every one he said he felt as though he were home.

When pupils would ask if he liked being a bishop, he said he answered, “I love being a bishop and the reason is because I can go out into every community in this diocese and I am welcome and be at home.

“I feel like a part of every family and every community.”

Bishop Kinney spoke lovingly about the hundreds of parish visits he made over the years, knowing how parishioners had spent weeks and months planning and sprucing up their grounds and their buildings so that everything was perfect for the bishop.

“I loved going to parishes,” he said. “I always felt I was home, no matter where I was.”

‘A great place of faith’

Bishop Kettler visited him twice, so he’s had the chance to share something about the diocese he is inheriting. But what else does Bishop Kettler need to know about the Diocese of St. Cloud?

“What a great place of faith this is,” Bishop Kinney answers quickly.

“One of the tremendous blessings is not only our presbytery but a strong group of men and women religious with St. John’s Abbey, the Benedictine Sisters, the Franciscans in Little Falls, the Crosiers and the Poor Clares, communities of faith who are praying every day.

“It’s the background of the people here,” he added. “Stearns County at one time was the most Catholic county in the country. Boy, when you think about the pioneer settlers, they built a church and they wanted the church to be seen by everybody so they built it on the highest hill around.

“We’re a strong mission diocese, too. Tons of missionaries have left St. Cloud to serve around the world. This place started out from missionaries, and we are continuing the tradition.”

— Bob Zyskowski