CROOKSTON, Minnesota — Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens was giving classes to religious sisters in New Ulm, Minnesota, on the morning of Oct. 4 when a call came in from Washington.
The caller left no message, so the auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis considered it a “random call” and continued to teach. But, that same number called three more times before noon. So, at his lunch break, he decided to call back.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., answered the phone. “I’m very happy to speak to you,” Cozzens recalled him saying. Pierre told Cozzens that Pope Francis had named him bishop of Crookston, a 14-county diocese in northwest Minnesota.
“My immediate reaction was, ‘Praise God! Whatever God wants,'” Cozzens told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Pierre announced the appointment Oct. 18. An installation Mass is planned for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Crookston Dec. 6.
Cozzens, 53, has been an auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis since 2013.
A native of Denver, he was ordained a priest of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1997 and ministered in two parishes before pursuing a doctorate in sacred theology in Rome. He then taught at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, until he was ordained a bishop.
Cozzens moved to the Twin Cities after graduating from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, to serve as a traveling missionary to teenagers through NET Ministries. His first assignment with NET, or National Evangelization Teams, was to the Crookston Diocese.
He now sees that time as providential.
“If you would have told me in 1991, when I’m … right out of college, that someday you’ll be the bishop here, I’d be like ‘you are crazy.’ But that’s God’s plan,” he said.
“I love the idea that I’m headed further down the pilgrimage of life with the Lord,” he continued, “and always was struck by the line from St. John Paul II when he said, ‘Jesus is my life’s companion.’ And so that’s the real sense I have as I go to Crookston — like, the Lord is going with me, and he’s been preparing me for this.
The bishop added: “There’s a lot I don’t know about what my life’s going to look like, but I know the Lord is my life’s companion, and he’ll be with me. In that way, I see my life as a great adventure with the Lord, and I’m excited about it.”
He realizes he’s transitioning from ministry in the archdiocese during a critical time, as he has been leading committee efforts since 2019 to prepare for an archdiocesan synod assembly in June that will lay the groundwork for a pastoral letter and plan on the archdiocese’s future.
Meanwhile, as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, he’s leading a National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative that’s slated to begin in June as well.
However, “I did think about the need of the Diocese of Crookston, and I know they need some healing and they need a good presence. And I’m happy to go there with my energy and enthusiasm and desire to bring healing there,” he said. “I trust Divine Providence in regard to the timing.”
The eight years since his episcopal ordination Dec. 9, 2013, have been “a real adventure,” he said.
His experience includes the archdiocese declaring bankruptcy in January 2015 due to clergy abuse claims. That resulted in a $210 million settlement for victim-survivors in 2018. In June 2015, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office filed civil and criminal charges against the archdiocese for how it handled a sexual abuse case, and its archbishop and an auxiliary bishop resigned their roles 10 days later.
“We were ground zero for a while of the sexual abuse crisis in the country. We have done a good job in building from that spot,” he said.
Cozzens said that his first priority after his installation will be getting to know people and the diocese’s history. That includes the resignation earlier this year of his predecessor, Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner, following a Vatican-initiated investigation into how he handled clergy sexual abuse allegations.
“I need to meet the priests. I need to meet the lay leaders. I need to meet the staff of the Diocese of Crookston, and I really want to hear what their experience has been like and what they’ve been through,” Cozzens said. “And I want to know how they’re doing and where they’re at so that we can begin together to build a direction forward.”
He expects to spend a lot of time in parishes, in part because confirmation — a sacrament uniquely conferred by a bishop — is held in parishes, not at the diocese’s cathedral, as is the custom in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“I fully expect to put on a lot of miles on the car because I want to be out in the parishes getting to know the people,” he said.
Cozzens also expects diocesan preparations for the 2023 Synod of Bishops on synodality to provide opportunities for widespread listening to a range of people on their experiences and hopes for the future.
He also sees the National Eucharistic Revival he’s preparing to lead as “a very exciting thing to bring to the Diocese of Crookston.”
“We’re all just coming out of the COVID crisis still, and we know that there is a crisis of faith in the Eucharist in the United States, and so we want to revive that faith,” he said. “I’ll be looking for ways that we can do that together in the Diocese of Crookston, to bring people back to the church and to revive the faith of the Eucharist in the diocese.”
“That will certainly be a central focus of my work in the first few years as we participate together as a nation in this National Eucharistic Revival.”
He’s excited to know that the Diocese of Crookston hosts summer camps for young people, in part because that connects with his interest in encouraging youth, fostering vocations and his love of the outdoors.
As a young priest, Cozzens gained a reputation for embracing adventure: Rock climbing, mountain biking, cliff jumping and skiing — and he still does some of those activities today. (He has given up rock climbing “due to my age,” he said.)
He welcomes the opportunity to be in the outdoors in northwestern Minnesota, which is largely rural. Crookston itself has a population of around 7,900. The largest city there is Moorhead, with 44,500 people.
Cozzens said he has been prepared for this role by “a ton of experience that the Lord has given me, whether that’s the work I’ve done with our Catholic schools, the work I’ve done with priests and priests’ assignments.”
“Thank God, I do feel like I go with a few tools on the belt — that I’m ready. But I also do feel like the Lord’s been preparing my heart just to give myself in a new way,” he said. “I love the image of life as a pilgrimage or a journey. Already so much in my life, I would say I never would have guessed that this is where the Lord would lead me.”
Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.