Sunday, July 3, 2016

"Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant"

By Rubén Rosario

Note: This commentary was first published July 3, 2016 by the Pioneer Press.

I invited him to meet face-to-face over coffee at some point. He preferred green tea. Then, in a recent chat over the phone, Mike Tegeder apologized.

“I am feeling really tired right now,” he told me. “Let’s make it another time.” We agreed on a raincheck.

On June 24, several days after the call, the 67-year-old Minneapolis native and longtime Catholic priest and church pastor learned from his oncologist that further chemotherapy and immunotherapy infusion treatments to curb his aggressive cancer would be fruitless. Tegeder decided then to discontinue treatment and live his final days in hospice care at the home of a relative.

The name Tegeder may be familiar to the state’s 1.2 million Catholics, as well as others. He was the priest — the only priest — who publicly, like me, called for Archbishop John Nienstedt’s resignation, well before it happened, for his mishandling of the clergy sexual-abuse scandal and Nienstedt’s expensive but unsuccessful lobbying effort to support a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex civil marriages.

Tegeder said openly what a handful of priests and others in the church who called me in recent years also felt but who implored me not to identify them for fear of retribution.

“The greatest threats to marriage are the economy, joblessness, alcoholism, drug abuse — there are a lot of threats to marriage, but it has very little to do with homosexuals having a committed relationship,” Tegeder told City Pages five years ago. “I know committed same-sex people who are doing God’s work.”

Progressive and reform-minded members in the one, holy and apostolic church praised Tegeder’s stance on gay rights and allowing women to be ordained as priests. Traditionalists derided him as a blasphemous heretic who should be censored, silenced, punished, excommunicated or defrocked.

But the outspokenness and the controversy he generated did not fully capture this man of God. It unfairly overshadowed his compassionate, pastoral nature, according to those who know him well. He’s been labeled by the news media and others as a hippie priest, maverick priest, rebel priest, gadfly priest. The tags, people who know him say, are unfair and belittle his convictions and call to the priesthood 38 years ago.

Tegeder, pastor of both St. Frances Cabrini and the Church of Gichitwaa Kateri in Minneapolis, preferred to be called, if anything, “authentic.” Love one another was his general mission statement.

“If I had to sum it up, I would tell you what I have told many people, even before he was sick,” said Mary Lou Sweet, a friend and longtime administrator at Cabrini. “Oftentimes, when Mike is around, I would feel that this is what it must have been like to be in the presence of Jesus.

“He was as close as you can get to someone not having an ego,” Sweet added. “He was constant kindness. He always looked for the positive side of people. My favorite thing was that he smiled with his eyes. But if he recognized an injustice or a wrongdoing, he had no problem bringing them to light.”

“Over and over (in preaching, in his actions, prayers, etc.) he has communicated a loving, compassionate, merciful God . . . who would have us act the same way,” Chris Kosowski, Cabrini’s liturgist, noted in an email.

Sweet said that Tegeder spent more time at the predominantly American Indian Kateri parish, where he comforted and provided spiritual counseling to perhaps the most traumatized and disenfranchised group of parishioners in the state. He presided over numerous funerals of many young people whose lives were snuffed by violence, suicide and drug overdoses.

“Mike is a practical person,” said Larry Martin, a longtime Kateri church staffer and member. “He loves to drive a bus as well as the hearse that our community uses to take people back to reservations for burial,” said Martin, who is a tribal member of the Lac Court Oreilles Ojibwe reservation in northern Wisconsin. “He is also proud of his plumbing skills — last year I went with him on a trip to Bluefields, Nicaragua, where he really enjoyed fixing plumbing problems at a small orphanage.”

No question, Tegeder ruffled church hierarchical feathers, both here and at the Vatican. He rarely wore the collar. He grew his silver hair to shoulder length. He brazenly, but respectfully, asked Nienstedt to resign to his face at a meeting of South Minneapolis parish priests two years ago.

Tegeder’s CaringBridge page has been viewed thousands of times and flooded with hundreds of well-wishers in recent days.

A poignant entry, among many, is the account of a woman who reached out to Tegeder on behalf of a non-churchgoing Native American family whose matriarch passed away suddenly.

“You welcomed these young folks who were so devastated by the death of their mom and gave them a space to have the wake, the meal, to drum and to sing, and to send their mom to Ishpeming,” the woman wrote. “Again, I want to thank you for your gracious welcome and care. Thank you for the love and care you have shared so lovingly with so many through the years of your ministry.”

I wrap this up with one of Tegeder’s last words to his congregations after his cancer diagnosis this year:

“Over the years, during the time that needed us to raise our voices of concerns over the direction of our beloved Archdiocese, I would get letters, emails, phone calls and public rebukes telling me to join the Lutherans or Episcopalians. I respect these traditions but I am a Catholic with the full understanding of that word which seeks inclusivity while appreciating diversity.

“. . . Let us never forget,” he added, “that we gather around the Risen One in spirit who reaches out to all in love.”

Amen. Father Mike, the green tea’s my treat after my ticket gets punched, and I am fortunate to wind up where you are going in the afterlife.

Rubén Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or Follow him at

See also the previous PCV posts:
One Courageous Parish Priest
Pastor Mike Tegeder Challenges Archbishop Nienstedt's "Bullying Behavior"
Local Catholic Priest Speaks Out on the MN Bishops' Anti-Gay DVD Controversy
Even Tougher Battle Ahead for Maverick Priest the Rev. Mike Tegeder

For the writings of Mike Tegeder at the PCV, see:
"Trust Your Shepherds"
What is the Lesson?
Are You Serious?
The Archdiocese and Fathers Conlin and Schüller
Quote of the Day – November 8, 2012
Quote of the Day – December 18, 2011
"I Like McDonald's, Too; But Dioceses Are Not Franchises"
Archdiocesan Pension Pitfalls