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Did a saint work in Catholic campus ministry? Bismarck diocese opens inquiry for Michelle Duppong

Michelle Duppong, about whom the Diocese of Bismarck has opened an investigation with a view to a cause for beatification. / University of Mary

Denver Newsroom, Jun 20, 2022 / 14:26 pm (CNA).

Michelle Duppong was a North Dakota Catholic woman who lived such an exemplary life of faith, joy, and campus missionary work that her home diocese will open an inquiry into whether she should be recognized as a saint of the Church. 

That was the news Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck had for a Fellowship of Catholic University Students gathering on Thursday.

“Michelle’s holiness of life and love for God certainly touched us here in the Diocese of Bismarck, at the University of Mary, and throughout FOCUS, but hers is also a witness which should also be shared with the Universal Church,” Kagan said June 16 at a new staff training for the organization at the University of Mary campus.

Others who knew Duppong, like former colleague Mark Bartek, praised her life.

“I think she just had such a zeal and passion for souls and an urgency to help them to encounter the joy that she was able to experience through her own relationship with Jesus,” said Bartek, who was a regional director for FOCUS when Duppong was on the college missionary organization’s staff.

“Her joy was contagious,” he told CNA on June 17. “People describe the experience of meeting Saint John Paul II or Teresa of Calcutta, as (being) like you're the only person in the room. Michelle definitely had that quality as well, where it felt like the whole rest of the world faded away and there’s just this conversation between you.”

“Every time people would see her, she would just have a big smile for them,” he said. “I remember she always was smiling. It was not a forced smile. She lived with this joy that always sought to draw other people, and she would go really the extra mile in order to try to encounter them and just make sure that they were OK.”

Duppong joined FOCUS in 2006 as a student missionary and worked for years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, South Dakota State University, the University of South Dakota, and the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. Her missionary and mentoring work reached hundreds of students. In 2012 she joined the staff of the Diocese of Bismarck as director of adult faith formation.

A cancer diagnosis in December 2014 was followed by a year of declining health. She died on Christmas Day in 2015 at the age of 31, surrounded by family at her childhood home.

Kagan’s announcement that the Bismarck diocese would investigate her life is a first step to possible beatification and canonization. The investigation will gather evidence about Duppong’s life and deeds, compile any private or public writings, and collect testimony from witnesses of her life.

The diocese will present her case to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. If the congregation accepts her cause, she will be known under the title “Servant of God.” Not all cases proceed beyond the diocesan phase. Typically a prospective saint advances to beatification after a credible report of a miracle attributed to the saint’s intercession, and a second miracle is required for canonization. 

Bartek said from what he knew of Duppong, the investigation into her sainthood wasn’t much of a surprise.

“Actually, I was not really surprised by it,” he told CNA. “Knowing Michelle over the years, I just always assumed that this would be the natural way things would go. I didn't expect it to happen within my lifetime.” 

The Bismarck diocese’s announcement did bring him “quite a bit of sadness,” recognizing “that we miss Michelle.” 

“We were pretty good friends. Her passing leaves a big hole in the world and my life,” he said.

Duppong was born in Colorado on January 25, 1984. At the age of one her family moved to a farm in Haymarsh, N.D., about a 60-mile drive west from Bismarck. Her obituary said she loved farm life, working in the gardens and vineyards, and taking part in campfire sing-alongs.

“Michelle will always be remembered as a spirited woman of God who loved to have fun and spread joy,” her obituary said. “Aside from constantly opening her own home to share her faith and enthusiasm for music and dancing, one of her greatest joys was in sharing her love for Haymarsh and the family farm with others.”

“She cherished the small country church of St. Clement located near their home and as an adult, frequently made trips there to visit her Beloved Lord Jesus,” the obituary added.

Duppong was a 2002 graduate of Glen Ullin High School. She studied horticulture at North Dakota State University in Fargo, where she graduated in 2006, but she also spent the time focused on her faith. She took part in the Fellowship of Catholic University Students ministry at St. Paul’s Newman Center, the Catholic campus ministry. 

During this time, she later wrote, she was inspired by the life of St. Pier Giorgio Frassati, a young Italian who contracted polio from working with the poor and died at the age of 24 in the early twentieth century.

“Why do I share his story? Well, reading about Pier Giorgio’s life made holiness seem so practical, so attainable,” she wrote in a March 2, 2015 column for the Dakota Catholic Action newspaper. “He was an ordinary young person who loved Jesus and allowed this love to pour forth into his relationships with others. He embodied what Jesus taught in the eight beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-10). He’s a hero to me; and I want to be like him.”

Bartek told CNA he believes her faith truly blossomed during her time as an undergraduate student at North Dakota State. 

“I think that was a very significant time in her life,” he said.  “Michelle, because she found a good community in a place where she could grow in holiness was really just beginning her life of holiness.”

She joined FOCUS full-time in 2006, the same year as Bartek. 

“She just prayed at all times,” he recalled. “I remember just being in conversations with her and thinking that she's actually talking to the Lord as we're having this conversation as well. She always seemed to have this interior presence, showing her connection with Jesus and the way that she prayed. She was also unbelievably faithful to her prayer and in every circumstance.”

“She always just really brought that spirit of prayer into everything we do, and it was very inspiring to me and something that I continue to take with me,” he said.

He added that Duppong was “always joyful and hopeful.”

“It could be really annoying to people because she was always finding the hopeful outcome, and so because it's not easy to see that or experience that or when you see when you're experiencing hardship when her joy would come. I think that sometimes people were a little bit irritated by that, but for the most part, she  just really inspired people to want to pray more and want to seek care for God's will in their life and to desire to be around her.” 

Monsignor James Shea, president of the University of Mary, described her as “a radiant, joyful woman with the heart of a true servant.”

“For the students on our campus, she was an inspiration and a treasured mentor, teaching them by her example the transformative power of friendship with God.”

Bartek said he learned from her that “it’s possible to have joy in all circumstances.”

“She put Jesus first and foremost, and then she put others before herself,” he said.

Her obituary said her cancer diagnosis started “a year-long journey that brought many joys in the midst of sorrows and suffering.” 

“She received everything with a docile spirit, praying that the Lord’s will be done and trusting in his providence,” the obituary said. “Though she often felt helpless lying in a hospital bed, the last year of her earthly life was spent in complete service of the Lord continuing her most fruitful work as one of God’s servants and pouring her love out on those around her.”

Bartek spoke to her the day of her cancer diagnosis.

“I called her to pray with her a little bit and she was just almost nonchalant about it,” he told CNA. “Not joyful or anything like still trying to meet it, but just very resigned,” Bartek said. 

He summarized her sentiment in that conversation as “yeah, one way or another, God’s will be done.” 

“That's just the way that she encountered so many circumstances,” he said. 

Duppong reflected on her own diagnosis in a Jan. 30, 2015 column for Dakota Catholic Action.

“We have no idea how God’s plan will unfold in our lives and how he is using us to reach others,” she wrote. “We know that we're all in this together and that we're all on the same team in the body of Christ, so I see the present suffering as taking one for the team. May God be glorified by all the good that comes through this!”

Her funeral Mass was celebrated at Bismarck’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and she was buried at St. Clement’s Cemetery in Haymarsh. She was survived by her parents, five siblings, and a boyfriend.

For Bartek, Duppong was a woman who defied categories.  

“I think that she could have been a saint in any time, the way that she pursued Jesus with such a selfless abandonment,” he said. "She definitely lived in the midst of the world, but she was not above the world, so she definitely related to and encountered the people that she walked with, not as if she was from someplace else, but as one of them.” 

A documentary about her life is in development. “Thirst for Souls: the Michelle Duppong Story” will premiere at the FOCUS national conference SEEK23, scheduled for Jan. 2-6, 2023 in St. Louis.

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 21 to correct a misspelling of Mark Bartek's last name.

Why is June the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus?

A statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus inside the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Rome Italy on June 9 2015 / / Bohumil Petrik/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Jun 19, 2022 / 12:19 pm (CNA).

June is known as the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus most simply because the solemnity of the Sacred Heart is celebrated during it. This year, the solemnity falls on June 24. The date changes each year because it is celebrated on the Friday after the Corpus Christi octave, or the Friday after the second Sunday after Pentecost.

However, other reasons exist as to why June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart.

The feast dates back to 1673, when a French nun, belonging to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) in eastern France, began to receive visions about the Sacred Heart.

Jesus appeared to Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque and revealed ways to venerate his Sacred Heart and explained the immense love he has for humanity, appearing with his heart visible outside his chest, on fire, and surrounded by a crown of thorns.

These different ways include partaking in a holy hour on Thursdays and the reception of the Eucharist on the first Friday of every month.

Jesus told Sister Margaret Mary, “My Sacred Heart is so intense in its love for men, and for you in particular, that not being able to contain within it the flames of its ardent charity, they must be transmitted through all means.”

These visions continued for 18 months.

On June 16, 1675, Jesus told Sister Margaret Mary to promote a feast that honored his Sacred Heart. He also gave Sister Margaret Mary 12 promises made to all who venerated and promoted the devotion of the Sacred Heart.

He said, “I ask of you that the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi be set apart for a special feast to honor my heart, by communicating on that day, and making reparation to it by a solemn act, in order to make amends for the indignities which it has received during the time it has been exposed on the altars. I promise you that my heart shall expand itself to shed in abundance the influence of its divine love upon those who shall thus honor it, and cause it to be honored.”

Sister Margaret Mary died in 1690 and was canonized by Pope Benedict XV on May 13, 1920.

The Vatican was hesitant to declare a feast to the Sacred Heart, but as the devotion spread throughout France the Vatican granted the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to France in 1765.

In 1856, Pope Pius IX designated the Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi as the Feast of the Sacred Heart for the universal Church. Ever since, the month of June has been devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and his immense love for us all.

On the current calendar, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a solemnity, the highest-ranking feast in the liturgical calendar, although it is not a holy day of obligation.

These are the promises the Sacred Heart of Jesus made to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque:

  1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.

  2. I will give peace in their families.

  3. I will console them in all their troubles.

  4. I will be their refuge in life and especially in death.

  5. I will abundantly bless all their undertakings.

  6. Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.

  7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.

  8. Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.

  9. I will bless those places wherein the image of My Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated.

  10. I will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.

  11. Persons who propagate this devotion shall have their names eternally written in my Heart.

  12. In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.

Hallow app, Detroit Archdiocese launch 'I AM HERE' Eucharist campaign

The Hallow app is providing prayer content in partnership with the Archdiocese of Detroit's I AM HERE campaign. / Courtesy of Archdiocese of Detroit

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 18, 2022 / 05:23 am (CNA).

The transformative power of encountering Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is a phenomenon that is often difficult to fully comprehend. To help those who are searching for Jesus’ presence, the Archdiocese of Detroit and Hallow App are launching the I AM HERE campaign.

The campaign allows parishes as well as individuals to get involved. Through the teachings of the National Eucharistic Revival, a grassroots effort led by the U.S. bishops aiming to inspire and teach about the Eucharist, I AM HERE aims to promote a true devotion to the Real Presence.

The I AM HERE campaign launched on June 14. The campaign includes a website, social media, and testimonies from real individuals whose lives were changed by the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Hallow app is also assisting the organization with a series of free audio prayer meditations to help listeners pray.

“Something that I think is really unique to the way we do evangelization and mission is direct communication in the Archdiocese of Detroit. We've always highlighted and seen the power of personal testimony and personal stories.” Emily Mentock, associate director of strategy for the Detroit Archdiocese, told CNA.  

The National Eucharistic Revival and I AM HERE come in response to the small percentage of Catholics who believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that 69% of Catholics see the bread and wine as symbolic, while only 31% see the bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus.

Because of this statistic, Mentock told CNA that they want to focus on the 31% who do believe and have them share their stories. She tells all people to, “open your heart and mind to what might be possible.”

“We hope to see our parishes transformed by people growing in love for Jesus Christ and in their zeal to communicate this love with others,” said Edmundo Reyes, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

The Hallow app and the Archdiocese of Detroit are partnering on a eucharistic campaign called I AM HERE. Courtesy of Archdiocese of Detroit
The Hallow app and the Archdiocese of Detroit are partnering on a eucharistic campaign called I AM HERE. Courtesy of Archdiocese of Detroit

The I AM HERE website features powerful photo essays of real people’s transformative encounters, resources for intentional prayer through Hallow, and inspirational messages urging their audience to give Jesus’ Presence a chance.

“You are never alone. In your brokenness, sorrows and frustrations, Jesus wants to say to you, ‘I am here,’" says the main message on the I AM HERE page.

Through a budding social media presence on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook, the campaign will feature personal testimonies of eucharistic encounters. The campaign’s press release also states that campaign organizers, partnered with parishes, will gather stories of parishioners to help encourage others to find Jesus in the Eucharist themselves. Parishes wishing to get involved can contact [email protected]

The stories on the I AM HERE website feature individuals from all different walks of life. From teenagers to the elderly, each person has a unique experience to share. The variety of testimonies is meant to show the audience that there is no requirement to find Jesus' Real Presence, only that you “sit in his presence and open yourself up to his voice.”

“Mass is an obligation, you know, whether you believe in the real presence or not. But adoration only makes sense, really, when you're going to go and look at and put yourself in front of this host if you think that Jesus is present there: body, blood, soul, and divinity,” Mentock told CNA.

“So we really want people to see the I AM HERE message. What’s sort of underlying it all is that it's not just a devotion. It really is Jesus being here with us and breaking through the brokenness of our world to meet us and transform us in the gift that is the Eucharist.”

FBI investigating attacks on Catholic churches, pro-life pregnancy centers

Mountain Area Pregnancy Services, a pro-life pregnancy center in Asheville, North Carolina, had its windows smashed and was spray-painted with pro-abortion messaging on June 6 or June 7, 2022. / Courtesy Mountain Area Pregnancy Services

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 17, 2022 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

The FBI is asking for the public’s help as it investigates attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and churches.

“The FBI is investigating a series of attacks and threats targeting pregnancy resource centers and faith-based organizations across the country,” the FBI National Press Office said in a statement shared with CNA Friday. “The FBI takes all threats seriously and we continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners and will remain vigilant to protect our communities.”

The FBI confirmed to CNA that those faith-based organizations include Catholic churches. 

The Washington Times first reported on the investigation into a growing number of attacks targeting churches and pro-life pregnancy centers as the Supreme Court prepares to decide a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973.

“We would like to remind members of the public that if they observe anything suspicious or have information about potential threats to report it to law enforcement immediately, call their local FBI field office, or submit a tip to,” the FBI National Press Office told CNA.

In response to the attacks, Republican senators and members of Congress have called on the Department of Justice and Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate. Several pro-life, religious, and political organizations also sent Garland a letter demanding action.

The White House condemned pro-abortion violence following new threats from a group called Jane’s Revenge. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, a Democrat who identifies as Catholic, remained silent when asked about the mounting attacks during her weekly press conference Thursday.

National Eucharistic Revival: Here's what you need to know


Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 17, 2022 / 12:42 pm (CNA).

The National Eucharistic Revival, launching June 19 on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, has a mission to “renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist,” as stated on the initiative’s website.

Sponsored by the U.S. bishops, the revival aims to inspire people to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist. Here is all you need to know about the National Eucharistic Revival:

What is the Eucharistic Revival?

The Eucharistic Revival is a three-year initiative that aims to inspire, educate, and unite. In a world where not many people know Jesus intimately, the revival is meant to show everyone what wonders the True Presence of Jesus can do to heal the soul. Through a carefully planned timeline of events, after three years, the U.S. bishops hope to change the lives of many Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

As the campaign organizers say on the revival’s website, those who have been “healed, converted, formed, and unified” by the Eucharist have a mission to teach others “for the life of the world.” This is what the National Eucharistic Revival envisions for the future of this movement.

Why are the U.S. bishops doing this?

Great question. The current world is hurting and straying far from God. According to Pew Research Center, only 31% of Catholics even believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is up to that 31% to spread the truth to all. As the revival website says, “We all need healing, yet many of us are separated from the very source of our strength. Jesus Christ invites us to return to the source and summit of our faith — his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.”

It is a time to confront the hardships that face people in everyday life. The National Eucharistic Revival is a powerful, uplifting way to rise to this challenge.

What’s planned for the kickoff?

This coming year is the Year of Diocesan Renewal.

From now through June of 2023, each diocese will offer events to promote and inspire understanding of the Eucharist. The training of “eucharistic missionaries” will come through online and in-person resources that teach about Christ and the Real Presence.

Everything will start with widespread eucharistic adoration and procession on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

What happens next?

Spanning until July 2024 and beyond, the movement will also include a Year of Parish Revival, a National Eucharistic Congress in 2024, and the National Year of Mission. Each year will be dedicated to serving a specific purpose in the National Eucharistic Revival’s mission.

When is the National Eucharistic Congress?

This major national event will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana, from July 17-21, 2024

Over 100,000 Catholics are expected to “worship our Risen Lord in his humble disguise” and allow the Holy Spirit to “enkindle a missionary fire in the heart of our nation,” according to the revival website. This “National Pilgrimage” will have both in-person and remote options, so everyone can take part in this solemn celebration.

How can I get involved?

There are many ways for individuals all over the United States to get involved in the National Eucharistic Revival. Catholics are given the option to become prayer partners, share testimonies, and call on the Holy Spirit to encourage and strengthen this movement. The revival calls upon “laypeople, families, religious orders, and priests to volunteer their time, talents, and prayers in pursuit of the grassroots renewal our world so desperately needs,” its website says.

Available learning resources include Corpus Christi novenas in both English and Spanish, a document prepared by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) about the Eucharist, a question and answer page about the Eucharist, and a free course by Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of the Archdiocese of Crookston on learning to embrace the gift of the Eucharist. More resources will become available throughout the movement's timeline. 

Where can I go for more information?

The best spot for more information is the National Eucharistic Revival website itself. Not only does it have an abundance of learning resources and prayer assistance, but also a list of answered frequently asked questions. The USCCB website also has a wealth of resources. 

Nigeria church massacre: State Dept. official meets local bishop

Map of Nigeria. / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 17, 2022 / 11:46 am (CNA).

A top U.S. State Department official met with a local bishop in Nigeria following a massacre at a Catholic church in that country, the office of Rep. Chris Smith confirmed.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland met via a Zoom teleconference with Bishop Jude Arogundade after Smith, a Republican representing New Jersey, raised concerns about the safety of Christians in Nigeria.

“The meeting took place as Congressman Smith requested, and we understand that the opportunity to raise concerns was met,” Michael Finan, Smith's press secretary, told CNA.

Smith released a statement June 15 about a letter he sent, urging Nuland to meet with Arogundade during her trip to that country. 

“In the aftermath of the horrific attack that took place on June 5 at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Owo, Ondo State, and in advance of your upcoming visit to Nigeria,” Smith wrote, “I ask that you make time in your schedule to meet with Bishop Arogundade of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo.”

The statement comes in the wake of the massacre, where 40 people were confirmed dead and more than 60 injured. 

Smith wrote that “the attack indicates the southward migration of terror towards Christian-majority regions as well as Nigeria’s oil-producing areas.”

Nigeria, a nation of more than 216 million that is Africa’s most populous country, is of “outsized importance” to West Africa, Smith said, adding that the increased violence toward Christians can no longer be ignored, according to the statement.

Before the massacre in the Diocese of Ondo, the State Department omitted Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern in its annual International Religious Freedom Report.

In the press release, Smith noted alarming statistics from Open Doors USA, a network that serves persecuted Christians. The religious-freedom watchdog reported that a Christian is killed every two hours for practicing his or her faith — in Nigeria alone. This amounts to approximately 13 Christians killed per day, or 372 killed every month.

According to Open Doors, Nigeria accounted for almost 80% of Christian deaths around the world last year.

Finan told CNA that Smith's office will continue to work with Arogundade.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the meeting took place via a Zoom teleconference call.

After 'hookup' scandal and 'extended leave,' Msgr. Burrill resumes ministry

Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 17, 2022 / 10:54 am (CNA).

Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill has returned to active ministry as a priest in his home diocese, after he resigned last year from his post with the U.S. bishops ahead of reports alleging inappropriate behavior, including his use of an LGBTQ dating and “hookup” app.

Bishop William Callahan of La Crosse, Wisconsin, announced June 14 that he appointed Burrill to serve as the parochial administrator of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish in West Salem. In a statement to parishioners, Callahan addressed Burrill’s new position following an “extended leave.”

“During his leave from active ministry, Monsignor Burrill engaged in a sincere and prayerful effort to strengthen his priestly vows and has favorably responded to every request made by me and by the Diocese,” Callahan said.

He expressed full support for Burrill.

“Let me state unequivocally that the Diocese of La Crosse has received no allegations of illegal misconduct of any kind by Monsignor Burrill,” he added, “and that I have every confidence in returning Monsignor Burrill to active ministry and in his ability to accompany the people of God of this great parish as together you journey toward a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ.”

He concluded: “I thank you for your patience, your prayers and for your welcoming support of Monsignor Burrill.”

Callahan noted that Burrill has served as a priest of his home Diocese of La Crosse since 1998, and returned after serving the U.S. bishops in Washington, D.C. 

In July 2021, Burrill resigned from his post as the general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ahead of a report by The Pillar alleging inappropriate behavior and the frequent use of the dating and “hookup” app Grindr.

Bishop revokes Catholic status of Jesuit school flying LGBT, Black Lives Matter flags

Black Lives Matter flag and LGBT pride flag fly outside Nativity School of Worcester, a Jesuit middle school in the diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, in April 2022. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Jun 17, 2022 / 06:06 am (CNA).

After a months-long impasse, A Jesuit middle school in Worcester, Massachusetts, has had its Catholic status revoked by the local bishop for defying his order to stop flying flags supporting LGBT pride and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The flying of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and scandalous message to the public about the Church’s stance on these important moral and social issues,” Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester said in a June 16 decree.

“The Nativity School of Worcester is prohibited from this time forward from identifying itself as a ‘Catholic’ school and may no longer use the title ‘Catholic’ to describe itself,” he said. “Mass, sacraments, and sacramentals are no longer permitted to be celebrated on Nativity School premises or be sponsored by Nativity School in any church building or chapel within the Diocese of Worcester.”

Canon law states that "no school, even if it is in fact Catholic, may bear the title 'Catholic school' except by the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority.”

McManus said it is his “sacred duty and inherent responsibility” to determine when a school acts contrary to Catholic teachings and “disregards my legitimate authority as the guardian and overseer of Catholic education in the Diocese of Worcester.”

In his decree the bishop elaborated on his specific concerns about the flags.

“It is my contention that the ‘Gay Pride’ flag represents support of gay marriage and actively living a LGBTQ+ lifestyle,” McManus said.

“The Catholic Church teaches that all life is sacred and the Church certainly stands unequivocally behind the phrase ‘black lives matter’ and strongly affirms that all lives matter,” the bishop continued.

“However, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has co-opted the phrase and promotes a platform that directly contradicts Catholic social teaching on the importance and role of the nuclear family and seeks to disrupt the family structure in clear opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

The school has said it will appeal the decision and will continue flying the flags, saying that any decision by the diocese will not affect its operations.

Television news reports from the school on Thursday showed the flags still flying, along with the American flag.

BLM organization at issue

The Jesuit-run Nativity School of Worcester serves boys in grades five through eight. It has a predominantly African-American and Latino student body and students attend tuition-free. It is privately run and not part of the diocesan school system.

Since January 2021 the school had been flying a rainbow LGBT pride flag and a version of a Black Lives Matter flag. In March 2022 an unknown person tore the flags down. McManus addressed the flag controversy on April 3, with the school being warned it could lose its Catholic status.

The “Black Lives Matter” phrase came to prominence after the controversial killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012, which was ruled self-defense. It was invoked at the same time as 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri, prompted by the fatal police shooting of a Black man, Michael Brown, which was eventually ruled to be self-defense. After the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, it became a rallying cry for foes of police brutality and racism.

McManus’ June 16 statement did not explain his concern that the Black Lives Matter movement undermines the family. However, the largest official organization which bears the slogan, the Black Lives Matter Global Network, has promoted LGBT ideology and opposes the nuclear family. Until the language was removed in September 2020, the group’s website said that, as part of its social justice and anti-racist work, the organization aimed to “dismantle cisgender privilege,” “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure,” and foster “a queer‐affirming network.” The organization is currently fighting accusations of financial mismanagement.

In an April 3 statement, McManus said the Black Lives Matter emblem, “has at times been co-opted by some factions which also instill broad-brush distrust of police and those entrusted with enforcing our laws.”

The school's response

In a June 15 letter to the school community, Thomas McKenney, Nativity School's president, depicted McManus' action as “a change in Nativity’s relationship with the Diocese of Worcester and our continued commitment to providing an excellent education rooted in the Jesuit tradition.”

McKenney said the school is “entirely funded through the generosity of individuals, foundations, and corporations.” It receives no diocesan funding and its governance and control of school operations are “fully independent of the diocese.”

“Please know that any decisions made by the diocese will not change the mission, operations or impact of Nativity,” he told the school community.

McKenney said the school began to fly the flag in response to the middle school students’ “call to express support for making our communities more just and inclusive.”

“As a multicultural school, the flags represent the inclusion and respect of all people. These flags simply state that all are welcome at Nativity and this value of inclusion is rooted in Catholic teaching,” he said.

“Pope Francis has praised the outreach and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the spirit and movement of ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Both flags are now widely understood to celebrate the human dignity of our relatives, friends and neighbors who have faced, and continue to face hate and discrimination.”

“Though any symbol or flag can be co-opted by political groups or organizations, flying our flags is not an endorsement of any organization or ideology, they fly in support of marginalized people.”

McManus’ decree prohibits Nativity School from any fundraising at diocesan institutions. The school also is barred from being listed in or advertising in the diocese directory. In addition, Worcester Bishop emeritus Daniel P. Reilly’s name must be removed from the school’s board of trustees.

According to NBC News Boston, Raymond Delisle, a spokesman for the diocese, said McManus “was just looking for alternatives to the flags to be able to get the same points across, that Black Lives do matter, that God loves everyone. But does it have to be done with specific logos, if you will, of a particular organization that we have differences with?”

McKenney said the school “will seek to appeal the decision of the diocese to remove our Catholic identity through the appropriate channels provided by the Church in circumstances like this.”

“At the same time, after meaningful deliberation and discernment by its board, leadership team, faculty, and partners, Nativity will continue to display the flags in question to give visible witness to the school’s solidarity with our students, families, and their communities. Commitment to our mission, grounded and animated by Gospel values, Catholic Social Teaching, and our Jesuit heritage compels us to do so.”

The senior administration of Worcester’s Jesuit-run College of the Holy Cross developed the school, which opened in 2003 to address low graduation rates among boys who come from economically insecure homes.

World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests is a Special Moment to Pray for Priests and the Gift of their Vocation

WASHINGTON – On June 24, the Catholic Church will celebrate World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. Established by Saint John Paul II in 2002, this celebration occurs annually on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On this day, the Church encourages priests to prayerfully reflect upon the gift of their vocation. The faithful are also invited to mark this celebration by praying for all priests that they may live lives of holiness and fidelity to Christ and his Church. Priests were not spared from the effects of the pandemic on their lives, so this year is again a good time to pray for our dedicated priests who creatively reached out to care for the faithful during this challenging time.

Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of initial and ongoing formation in the life of the priest: “Precisely for this reason, it [ongoing formation] cannot be a limited task because priests never stop being disciples of Jesus, who follow Him. Sometimes we proceed with celerity, at other times our step is hesitant, we stop and we may even fall, but always staying on the path. Therefore, formation understood as discipleship accompanies the ordained minister his entire life and regards his person as a whole, intellectually, humanly and spiritually. Initial and ongoing formation are distinct because each requires different methods and timing, but they are two halves of one reality, the life of a disciple cleric, in love with his Lord and steadfastly following Him.”

In conjunction with the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations said, “The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus gives us a special opportunity to continue our prayers for our priests. May and June are traditionally when ordinations to the priesthood are celebrated. With many priests celebrating anniversaries, this annual day of prayer is significant. This year, it also marks the official promulgation of the sixth edition of The Program of Priestly Formation in the United States of America. I am grateful to all of those who assisted in drafting and reviewing the document for their diligent efforts; this new edition will guide diocesan and religious seminary formation programs for years to come. The CCLV committee is also currently developing the second edition of the Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests to provide priests with rich spiritual and practical insights to benefit them and their sacred ministry and assist in the ongoing renewal of their commitment to lifelong formation as envisioned by Pope Francis. We pray that this will help foster renewal in all our priests.”

May the Sacred Heart of Jesus, through the intercession of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, imbue all priests with his grace, strengthen their hearts, and renew them in their vocation to image Christ, Head and Shepherd, Servant and Spouse. Amen.

Resources for supporting the life and ministry of priests are available on the USCCB website:


Media Contact:
Chieko Noguchi

Texas school shooting: Friend recalls faith of slain teacher and her heartbroken husband

Memorial for Irma and José García in Uvalde, Texas. / David Ramos/ACI Prensa

Uvalde, Texas, Jun 16, 2022 / 16:25 pm (CNA).

Irma García, one of the teachers killed in the massacre at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, went to Mass every Sunday with her husband José and was concerned about how her little students were doing in school.

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, spoke with Elia Gómez, a 77-year-old resident of Uvalde and close friend of the family, in an interview outside the elementary school where a memorial has been set up for the 21 victims of the May 24 massacre.

Gómez said she knew Irma and José "very well, a family very dear to everyone.”

“They are always willing to help others. Always treating everyone with respect,” she recalled.

On May 24, Salvador Ramos, 18, entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, about 80 miles west of San Antonio, with an AR-15 rifle and murdered 19 children and two teachers, leaving many more injured before being shot down by police.

Eighty percent of the 15,000 inhabitants of Uvalde are Hispanic, and a significant number are Catholic. At Sacred Heart, the town’s only parish, a total of 11 funerals are scheduled.

One of the teachers killed was Irma García. Her husband, José, died two days later of cardiac arrest, unable to bear the pain of his loss. According to his family, he died of a “broken heart.” The couple leaves behind four children, ages 23, 19, 15, and 13.

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller offered the funeral Mass for the couple on June 1 at Sacred Heart Parish, the only Catholic church in Uvalde.

Elia Gómez, a close friend of Irma and Jose García in Uvalde, Texas. Irma, a teacher, was among those killed in a mass shooting on May 24. Her husband died days later of a "broken heart.". David Ramos/ACI Prensa
Elia Gómez, a close friend of Irma and Jose García in Uvalde, Texas. Irma, a teacher, was among those killed in a mass shooting on May 24. Her husband died days later of a "broken heart.". David Ramos/ACI Prensa

Gómez said that she knew José, known as Joe, ”since his mother was pregnant with him. I saw him grow up. When he started to crawl, to walk, to go to school.”

“I‘m a close friend of that family. For years they have even been telling me that I’m their aunt,” she recalled with emotion.

“I knew Joe's mom for years and years. I know Joe's sister very well, his brothers,” she continued.

Gómez noted that Irma was a "very good teacher, always giving good advice to her students."

“This shows it: She gave her life for her students.” Piecing together various accounts of what happened that day, Gómez said Irma “was the first one who confronted that boy. She spoke to him calmly and politely. She wanted to make him understand, but he wasn’t listening.”

Gómez highlighted the family’s unity, because “the two always went together as a couple. They were always in agreement with each other. And they respected each other."

Irma and Joe, she said, “went to Mass every Sunday, right on time."

“They were very sweet people. One felt at ease with them,” she reiterated, recalling that Irma García told each child “behave well, study, because learning (is something) no one is going to take away from you.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.