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When Pope Francis last week called abortion “preeminent” issue of our day one bishop knew firsthand how true that is: Benedictine College’s commencement speaker for 2020, Bishop Andrew Cozzens.
This year Benedictine College will March in Washington for the right to life for the 40th year in a row making Benedictine the school that has brought the most people to the March for Life from furthest away for the longest time.
Students have Bishop Cozzens, who graduated from Benedictine in 1991, to thank for that. Ravens also have Bishop Cozzens’ mom to thank.
When he became Auxiliary Bishop of Saint Paul in Minneapolis in 2013, Cozzens became the seventh 21st century “Raven Bishop” to have graduated from the college.
Growing up, Bishop Cozzens mother would tell him, “God saved your life because he has a plan for you and your job is to find out what that plan is.”
“That’s true of everyone,” said Bishop Cozzens, “but this story impressed that on me in a deeper way.”
Cozzens helped found Ravens Respect Life at Benedictine College, the student group that elevated the trips students had been taking to D.C. since 1980.
“We were the first group to organize trips to the March for Life to Washington, D.C.,” said Bishop Cozzens. “We took a couple of buses back then.”
But he almost wasn’t there to start it.
“When my mom was 20 weeks pregnant with me, her water broke and she went immediately to the hospital,” he said. “She and my father spent a night in prayer that they would not lose the baby. The next morning, the doctor came in after running some tests.”
The doctor said, “I need to tell you that your child is severely deformed.” He recommended ending the pregnancy.
Mrs. Cozzens said, “Absolutely not.”
“You don’t get it ,” the doctor answered, “this child is a freak.”
“I don’t care,” she answered.
A second doctor was sent and he said she could have the baby, “If you’re willing to lie in bed for the rest of this pregnancy.”
The Cozzens agreed but worried about one thing: how would they pay for a months-long hospital stay not covered by insurance?
The new doctor said not to worry. He had made a bet with the first doctor that she would deliver a healthy and normal child; whichever doctor lost the bet would pay.
“When the second doctor delivered me he told the nurse to go get the other doctor and tell him to see his ‘little freak,’” laughed Bishop Cozzens.
The “freak” would later help start the March for Life, and another student a few years behind him would take over: James Albers, who is now Abbot James of St. Benedict’s Abbey on our campus.
Ravens for Life
The first trips to the March began when the school’s Knights of Columbus chapter brought a handful of students in cars, but the numbers began to grow. In 1989, students at Benedictine College formed the Ravens Respect Life organization. They organized an official student trip to the next March in 1990.
Heidi Klingele Gerst, class of 1993, remembered the red felt banner the college used to carry. “We made that banner in my parent’s living room in 1990,” she said.
The students who led of Ravens Respect Life then are leaders in the Church today, including St. Benedict Abbey’s Abbot James Albers, ’94, St. Benedict Parish Pastor Father Jeremy Hepler, ’00, and Father Brendan Rolling, ’99, who served for many years as chaplain of Benedictine College.
Bishop Andrew Cozzens,’91, of Minnesota and Father Joseph Taphorn, ’93, who helps lead the Archdiocese of Omaha, were also Ravens Respect Life Leaders.
Raven alum Patti Peters said she was glad to see the torch passed. “Thank you for your next generation leadership,” she wrote on the college’s Facebook. “As a wise one once told me, ‘If we don’t have our right to life, do any of the other rights really matter?’”
This year, Ravens Respect Life Banners were spotted at marches from coast to coast as “Ravens for Life” represent the college in local pro-life rallies, too.
Bishop for LIfe
“The pro-life issue has been in a certain way the key issue in the cultural battles that we are deeply immersed in in the United States,” said Bishop Cozzens. “Being involved in the pro-life movement is a key to those who support the founding dream of the United States.”
Cozzens was ordained in 1997 and served as parochial vicar at the Cathedral of Saint Paul and then Faribault Catholic Community (now Divine Mercy) before being sent to Rome for doctoral studies.
For four years during his time in Rome, he served as chaplain for the Missionaries of Charity. Cozzens is a founding member of the priestly association Companions of Christ.
“College students need to be involved in that, if they will be involved in building a culture of life, which is one of the great tasks of this generation,” he said.
Thanks to him, Benedictine College students are.
Image: Bishop Andrew Cozzens meeting with Benedictine College students from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.