These are challenging times to be a leader in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
For that and other reasons, Father Andrew Cozzens expressed some apprehension about being appointed an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese, which was announced during the 7:30 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Oct. 11.
“One steps into any kind of leadership, especially in the Church, with a certain amount of fear and trepidation, kind of the holy fear of what is needed when one takes on the burden of authority,” Bishop-elect Cozzens said a week after his appointment was announced. “And so, that certainly has been a big part of this transition, the holy fear that I have because I desire always to be a person of integrity and to lead with integrity.”
Archbishop John Nienstedt expressed gratitude for the Holy Father’s selection of Bishop-elect Cozzens.
“I am thankful for the Holy Father’s gift of another bishop to serve the pastoral needs of this great archdiocese, especially among our Latino community,” he said in a statement. “I am fortunate to have Bishop-elect Cozzens and Bishop [Lee] Piché by my side to better serve the faithful of this local Church.”
The 45-year-old priest, who teaches at the St. Paul Seminary and spent most of his childhood in Denver, was overwhelmed and overjoyed by the messages he has received from people in the archdiocese and beyond since the news was announced.
“The last week has been a whirlwind,”
he said. “The main experience has been just the incredible outpouring of love and support from people all around the country and from the people of the archdiocese. To experience so much encouragement and support and hope that people see in my appointment has been a beautiful experience this [past] week.
“One of the most meaningful ones was the first night when I told my sister [Helen Healy]. She was so stunned. She said, ‘Can I just pray with you on the phone?’ So, she just stopped and prayed and asked Jesus to bless me in my new mission. That was a beautiful outpouring of support.”
Those who know him best say he appeared destined for the episcopate. His parents, Jack and Judy (see story about their reflections on the bishop-elect on page 21), saw early inklings of his desire for priesthood, and felt he might someday be a bishop.
Others had the same feelings, including Mark Berchem, founder and executive director of NET Ministries in West St. Paul, where Bishop-elect Cozzens served in 1991-92.
“Every once in a while, the older staff would talk about who might be the first NET alumnus to be made a bishop,” Berchem said. “And, Father Cozzens’ name was always at the top of the list. I think people around here recognized for a long time that he’s got a special anointing of the Holy Spirit. And so, in a certain way, it wasn’t a surprise. But, it was great news. There’s just something about him.”
His roots in NET Ministries and St. Paul’s Outreach have made him a beloved priest with staff, volunteers and those reached by these two important ministries to teens and young adults. He is hoping that this background will enable him to reach out in a special way to local Catholics who have been struggling with almost daily reports in the local media about allegations of clergy sexual misconduct.
“My main desire continues to be [being] a part of the healing that the archdiocese needs at this particular moment,” he said. “I would just say first, that this period has been also a deep and painful struggle for me, especially as a priest and now as a new auxiliary bishop. I feel the pain deeply, both the pain that there have been victims of abuse and the pain that some of my brother priests have not lived faithfully their commitments. So, I share that pain with all the people of the archdiocese.
“And, I also share Archbishop [John] Nienstedt’s firm commitment that we have zero tolerance for any kind of sexual abuse. And, I’m extremely grateful that the archbishop has taken such a strong stand by establishing this [Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force], which will have an honest and clear look at the way the archdiocese has handled the issues of sexual misconduct. . . . I know that the archbishop is doing this because he is committed to getting to the bottom of this crisis. And, I am just as committed.”
Bishop Cozzens will continue his teaching role at the seminary until his ordination on Dec. 9 at the Cathedral, which is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast day holds special significance for him.
“I have a great devotion to Our Lady, so I’m very grateful for her intercession and prayers,” he said. “And, the opportunity to be ordained on her feast day is a really great thing.”
His episcopal motto will be: “Lend us your heart,” a phrase from a prayer to Mary that Mother Teresa and her sisters prayed every day.
At a glance1992-93: Co-director of campus outreach, St. Paul’s Outreach.
1997: Ordained priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
1997-2000: Parochial vicar, Cathedral of St. Paul.
2000-2002: Parochial vicar, Faribault Catholic Community (now Divine Mercy parish).
2002: License in Sacred Theology, Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome.
2006-present: Assistant professor, St. Paul Seminary.
2008: Doctorate in Sacred Theology, Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome.
Evangelist at heart
Bishop-elect Cozzens was born Aug. 3, 1968, and has one biological sister and a foster brother named Sergei, who was 15 when he joined the family. Young Andrew, called Drew throughout his childhood, had to struggle with severe allergies and asthma during his childhood. When he was 4, the family moved to Denver to be near a hospital that specialized in the treatment of asthma in children.
He was befriended by an elderly priest, Msgr. Thomas Barry, when he was in first grade. The priest helped solidify his early inklings of a priestly vocation.
After graduating from high school, he attended Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. He was invited to join a summer household of St. Paul’s Outreach, and had a profound experience after his sophomore year that deepened his faith, said Gordy DeMarais, one of the founders and current executive director of SPO.
“He was one of the best relational evangelists that I’ve ever known in the whole history of this organization,” DeMarais said. “His zeal for reaching out to students and engaging them and bringing them to Christ was a very strong gift and presence.”
Father Cozzens later worked for SPO as a mission leader, and helped form the Companions of Christ, a fraternity of priests and seminarians in the archdiocese. He also is fluent in Spanish, and is ready to get to work reaching out to the growing Latino population in the archdiocese.
“I love working with Hispanic people; I love Hispanic ministry,” he said. “I help out at Spanish Masses whenever I can. Most recently, my assignment has been in Red Wing, going down [to St. Joseph parish] for Spanish Mass each Sunday I’m available.”
One of his important tasks in pastoral ministry will be to help local Catholics find healing and hope as they struggle with news reports in recent weeks and wonder where God is in the midst of this crisis.
“I would say to the people, ‘We all feel this pain, and I certainly understand the pain,’” he said. “But, pain is never a reason for discouragement or despair. It’s always a reason to turn to Jesus and to ask Jesus to bring us mercy and forgiveness and new life.
“The hope of the Church is always found in Jesus. And, the life of Jesus is ever new. And, Jesus came to save us from our sinfulness. So, whenever we go through a struggle, we need to remember the lesson of the cross, which is expressed so
beautifully by St. Paul when he says in Romans, Chapter 8 verse 28, ‘God uses all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.’”
He said he wants to promote healing in other ways as well.
“I’m a firm believer that Jesus wants to heal,” he said. “I’ve been very impressed with Pope Francis’ image that the Church is like a field hospital. We’re living in a world in which there are many hurting people. I just hope my ministry as a bishop will be part of the healing that flows from the heart of Jesus for people.”
“If I can in any way be part of healing, in all kinds of ways, that’s how I want to serve,” he said. “Jesus came to heal the world, and I want to help serve in that way.”
1991-92: Team leader, National Evangelization Teams.
Category: Bishop Cozzens