by Frank Lee
Sister Michaela Hedican never imagined as a little girl that one day she would be named as one of the “Catholics of the Year 2016” by OSV Newsweekly.
Hedican is the prioress – chosen spiritual leader – of the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict, a monastic community in St. Joseph and the largest Benedictine community in the United States.
“It’s a community honor . . . but I was humbled,” Hedican said of the year-end recognition by Our Sunday Visitor (OSV), the world’s largest English-language Catholic publisher and provider of services.
Hedican shares the honor with St. Cloud Diocesan Bishop Donald J. Kettler because they “modeled compassion and solidarity with the Somali community, many of whose predominately Muslim members came to the United States as refugees,” according to OSV Newsweekly.
“We need to find ways in which we can listen to each other, hear the concerns and fears, and hear the hopes and the dreams, and that we have to keep doing,” Hedican said. “We cannot live out of stereotypes, we cannot live out of an ‘us-and-them’ mentality. We are all one here.”
In particular, the publication cited the Sept. 17 stabbing of 10 people by a Somali man at Crossroads Center mall in St. Cloud that “worsened tensions between longtime St. Cloud residents and a burgeoning Somali community.”
Hedican said of Our Sunday Visitor: “It’s been around forever. I can remember growing up with it and reading its articles. It was usually in the back of the church, and it was very good about keeping you informed about a broad spectrum of Catholicism, which was wonderful.”
Our Sunday Visitor was established in 1912 and “serves millions of Catholics and Catholic organizations globally through publishing, offertory and communication services,” according to the publication’s website.
In its recognition of the bishop and the prioress, the publication noted Kettler called for prayers for “healing, peace and unity the day after the violence” at the St. Cloud mall that resulted in the fatal shooting of the perpetrator Dahir Adan by a part-time off-duty Avon police officer.
“Bishop Kettler in his great wisdom and his huge pastoral heart – at least two years ago – had gathered together the faith leaders of St. Cloud – Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, some of the monks from St. John’s, myself, the Mormons – and we’ve been meeting every month,” she said. “His concern was what do we do to reach out to our Somali brothers and sisters, our Muslim brothers and sisters, some of whom are from Somali and some of whom are from other areas, because we knew that there was a certain degree of ‘concern’ about them being here.”
Hedican, who oversees St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, “urged Catholics to ask God for wisdom in speaking and showing support, and to reach out to members of the Somali community,” according to OSV Newsweekly, noting the Gospel mandate of “love thy neighbor.”
“When the stabbing took place, we got a call the Somalis were going to be interviewed at a news conference, and I was there just to support them,” Hedican said. “And that got kind of written up, and it was also included in our diocesan newspaper and other publications.”
Sister Karen Rose said before the St. Cloud mall incident which led to the death of 20-year-old Adan, who reportedly yelled “Islam, Islam” and “allahu akbar” during the attack, the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict were already active in bridging religious, racial and cultural divides.
“It comes from our heritage of being Catholic and being grounded, as St. Benedict calls us to be, in the Gospel,” Hedican said.
“My Neighbor Is Muslim” was a series of workshops led by the nuns last year to promote understanding, and they are also members of ISAIAH GRIP, which includes all Christian denominations and people of other faiths.
“Even the Old Testament was very concerned about the whole reality of hospitality to those who were in need,” Hedican said of the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict’s inclusive activities.
There was even a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter as part of the Year of Mercy to promote understanding and acceptance of people from other faiths, refugees, asylum seekers.
“My experience growing up in northern Minnesota, where there were a number of immigrants up there, most of my friends’ families – we had a lot of Italians, a lot of Jews, a lot of Finnish people, we had Greeks,” said Hedican, who was born and raised in Virginia, Minn.
Hedican is a graduate of the College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, and holds two master’s degrees – one in religious education from Seattle University and the other in theology from St. John’s University School of Theology.
“It was like a United Nations,” Hedican said of her upbringing on the Iron Range. “And everybody reached out to help take care of everybody. Our ancestors knew what it was like to come to a new place and to struggle to make a go of it.”
OSV Newsweekly stated the work by Kettler and Hedican “to foster a community of mercy warrants their inclusion among Our Sunday Visitor’s 2016 Catholics of the Year.”
“One of the lines St. Benedict has in his rules – one that just touches my heart – is the one that says, ‘Never turn away when someone needs your love,’” Hedican said of the influx of Somalis. “I can only imagine what it must be to be a refugee, to be forced out of your country.”