NEW YORK – In a unique arrangement that Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Bishop Andrew Cozzens agree would be beneficial to the American church if done more often, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will loan the Diocese of Crookston three priests for a period of three years.

The priests will begin in the Diocese of Crookston on July 1. Cozzens said the arrangement helps the diocese address its current priest shortage, as well as buy it some time to develop a more long-term plan for how the diocese can continue to care for the faithful with fewer priests.

Looking beyond the Diocese of Crookston, though, Cozzens views the concept of missionary priests within the United States – arrangements where dioceses with more priests are willing to send their priests as missionaries to other American dioceses – as something that could be beneficial nationwide.

“I don’t think it’s very common, but I hope it will become more common because there are certain dioceses that have done very well with vocations, especially here in the Midwest, and I think that’s a beautiful sign of generosity that some dioceses that have done well would be willing to sacrifice a little to help those that are sacrificing a lot,” Cozzens told Crux.

“Everybody’s short. Nobody has as many priests as they’d like to have, but there are some dioceses that are doing much better and that kind of mutual missionary spirit to help each other is a great sign of what it means to be the Catholic Church, that we’re all in this together,” Cozzens said.

Hebda told Crux that it’s the first time he’s done an arrangement like this, but noted he often works with other bishops to get priests for seminary work who have an expertise in certain fields, and that when he was the coadjutor bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark from 2013-2016 there were several priests who were involved in mission work outside of the archdiocese.

“We certainly have great needs in the archdiocese so to send three priests to do anything is significant, but more, the request that had come from Bishop Cozzens was very serious,” Hebda explained. “I think each bishop is supposed to care for his individual church but also the universal Church, so when you do see a need somewhere else … you are supposed to be attentive to that and responsive to that.”

Crux reached out to more than a dozen American dioceses in different locations and of different sizes to gauge the commonality of the type of arrangement between the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Crookston – where multiple priests are loaned to another diocese for parish ministry for a set number of years – and didn’t find anything similar.

The concept of the arrangement between the two Minnesota dioceses dates to 2022.

At that time, Cozzens began discerning with the presbyterate and laity about the needs of the diocese. Cozzens knew that he had some retirements coming up, the next ordination class still a few years out, and that parish mergers wouldn’t work given the land size of the diocese. The Diocese of Crookston has 66 parishes spread out across more than 17,000 square miles.

Then, during the summer of 2023, Cozzens spoke with the diocese’s Priests Personnel Board, and with their encouragement reached out to Hebda to see if he’d consider loaning the diocese a small number of priests from the Companions of Christ – a fraternity of diocesan priests and seminarians of which Cozzens is a founding member.

Hebda said he initially told Cozzens it likely wasn’t feasible, but ultimately agreed.

When Hebda and Cozzens announced the arrangement back in January, Hebda said that he determined because of a strong ordination class and priests willing/able to serve past the age of retirement that the archdiocese could absorb the short-term loss of the priests. He also highlighted the “real” need for assistance in the Diocese of Crookston given its geographical and presbyterate sizes.

Another reason, Hebda later told Crux, was the willingness of the three priests to take on the assignment.

“For me, what was really significant was having three priests stand up and say that they would be willing to do this,” Hebda said. “It would be awfully hard to leave a diocese that’s your home, so that there were three priests who were willing to do this, I thought that was pretty significant and unexpected for me.”

The three priests are Fathers David Blume, Thomas Niehaus, and Josh Salonek.

In Crookston, Blume will become pastor of St. Philip and St. Charles, and superintendent of St. Philip’s School. Niehaus and Salonek, meanwhile, will both become parochial vicars at St. Philip and St. Charles. Niehaus will also be the chaplain for the Newman Ministry at Bemidji State University.

Cozzens said he expects the priests will have a long-term impact in their short time in the diocese.

“I don’t think the future is filled with doom,” Cozzens said. “We have real challenges, but I’m grateful for the help we’ve been able to get from the Companions of Christ, which I think will have a long term impact even if some of those priests are only here for a short time.”

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