Well done, good and faithful servant

Categories: Around the Diocese

Black-and-white photographs from 1995 — stark black-and-white in some cases — capture the scene.

In one he presents his letter of appointment to the consultors of the diocese.

In another, smiling broadly, taking in the applause, John F. Kinney sits comfortably in his new seat, the cathedra in St. Mary’s Cathedral, the chair of the bishop of St. Cloud.


In this file photo, Bishop John Kinney presents his letter of appointment July 5,
1995 to officials of the St. Cloud Diocese at the doors of St. Mary’s Cathedral.

It’s a seat in which he’s sat comfortably — well, most of the time — for 18 years.

Scores of parishes and schools visited later, with thousands of talks and homilies given, 572 confirmation ceremonies administered, dozens of decisions collaboratively made, Bishop John Kinney is more than ready to turn that chair over to his successor.When Bishop Donald Kettler is led to that granite chair in the cathedral Nov. 7, Bishop Kinney can begin what he himself called a long-awaited retirement.

And a grateful diocese can say thank you, well done, good and faithful servant.

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The late Bernard Kinney, when questioned about his brother, said that John had a normal childhood. It was one complete with Catholic schooling. On his way to and from De La Salle High School in Minneapolis young John passed through a “skid row” part of the city, and in later years it was felt the experience kindled a desire in him to do something for people who were less fortunate and to work with them.

He felt a call to priesthood most strongly his junior year in high school during a retreat given by Oblate Father Aloysius Svobodny. Father Svobodny remembered seeing leadership qualities in young John Kinney even then. More of those leadership qualities surfaced at Nazareth Hall, back then the minor (college) seminary of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Later the bishop would tell a story about arriving at the seminary that reveals the sense of humor he’s always had.


The next day, he takes the bishop’s chair, the cathedra, in the cathedral sanctuary, smiling to the applause as, with this act, he takes over the leadership of the

“I remember when my dad and mom came with me to Nazareth Hall to get me settled in my small room with a bunk bed (for two students),” he said. “My dad asked the priest if a single room would be more expensive — like it was a Holiday Inn or something.”

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Ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1963, Father John Kinney was an associate pastor at a south Minneapolis parish for just three years when he received a message he frankly thought meant he was in trouble.

In 1966 he was teaching a class at nearby all-girl’s Regina High School. He attended the school picnic and ended up being thrown into the St. Croix River by the students. When he got back to the rectory at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, he was handed a memo that Archbishop Leo Binz had called requesting his presence.

Relating the story some years later, Bishop Kinney said, “I thought, ‘Boy, does news travel fast! I just got thrown into a river by 200 girls and he knows already!’ “

The archbishop, however, was appointing him vice chancellor of the archdiocese; he was sent to the Lateran Univeresity in Rome for a degree in canon law.

Father Kinney later served as chancellor of the archdiocese as well and earned a reputation for his work with divorced and remarried Catholics, for developing a widely duplicated marriage preparation policy, for ministering both to native Americans and to Vietnamese Catholics, who were being resettled in the Twin Cities in great numbers at the time.

Pastoral experience came his way at the time, too. He served as an assistant pastor at the Cathedral of St. Paul and then as pastor of St. Cecilia in St. Paul and of St. Leonard of Port Maurice, a parish which serves a primarily black community in Minneapolis.

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Bishop Kinney was bishop of Bismarck, N.D., in June 1986 when he joined American bishops for their semiannual meeting at St. John’s Abbey and Universty in Collegeville.

Pope Paul VI named Father Kinney an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese. When he was ordained to the epicopate in January 1977 at age 39 he was among the youngest Catholic bishops in the United States.

His hopes at that time for his ministry as a bishop?

“What the church is, let me be — holy, vibrant, living, ever young, responsive to the signs of the times, constantly faithful to Christ and the Gospel. And may I work to protect all people, to be a man of peace and a brother seeking unity of the churches.”

He was quoted at the time as saying something he would live out in all of his episcopal assignments: “Life as a bishop is not one behind a desk.”

Bishop Kinney had been an auxiliary bishop for five years when Pope John Paul II chose him to lead the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D.

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Just as he was beginning his time in North Dakota he attended the funeral of a priest there, and after the Mass he watched people helping each other down a rocky path at the cemetery.

He said this image stuck with him and would be his vision of his role as Bismarck’s bishop, to be the one leading a pilgrimage “flowing out of the liturgy and into a beautiful and challenging world with people working together to stay on the path on the way to God.”

It was during his time in Bismarck that details began to surface in other parts of the country of sexual abuse of young people by priests.

Bishop Kinney accepted the chairmanship of an ad hoc committee of the U. S. bishops that was appointed to gather information about what dioceses were already doing and to prepare effective policies and procedures to deal with sex abuse.

When he delivered the committee’s first report six months later he presciently noted that his committee “cannot provide a quick remedy or painkiller” for the problem.

Bishop Kinney told his fellow bishops, “The first few months of our committee work have made me increasingly aware of the complexity and far-reaching effects of problems related to sexual abuse within the church. We all know that there are no fast, easy answers.”


In 1993, the U.S. Bishops Conference appointed Bishop Kinney to chair an Ad Hoc
Committee on Sexual Abuse.

It was June 1993, when he said, “By the time our committee sunsets, I want to make sure that all bishops understand the depth and the seriousness, the pain and the agony of this problem and why it strikes at the very heart of the church’s trust level and credibility level.”

During his tenure as chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, the committee published “Restoring Trust,” a document then used by dioceses to deal with sexual abuse in the church. Later, following revelations of clergy sexual misconduct in Boston and elsewhere, Bishop Kinney would immediately set up listening and information sessions he personally hosted at parishes in the St. Cloud Diocese.

He used these sessions to understand the pain and concern of the people of the diocese, as well as to open the doors for dialogue and healing.

Those listening sessions showed him, he said at the time, the anger and the hurt of the victims as he listened to the “horrific” details of sexual abuses cases involving clergy.

He told his fellow bishops, “Because of the extreme sensitivity of this problem, each of us needs to remember also that this pain is never entirely local.

“If the people of the church didn’t love their priests in the first place the pain and scandal wouldn’t be so great,” he said. “It’s really shaken us because of our deep love and deep trust.”

On May 9, 1995, John Kinney had been a bishop for 18 years — and headed a diocese for nearly 14 years — when Pope John Paul II appointed him to be the bishop of St. Cloud.

At his installation on July 6, 1995, he called the St. Cloud Diocese “God’s favored and fruitful field.”

He had labored in that field for 17 years when — as required upon reaching 75 years of age — he submitted his letter of retirement intention to Pope Benedict XVI.

Fourteen months later, another pope, Pope Francis, has named Bishop Donald Kettler of Fairbanks, Alaska, to succeed him, and that long-awaited retirement can begin for Bishop John Kinney.

— Bob Zyskowski