CROOKSTON, Minnesota — At a family gathering some days before her son’s Dec. 6 installation as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Crookston, Judy Cozzens of Plymouth, Minnesota., shared how Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens’ life had a difficult beginning.
She went into labor five months into the pregnancy. Doctors were able to stop labor, but did not offer an encouraging prognosis.
“His life started with a great amount of prayer,” Judy told Our Northland Diocese, Crookston’s diocesan news outlet.
Born Aug. 3, 1968, Andrew had extensive eczema and food allergies. He also developed asthma.
Until age 10, his diet was limited to 12 foods. That meant bringing his own meals to birthday parties, including Rice Krispies bars to eat when the other kids had cake and ice cream.
“Some people would feel sorry for Drew, but his dad and I would always remind him that his allergies were making him strong. He was learning at a young age that you did not have to have everything to be happy,” Judy said.
She believes these lessons helped prepare him to accept his vocation to the priesthood.
“Although he loves children and would have been a great father and husband, he had the strength to sacrifice marriage and family to serve the Lord’s family and bring the Lord’s mercy and the Eucharist to us,” Judy said.
Cozzens is the youngest of Jack and Judy’s children. His older sister Helen lives in Long Lake, Minnesota, with her husband, Tim. They have seven children and two grandchildren. Their oldest daughter belongs to the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus, a religious order based in New Ulm, Minnesota.
When Andrew was 10 and Helen was 13, their family welcomed a 15-year-old foster brother, Sergei Thomas.
Helen said when Sergei, an African American from the inner city, joined their family as a high school freshman. He was extremely smart, but had a .9 grade point average. At graduation his GPA was above 3.0.
“That’s what family can do,” Helen said.
Sergei is now a lawyer in Denver and has two sons.
Judy and her husband tried to make sure their kids had personal relationships with priests and religious by inviting men and women of faith over frequently for dinner and to spend time with the family. She said they also encouraged their children — and now their grandchildren — to seek God’s will for their futures.
“Ask God what he wants. If you follow the will of God you will be happy,” Judy said.
She said the future bishop was a very normal kid growing up. He enjoyed skiing, hiking and being outside. He also sang in a select choir group, took part in school plays and had a leadership role in his school’s Key Club.
Andrew was recognized by a local Denver TV station for his service work during high school.
“They asked him what he considered his most important accomplishment in high school,” said Judy. “He responded that he had been involved in teaching students with special needs how to swim every Friday night during a couple years of high school. He felt his greatest achievement was when his swimmer won a gold medal in the Special Olympics.”
Time in the summer at his uncle’s farm in Montana gave Bishop Cozzens an understanding and appreciation for farming and rural life, his mother explained.
Like his sister Helen, Bishop Cozzens attended Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
“He was just a freshman when I was a senior, but he helped me with my theology papers and I let him use my car,” Helen said. Their relationship in college transformed from just siblings to good friends.
After college Helen served as a missionary with National Evangelization Teams Ministries, known as NET Ministries. She wrote to her brother about all she was learning about the church and how to live and share the Catholic faith. Her team even spent time leading retreats in Kansas where he was able to meet them.
Following graduation, Bishop Cozzens served as a NET missionary and the team he was assigned to traveled around the Diocese of Crookston conducting retreats.
He also was part of St. Paul’s Outreach and led Bible studies. His faith drew him to join Companions of Christ, a fraternity of diocesan priests in St. Paul.
He was accepted into St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1993. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in 1997. Then-Father Cozzens was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese in 2013.
“Bishop Cozzens has given thousands of homilies, but none of them compare to the one he is giving with his life,” Helen said. “I have seen my brother give his life to Christ and how God has used it in a powerful way.”
Helen remembered how her brother was appointed auxiliary bishop during a difficult time in the archdiocese.
“Clergy abuse has weighed heavily on my brother’s service in St. Paul and Minneapolis,” she said. “He has worked so hard to help heal our local church and help the victims of abuse; he will definitely bring these concerns and experiences to any position he holds in the church.”
As an auxiliary bishop, he helped lead the archdiocese through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy from 2015 to 2018 that involved more than 450 abuse claims and resulted in a $210 million settlement with victim-survivors.
A month after he was ordained bishop, he also became involved in an internal investigation of sexual misconduct against Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, who led the archdiocese from 2008 until he resigned in 2015.
Helen added that her brother is a strong leader and learned a great deal from Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“They have been through so much together and the archbishop has been a tremendous mentor and example to my brother of a strong and loving leader,” she said.
His leadership and experience as a seminary professor and formator will be a blessing for Crookston’s priests, Helen said. “He has the highest regard for the priesthood and the special men that are called to this vocation.”
He also recognizes the importance of evangelization, he said, from his experience as a missionary with NET and St. Paul’s Outreach.
“He has a deep love for the evangelization of young people. He enjoys working in youth ministry and speaking at events for youth,” Helen said, adding that as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ evangelization committee, he has a national perspective on the life of the U.S. church he can share with the Diocese of Crookston.”
Helen and Judy encouraged the people of the diocese to seek out and meet Bishop Cozzens.
“Bishop Andrew is an energetic person who will enjoy getting to know his flock. He is creative and will find ways to help individuals grow in their faith,” Judy said. “The bishop loves hearing confessions and bringing God’s mercy to his people; when people share their stories, he listens well.”
Genereux writes for Our Northland Diocese, news outlet of the Diocese of Crookston.