Archbishop survives being ‘grilled’ at Theology on Tap

| Bridget Ryder | February 17, 2017 | 2 Comments


Questions ran the gamut from Vikings fandom to young adult ministry to suffering, and Archbishop Bernard Hebda fielded them all Feb. 8 at a Theology on Tap event in St. Paul.

Hosted by Cathedral Young Adults, the young adult group of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, the event was the fourth in a six-week speaker series that brings catechesis to O’Gara’s Bar and Grill.  A regular feature of CYA’s semiannual Theology on Tap series, “Grill the Archbishop” — or priest or bishop — is always a popular evening, since it gives attendees a chance to hear Church leaders speak off-the-cuff on a variety of topics. This event was the first time Archbishop Hebda had spoken at a CYA Theology on Tap.

Before turning to more serious matters, one young adult wanted to know if Archbishop Hebda would offer a dispensation from Lenten Friday abstinence to allow the faithful to enjoy a corned beef dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, which this year falls on a Friday during Lent.

With a smile, the archbishop asked for a show of hands of who wanted to eat corned beef in honor of the Irish saint. When only a few hands went up, he jokingly encouraged the crowd to save their dispensations for better fare.

And, he added, even with a dispensation, an act of penance must still be made.“When you get a dispensation — and I think it’s coming — you should do penance on another occasion,” he said. “So it’s like a get out of jail free card, but you have to pay sometime.”

Archbishop Hebda was also asked what the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is doing to engage young people. He reminded the young adults that they are the primary missionaries to their age group. “We find that young people respond best to their peers,” the archbishop said.

He encouraged the young people to not be passive but to “recognize that all of us are called to construct the Church.” He also acknowledged that the Church needs to support young adults. “Young people need community so that they don’t feel alone when trying to respond to Christ’s call,” he said.

Archbishop Hebda also shared the story of his path to the priesthood, which began in his Pittsburgh elementary school with the example and encouragement of Capuchin friars. As an eighth-grader, he wanted to enter the high school seminary. For support, he brought the Capuchins’ vocations director home to propose the idea to his parents.

“Mom took the vocation director upstairs to my bedroom and said, ‘Look at this disaster; if his bedroom isn’t in order, how can he go the seminary?’” the archbishop recalled.

After high school, he applied again to the Capuchin seminary, but was again turned down, this time on grounds that the seminary “was a mess.” It was “the turbulent 70s,” he explained, and the Capuchins encouraged him to go to another school. But after four years at Harvard, the priesthood seemed “not very useful.” Wanting to be useful, the archbishop went to law school. Providentially, Columbia University in New York had a chapel right next to the law school. The archbishop found that he could attend daily Mass and still make it in time for lunch without anyone missing him. During law school he started to appreciate the work of the Church around the world and wanted to give himself to that mission, he said.

Unfortunately, he was loaded with student debt, so he moved home and took a job at a law firm until he had paid off enough of his loans to be accepted into the seminary. Even many years after he first broached the idea, his vocation to the priesthood surprised his parents no less than it had when he was a messy eighth-grader, he said. Though they had always prayed that one of their three sons would become a priest, he said, they never thought it would be Bernard.

Young adults appreciated the archbishop’s openness and depth of response.

“I thought the answers were very well informed,” said Andrew Kuhrmeyer, a candidate in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at the Cathedral.

“I was really impressed,” echoed Michael Larson, also a Cathedral parishioner. “He gave very thoughtful answers, he didn’t compromise on Church teaching and he spoke with charity.”

For more information on the Cathedral Young Adults’ Theology on Tap series, visit



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