A prayer group, 10 vocations: the remarkable story of Bishop Cozzens’ college friends
At a small Catholic college in a small town in the Midwest, a small group of students gathered on Monday evening for a prayer group that would have a big impact. At the center of the group was a skinny young man strumming a guitar, a student who radiated equal lightness and piety and would one day be appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Crookston.
Everyone at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas in the early ’90s knew Drew Cozzens, the Colorado native who was still on campus. He worked for the student newspaper, he was a resident assistant at St. Joseph’s Hall, he was a staple of daily Mass and a pillar of the homecoming festivities. He was the perfect candidate to climb onto a mattress fitted with bicycle wheels for the annual bed run, an inter-dorm competition.
This was a turning point in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which engaged young Catholics through music of praise and adoration and the emphasis on personal relationships with Jesus, and would soon receive papal recognition. It also marked the advent of the modern era of priestly formation, inaugurated with the publication in 1992 of the apostolic exhortation of Saint John Paul II “I will give you shepherds”, which reshaped seminaries by putting the emphasis on emphasis on human formation alongside the spiritual and the intellectual.
Drew and his friends felt the tidal waves of the two movements. They cherished their pontiff, Pope John Paul II, and they embraced the charismatic style of prayer, founding the Spirit of Saint Benedict prayer group to meet every Monday for prayer, scriptures, praise and l ‘worship.
The group was reinforced by a priest who served as their spiritual director. A Catholic sister also provided spiritual counseling. Drew conducted the music.
Combined with their rigorous education and access to the sacraments, the young men were spiritually awakened.
“It was the perfect environment to grow up because you had a good intellectual training – an excellent philosophy department – good spiritual direction and the prayer group and good friends,” said Father Joseph Taphorn, Benedictine class of 1993, who was two years younger than Drew. and is now rector of St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul. “This is what you wish every youngster could have. “
Father Taphorn met Drew when future Bishop Andrew Cozzens was a junior, grounded in campus life. “He would laugh a lot,” said Father Taphorn. “He had had an important conversion experience, so he had all this zeal and zeal for life, but he was also serious in growing his faith. “
This zeal manifested itself in surprising ways, such as the time that Drew, a skilled climber, pushed back the side of St. Joseph Hall.
As an RA, he wasn’t afraid to write a student who broke visiting rules. He once caught a young woman sneaking into her men’s dormitory at midnight via the fire escape. Drew was not embarrassed by the moral guidelines to be drawn from Church teaching, but he was not harsh. Joy was visible on his face – a young man who loved life and loved the Lord.
“He was a Spirit-filled dynamo,” said Dominican Father Andrew Hofer, Class of 1994, who belonged to their prayer group and now teaches at St. Dominic’s Priory in Washington, DC. “I was impressed with how he has led so many students to clearly witness to Christ in the face of hostility and ambiguity.
The members of the Spirit of Saint Benedict prayer group looked forward to Monday evenings. They reduced their size a bit, coming down to around five to ten limbs. They were nicknamed “The God Squad”.
Support for the “scouade” was a priority, said Father Taphorn. “Drew was growing in his faith and hungry for brotherly fellowship,” he said.
Everyone in the group experienced this fraternity which pushed them throughout their spiritual journey.
“To have the testimony of others trying to grow in holiness was moving,” said Father Taphorn.
When some members – Drew included – began to speak of their interest in the priesthood, it made the higher calling more achievable. “When someone goes out, it encourages others to do the same,” said Father Taphorn. “It creates that energy.”
He moderated Father Alphonse Hermes, class of 1992, who published his outdated notions about the type of man who enters seminary.
“They openly pursued the priesthood, and this allowed me to open up to several people who had suggested it to me before,” said Father Hermès, a Norbertine priest who is now a member of the Abbey of Saint-Michel de Silverado, California. “Seeing them genuinely interested – and not ashamed – was very encouraging for me. I would attribute them to my openness to a priestly vocation.
He begins to imagine the priesthood in the context of a strong brotherhood, which makes the vocation more attractive. He saw how well it served a dual purpose: recreation and refinement. “A great aspect was mutual encouragement, which was a euphemism for correcting each other, encouraging others in their weakness.”
The prayer group had the right approach, said Father Hermes. “Andrew Cozzens, he’s an honest guy, and he wants people to be better.”
Giving honest feedback as a friend made all the difference, said Father Hermès. “Relational evangelism was emphasized, to make connections, reach out to students that you would not normally sit with in the dining room or invite people to mass. “
A surprising result
Monday after Monday, month after month, a miracle was in progress. Leading members of the prayer group prayed and sang, studied the scriptures, and discussed religious life. Ultimately, the desire for the priesthood gripped everyone’s hearts.
“It was contagious because ten of us had entered religious life or the priesthood during the four years I spent there,” said Father Hermès.
This fact remains a source of fear.
“It is a great grace from God to see how many priestly and religious vocations came from a group of friends from the Benedictine College in the early 1990s,” said Father Hofer.
In August 1993, when Pope John Paul II came to Denver for the first World Youth Day in North America, several members of the prayer group attended, including the future Bishop Cozzens, who had already graduated from Benedictine. Middle School.
“To be in his presence was super encouraging,” Father Taphorn said of the Pope. “You just wanted to give your life to the Lord.”
A few weeks later, he and Drew entered seminary – one in Columbus, Ohio, the other in St. Paul. Their ordinations fell within a week of each other in 1997. Drew became Father Andrew Cozzens – anything but giving up his nickname – and then, in 2013, an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The rest of her prayer group then took up leadership positions elsewhere. Father James Albers, a Benedictine, remained close to their alma. Today he is the abbot of Saint-Benoît d’Atchison Abbey. Father Hermès is in California. Father Hofer teaches in the nation’s capital. Father Taphorn directs St. Paul’s Seminary in St. Paul, where Auxiliary Bishop Cozzens had helped guide the Archdiocese. Another friend, Father Joseph Tatro, is a priest in the Diocese of Wichita.
Their friendships endure, as well as fond memories of the fellowship they forged together on Monday nights in Atchison.
“Life is tough,” said Father Taphorn. “Life can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. We are called to be in community. We can find support from others and share life, and the most important thing we can share is our faith.
Father Hermès agrees. “We all need community,” he said. “It is not good that the man is alone. Even when he is high, Bishop Cozzens is still in close contact with the priests he met at the university.
These men expect great things from the new Bishop of Crookston, who sometimes dust off his guitar.
“Crookston is super blessed,” said Father Taphorn. “We know what kind of man and priest he is: a deeply faithful and joyful man, with the ability to teach truly beautifully and to set an example. He is very devoted to priestly formation and to nuns. It will go a long way. I think he will really invest himself. It will be rooted there.
His priest friends heard bishops praise Bishop Cozzens ‘efforts to lead the national Eucharistic revival initiative as part of his work as chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Evangelism and catechesis.
“All of us across the country must pay attention to how Bishop Cozzens envisions a Eucharistic renewal,” said Father Hofer. “We would do well to follow his example.”
This noble example will be underpinned by kindness, just like 30 years ago. People, once again, will follow.
“He has the heart of a servant,” said Father Hermès. “He cares about people who know the love of God.”
Category: Bishop Cozzens, Featured