Holy Cross Catholic Church’s new pastor, Rev. Spencer Howe, 31, said that he and his staff are ready to energize the Catholic community in Northeast Minneapolis.
“We’re going somewhere. I see myself as a missionary, building relationships and building on tradition, to forge ahead in strong and positive ways,” Howe said. “Christ said, ‘Go to the ends of the earth and tell the good news.’ Because of the circumstances of our day, people are becoming increasingly aware that we need a Savior. We aren’t just fine as is; we need mercy, peace, and a healing of past hurts.”
Howe grew up in the Twin Cities. He graduated from Mounds View High School and attended seminary at the University of St. Thomas. He knows his way around Northeast, thanks to a godmother who is a St. Charles Borromeo parishioner. “I know about Jax Café and Emily’s Lebanese Deli. When I was a kid, I had a birthday party at the Firefighter’s Museum.”
He also knows his way around Rome, Italy, where he studied and lived for five years. He was ordained a deacon at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.
Raised an evangelical Lutheran, Howe said he converted to Catholicism when he was in high school. Howe’s second in command, Parochial Vicar Rev. Byron Hagan, has a similar story: his father is an evangelical Lutheran minister in New York. Hagan joined the parish in June.
A third priest joined the parish in August. Rev. Stanislaw Poszwa, who comes from Saskatchewan, is the chaplain of the Polish community. He speaks English and Polish. Poszwa leads the 11:30 a.m. Sunday Polish mass at Holy Cross and heads the Polish school on Saturday.
“About 100 children attend the Saturday school,” Howe said. “The classes are all in Polish. They learn about faith and the church. Many are children of immigrants; most have a Polish language background.”
Holy Cross houses an elementary school, St. John Paul II Catholic Preparatory School, east of the main church building. (Originally known as Northeast Regional Catholic School, it was formed when eight area parish’s elementary schools consolidated in 1969.) The K-8 school has 120 students. Edgar Alfonzo is its principal. Howe said that many of the students are Ecuadorian. The school, he added, is one of several long-standing parish collaborations. “There are many opportunities here,” he said.
The Holy Cross parish
In 2013, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis formed a new parish in Northeast that includes Holy Cross, St. Hedwig, and St. Clement Catholic churches.
The churches all have long-standing community histories. Holy Cross, 1621 University Ave. NE, was established as a Polish church in the 1880s. St. Hedwig, on Randolph Street, was also Polish-based. Founded around 1900, it is a daughter parish to Holy Cross. Rev. Donald Schwalm serves as Parochial Vicar. Many St. Hedwig parishioners live in nearby River Village (a Catholic Eldercare senior community), Howe added, and the church is well attended.
St. Clement, at Jackson Street and 24th Avenue, was founded in 1913. Rev. Earl Simonson is its Pastor Emeritus.
A fourth church, St. Anthony of Padua, is now owned and run as a chapel by Catholic Eldercare. The chapel ministers to Eldercare residents, staff, and community members. “We help with daily masses and Sunday mass,” Howe said. “It is not part of our official parish. Historically it is the oldest parish, and the first Catholic parish established in Minneapolis. Rev. John Brandeis, formerly a priest at St. Boniface Catholic Church on University Avenue NE, is the Priest Chaplain. Jack Stanek is the Pastoral Care Chaplain.
Residence for prospective nuns
The last of Holy Cross’ nuns moved out of their convent this summer. The convent building, erected in 1941 on the Holy Cross campus, was originally intended to house 20 nuns. The building has been repurposed into a residence known as Discernment House, for young women open to the possibility of becoming nuns.
“Discernment House opened September 1; there are five in residence,” Howe said. “These women are not all going to become nuns. We offer a stable environment for study and prayer. They’re part of our parish.”
He said that lately there has been a surge of interest in discernment. The project is supported by nuns from the New Ulm-based order, Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus.
Northeast Catholic Collective and the future
Howe said that he and Hagan are initiating a project called the Northeast Catholic Collective, “as a means to bring energy together from various communities.” It will include socializing, catechesis, teaching, and common programming. “Its focus is on young adults and Millenials,” he said, “helping them work together rather than being isolated. We want to bring priests together and find common ground within the Catholic community.” The project is still in its infancy, but Howe said they see it as an opportunity to unite churches and people.
He said that he and his staff are filled with hope for the future. “This is a time where many people are striving to know God. They want to find their way back to the church. The church has been confident that we are living in a new moment in history. We don’t need to reinvent the gospel or the church; we need to find new ways to spread the gospel in a ‘new evangelization.’
“We’re excited to be here,” he added. “This is a great time to be in a great place.”
Below: Reverend Spencer Howe enjoys his first Septemberfest at Holy Cross. (Photo by Mark Peterson)