Father Joe Corpora, CSC, and Father Benedict Croell, OP, speak about the Jubilee Year of Mercy

On December 8, 2015, the doors of Saint Peter’s Basilica were flung open as a sign of God’s all-encompassing love, marking the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God. May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst,” Pope Francis declared in Misericordiae Vultus, the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The Year of Mercy is meant to serve as an opportunity for the faithful to reflect more fully on God’s mercy in their own lives.

Pope Francis also wrote that he would send out Missionaries of Mercy during Lent: “They will be a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith.”

The Rover sat down with two such missionaries: Notre Dame’s own Father Joe Corpora, CSC, (class of 1976), and Father Benedict Croell, OP.

Irish Rover: When were you ordained, and what drew you to the Congregation of Holy Cross?

Fr. Corpora: I was ordained in 1984. I went to Notre Dame, and I got to know [Holy Cross] priests when I lived in the dorms and went to school here.

What is your position with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE)?

I lead an initiative that’s designed to get Latino children into Catholic schools—elementary and high school. It’s called the Catholic School Advantage Campaign.

You traveled to Rome to be commissioned by the Holy Father as a Missionary of Mercy. What part of that trip was most meaningful for you?

Well, meeting the Holy Father was the highlight of the trip, no doubt about that. And not because he’s the pope but because of who he is. I love him. Just to be in his presence and listen to him talk and hear what he had to say.

How will your duties change with your new position as a Missionary of Mercy, and will you continue to work with the ACE program?

I’ll just get more work! You’re kind of asked to “suspend normal pastoral activities for one year as far as possible.” I have certain commitments to ACE for years from now. So I’ll just have more things to do with the addition of my role as a Missionary of Mercy.

What specific duties will you be asked to perform in your role as a Missionary of Mercy?

I will have numerous presentations and talks to presbyterates (all the priests of the diocese) in the archdiocese of Newark … the same thing in Seattle, probably Bridgeport, [and] Fort Wayne/South Bend. The letter of appointment says that you’re supposed to make yourself available to bishops and pastors who may request your services. So, for example, I have a parish mission in Colorado Springs. Then I have penance services, five of them, in the South Bend/Fort Wayne area. It is possible that more and more things will be asked of me as the year goes on. What I hope is that what I say and do will convince people more of God’s mercy. The Year of Mercy will not be absent from any of my talks or presentations.

Do you have any hopes about how this appointment will change you?

I hope it will make me more merciful. One of the great lines of the Holy Father was “forgive and forgive often and forgive readily, and if you think you’ve been forgiving too much, just put it on my own account.” What I imagine will happen during the Year of Mercy is that I’ll hear the confessions of priests, and I hope that how it will change me is that I will be more forgiving of others. And what I pray for every day is that I will accept God’s mercy in my own life so that I can be more merciful to others. I don’t know what graces God has in store for me, because this is something I did not seek out … nor do I know how I came to be nominated, so God must have something in mind. I hope that I can be the face of God’s mercy to others but I can’t be that unless I have myself accepted God’s mercy more.

Do you have any practical tips for students to incorporate mercy into their lives this year?

Well, I would say one is go to confession! If you go to confession, it’s like dispensing mercy. If you accept God’s mercy, then you have to be merciful. But also I think people have to practice the works of mercy—the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. And that is a way, without a doubt, that you can grow in mercy.

Do you have any general thoughts on the Year of Mercy?

I think this is an incredible stroke of genius on part of our Holy Father to give us this year in which we really are invited to indulge in God’s mercy. When you think about the broken world we live in, it’s in need of a lot of healing. And the healing will not come through structures. It will not come through doctrine: I’m all for that stuff, but the healing will come through mercy, from God. Mercy is not an attribute of God. God is Mercy. What changes people is a human encounter of love and mercy.

Father Croell, when were you ordained, and what drew you to the Dominican order?   

Fr. Croell: I was ordained in 1998 in Washington, D.C.; I am from Colorado. I was attracted by the mission of the Dominicans. We are the Order of Preachers, and Saint Dominic founded us for preaching and the salvation of souls. We are blessed to have 70 men in formation for just our province (Eastern). I am the vocation director, so I hope men reading this may consider coming to make a vocation weekend with us at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

Were you able to travel to Rome on Ash Wednesday to see the Holy Father for the commissioning of the Missionaries of Mercy?  

Yes, I was able to go through the generosity of friends. There are 1,142 Missionaries of Mercy worldwide, 125 of them are from the U.S. and there are 22 from the four U.S. Dominican provinces, and 726 priests from all parts of the world managed, like myself, to travel to the Eternal City to participate in the official ceremonies with Pope Francis. On Tuesday, we had a personal audience with our Holy Father. He prayed with us, thanked us for coming, and spoke to us very simply and straightforwardly. I was moved by the practical advice he gave to us on how to be good confessors and the symbolic meaning of being sent by him to preach the Mercy of God to the world during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. After the meeting, they fed us. It was Mardi Gras after all—I would add that that was my first meal in the Vatican! Yes, it was very good, and there were large quantities.

How will your duties change with your position as a Missionary of Mercy?  

My duties won’t change all that much. I’ll still have my responsibilities as director of vocations for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph. But our names will be submitted to the U.S Bishops so that they might invite us in to come and preach the mercy of God and to hear confessions around the country. Just before I went to Rome, two friars and I did a parish mission (retreat) for the largest parish in the United States, located in North Carolina. The three of us heard many hours of confessions and we shared the Good News of Jesus Christ and God’s mercy. It was clear to us that God’s grace was flowing extraordinarily when so many people came for confession after being away for so many years! It was a great gift to be able to bring so many back to the “normal” way that God reconciles His people: the sacrament of confession.

What are your hopes and plans for the coming year?  

We have other parish missions and talks scheduled. I would add that we also have been teaming up with FOCUS [the Fellowship of Catholic University Students] and visiting a number of college and university campuses across the country. When we are speaking to students, the message of God’s Mercy is the same, but geared towards the particular challenges that go along with following Christ in a environment sometimes hostile to the Catholic faith. Everywhere we go, we make ourselves available to hear confessions. At a couple of universities, we heard confessions out in the open, right in the student centers—lines began to form. This clearly was a work of God and nothing that we ourselves could have planned.

Thoughts and reactions on your appointment as a Missionary of Mercy?  

Every priest is called to be a missionary of mercy. My advice: take advantage of the priests you have on campus, go to confession! There are extraordinary graces of conversion connected to going to confession, particularly during this Jubilee Year. If you want to let God work in your life, humble yourself and let His Mercy flow into your souls by repenting of your sins on a regular basis with the sacrament of confession (I tell college students once a month at least). Find a good examination of conscience to prepare. During this season of Lent, we enter into battle with the help of Jesus Christ against the devil, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. God’s grace and mercy are more powerful than our sins. We have no choice but to accept that—and this is great news!


Our Holy Father ended the Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s with this prayer for the Missionaries: “Protect, Lord, these your servants whom we are sending out as messengers of mercy, salvation, and peace. Guide their steps with your right hand and strengthen them with the power of your grace. May the voice of Christ resound in their words and the heart of Christ in their deeds so that all those who hear them be attracted to obey the Gospel. Pour into their hearts your Holy Spirit so that, having made themselves everything to everyone, they may lead to you, Father, a multitude of children to praise you in your Church without end. Amen.”

Brie Bahe is a junior majoring in neuroscience and behavior with a minor in philosophy. Please contact her at bbahe@nd.edu.