As the Diocese of St. Cloud prepares for the ordination of Bishop-elect Patrick Neary, Bishop Donald Kettler, 78, who has led the diocese since 2013, is getting ready for retirement.
The Central Minnesota Catholic sat down with the bishop in January to reflect on his time in Central Minnesota. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What has been the greatest blessing during your time in this diocese?
Bishop Kettler: I very much enjoyed special liturgies — ordinations, confirmations and similar celebrations. Even more I’d say was being with the people of our diocese. At liturgies and other events, when you see people happy and faithful, you can feel it. That’s been the biggest blessing. That’s the best.
Q: What things did you most enjoy about being bishop here?
Bishop Kettler: I’d point back to the special events we celebrated — things like the blessing of a church, Honoring Marriage Day, holy days, confirmations and the annual Rural Life Celebration. I also enjoyed the connection with St. John’s and St. Ben’s because I’m a St. John’s alum (SJU, 1966; seminary, 1970). Those were high points.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the diocese?
Bishop Kettler: I would say dealing with clergy sexual abuse issues and trying to do some healing, meeting with victims, that was all challenging. But it comes with the job. Personnel issues are always a little bit harder for me but are also part of the job.
Another challenge is making sure that you’re doing your job right — how do you use all the people working on your staff in the right way? That’s a challenge, to use them well and to coordinate that, making sure that things get done. The biggest blessing for me was having Colleen (Haider, in the bishop’s office) and the vicar general’s office — Father Rolfes and his assistant, Terry Voigt. They kept up — and helped me keep up — with those things.
Q: What are your retirement plans, short-term and long-term?
Bishop Kettler: Short term, I’m going to South Africa for a few weeks on a safari trip. I was happy with finding a house to live in (in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where I am originally from). Retirement will give me a chance to go back and reconnect with some parishes and people and priests. I’m looking forward to that and easing up a little bit on the workload.
Q: What do you see yourself doing in your free time?
Bishop Kettler: In the summertime, periodically, I’ll play golf. I’ll take some trips with family and others, visit some people. I’ll probably get to the Twin Cities occasionally for some activities. For activities in Sioux Falls, I’ll attend some sporting events, do some reading. I hope to be able to fill in at confirmation (Masses) and provide some weekend (Mass) help.
Q: You came in 2013, you’re leaving in 2023. How has the diocese changed in that decade?
Bishop Kettler: The number of priests has decreased, but not as severely as I expected. The formation of Area Catholic Communities is important to me because I think we have to work together if we’re going to keep all of our parishes and if we’re going to cover all of our parishes adequately and well. Having good personnel in a parish is important. I think there’s a little more cooperation between schools; the relationship of the diocese with the principals is getting better and better in a cooperative way. We have a growing number of Latino Catholics in our diocese who bring with them rich and faithful traditions.
Going through COVID-19 has changed things in a few different ways. We will be dealing with it for a long time. It has changed how people participate in things. The number of people watching liturgies online on Sundays is significant along with how we have our meetings. Now we have meetings with people on screens. It’s just a thing that we do now, so that’s different.
I think there’s more of an awareness that we’re not just supposed to be pastors just to our parishes, but that we’re also supposed to reach out to the community that we belong to. I don’t think we’re doing it as well ecumenically as we did a generation ago. That’s a challenge.
Q: You were one of the first bishop appointments of Pope Francis in 2013. How has his pontificate affected you as bishop?
Bishop Kettler: His emphasis on listening, being with people. All of the different groups that he wanted us to start thinking about. I think the Synod on the Amazon had an impact on me, not just because of the environment, but also because of the conversations they had around new ways to evangelize.
Q: Two initiatives that will continue in the diocese are the Eucharistic Revival and the Synod on Synodality. What do you hope will come from them?
Bishop Kettler: I hope with the Eucharistic Revival that there will be an enrichment of the celebrations of the liturgies, that we do those better. Second, that we will be inviting people back to participate, that the level of participation will be higher, primarily among some of those who have drifted away or who are upset with the Church or hurt. That we can bring them back so that they can see they shouldn’t be separated from God because of what someone in the Church did or didn’t do.
Q: What would you like to say to the people of the diocese?
Bishop Kettler: Stay engaged, be involved in your faith and your religion. Work hard with your families, do things with each other. Be willing, given the big changes in the world today and the Church today, to be a little bit flexible with what happens. Stay faithful, keep at it, don’t get discouraged, and pray!
Want to send a note to Bishop Kettler?
Cards and notes should be sent to Bishop Donald Kettler, c/o Chancery, P.O. Box 1248, St. Cloud, MN 56302-1248.
(portrait of Bishop Kettler by Gianna Bonello / The Central Minnesota Catholic)