May 5, 2015
Editor’s note: As Bishop Kagan celebrates his 40th anniversary in the priesthood, he comments on his lifelong vocation and service to the Lord. He writes, “I would like to say thank you to all of our Catholic people in the Diocese of Bismarck. You have been so very good to me and I promise to continue to pray for all of you each day. Please pray for our priests, deacons, seminarians and consecrated religious women and men. They are the ones who continue to give joy to your lives and to mine.”
DCA: What or who most influenced you to become a priest and how?
DDK: The person was the Pastor of my home parish of St. Peter, Spring Grove. Father John Daleiden was an older man but he was very kind to all and he was always available to anyone. Our town was very small (@125 people) and on most days you would see him walking around town and visiting with people. That really impressed me as a youngster. I guess to put it another way, Father was present to his parish and I wanted to be a priest like him. The activity that had a great influence on me becoming a priest was to serve as an altar boy at daily Mass. Being so close to the altar and to Our Lord so frequently I know had a tremendously good influence on me. Certainly my family, the good Sisters who taught me in grade school and so many others as I was growing up and preparing for ordination had such a good influence on me but my Pastor and serving Mass stand out for me as I look back over not only my 40 years as a priest but back further to the discerning of my vocation.
DCA: What have been some of your memorable experiences in 40 years as a priest?
DDK: I have had so many wonderful and holy and inspiring experiences in my 40 years as a priest so I will recount just a few. When I had been ordained a priest almost 3.5 years I was privileged to be back studying Canon Law in Rome and was in St. Peter’s Square for the election of Pope Saint John Paul II on Oct. 16, 1978, and then I met him with my Bishop on Nov. 9, 1978 (which was also my 29th birthday). Another memorable, and very sad, experience for me was the first funeral Mass I offered for a little boy who had been hit and killed by a car. I have never forgotten that Mass and, to this day, I pray for his parents who told me later that the only thing that got them through that horrible moment was their faith. Another memorable moment for me happened many years after I stopped teaching religion in our Catholic high schools. I was in a food store and this young lady came over to me and asked if I was Father Kagan and when I said that I was she told me that I had taught her in her senior year the course on Christian Marriage. She told me she had been married for a few years and just had their third child and she wanted to tell me how much she remembered from that course and that she was very grateful for what I taught her. As a priest and now a bishop I have come to realize that the really big moments in one’s life are few and very far between; it’s the ordinary moments with others that have made a big difference for me.
DCA: What have been some of your memorable experiences in the 3.5 years as Bishop of the Diocese of Bismarck?
DDK: Since I have been the Bishop of Bismarck I have had so many wonderful experiences but to name just a few I would say first, Nov. 30, 2011 as the day I was ordained and installed as the Bishop of Bismarck. I shall never forget that beautiful day. The years of 2012, 2013 and 2014 when I was privileged to ordain nine men as diocesan priests and one man as a Benedictine priest for Assumption Abbey. Our Eucharistic Conference, Thirst 2013 was a truly blessed moment in our Diocese’s life as over 7,000 people came together to pray and to deepen their knowledge and appreciation of our faith and the Most Holy Eucharist. The Holy Spirit has continued to shower His countless graces on all of us as is evidenced by the over 700 men who participated in Thirst 2014, our Catholic Men’s Conference and I just know our Catholic Women’s Conference, Thirst 2015 will be just as powerful. I could go on, but we have limited space. After 3.5 years I can only thank God for how He has blessed me through the priests, religious and lay men and women of our Diocese, and I look forward to many more years of living our faith together, God willing.
DCA: As head of all the priests in the diocese, what would you like lay people to understand about priesthood?
DDK: I think that our laity has a pretty good understanding of the priesthood in a general way. However, as the Bishop of the Diocese, I would like to explain to them why I so often ask them to pray for all of our priests and their own parish priests in particular. It isn’t because being a priest is a burden, because it is just the opposite. It is a true privilege. The man who is ordained a priest remains a priest for all eternity and his eternal reward depends on how well he has imitated Jesus for each of his people every day he has served them. This great privilege is not easy and what helps any priest more than we know is that others are praying for him to be faithful to Christ and His people. The priesthood is a distinct vocation, which God gives to some in His Church, just as is marriage, the consecrated life and the chaste single life. Each has its own serious responsibilities, but for every priest, he has the added responsibility of spiritual fatherhood and spiritual leadership of the Christian community he is to pastor. Any priest will tell you the joys are many and the sorrows or frustrations are few but what he needs more than anything are the prayers of his people. Finally, if I could add just one more thing to everyone’s list of prayer intentions, I ask all to continue to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life among the young men and women of our Diocese. When you pray for your priests add a prayer to God that He will send us more just like the wonderful priests He has given us.
DCA: What do you enjoy most about your ministry (as priest and now as bishop)?
DDK: What I have enjoyed most about my priestly ministry over the years and now that I am a Bishop are two things among many have always enjoyed celebrating the beautiful liturgies of our Church: Holy Mass and the other sacramental liturgies. As both priest and Bishop, I have always enjoyed hearing the confessions of our people and our people in the Bismarck Diocese edify me. They make use of this great sacrament often and in large numbers and that is a tremendous help and consolation for me. Another aspect of my priestly ministry, which I have always enjoyed, is teaching, whether in a classroom or in a less structured setting. It helps me to keep up with my own reading and study and I learn a great deal from those whom I teach especially by the questions they ask. Finally, what I enjoy and look forward to are the gatherings I am able to have with our good priests. To be able to pray together, to have a meal and simply visit with one another is a true joy for me.
DCA: What are the most challenging parts about your ministry?
DDK: The challenges, which I have as the Bishop, are not much different from those which our pastors face from day to day, except that mine are on a larger scale. For me, the two greatest challenges are vocations and meeting the growing pastoral needs of our Diocese. Vocations are always a challenge because as I have said on many occasions, we can never have enough priests to serve in our parishes. Our Catholic people are very understanding of this need and their constant prayers and continued generosity in supporting vocations and all of our priests is appreciated by me and by our priests and seminarians. We are all aware of the various kinds of growth our Diocese continues to experience and among the many pastoral needs I hear of from our priests is to try to provide for marriage preparation for couples and to provide solid, Catholic support for marriages and families as well as Catholic counseling for couples and families in difficult circumstances. I am working with our dedicated and faithful Diocesan staff to assist our pastors and those who cooperate with them in these areas, but the challenges are there and I think it is for me and for all of us to transform them into opportunities for greater faith and greater involvement in our Catholic parish life. None of this happens overnight and certainly not without a great deal of prayer and sacrifice, but it is so worth it in the end. If we can bring others to a deeper knowledge of and love for Jesus by whatever we do what a blessing for us all!
DCA: On a lighter note, what does your “perfect day” look like?
DDK: Well, if I could construct a “good day” it would go like this: an early morning walk with Dash, drinking several cups of strong black coffee in the early morning, making my daily holy hour and praying the Office and saying the Rosary, offering daily Mass, keeping the appointments on my daily schedule. If could construct an even “better day”, it would be all of the above plus no telephone calls, no emails, and no text messages. If I could construct my “perfect day” it would still be all of the above and the Chicago Bears finally beat the Green Bay Packers. That’s perfection!