Who is John Kinney?

Categories: Around the Diocese

Those who worked closely with him say he’s a man with whom they were graced to serve

Insight into the person of Bishop John Kinney is easily shared by people who worked closely with him as part of the chancery and pastoral team of the St. Cloud Diocese.

One who had a head start on others is Catherine “Cate” Coghlan, who, before joining the bishop’s staff in St. Cloud, served as director of development for the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D., when Bishop Kinney was the ordinary there.


Bishop John Kinney attracts the eyes of people in the assembly at Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

“I think in the beginning I didn’t know him,” Coghlan said, “so becoming part of his team and seeing his management style, I liked how that whole system worked — we had fun.”He was open to the role of women in the church, so I appreciated that; he appreciated women’s contribution to the church.”

Family and career moves led her to work at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville. She was there when Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Kinney to St. Cloud in 1995.

“During the intervening years our relationship was as friends,” Coghlan said, “and we stayed in touch.”

When an opening occurred in 2001, Coghlan took the job as executive director of The Catholic Foundation. Later Bishop Kinney appointed her vice chancellor of the diocese. Coghlan said that in offering her the job the bishop made a statement that she feels revealed a lot about him.

“He said, ‘Cate, you have to take your time and decide what’s best for you, but know that I leave for Rome at 2 o’clock.’ “

Coghlan has much to share about her boss. She said, “His love for the church is evident and apparent and he articulates that well.


Staff members say they appreciated Bishop Kinney’s fun side and sense of humor.

“With the people with whom he works, he tries to have a sense of where the individual is, where you are in your faith. And you know where you stand with Bishop Kinney — for better or for worse. The honesty he brings to his role as bishop is evident, too.”Coghlan said Bishop Kinney’s poise under pressure is undeniable. She saw that he was really under duress in his role as the first chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sex Abuse.

“Not everyone would have wanted to delve into that,” Coghlan said. “He accepted that position at a time when there was discomfort, and knowing that some of the influential bishops were not as forthcoming, who didn’t think it was as serious as it turned out to be.”

He has the ability to delegate and have the people in place to achieve his vision, she said, and he respects their abilities. He’s not a micromanager. He gathers information (from staff members) and listens to recommendations.

“There’s that fun, humorous side and that more serious, pensive side, and there’s a good balance to that,” Coghlan said.

“He enjoys people, but he also enjoys the peace and simplicity that being in nature can bring.


Bishop Kinney greets a woman at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, the kind of event that energized him, staff members said.

“You can’t overlook his adventurous side,” Coghlan said. His trips to Africa on behalf of Catholic Relief Services to see people and places in extreme poverty and need influenced him to encourage programs so that people in the Diocese of St. Cloud could see those people and places, too.”He had that as part of his experience,” Coghlan said, “and he wanted others to, because I think those trips influenced him greatly.””He’s a people’s bishop,” Coghlan said, “and his going out to the parishes, like for confirmations, it’s life-giving for him.

“On the pastoral side, he taught us to do what somebody dealing with a challenging situation in life.

“He’s been a wonderful boss and mentor, and I highly respect him. I’m happy to have had an opportunity to provide a contribution under his direction and tutelage.”

Jane Marrin, with her background in social work, was facilitating adoptions and working with pregnant teens with Catholic Charities of the diocese when in 1997 Bishop Kinney needed a director of the pro-life office.

Her work throughout the diocese for Catholic Charities brought her in contact with many of the priests. She got to know many of them, which made her particularly helpful to a bishop who was new to the diocese.

Marrin took the position, but only if she could change the title of the ministry to the Respect Life Office. Bishop Kinney was agreeable, saying he supported her proposal, but that Marrin needed to let people know the rationale for doing so. “He would say, ‘You can’t just do things, you have to explain why.’ “

Marrin said that in working with the bishop over the years, both in the Respect Life Office and in later years as the diocesan director of the Planning Office, she found he had tremendous respect for individuals and wanted to empower them.

“He was open and honest and welcoming in any conversation,” Marrin said. “When he asked a question you could tell he listened and wanted to hear, and that he valued your opinion.”

The bishop is an extrovert when he needs to be, Marrin said, “but comfortable being alone and comfortable not having to be in the spotlight. He’s energized by being out with people in the diocese — not at meetings.”

She added, “I’ve watched him at Rural Life Celebrations and youth rallies — he gets his energy from the energy of the crowd.”

Marrin said a crying baby at Mass is something Bishop Kinney smiles at. “Almost invariably he’ll say to young families, ‘Thank you for being here and thank you for bringing your children with you.’ “

Although Bishop Kinney was deeply saddened by clergy abuse of children, Marrin feels that the way he handled the crisis was when Bishop Kinney was at his best. “Even before the [U.S. Bishops’] charter [for the protection of children] was written he was out at listening sessions, and he insisted on transparency in how that issue was dealt with.

“I think it’s been a disappointment for him that more has not been done with regard to this issue.”

Marrin said, “One of his greatest legacies is truly creating relationships between people and priests. The need to have strong, honest relationships defines his personality. That’s how we build trust with one another.”

Marrin describes her boss and her friend as deeply spiritual, a man who reads multiple prayer books and to whom the Gospel and the readings of the day are very important.

“He gets very engaged in the readings of the day,” Marrin said, “to the point that they’ll become a part of his conversation. In the middle of talking with someone he’ll mention something from the readings.”

He’s a quick thinker, too, Marrin said. “He’s never in an uncomfortable situation because he can think on his feet.”

Bishop Kinney’s wonderful sense of humor has served him well, Marrin said, and he’s a joy to be with both on and off the clock.

“He is loyal to his friends, amazingly so. He still has connections in Bismarck. He still is in contact

with people at the very first parish he was at when he was first ordained.”

Steve Bresnahan, who leads Catholic Charities in the diocese, called Bishop Kinney “a joy to work with, just an incredible person.”

Bresnahan remembers attending the diocese’s annual rural life event with Bishop Kinney. The bishop presided at Mass, and afterward there was the polka band and the brats, he recalled.

“As he and I were leaving, though, the bishop stopped and intentionally walked over to where a man in a wheelchair was sitting, and he talked with the guy for a while.

“That made a tremendous impression on me: He sees people on the margins. He’s seeing the crowd, but he’s seeing the people on the edges, too.”

Bishop Kinney chose to live at the St. Cloud Children’s Home, where to the children he was just “John,” Bresnahan said, the man who on Halloween realized that they couldn’t go out trick-or-treating so he bought candy and delivered it to them.

Asked to describe the bishop, Bresnahan used the words “ordinary guy,” “wonderful” and “pastoral.”

“He always would ask those of us on his staff, ‘How are we serving people?”

— Bob Zyskowski