After more than 10 years as Catholic Charities’ director of social concerns, Kathy Langer said it is “with a tear and a smile” that she will transition into retirement at the end of October.
Her fervor for social justice goes back much further than a decade. She always knew she was passionate about social concerns, especially in the 16 years she worked as a youth minister at the Father Pierz School of Religion serving the parishes of Pierz, Buckman, Lastrup and Harding and then in her seven years as a pastoral associate at Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud.
During a mission delegation trip to the St. Cloud Diocese’s sister Diocese of Homa Bay, Kenya, it became more evident to her that she was being called to social justice ministry. Not long after she returned, the position opened for the director of social concerns. She prayed about it, applied and was chosen.
“There have been many times when I have been so surprised by God,” she said. “Working in this position is so much about ‘gift’ — the gift of walking with people who are so often forgotten, the gift of walking with people in rural parishes and talking about hope and their own personal power to change situations, the power that a faith community can have for good. So much of this role has been a gift.”
Her most memorable moments have been the encounters she has had with people.
“The people I have met aren’t the people who are sitting on the sidelines,” she said. “These are the people who are willing to get messy, to get in there and make a difference in their communities for the people they love and often for people they don’t even know. They are the Pope Francises in our area because they are willing to get uncomfortable. I’ve met amazing people, and I will always be grateful for that.”
Langer was instrumental in forming the Rural Life Development Initiative, a three-phase system that provides social ministry education and training to rural parishes and communities. Among beneficiaries of the effort are residents in the Onamia area.
“The efforts in Onamia coordinating with the [Mille Lacs] Band of Ojibwe have been amazing — the wonderful relationships between natives and non-natives and to see bridges being built. It’s not that we solved big issues, but that we could come together and ask: How can we together strengthen families? How can we strengthen communities? Those moments are just beyond anything I could’ve imagined when I put my application in.”
Langer also has made strong interfaith connections, which she said, at times, was “overwhelming,” specifically recalling the stabbing incident at Crossroads Mall in 2016.
“The Somali community turned to us, to Catholic Charities and to Bishop [Donald] Kettler. What an amazing response. We could be there for them and walk with them at a really scary time,” she said.
One of her greatest joys, she said, is witnessing people move from despair to hope.
“To see that hopefulness, to see the awareness dawn that one person can make a difference, is wonderful,” she said. “When it comes right down to it, the thing that is most amazing is all the people I’ve met. It has stolen my heart.”
In her retirement, she said the first item on her agenda is to say “yes” more to her family and especially her grandchildren.
“I’ll have lots of places to go,” she said. “I also just want to take a sabbatical, to rest some, to pray some and to see what it is that is supposed to come next. Retirement is a vocation, too, so I want to do some intentional discernment. I don’t think you’re off the hook in retirement. The Gospel still applies, so that means there’s still going to be neighbors to love and people who are struggling to be given a voice.”