Local shepherd, global vision

Categories: Around the Diocese

Bishop Kinney has sown amazing grace around the world

After a grueling nine-hour trek over rocky bush tracks in the country now known as South Sudan, Bishop John Kinney stepped out of a Land Cruiser only to be immediately and unceremoniously stuffed into a hole in the ground, a makeshift bomb shelter. An Antonov bomber from the north was passing overhead.

The dramatic welcome in Sudan took place in 2002 when Father Bill Vos, then-director of the diocesan Mission Office, accompanied Bishop Kinney to visit his friend, Bishop Paride Taban. They traveled to a remote mission site staffed by a team of Maryknollers.

After emerging from the bomb shelter, their hosts walked them to a dispensary which had recently been bombed and destroyed. Behind the dispensary, they were shown an unexploded bomb, partially sticking out of the soil. Father Vos suggested to Bishop Kinney that they might take this home as a souvenir of their experience; Bishop Kinney good naturedly declined.

“This entire experience,” Father Vos said, “exemplifies Bishop Kinney’s willingness, his desire, to personally connect with the farthest and most needy edges of our global church. We are so fortunate to have had a shepherd with such global vision. It’s personally a joy to have worked with him these past 18 years.”

His unwavering commitment to bridging cultural gaps led him into some difficult and sometimes dangerous situations, many which helped him develop a stronger sense of mission.

Gaining perspective

On a trip to Angola in 1997, Bishop Kinney and his cohorts arrived in a war-torn village and were instructed to be cautious of land mines and to provide their itinerary to authorities in case they needed to get out of the country quickly.

Joe Towalski, former editor of The Visitor, was in Angola with Bishop Kinney, covering the story for the diocesan newspaper.

“I sensed that Bishop Kinney liked to go to some of the tougher countries,” Towalski said, “not just take the ‘easy’ trip. He is a man who has always understood that ‘church’ is bigger than parish or diocese. The challenges that other Catholics in the world face, sometimes life-threatening issues, puts perspective on the problems we face here.

“Bishop Kinney saw that, and his experiences helped form this as a priority when he got back. He felt there was a lot to learn from other parts of the world, that they have gifts and talents that are good for us to have here, things we may overlook sometimes.”

The bishop traveled to Venezuela in 2003, along with Towalski, Rosanne Fischer, former director of the Mission Office, and the late Father Jim Minette.


Bishop Kinney stood by in March, 2005, as Father Francis Lesso signed a “Memorandum of Understanding,” a seven-page document outlining guidelines for the future of the partnership between Father Lesso’s Diocese of Homa Bay in Kenya and the St. Cloud Diocese. Afterward, the two embraced. The partnership between the dioceses on two different continents continues to this day.

“I can still picture Bishop Kinney in a small boat on high, choppy waters off the northern coast of Venezuela,” Fischer recalled, “maintaining his gracious, calm countenance as he watched the man next to him, who was operating the motor, drink down beer after beer. I see him, returning late in the day to the chancery in Maracay after an exhausting day’s schedule agreeing to meet with the spirit-filled youth who awaited him in order to share their apostolate to the homeless and elders and to sing for him.”

Fischer worked with Bishop Kinney for close to a dozen years, building up diocesan and parish partnerships as part of contemporary mission efforts.

“Bishop Kinney not only supported global mission, ministry and solidarity, but has been a full participant in it,” she said. “He enjoyed multiple sojourns to our partner dioceses of Maracay, Venezuela, and Homa Bay, Kenya, as well as trips to other areas of close relationship and connection such as the Diocese of Agats, Indonesia, where the Crosiers ministered and to South Sudan during and after the years of war to visit Bishop Paride Taban and other Southern Sudanese bishops.”

A history of mission

Father Vos, current diocesan director of Catholic Relief Services, knew Bishop Kinney before he came to St. Cloud.

bishopjkhomabay“He invited me to Bismarck, N.D., to consult with him about their diocesan mission in Kenya,” Father Vos explained. “He spent several years preparing and sending a mission team from Bismarck to a very challenging site in northeastern Kenya. So even before he was assigned to the Diocese of St. Cloud, he promoted the idea that every diocese needed to be in mission. Thus when he arrived here he was prepared to engage and support our mission efforts.”

Bishop Kinney also strongly supported the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, serving on their advisory board and facilitating their annual retreats in both the United States and East Africa. He sent his Bismarck missioners, an ecclesial team of priests, sisters and lay people, to work with Maryknollers, tapping into their mission experience.

During his long relationship with the church in Sudan, Bishop Kinney was invited to participate in a meeting of the entire Sudanese Episcopal Conference. This was the first meeting in 20 years to be held within their country, which had been divided by war.

Father Vos recalled Bishop Kinney, invited as main celebrant of the opening Mass, saying, “In all my years as bishop, this has been the most profound experience, to celebrate with my brother bishops who carry the responsibilities of this suffering church.”

In turn, the Diocese of St. Cloud also hosted Bishop Taban several times as well as Bishop Augustine Shao of the Diocese of Zanzibar.

“Bishop Kinney established a supportive relationship with the Diocese of Zanzibar,” said Father Vos. “This East African island has a 95 percent Muslim population which can be an extremely challenging environment for Christians, with radical elements that are often anti-Catholic. Two priests were murdered in the past couple years. In situations of persecution and great stress, Bishop Kinney’s personal presence and genuine care mean a great deal to his brother bishops. They have said, ‘Knowing that you are aware of our situation, that you hold us in prayer, gives us hope.’ “

Sister dioceses

One of the strongest partnerships in the U.S. church is between the Diocese of St. Cloud and Homa Bay, Kenya, with the assistance of CRS.

“This partnership relies heavily on the best practices of contemporary missiology,” Father Vos said. “This concept is based on the foundations of accompaniment, mutuality and sharing gifts.”

While in Kenya, Bishop Kinney visited the apostolic nuncio and U.S. ambassador, all to raise awareness and get support of key people in the partnership.

The diocesan relationship with Maracay, Venezuela, was established in 1963 at a time when the church’s response to mission was for the churches of the north to send 10 percent of their personnel to the developing churches of the south as requested by Pope John XXIII. Under Bishop Kinney’s leadership, this relationship transformed to become a Global Solidarity Partnership.

“Bishop Kinney kept the balance,” Fischer said. “In an age of sharp divisions, he reminded us of our common threads. He was fully engaged with our local diocese, yet he did not lose sight of the fact that we Catholics enhance our gifts and vitality not merely to meet our own internal needs and desires but for the good of the whole body throughout the world. He understands that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer.”

— Kristi Anderson