Retired Bishop John Francis Kinney dies at age 82

Bishop John Francis Kinney, bishop emeritus of St. Cloud, died Sept. 27 at Quiet Oaks Hospice in St. Augusta. He was 82.

The bishop’s body will be received at 2 p.m., Friday, Oct. 4 at the Cathedral of St. Mary in St. Cloud, followed by a private family visitation from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and public visitation from 2:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. A vigil service will be held at 7 p.m. On Saturday, Oct. 5, public visitation will continue from 8 a.m. until 10:45 a.m. The Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m., with Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis presiding. Burial will be at Assumption Cemetery in St. Cloud.

Bishop Kinney headed the Diocese of St. Cloud from 1995 until his retirement in 2013. An ardent supporter of Catholic social teaching, marriage, youth, and collaborative ministry, he strove to lead in the spirit of the diocese’s mission statement: to be Christ’s “heart of mercy, voice of hope and hands of justice.”

“Bishop Kinney was a kind and gracious pastoral leader,” said Bishop Donald Kettler, who succeeded Bishop Kinney in St. Cloud in 2013. “He was a strong defender of the dignity of every human being, and his love for the Church was evident both in his public ministry and personal life. May our Father in heaven now receive him warmly into his arms.”

Bishop Kinney was born June 11, 1937, in Oelwein, Iowa, to John and Marie (McCarty) Kinney. His only brother, Bernard, was eight years older.

Bishop John Kinney visits a Catholic school classroom in 1981.

He graduated from DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis and held a bachelor’s degree from St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul and a doctorate in canon law from Lateran University in Rome.

He was ordained to the priesthood Feb. 2, 1963, at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul by Archbishop Leo Binz. Bishop Kinney served in several positions in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, including nine years as chancellor. On Nov. 16, 1976, Pope Paul VI named him an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese. Archbishop John Roach of St. Paul and Minneapolis ordained him a bishop Jan. 25, 1977. Bishop Kinney served as auxiliary bishop from 1977 to 1982.

On June 28, 1982, Pope John Paul II named him the bishop of Bismarck, North Dakota. He was installed Aug. 23, 1982. On May 9, 1995, Pope John Paul II named him the eighth bishop of St. Cloud. He was installed July 6, 1995.

While serving as bishop in Bismarck and St. Cloud, Bishop Kinney wrote six pastoral letters on liturgy, youth, AIDS, the sacrament of penance, marriage and social justice.

Bishop Kinney greets the crowd outside after his installation Mass, July 6, 1995.
Photo by Dianne Towalski

In 1993, the then-National Conference of Catholic Bishops appointed him to chair an Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse. During his tenure as chair, the ad hoc committee published “Restoring Trust,” a document then used by dioceses to address sexual abuse in the Church. Following revelations of clergy sexual abuse around the country, Bishop Kinney set up listening and information sessions that he personally attended in parishes around the diocese. He used the sessions to understand the pain and concern of people in the diocese and to open doors for dialogue and healing.

Committed to the global church, Bishop Kinney served on Catholic Relief Services’ board of directors from 1993 to 1998. Bishop Kinney helped the Bismarck Diocese establish a mission in Kenya. With Father Bill Vos, St. Cloud diocesan director of Catholic Relief Services, he initiated the partnership between the St. Cloud Diocese and Homa Bay Diocese in Kenya in 1999. The diocesan relationship with Maracay, Venezuela, was established in 1963 and became a Global Solidarity Partnership under Bishop Kinney’s leadership.

Bishop Kinney visited Homa Bay and Maracay. He made trips to other areas of close relationship and connection to the Diocese of St. Cloud, including to 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. Other travels took him to Angola, Cambodia, Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam and Zanzibar.

Pope Francis accepted Bishop Kinney’s retirement upon Bishop Kettler’s installation. During his retirement he lived at the Speltz House in Sauk Rapids and remained an avid reader.

Bishop Kinney is survived by his nephews Tom and Steve Kinney; and grandnieces and nephews Taylor (her mother, Jodi), Stephanie, Alex, Natasha, AJ, and Ethan. He was preceded in death by his parents, brother Bernard, sister-in-law Helen, and nephew James.

Arrangements were made by Daniel Funeral Homes in St. Cloud. In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to Catholic Relief Services, c/o Diocese of Saint Cloud, P.O. Box 1248, St. Cloud, MN 56302.

Quotes by Bishop Kinney

“By the time our committee sunsets, I want to make sure that all of us 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. … It is not the sexuality of it all. It is rather the dynamic of the misuse of power, domination and the violation of trust between pastor and parishioner, priest and child, teacher and student, counselor and counselee.”

— July 1, 1993, in his first speech as the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops


“While I focus on economic poverty, I also recognize that poverty has many other forms and people have many other needs. Some of these we find particularly difficult to acknowledge and to receive into our communities — persons with mental illness or with chemical dependencies, individuals or families who are homeless, farm laborers without legal immigrant status, former prison inmates now on parole.”

— 1998 in “As I Have Done For you,” his pastoral letter on social justice, which was updated in 2011


“My own work on the Board of Directors of Catholic Relief Services has taken me to many countries where basic needs of people have been unimaginably great. Living in Central Minnesota makes it difficult to believe that so many people in so many countries suffer so greatly from unmet human needs — hunger, disease, homelessness, illiteracy, political repression. In the face of such tragic scenes I am encouraged by the efforts of Catholics and other Christians who so generously offer their talents, time and money to help relieve the suffering of their sisters and brothers around the world. Many from our own diocese have dedicated a great part of their lives to this work.”

— 1998 in “As I Have Done For You,” his pastoral letter on social justice, which was updated in 2011


“I pray that young couples — and not-so-young couples — who are getting married will be the models and examples of what it means to love, serve, to be faithful, and to give life and joy. I think that people in Christian marriage are tremendous examples to us of what we need to be for one another, but also of … what Christ is for each and every one of us, and what Christ is for the whole church. Christian marriage is meant to be an example — a living visible reminder of how much Christ loves all of us. I pray that happens to all of us through families and through husbands and wives who deeply love one another, and that we are living a faithful love story.”

— May 6, 1999, in discussing “Marriage In Christ, Sacrament of Faithful, Lifelong Love,” his pastoral letter on marriage


“I love to be out in parishes, going through schools and celebrating the liturgy, being with the confirmation kids, and ordaining. There are lots of joys. … To be able to sit with priests — to listen, encourage, thank and console them, to welcome them back — is a joy for me. I think it’s the most important thing I do, to help them live generous lives as priests.”

— Jan. 24, 2002, marking his 25th anniversary as a bishop, in an interview with the St. Cloud Visitor


What people in Scripture do you identify with?
“The apostles, Peter and Andrew, James and John. The Prodigal Son. Judas. I think I’m in all of them. I wish I wasn’t. They’re in myself and everybody.”

— Jan. 24, 2002, marking his 25th anniversary as a bishop, in an interview with the St. Cloud Visitor


“I would do it all over again. I hope I would do it more generously and better than I did it the first time around. But if you ask me what I’d rather do, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than being a priest, than being a bishop. I’ve been privileged to celebrate Mass probably 16 or 17 thousand times in my life. Even going to the altar once is a great gift, but I have gotten to keep doing it over and over again. … My ministry is bringing Christ and bringing hope into people’s lives. I hope I’m a servant of hope and I pray that when I leave a parish or leave a family when I have walked out the door, people say, ‘We’re better because of is ministry to us.’ ”

— Jan. 25, 2007, reflecting on 30 years as a bishop, in an interview with the St. Cloud Visitor


“It is the people of the church, so many dedicated priests, deacons, consecrated religious and the many lay men and women and staff, who have stood at my side to encourage me, to lift me up, to challenge my weak spirit, and to remind me of the long-term impact of my vocation.”

— Nov. 1, 2013, in his final “A Shepherd’s Care” column in The Visitor’s Tribute to a Bishop keepsake issue


Author: The Central Minnesota Catholic

The Central Minnesota Catholic is the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.


I had the good fortune to serve with Bishop John F. Kinney in the Diocese of Bismarck as a deacon and a Diocesan employee. Bishop Kinney was a dedicated leader in the Spirit of the Post Vatican II Church. He frequently demonstrated, in jest, blowing the dust from the Vatican II documents, so that they could be implemented. He was committed to “collaborative ministry”. He invested time, energy, and resources to empowering the laity, clergy, professed religious members, and professional ministers with spiritual direction, educational development, human needs care and collegiality. He saw to provisions for clergy retirement, support groups, retreats and conferences. He established a Diocesan Pastoral Center to provide a point of contact for Diocesan Services and he established a Pastoral Planning Committee. He introduced the Renew Program, made certain the religious education, sacramental preparation and formation programs were strong and that the monasteries and abbey had his full support. He took care to include deacons and professed religious members in pastoral assignments. Bishop Kinney practiced and fostered Catholic Social Teaching. He established Diocesan Commissions for Rural Life, Charity and Justice, and a Pastoral Council. He held a conference to further the National Conference of Bishops pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All”. He established a Bismarck Diocese Mission Partnership in Kenya. He provided leadership for Catholic Charities, the Catholic Conference, Home on the Range and the North Dakota Conference of Churches.

The man who changed my life, the trajectory of who I became, made a difference in the life of my children and was one of the funniest, most brilliant, compassionate, just priests on the face of this earth. If the Bishops and Cardinals had listened to his wisdom, the tragedy which has occurred in our beloved Church would not have happened for he was the first fighting for transparency, addressing all forms of abuse and addiction to those who suffered. He listened to the hurting, wept with them, walked with them and reached to their depth for God’s healing presence. When I was attacked in my home, he wept and I comforted him. He knew suffering and met it with the same grace he walked with others. I loved him for all his goodness, grace, Irish wit and often told him, he ruined me, for to work with him was to work with the best. No one compared. No one. And everyone of us felt the same way. God makes only one John F. Kinney. I am so grateful he was not only my boss, my friend, he was a my spiritual mentor. We spoke the same language. RIP, John Francis Kinney, your work here is done, all of us will continue to speak and work for the justice, compassion, transparency, love for God and the sacraments, no matter what nationality, sexual orientation, those who struggle with addiction, poverty, any struggle they meet, you taught us how to walk with everyone. You were just so good. And so loved.

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