Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Msgr. William "Father Bill" Mehrkens II


Msgr. William (Fr. Bill) Mehrkens passed away February 26, 2016, in Bemidji at the age of 92. He was born on March 11, 1923 to William Francis and Josephine Agatha (Higgins) Mehrkens in Red Wing, MN. He graduated from Nazareth Hall in 1943 and St. Paul Seminary in 1950. He completed graduate studies at Loyola University in Chicago and at the University of Minnesota. His ordination to the Catholic priesthood took place on June 6, 1950. While serving the Diocese of Crookston, his assignments as an assistant pastor were at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Crookston from 1950-1952; Sacred Heart, East Grand Forks, 1952-55; and St. Anne’s, Crookston. He was appointed chaplain of the Newman Center on the Bemidji State University campus in 1960 and continued in that capacity until 1977. During that time he also was pastor at Sacred Heart in Wilton, 1960-1977; Our Lady of Victory, Shevlin, 1960-72; and St. Philip’s, Bemidji 1972-77. He served as the chaplain at the Newman Center on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus from 1977 to 1991, when he also was pastor at St. Andrew’s, Hawley 1977-81, and St. Elizabeth’s, Dilworth 1987-91. He moved to St. Mary’s Mission in Red Lake and St. John’s in Nebish as pastor in 1991, where he served until his official retirement in 1997. In addition to his pastoral duties, he was parish administrator at St. Francis de Sales, Moorhead, 1984, and temporary administrator during the 1998-2001 timeframe at St. Michael’s, Northome; St. Anne’s, Blackduck; and St. Patrick’s, Kelliher. Fr. Bill was widely recognized for the compassion he exhibited through his gospel-based lifestyle. His passionate work, teachings and writings reflected his fair treatment for people of all races and economic standing. He is credited as being a co-founder of the Dorothy Day House, a shelter in Moorhead for men to positively restructure their lives; Laketrails, a camp on Lake of the Woods for young people to experience God’s creation through an outdoor wilderness classroom; and the Clothing Depot, a used clothing store in Bemidji. He was also instrumental in the formation of Churches United for the Homeless in Moorhead as well as Amnesty International Chapters in west central Minnesota. He assisted in the formation of the Justice and Peace Commission for the Diocese of Crookston and the Bemidji Human Rights Commission, serving as chairman of both organizations for several years. As Pastor at St. Philip’s, he began hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for the homeless and needy, a tradition that has grown to encompass community holiday meals served at Bemidji Churches every year. His work is reflected in a preaching series for each liturgical year based on such social justice issues as peace, human rights, and poverty. Widely recognized for his commitment to human rights and dignity, he was presented the Humanitarian Award by St. Thomas University; the Excellence in the Valley Award by the Red River Valley Heritage Society; and the Service to Mankind Award by the Fargo-Moorhead Sertoma Club. He was preceded in death by his parents and sister Marguerite Mehrkens Vanberg DeRosier.

A Mass of Christian burial will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, March 3, at the St. Philip's Catholic Church in Bemidji. A wake will be held from 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, March 2, with a prayer service at 7 p.m. and a Rosary service at 8 p.m. There will also be a viewing at St. Philip's one hour prior to the Mass. A wake service will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, March 3, at 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.

Fr. Bill has directed that memorials, other than those designated for Mass intentions, be directed to the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality in Moorhead. They are also being accepted by Laketrails in Oak Island as well as St. Mary’s Mission in Red Lake.


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