Author Archives | Joe Towalski

About Joe Towalski

Editor of The Catholic Spirit, husband, dad, baseball fan(atic), astronomy buff. Follow me on Twitter @towalskij

Canonize Lino Rulli? His new book shows how we’re all saints in the making

September 28, 2013


photoThe Catholic Church calls each and every one of us to answer the call to holiness and strive toward sainthood — even in light of our obvious weaknesses and everyday struggles with sin.

It’s a daunting task for most, but Lino Rulli is up to the challenge. In fact, the St. Paul native and host of Sirius/XM Radio’s “The Catholic Guy” show would like to get there a little faster than the rest of us. In his new book “Saint,” he makes the tongue-in-cheek case for why the Church should canonize him today. (After all, why trust your friends to push your sainthood cause after you die when you can do it yourself?)

In all seriousness, however, the book has a deeper purpose: to encourage you to focus on your spiritual growth and help you “to realize that you might not be as big a sinner as you think, and that, with God’s help, you might just become a saint.”

“Saint” is a follow-up to “Sinner,” Lino’s first book of short, humorous and inspiring stories aimed at encouraging us to live out our faith despite our imperfections. In “Saint,” Lino turns once again to short stories about his life — some funny, some painfully honest, and many with a short nugget of reflection about lessons he learned along the way.

At the end of one story, for example, about an instance when he successfully resisted what can be described as a “temptation of the flesh,” Lino writes: “A saint isn’t someone who has never been tested; a saint is a person who has been tested and, with God’s help, has passed — or, with God’s help, has gotten up the next morning and tried again.”

Saints you can relate to

While Lino was in town yesterday to talk about his book, I asked why he would invest the time and energy to remind people about the call to sainthood. Here’s what he said:

“I guess the reason people like [‘Sinner’] is because a lot of them could relate to it. But, the other side of that coin is the fact that we do need to be reminded that we’re not just a bunch of miserable losers because we fail. For whatever reason, God loves us and we’re still called to holiness. It’s sort of a contradiction in our lives, but it’s the reality of our lives.”

And where can average Joes like myself draw that affirmation and inspiration, other than from Lino and the stories of people who already have a place in the Church’s catalog of saints?

“I get inspired by the average person in church. When I see the mom and dad in church Sunday morning with kids running around like maniacs and you’re going to lose your mind, it inspires me. They don’t have it all together, but they know it would be ten times worse if they didn’t try to go to church. . . . Those are the saints who inspire me: the guy who says I went out Saturday night but I’m still waking up and going to church Sunday morning. Or the single mom. Or even the older people who have their own problems and struggles. I really do look around and I go: We’re all called to be saints, but we’re all saints in the making.”

Chances are future generations won’t be reading about St. Lino in the Church’s official catalog of saints. But he — and the rest of us — should always be striving to be counted eventually among those in heaven.

“Saints” concludes with these wise words:

“Sometimes you chase me, Lord. Sometimes I chase you. But the only time I’ll quit running, the only time I will finally feel at peace, will be when I’m at home with you: there in heaven. That’s when I’ll truly be called a saint.”

Read more about Lino and his new book on his website. You can also order the book from Servant Books.

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Catholic Relief Services offers some ‘Good News – For a Change’

November 20, 2012


The federal “fiscal cliff” is looming. Tensions remain high in the Middle East. Hurricane Sandy’s victims are still struggling to pick up the pieces left in the storm’s wake.

A lot of the news we hear about is tragic and sad.

But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, Catholic Relief Services has something positive to share: “Good News — For a Change.”

The initiative highlights fantastic strides being made in the fight against global poverty thanks to generous donations to CRS and other humanitarian agencies.

“Too often, we focus on problems,” John Rivera, CRS’ communications director said in a news release. “We thought we’d take a different approach. Drawing on our tradition of Catholic social teaching, with its focus on the common good and integral human development, we decided we would emphasize both our grounding in the Gospel as well as our effective action for improving the lives of the people we serve. Hence, ‘Good News — For a Change.’”

Here are some of the highlights cited by CRS:

Between 1990 and 2010, more than 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells.

Guinea worm disease, an infectious parasitic disease, is on the verge of eradication. While there were 3.2 million cases in 1986, fewer than 400 cases now exist in just four African countries (about 99 percent of transmission is occurring in South Sudan).

In 2011, an estimated 6.9 million children died before their fifth birthday, compared to around 12 million in 1990. Rates of child mortality have fallen in all regions of the world in the last two decades.

More girls around the world are attending school and advancing further than ever before.

There are effective ways, with the use of antiretroviral drug therapy and related medical care, to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child in as many as 98 percent of cases.

You can read CRS’ full “Good News — For a Change” report online.

CRS is the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community.

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Did you know … Some impressive facts about SJV College Seminary

November 19, 2012

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I recently received my fall copy of Vianney News, and the “Did you know…” section on the publication’s back page caught my eye.

It highlights some very impressive facts that, I suspect, many people don’t know:

• St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul is the largest college seminary in the United States.

• More than 300 people attend the Last Chance Mass every Sunday evening during the school year in its chapel.

• SJV seminarians are up every day at 5:30 am for 6:15 am prayer and holy hour.

• The typical seminarian studies 40 hours a week, and the average GPA for SJV men is 3.45.

• SJV seminarians are teaching religious education in parishes throughout the archdiocese.

• Several SJV men are invited to speak at local and national events.

Want to know more about SJV? Visit its website, or look for it on Facebook.

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Fast for Freedom promotes prayer for nation’s future

October 29, 2012

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Fasters include, left to right: Jeremy Berfanger, Katarina Hemstad, Meghan Mueller, Anne Crouch, Lauren Bickford, Dain Finney, Peter Murphy and Andrew Nistler.

With Election Day nearing, many Catholics are still mulling over a host of issues as they prepare to vote Nov. 6. To help them get ready, a college junior from Coon Rapids is working with a group of fellow students to promote prayer and fasting as a way to unify Catholics and so that voters and leaders may receive the grace to make morally sound decisions.

“Our country’s morality no longer is based on objective right or wrong, but a sliding scale of how good something feels for the most people,” said Meghan Mueller, a nursing major at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., who previously attended St. Paul in Ham Lake. “In many cases, it seems as if truth has been completely taken out of the picture. From this stems many of the major issues our country is facing: the sanctity of life, the sacredness of marriage, and the right to religious freedom.”

The Fast for Freedom initiative — which asks people to abstain from meat or something else as an alternative until Election Day — began earlier this month among a few friends and others on campus. Since then, the effort has “spread like wildfire,” mostly by word of mouth, and includes students from St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul as well as family and friends in the Twin Cities area, Mueller said.

“As of now, we have it documented that about 800 people are partaking in the Fast for Freedom with us,” she said Oct. 26. “From recent reports, however, we have heard that many classrooms, schools and families have joined as well, so we project that participation is higher than we thought.”

In addition to fasting, participants are encouraged to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 p.m. on Fridays for the elections and the future of the country.

One election issue of particular concern to Mueller, a nursing major, is religious liberty, especially in light of the federal Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate.

The mandate requires all employers, including most Catholic and other religious employers, to provide coverage in their health care plans for contraceptives — including some that can cause abortions — and sterilizations despite moral objections they might have.

If the mandate remains in place, “we will be forced to go against our conscience and provide ‘services’ . . . that we believe are intrinsically evil and have been scientifically proven as harmful,” Mueller said.

“This issue most definitely affects my life in a very real way,” she said. “If our religious freedom is taken away, working as a Catholic nurse will be like walking through a health care minefield.”

Anyone who wants to let the students know they are joining the fast, or who has questions, can email them at

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Sad state of affairs: Rosaries as gang symbols

June 7, 2012

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CNS photo / Paul Haring

I’ve never thought of a rosary as a something that “denotes membership in an organized gang.”

But apparently the Anoka-Hennepin School District does.

We’re not talking about the kind of Catholic “gang” that gathers for Sunday worship at your local parish. We’re talking the variety that instigates violent crime and other mayhem.

According to a story I read today on the CBS-Minnesota website, the district told a 15-year-old student to remove a rosary he was wearing as a necklace.


The district’s discipline policy forbids “any apparel, jewelry, accessories, or matter of grooming which by virtue of its color arrangement, trademark, or any other attribute (as a primary purpose) denotes membership in an organized gang.”

Jake Balthazor, who is Lutheran, said he wears the rosary to support and pray for his grandmother, who has breast cancer — something the district didn’t initially realize, according to an update of the original story, and school officials were hoping to find a compromise.

Although I wouldn’t advocate wearing a rosary this way — the beads are intended to aid prayer after all, not to serve as jewelry — the boy’s heart is in the right place.

But, before you criticize the district for lacking common sense, you should know that it was apparently operating on information provided by local police.

The story said the district recently received a letter from a police liaison stating: “A new issue came up recently that is interesting regarding rosary beads. Some gangs do use them as clothing symbols. The gangs identified around here that have been using them are the Latin Kings and the Surenos.”

How sad is that?

One good use for a rosary would be to pray for an end to gangs like these that do nothing more than inflict physical, emotional and spiritual pain on youth, families and struggling neighborhoods.

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Dorothy Day Center: Helping the homeless for 31 years

May 2, 2012



Msgr. Jerome Boxleitner, left, talks with Catholic Charities CEO Tim Marx at the Dorothy Day Center Community Breakfast May 2 in St. Paul. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities)

A small child walks by a church holding her dad’s hand.

“That was a nice bed we had last night,” she tells him. “Where are we going to sleep tonight?”

“I don’t know,” her dad says.

The conversation was overheard not long ago by Susan Vento, who works at Assumption Church in downtown St. Paul, just a stone’s throw from Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center, where thousands of homeless people go each year for basic needs, like a place to sleep for the night.

It’s the kind of conversation that breaks your heart. No child — indeed, no one at all — should have to worry about whether they will sleep on the street because they have no bed and no home to sleep in.

Vento’s experience was one of the stories — some sad, some inspiring — told during a breakfast May 2 commemorating the center’s 31 years of service to the community’s poor and homeless. Mayor Chris Coleman was in attendance and read a proclamation declaring it Dorothy Day Center Day in the City of St. Paul.

The need for the center after three decades is as great as ever and, sadly, is even increasing.

Meeting the need

After Archbishop John Nienstedt offered an opening prayer, speakers like former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer talked about the center’s history, including how it began in the early 1980s, during another recession, thanks to the collaborative efforts of church, city and business leaders who refused to turn a blind eye to the growing numbers of people in need of assistance.

Doug Baker, CEO of Ecolab and the morning’s keynote speaker, noted the intentional decision the leaders made to put the Dorothy Day Center in the middle of town so the challenge of poverty wouldn’t be hidden away in a corner of the community — out of sight and out of mind.

It’s a decision that still carries an important message. “We can’t live in glass towers” and ignore what else goes on in the community, said Baker, whose Ecolab employees — many of whom work downtown — are among the center’s volunteers.

The dedication of the center’s staff and volunteers has been steady over the years, but much has changed as well, including the types of services offered.

On its first day three decades ago, the Dorothy Day Center served coffee and day-old rolls to 50 men. Today, it provides hot meals, mental health services and medical care to more than 6,000 clients annually. While chemical dependency and mental illness are associated with homelessness, clients coming to the center today often don’t fit the stereotypes associated homeless. They are once-properous individuals and families who have fallen on hard times because of the faltering economy and housing foreclosure crisis.

One of the people who helped lay the foundation for the center attended the breakfast — Msgr. Jerome Boxleitner, a former executive director of Catholic Charities. While reminiscing about the center’s history, he also reminded those in attendance that simple charity isn’t enough.

Feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless are extremely important, he said, but we must also work for justice, including public policies that can help put an end to the spiraling cycle of poverty once and for all — efforts that all too often seem “muted these days.”

Get involved

If you’re willing to speak up and take action to help end homelessness, Catholic Charities has a few ideas that it listed in handouts distributed at the end of breakfast. Among the suggestions:

• Stay informed: You can learn more about people who are experiencing homelessness by visiting the websites of Heading Home Minnesota and the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

• Keep the conversation alive: When you share a meal with people you respect, ask them about the homeless in the community. What are the community’s values regarding how the homeless are helped back to self-sufficiency wherever self-sufficiency is possible?

• Advocate: Help build support for programs that provide permanent solutions for homelessness by contacting Catholic Charities’ Office for Social Justice at or 612-204-8393.

• Don’t blink: Even if you don’t give money to a person who is begging, you can recognize their humanity by smiling and wishing them a good day. Remember, sometimes people sitting next to you at school or waiting on you at a restaurant are experiencing homelessness.

• Be a catalyst: Educate and encourage community groups, congregations and workplaces to address the issue.

• Volunteer: Connect with Catholic Charities at or 612-204-8435.

• Pray: Keep the needs of the poor and vulnerable in your thoughts and prayers.

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Student from Minnesota to read at pope’s Easter Vigil Mass

April 7, 2012


Meghan Wenger (Photo courtesy of Convent of the Visitation School)

Thanks to places like the Pontifical North American College and the University of St. Thomas Catholic Studies program in Rome, seminarians and students with Minnesota connections are sometimes invited to participate in papal Masses.

Today, for example, Meghan Wenger, a 2009 grad of Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights, will read at the Easter Vigil Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.

Meghan, who is studying this semester with the UST program and whose home parish is St. Thomas More in St. Paul, is a junior at Boston College. The Mass will be televised today at 2 p.m. central time on EWTN.

“I feel honored and humbled to have been asked. I am looking forward to being able to participate in the Mass in a special way,” Meghan said in an email.

Two other students in the UST Rome program also have roles in Easter Triduum liturgies at the Vatican.

• Evan Beacom of St. Augustin parish in Des Moines, Iowa, participated in the Good Friday liturgy at St. Peter’s Basilica.

• John LoCoco of St. Mary’s Visitation parish in Elm Grove, Wis., will read at the Easter Sunday Mass.

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Catholic Spirit gets the scoop on St. Joseph’s Day

March 19, 2012


Judges Cheryl Peterson and Klondike Kate sample some of the fare. (Photos by Joe Towalski / The Catholic Spirit)

Where better to write about the results of The Catholic Spirit’s St. Joseph’s Day hotdish contest than at

Contestants from the staff of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis competed March 19 in three categories: Hotdish, salads and desserts. Three winners were named in each category for best tasting entry, best appeal and best use of local fare.

Staffers enjoy the dishes after the judging.

The winners, by category, were:


Best taste: Grape salad, Joan Place, accounting services manager.

Best appeal: Pasta salad, Dale Hennen, Parish Services Team.

Best use of local fare: Minnesota Spring Salad, Cathy Cornell, Catholic Schools Office.


Best taste: Venison Tamale Pie, Lynette Forbes Cardey, Parish Services.

Best appeal: Italian Sausage Penne Paste, Mary Jo Jungwirth, administration and finance.

Best use of local fare: Wild Turkey Wild Rice Casserole, Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit


Best taste: Chocolate Irish Creame Cake, Laurie Acker, Catholic Schools Office.

Best appeal: Fruit Torte, Rose Anne Hallgren, Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women.

Best use of local fare: Apple Crisp, Ana Ashby, Office for Social Justice.

Catholic Spirit staffers Caron Olhoft, left, and Mary Gibbs tally the scores.

A heaping plate of thanks goes to our judges: Peggy Sweeney Junkin, a member of St. Patrick in Inver Grove Heights better known as Klondike Kate of the 2012 St. Paul Winter Carnival; and Cheryl Peterson of the Catholic Charities Office for Social Justice.

Thanks also to Catholic Spirit staff members Mary Gibbs and Caron Olhoft who organized the day and tallied the scores.

Congratulations to all for the great food and great lunchtime conversation! Watch for a future post for the recipes.

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Bringing home lessons from Rome

March 18, 2012


Bishop John Quinn of Winona, principal celebrant at Mass at the Altar of the Tomb in St. Peter's Basilica, was joined at the altar by his brother bishops March 9. (Joe Towalski / The Catholic Spirit)

Thirteen bishops recently traveled to Rome to meet with the pope and deepen their bonds of communion with the universal church. As I followed them to churches from one end of the Eternal City to the other for stories and photos, I found my own bonds of communion with the church strengthened and my own faith getting a lift.

The bishops — from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota — were making their periodic “ad limina” visits, which always feature stops at the city’s major basilicas, including the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.

It was at St. Peter’s Basilica one morning, down in the crypt area by the Altar of the Tomb, that the specialness of where I was standing struck me. All the bishops were gathered around the altar with their backs to a glass partition, behind which — not very far away — was the tomb of St. Peter himself.

What could it have been? Maybe 20 yards separating us from the earthly remains of the “rock” on which Jesus built his church some 2,000 years ago?

I felt a very tangible connection to history inside that crypt. So did Bishop Lee Piché of St. Paul and Minneapolis who was making his first “ad limina” visit to Rome. He told me later that he got “goose bumps” praying at the “confessio,” an area above the apostle’s tomb where the bishops sang the Nicene Creed before coming down for Mass.

Foundations of faith

Our stop at St. Peter’s reminded me of visiting the Holy Land, where people talk about the “living stones” — the Christians who live in the place where Jesus walked and where the apostles laid the foundations of the church. Those “living stones” connect us to our spiritual heritage in a unique way.

Pilgrims from around the world come to Rome to visit churches, like St. Peter's Basilica, above. (Joe Towalski / The Catholic Spirit)

Rome has stones, too — stones that make up the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, the great evangelizer of the gentiles. Stones used to construct magnificent churches, some of which date back to the first centuries of Christianity. Stones that have seen two millennia of joy and heroic witness to the faith as well as the church’s struggles, challenges and persecutions.

The sweep of church history within those walls is an awesome one. But so is the sense of the universal, worldwide church you experience — whether you have an opportunity to visit with Pope Benedict XVI (as our bishops did) or stroll around the basilicas and their squares, where in the week I was in Rome I heard people praying in Italian, English, Polish, Spanish and a few other languages I didn’t recognize. It was an important reminder that we are part of a faith much bigger than what we experience in our home parishes and dioceses.

“Our faith is such an amazing thing. It makes us — who are so very different — really strongly one. That has been a great source of renewal for me,” Bishop Piché told me on our last day in Rome.

It was a great experience of renewal for me, too. I hope some of the stories and photos about the trip that we printed in The Catholic Spirit and online at and on the newspaper’s Facebook page have helped in a small way to convey the deeper connection to the universal church that we in Minnesota share with fellow Catholics around the world.

If you’ve never been to Rome, put it on your spiritual bucket list of things to do. The “stones” and pilgrims there will no doubt reaffirm and recharge your faith — and you may experience a few goose bumps of your own.

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Honoring the four ‘Immortal Chaplains’

February 2, 2012


The chaplains were honored with a commemorative stamp in 1948.

Flags are flying at half-staff in Minnesota Feb. 3, but it isn’t because of a recent military casualty. It’s in memory of the heroic sacrifice made exactly 69 years ago by four Army chaplains on a troop transport ship torpedoed in the icy North Atlantic in the middle of World War II.

Gov. Mark Dayton has proclaimed Feb. 3 Immortal Four Chaplains Day in the state of Minnesota to honor the men and their interfaith spirit.

A Catholic News Service story from 2002 recalled the tragic, yet inspiring, story of the four chaplains — Father John Washington, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.; the Rev. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister; Jewish Rabbi Alexander Goode; and the Rev. George Fox, a Methodist.

Gone in 18 minutes

On Feb. 3, 1943, a German U-boat fired three torpedoes at the Dorchester. One of them hit the ship’s boiler room, and it started to sink quickly.

David Fox, a nephew of Rev. Fox, told the story:

After the torpedo hit, “the chaplains were the first on board to calm the men. [They] found the lockers with lifejackets in them, handed them out and, when they ran out, witnesses said that … the chaplains simply removed their own and placed them on the men. They never asked, ‘What religion are you? What race are you?’ It didn’t matter to them. It was simply an action of compassion and love they extended to their fellow human being.”

Fox said the four men “were last seen, as the ship rolled onto its side, standing on the hull of the ship. All joined hands together — with heads bowed — praying together, each in their own way, as the ship went down with 672 men.” It was the third largest loss of life at sea for the United States during World War II.

The Dorchester sank in just 18 minutes about 100 miles off the coast of Greenland. Although it resulted in a huge loss of life, the chaplains’ actions are credited with helping to save the lives of 230 men.

The chaplains’ story is forever linked with their actions on the Dorchester, but they also changed lives before that fateful day.

Father John Washington

A niece of Father Washington, Joanne Brunetti, spoke in the same CNS story about her uncle, who “knew from the time he got out of grammar school that his calling was to be a priest.”

She remembered him as a “friendly, outgoing, fun-loving” man with a great sense of humor and a love of music who enjoyed working with youths.

“He ran the CYO and ran the youth groups in the parish. He took young teen-agers who had never been to a Broadway show to matinees just to open up their minds. He was just always trying to do something to make things better for someone else … and bridge the gap of the generations.”

Not forgotten

Today, the chaplains’ memory lives on in sculptures, plaques and chapels around the country, including at nearby Fort Snelling Memorial Chapel, which features a stained glass window of the men.

The Immortal Chaplains Foundation was created in 1997 to perpetuate their legacy. Its website features a video and other resources about the men and their service to others.

Today, after reading those words of David Fox, I can’t get them out of my mind: “They never asked, ‘What religion are you? What race are you?’ It didn’t matter to them. It was simply an action of compassion and love they extended to their fellow human being.”

If only we heeded those words more often in our own lives, particularly when it isn’t easy and when the cost may be great. That’s the legacy the chaplains leave us — an example that we should never forget and that we should always try to emulate.

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