The bishop is a Johnnie

Kettler sees value in Catholic higher education

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December 4, 2013

By Mike Killeen

Bishop Donald Kettler

Bishop Donald Kettler had a bird's-eye view of the modern day Catholic Church while attending Saint John's University and Saint John's School of Theology•Seminary from 1964-70.

Kettler, who was named bishop of the St. Cloud Diocese Sept. 20, was an undergraduate student at SJU for the latter half of the Second Vatican Council, which ran from 1962-65 in Rome. He said it was a "blessing" coming to SJU during the Council.

"It was during Vatican Council II, and it was an extremely important experience to be able to hear about Vatican Council II firsthand," said Kettler, who graduated from SJU in 1966 and the School of Theology•Seminary in 1970.

While an undergraduate student, Kettler was taught by Fathers Godfrey Diekmann, Michael Marx and Colman Barry, who was president of SJU from 1964-71. Diekmann had a leadership role as a theological adviser with the Council in the drafting and implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

"They actually taught classes then," Kettler said of the three. "They would go to the Council in the fall, and come back and teach courses in the spring. That was an unbelievable experience.

"However, I also wish that I would have appreciated it a little bit more than I did at the time. Now, I appreciate it more than I did, even then."

Kettler, who served as the fourth bishop of the Fairbanks, Alaska, Diocese before being appointed by Pope Francis to come to the St. Cloud Diocese, said he was very much interested in intramural sports while attending Saint John's.

"Any time that I could, I was involved at Saint John's in intramural basketball, intramural softball. Part of that was the opportunity to play these sports with college students," Kettler said. "It just wasn't intra-seminary stuff. That's how I got to know a number of priests of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Oftentimes, they would come out on their days off, and we'd have a touch football, basketball, softball game together.

"Actually, I remember the priests best from that experience, rather than the more formal stuff. I tell people that the athletic side was pretty important at the time."

Kettler said there were two sides to his spiritual formation at Saint John's.

"There was the spiritual formation offered both by the Diocese of St. Cloud and by the Benedictine spirituality. I had the opportunity to see both - kind of a two-fold education, which was good for me," Kettler said. "That was really useful. Because I was interested in the diocesan priesthood and not consecrated life and monastic life, I was glad they had both programs."

He also sang in the seminary choir, which was directed at the time by another seminarian, Charlie Parker - now retired Fr. Charlie Parker.

"He (Parker) had his doctorate in choral music. We turned out to be a pretty decent men's choir, because of his expertise," Kettler said. "He came back for my installation. That was kind of neat, for me.

"So, the music part was important, the theology of Vatican II was pretty important to me, and the athletics and getting to know the priests were all important."

Kettler has supported Catholic education over the years.

"It's very important for me to have people who live and are committed to their faith. When you have that type of person, and they are a teacher in a Catholic school, they can have great influence on people. I think it's the best catechetical tool we have, beyond the family, because of the time and the people we have."

That continues through high school into a college or university, like the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, Kettler said.

"My value is that we have strong, professional Catholic leaders, and higher education would help with that," Kettler said. "For me, (CSB and SJU) have to be an example of, and a teacher of, Catholic principles. You have to do that. Now, you can do that in a way that includes different people of different philosophies. But I think we come as a special witness to all of that."