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Bemidji Pioneer 

Longtime Catholic priest 'Father Bill' Mehrkens dies at age 92

 

BEMIDJI-Msgr. William "Father Bill" Mehrkens, a Catholic priest who served parishes in Bemidji, Red Lake and the surrounding communities for many years, died Friday in Bemidji at age 92.

Mehrkens was a pastor at St. Philip's Catholic Church in Bemidji, as well as at St. Mary's Mission Catholic Church in Red Lake for more than a decade. Mehrkens also worked with college students at the Newman Centers at Bemidji State University and Minnesota State University Moorhead for 30 years.

His advocacy for the poor and the homeless was one facet of his dedication to social justice, friends in Bemidji and the Fargo-Moorhead area said Friday. He saw little value in material possessions, and was known for giving generously.

While at the rectory at St. Philip's Catholic Church in Bemidji, the poor would come to his door asking for help, recalled close friend Candy Bartheo. He established the St. Philip's Clothing Depot.

Mehrkens gave away not only his jacket, but Father Chuck Huck's jacket, too, said another friend, Lois Jenkins of Bemidji.

"He was Father Bill. He was a leader, a dreamer, a doer," Jenkins said. "He walked his talk."

An avid outdoorsman, Mehrkens helped start Laketrails Base Camp in the 1950s. The religious camp, on Oak Island in northern Minnesota, is still open today. He also helped establish Camp Corbett on Big Elbow Lake near Waubun.

"He was really drawn to youth," said Roxane Salonen of Fargo, a student at MSUM when Mehrkens was the pastor at the Newman Center there.

"He was such a beautiful man and so close to the heart of Jesus, and even we college students, who maybe didn't have everything in the right order, he really helped ground us," she said.

Mehrkens, born March 11, 1923, grew up in Red Wing. He was ordained in 1950, and 10 years later was assigned to the Newman Center at Bemidji State University, said Sandy Eggermont, who worked for the Newman Center in Moorhead in the 1980s.

He sparked controversy when he began inviting the homeless into the Moorhead Newman Center before the city had a homeless shelter.

"He opened up the Newman Center to the homeless population because there was no place for them to go at the time," Eggermont said. "He was a rebel of sorts. The city didn't always like that we had a lot of homeless people walking around that area of town."

Mehrkens went on to co-found the Dorothy Day House, and then helped with the formation of another Moorhead shelter, Churches United for the Homeless.

In addition to Bemidji and Red Lake, Mehrkens also served parishes in Shevlin and Wilton in the Bemidji area, and Hawley and Dilworth in the Moorhead area, among others.

A Mass of Christian burial will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the St. Philip's Catholic Church in Bemidji. A wake will be held from 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, with a prayer service at 7 p.m., a Rosary service at 8 p.m., also at St.Philip's, and one hour prior to the service at the church. A wake service will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday at the St. Mary's Mission Catholic Church in Red Lake, followed by interment at the St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Red Lake. The Cease Family Funeral Home of Bemidji is handling arrangements.

Adrian Glass-Moore of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead contributed to this report.

http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/news/local/3957500-longtime-catholic-priest-father-bill-mehrkens-dies-age-92

 

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