Former FOCUS Missionary Michelle Duppong, Now ‘Servant of God,’ Continues to Inspire With Her Holy Life
All Saints’ Day Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck, North Dakota, formally opened her cause for canonization.
BISMARCK, N.D. — It was a surreal moment for Ken and Mary Ann Duppong and their family as they slipped into reserved seats on All Saints’ Day at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. They had driven the 60 miles from their farm in Haymarsh, North Dakota, many times over the years, often with their family in tow. That day, some of their six children, along with many grandchildren, would be present in the pews with them.
Daughter Michelle was there with them in spirt, as, at the Nov. 1 Mass, Bishop David Kagan opened her cause for canonization from the altar at the Mass attended by about 500 people. This first step opens with the bishop issuing a formal decree of diocesan investigation to determine the evidence of a life of sanctity and virtue. With this first phase now underway, Michelle Christine Duppong has been given the title “Servant of God.”
The diocesan investigation will include a thorough study of all that has been said and written by Michelle and about Michelle by others. It will look for indications that she had prayed to the Lord for the intentions of others and that the Lord answered those prayers. It is uncertain how long this phase will last. This week, her cause is on the agenda for discussion at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting.
“The Church is always very careful in all such matters,” Bishop Kagan noted. He is interested in hearing from those who knew her or have received answered prayers through her intercession.
It was almost seven years earlier that Bishop Kagan stood at the same altar, presiding over Michelle’s funeral Mass. The North Dakota State University graduate and former Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionary had died on Christmas Day in 2015, at the age of 31, after a yearlong battle with cancer. From that time on, the bishop reported that he began receiving cards and letters attesting to the positive and holy influence Michelle had on their lives.
“Michelle was a fine, Catholic young lady devoted to Jesus and his Church,” Bishop Kagan said at the Mass. “Her one desire was to share with others the joy of knowing Jesus and loving him every day. This is how Michelle lived her life, and this is how Michelle died, knowing and loving Jesus.”
Bishop Kagan also noted that our Church and culture especially need holy role models to cultivate a joyful faith and an obedience to God’s will in life, just as Michelle did for everyone around them. Through this cause of canonization, Bishop Kagan explained, “it is now for us to do our best so that the entire Church universal in time will come to know and love her as we do.”
The bishop explained that the canonization process is long and very detailed because the Church is careful when investigating the life, virtues, sufferings and death of a person for the purpose of holding up that person as a model of holiness. He noted that we rejoice in the example and power of all the saints while honoring Michelle in particular at that Mass. “Holiness is what God asks each of us, each and every day,” he said, “and today, most especially, we rejoice and thank Almighty God for the gift he gave, not just to her family, but to all of us.”
After the Mass, Ken and Mary Ann Duppong spoke with the Register and admitted to being overcome by the immensity of such a great honor: to be present at such an extraordinary Mass. “Who would ever think that something like this would happen to us?” Mary Ann said. “It’s humbling. It’s joyful. It’s so amazing. We are just so grateful that we were able to witness it in our lifetime.”
Ken shared that it was hard to keep back the tears all during Mass. “Her cause was something I didn’t expect to happen, but it did,” he said. During the Mass, Ken flashed back to Michelle’s funeral. “We were in that same front pew seven years ago, sad yet relieved,” he said. “We knew her suffering was over, and already then, we felt she was watching over us from heaven.”
Ken reflected that, in years past, hearing of saints where family members were still alive and able to be present at a canonization, he wondered how that must have felt for them. Ken said he is in awe at being a part of such a process. “But it’s not us,” he said. “It’s Michelle that everything is about.”
Michelle’s Influence Lives On
It was at the funeral that Mary Ann said it first began to dawn on her just how extensive Michelle’s influence on others had been. The Church was full to overflowing with so many people that Ken and Mary Ann had never met before.
Later, she was told about a fellow parishioner standing in line to view Michelle’s body who turned to a person next to him and said, “Wow, I believe we may have seen an actual saint who lived among us at this parish,” Mary Ann recalled. “That statement caught me off-guard at the time. I was struck by the realization of how Michelle had a huge impact on so many others around her. We thought she was a wonderful daughter — very special in her evangelization work and complete surrender to God — but to hear someone else who we did not even know say that, we were really struck that he felt he had been in the presence of a living saint. Michelle genuinely invested in the relationships she had with people she encountered. She really cared about them.”
Mary Ann said that it is humbling to see God’s plan for their daughter’s life continue to unfold. “We know of many other beautiful Christian witnesses in our lives that are or were so holy that we think they have to be saints,” she said. “Seeing that God chose Michelle to use her in this particular way of continuing being present to others is incredible.”
One of the ways Mary Ann and Ken say they are witnessing Michelle continuing to impact lives are by reports from people who believe their prayers have been answered through Michelle’s intercession.
“A lot of things have happened already that you cannot explain in this world,” Ken said, explaining that it is a gift from God. They are hearing of cures after people ask Michelle to pray for them. For instance, he said, several young couples were told by their doctors that they could never have children, but after asking Michelle to pray for them, they have conceived and given birth to their own children.
As word spreads, pilgrims have begun journeying to the cemetery in Haymarsh where Michelle is buried. The Duppong farmstead, with its hills and open fields, was the place Michelle once said she loved best in the world. After leaving home, she often returned with friends to share with them a “Haymarsh experience.” Now, it is the place of her bodily rest where many are coming to visit, to be close to and to ask for Michelle’s intercession.
Some, according to Ken, are coming from long distances. “There’s so much need out in the world for God’s help,” Ken said. “That’s the part that is hard to deal with. We can only pray and surrender with faith, knowing that God is in charge.” And that, he said, is what Michelle always understood and trusted, accepting whatever would be God’s will.