Msgr. Daniel Pilon
The title Monsignor was given to Father Daniel Pilon in October 2006 by the Holy Father, Benedict XVI at the request of Bishop Aquila. One of the likely reasons for receiving this honor was having spent twenty years as Judicctsial Vicar and Director of the Fargo Diocese Tribunal. A Tribunal it. In ecclesiastical cour has the aapacity to resolve disputes between Church entities but in practice it deals primarily with resolving the question of freedom to marry for persons who appear to have been previously married. Although he received the title later in priesthood, he will be referred to as Monsignor at times for the sake of simplicity.
Daniel Pilon was born March 26, 1950 the first of eleven children of Jerome and Mae Pilon. His family attended Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Oakwood North Dakota. Oakwood is a village of primarily French Canadian heritage about 5 miles east of Grafton. He attended St. Aloysius Academy during his grade school years. The school was run by SMP (Sisters of Mary of the Presentation) Sisters. In 1964 he began his freshman year of high school at Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo. The seminary was housed in the original Sacred Heart Convent which later became the Queen of Peace Chancery. These were still optimistic years for vocations. There were about 90 students in the high school seminary during his sophomore year. Some of the larger rooms housed four boys at one time. The next year 1966 the seminary moved to a new building north of 32nd Avenue North on the Red River.
By the time Monsignor entered college in 1968 some of the optimism began to wane. He entered college with 5 classmates, by the time he completed college he was one of two. During this time the Seminary had become affiliated with NDSU. Most of his classes were at NDSU. In college he majored in Philosophy-Humanities and minored in Classical languages (Latin and Greek). Following college he entered Major Seminary or Theology at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul Minnesota. He completed his studies in spring of 1976.
During the summer breaks during the collegiate and theologate years Monsignor took part in a variety of summer jobs. One year he joined a custom-combining crew harvesting wheat especially in Kansas and Nebraska. Another year he found a job driving taxi in Fargo. After the first year of Theology he took the opportunity to join a Student Ministry in National Parks program. Assigned to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park he was supposed to assist visiting priests. In reality he became responsible for organizing non-denominational worship services on Sundays. During the week he pumped gas in a Chevron service station and lived in the employee village. Life was simple, the cabins were canvas top. The employees had to walk to a central building for toilets and showers. During the second summer of Theology, Schmidt Brewery had an arrangement in which they would hire seminarians as vacation help and to fill in where needed. Much of this was repetitive work such as picking up cans when they tipped or adjusting the glue for labels on bottles.
The third year of Theology was directed towards Diaconate. Most of those in seminary who completed their third year were ordained deacons and were to function as deacons for the first semester of their third year. Bishop Justin Driscoll, the Bishop of Fargo, was more cautious than most bishops. He waited until the end of the Deacon Internship before ordaining his seminarians as deacons. So Monsignor participated in the internship having been installed only as a Lector and Acolyte. An interesting sidelight is that Monsignor’s class was the first to experience being installed in lay ministries without being ordained a cleric. For centuries the first step in Major Seminary was receiving the minor order of tonsure. With this a person became a cleric in the Church. During Monsignor’s first year of Theology Pope Paul VI revoked the practice of minor orders. A man was accepted in candidacy for Orders if he wished to become a deacon or priest. Lector and Acolyte had been minor orders but were now available for lay men. In practice, though, the ministries seemed to be continued to be used almost like minor orders. The difference is that now a man is not a cleric when he is installed as a lector or acolyte until he is ordained a deacon. So Monsignor was assigned for his internship to at that time Father (now Monsignor) Wendelyn Vetter at Holy Family in Grand Forks. Monsignor participated in the more ordinary forms of ministry such as bringing communion to the sick. On November 30, 1975 he was ordained a deacon at Cardinal Muench Seminary with only a month left at Holy Family. The second semester of the Fourth year was mostly theological reflections on ministerial experiences along with emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance.
Two bishops ordained Monsignor Pilon at Sacred Heart Church in Oakwood on May 30, 1976. Bishop Justin Driscoll was the bishop of the Fargo Diocese at the time. Bishop Ray Lessard, at that time bishop of Savannah in Georgia, was first cousin to the father of Monsignor graciously made the trip to Oakwood, his home parish as well.
The first assignment was as Associate Pastor to Holy Spirit in Fargo. (Associate Pastor was the title used at that time. Earlier the title had been Assistant Pastor. Now the 1983 Code of Canon Law uses the title Parochial Vicar.) In 1977 he was appointed to St. James in Jamestown. In 1978 St. James was entrusted to the Holy Ghost Fathers so he was transferred to St. Mary’s in Grand Forks. During the two years that he served St. Mary’s he became involved in a special ministry called Beginning Experience. This ministry is dedicated to peer support of divorced, widowed and separated persons. It focuses on healing and spiritual reconciliation based on the theological principles of the death and resurrection of Christ. His experience with Beginning Experience led to his accepting the later call to serve the diocese in the Tribunal. After two years in Grand Forks he was given the full pastoral care of the parishes of St. Joseph, Lankin, Sts. Peter and Paul, Bechyne, and St. Catherine of Lomice in 1980.
This was an exciting time as this was the first experience of being a full Pastor. It was also exciting since this was his home county, Walsh and only 40 miles from his family. Many of the parishioners knew his parents so there was a feeling of being at home. In addition to the parish work Monsignor continued his work with Beginning Experience and began assisting the Tribunal as a judge. After four years in Lankin, Bechyne and Lomice Bishop Driscoll asked Monsignor to study Canon Law at the Catholic University in Washington, DC. After two years of study in spring of 1986 he received licentiate degree in Canon Law. (Licentiate degree is a pontifical version of the better known Master’s degree.)
He began working in the Tribunal that summer. Along with that work he was resident at St. Mary’s Cathedral assisting the pastor with pastoral care of St. William in Argusville. In 1987 Msgr. Peschel retired from St. Benedict of Wild Rice. In September of that year Monsignor Pilon became pastor of St. Benedict of Wild Rice and St. Maurice of Kindred. This pastorate was to be halftime along with halftime at the Tribunal. Because of the growth in population of St. Benedict Monsignor was relieved of the responsibility of St. Maurice. The combination of St. Benedict and the Tribunal continued through to 1985.
While at St. Benedict Monsignor took up driving a motorcycle. It was a convenient way to travel between the Tribunal and the parish during the hot summer months. During this assignment Monsignor came down with the first of some major medical challenges. At the spring of 2003 he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Since that time he has had to wear a colostomy bag. After a year of chemotherapy and radiation treatment he has been cancer free in this area. In 2005 Bishop Aquila added the pastoral responsibility for St. Maurice. He was the pastor of St. Maurice but was assisted on a rotating basis with two other priests. In 2006 after twenty years of guiding the Tribunal Monsignor decided to resign from the Tribunal and consequently from St. Benedict.
He was then assigned to St. Patrick in Enderlin, Our Lady of the Scapular in Sheldon, and Holy Trinity in Fingal for a six year term. While approaching the end the term of the appointment, Our Lady of Peace in Mayville and St. Agnes in Hunter became vacant. Since his father was aging and much of his family live in the vicinity of Grand Forks, he requested assignment to Mayville. To his surprise the assignment was made almost immediately taking effect in January 2012.
While at Mayville and Hunter Monsignor has experienced some medical difficulties. The first was a carcinoid tumor in the intestine which occurred about a month into the assignment. This was a relatively less serious challenge although it took about six weeks to get back to normal. A more serious issue was the tumor on the pituitary gland which knocked him unconscious and damaged his optical nerve. The major effect has been a severely restricted field of vision. It is unlikely that he will ever be able to legally drive again. He is able to continue serving the parishes with the help of many parishioners who volunteer to bring him to the weekend liturgies as well as doctor appointments. Despite these challenges Monsignor continues to work even if at a slower pace and rejoices in being able to celebrate forty years of priesthood.