When Bishop-elect Joseph Williams was ordained a priest in 2002, his first parish assignment was as an associate at St. Paul’s Cathedral in St. Paul. Immediately, he invested his energy in the ministry of young adults. The fruits of that effort continue today, in the form of ministries he worked with, such as Cathedral Young Adults.
Mike Brashier helped start CYA around 2003 with then-Father Williams and several other young adults who were part of the original core team. They have increasingly attracted young adults (18-39) over the years with ongoing activities such as Sports Night and Theology on Tap, which take place in local bars and feature guest speakers including priests, deacons and theological experts. Today, participants in both events number in the hundreds.
Bishop-elect Williams “was really influential” in the early development and growth of CYA, said Brashier, 46, whose wife, Cassandra, also participated in CYA. They met after Bishop-elect Williams left the cathedral for another mission and were married in 2011 at the cathedral. Brashier said a lifelong bond was formed when Bishop-elect Williams helped him discern his future while the priest served at the cathedral.
“I really had a deep desire back then” to know God’s will, said Brashier, who works in property management. “And, Father Williams was key. It was really helpful for me to see someone who was serious about their faith, who was also a young adult at the time.
Today, the Brashiers are members of St. Joseph in Rosemount, but also consider themselves members of the cathedral due to their prior ties.
Mary Gibson was recruited by the original core team to launch CYA, and she described Father Williams as having “an enthusiastic spirit and a cheerful way of getting to know him”.
“From the start, Father Joseph had a real understanding of what was most important – faith, mission and friendship,” Gibson, who now lives in Colorado, wrote in an email to The Catholic. Spirit. “Theology on Tap, the most visible and public of our programs, was only a part of us. Each month we planned and hosted several events that gave everyone the opportunity to pray, serve, learn the faith, share the faith, come together, play sports and grow in friendship. – to form and foster a true Catholic community.
Like other young adults at the time, she didn’t know much about her faith and was looking to dig deeper — and meet other young adults trying to do the same, she said. Bishop-elect Williams had a way of drawing people in and helping them learn about the basic tenets of the Catholic faith.
Matt Wilkom has had that experience, particularly at St. Stephen in south Minneapolis, where Bishop-elect Williams has served since 2008. The two met when Willkom was a seminarian at St. John Vianney College Seminary and Bishop-elect Williams was a seminarian at The St. Paul Seminary on the campus of St. Thomas University in St. Paul.
Willkom and his wife, Elizabeth, “were drawn to him at St. Stephen’s,” he said. “He always expressed genuine appreciation for our presence. … He made you feel special.
On top of that, Elizabeth Willkom said, “he was fun.”
Sometimes that sense of humor showed up at unexpected times, like during a hospital visit while the Brashiers’ 5-year-old daughter was battling leukemia. She had gotten worse by early 2021, and Mike and Cassandra wondered if she was going to come out of free fall. They contacted Father Williams, who came to administer the Sacrament of the Sick.
Along with holy oil, he also brought a dose of levity to what Mike Brashier called “a dark time.”
“We were in there so full of doubts, and really it was just a moving moment,” Brashier recalled. “Obviously, there were a lot of tears and emotions that we all shed with each other. And, he comes over there and we were joking around. We actually laughed a lot. And , he knows it helps me, but it also helped my wife.
Cecilia eventually improved and doctors now consider her cancer-free, Brashier said. He doesn’t know if the priest’s prayers and anointing healed her. What he does know is that Bishop-elect Williams has “this marvelous gift” of serving people – whatever they need, wherever they are.
“It’s hard to explain,” Brashier said. “He gives himself completely to where he is and what he does. It was so tangible for us with our daughter. It was so tangible to us – his total self-sacrifice.
Brashier said he thinks young adult ministry will be “a very key focus” in Bishop-elect Williams’ ministry, hoping to tap into that demographic for “big ideas” and “more energy.” Gibson said Bishop-elect Williams’ ministry is based on the authentic ways in which he lives his own life.
“Father Joseph inspires true lived discipleship, and he does so by being first and foremost an active, wholehearted disciple,” she said. “His enthusiasm for Christ and for earnestly living a life with Christ and for Christ, and the fact that he freely and fully shares this life with everyone – this is the golden thread that runs through his whole This is what inspired us 20 years ago as young adults, this is what has inspired all of its parishioners over the years, this is what will inspire people throughout this archdiocese for years to come.
Category: Bishop Williams, featured