Strengthened by good friendship

| Bishop Andrew Cozzens | February 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

As I was traveling to Rome last month for the “ad limina” visit with Archbishop Hebda and Bishop-elect Don DeGrood, I was reminded of the first time I went to Rome, which was when I was in seminary. I was also traveling with my then seminary classmate and close friend Don DeGrood.

We were sitting next to each other on the plane, and the stewardess at one point asked us our profession. Don, being the one who always likes to joke with people, made her guess. She looked hard at us and said, “I’m not sure. I’ll come back.” Then she went about two rows past us, stopped, came back, gasped and said, “Are you men of the cloth?” It was the first time anyone had ever called me a “man of the cloth.” Now, more than 25 years later, on the way to see our Holy Father for the “ad limina” visit, I couldn’t help but think how far these two “men of the cloth” had come, as the two seminary classmates had now become bishops.

Bishop Andrew CozzensI first met Bishop Don DeGrood at a pre-seminary event in August of 1993, just a few weeks before both of us began our first year of major seminary. I remember his warm personality from the first moment we met. We became immediate friends because of his exceptional kindness and our shared desire to grow in holiness as we prepared for priesthood.

Bishop DeGrood has often said in my presence that he would not have gotten through seminary without me because I helped with his studies, and it is true that we often studied together for our exams. It is also true that I would not be the priest and bishop I am today without Bishop DeGrood’s example of deep love for the spiritual life, his dedicated friendship and his constant example of pastoral charity. Actually, some people used to get us mixed up in seminary because they thought we looked so much alike. Our homiletics professor was unable to distinguish between us. And, when in my second assignment as a priest I was assigned to Bishop DeGrood’s hometown of Faribault, at the first Mass in the park, even Bishop DeGrood’s own brother mistook me for him at a distance.

Although our priesthoods have had different paths, we have always stayed close friends. After three years at his first assignment, Bishop DeGrood was assigned as a spiritual director of St. John Vianney College Seminary. I was sent to study theology in Rome after five years in two parishes. By the time I came back from Rome in 2006, Bishop DeGrood had already been named pastor of St. Peter in Forest Lake, where he served for nine years. However, in 2013, our paths would cross again more intimately.

In July of 2013, then-Father DeGrood was appointed Vicar for Clergy and pastor of Blessed Sacrament on the East Side of St. Paul. Blessed Sacrament was the parish where Curtis Wehmeyer had served until he was arrested in 2012 for the abuse of three boys. As Vicar for Clergy, it was Father DeGrood’s job to help represent the archbishop in working with the priests of the archdiocese. As pastor, he had to work to heal a community and a family that had been ripped apart by the terrible evil of sexual abuse. These were both difficult assignments, and they became more difficult when the clergy sexual abuse crisis broke in the archdiocese in late September 2013, as the press started to publish stories and accusations that the archdiocese had mishandled the Wehmeyer case and others.

It was at this same time, Oct. 1, 2013, that I received the call from the papal nuncio telling me I was the new auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese.

Neither Bishop DeGrood nor I had held any positions of leadership in the archdiocesan chancery until then, but we two seminary classmates were thrust together into the greatest crisis in the history of the archdiocese. Of course, there were many good people who came together as a team to help the archdiocese get through this crisis, but, as I was going through those difficulties, I was never more grateful to have my close friend at my side. His integrity, his leadership and his care for victims of sexual abuse were and are an incredible example to me. His kindness, his sense of humor and his affirming friendship were a rock for me when we were often dealing together with very difficult things.

Without his friendship, and several others, I’m not sure how I would have gotten through the difficulty of those months. Bishop DeGrood served as pastor of Blessed Sacrament until 2015, when he became full-time Vicar for Clergy until 2017. He was an important part of the healing that happened in the archdiocese and at Blessed Sacrament during those years. Testimony to this has been given publicly by the Hoffman family, who were Wehmeyer’s victims. They speak openly about the incredible compassion and accompaniment of Bishop DeGrood as he helped them find healing in their faith. Some of them even helped bring up the gifts at his episcopal ordination.

This is why it was such a blessing for me to take part in the ordination of Bishop Don DeGrood as the ninth bishop of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Thursday, Feb. 13. No one ever knows what the Lord will do with one’s life, when you place your life fully in his hands. I would have never dreamed that these two young “men of the cloth” who traveled together as seminarians would one day serve together as bishops in our province. It makes one very grateful for the gift of spiritual friendship, and the knowledge that when we share the love of Jesus Christ as friends, our friendships grow deeper and stronger even in difficulties.

I know that Bishop DeGrood will continue to bring his incredible compassion, integrity, leadership and pastoral love to the people of Sioux Falls. Please pray for him and for all who give their lives in service of the Church, that we might be strengthened together by good friendships.

Fortalecido por buena amistad

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Category: Only Jesus