Saturday, April 19, 2014

Crucified with Christ

the accusations and lies bruised, gashed and tormented him
face worn; drawn; eyes recoiled from the pain

falsely accused, threads of scorn swirling about his head
Judas nearby, dipping his bread into the cup

knowing the outcome, and realizing that the cup cannot pass by, he reclines at the cross

the sideward glances, the whispers, the stories
where is the truth?

the accusers know
they have prepared the table
and forced their bitter food upon the ignorant
filling their bellies with mistrust, rumor, and deception

yet, still he stands, publicly scourged, an innocent man
the parallels are astounding

gentle, virtuous, servant, caring and Christ-like
scourged as He was, but not for our sins
scourged by the impotence of those who lie comfortably in their beds of fabrication

despite the appearance
they have not forced him into insignificance

as Jesus emerged from the empty tomb
he also has emerged, stronger, cloaked with his Father in Heaven

beneath the silvery swamp that used to weep, I see hope
no longer resolute
the hope of the resurrection springs forth

their hopes to destroy have failed
the stone rolled away and he has emerged, beaten but not destroyed
his strength Is The Lord and he witnessed this love while nailed to his own cross
for he was not abandoned in his time of need

he is learning his purpose
the reason for suffering
and his followers are many

he has yet to see the plethora of hearts he has touched
but he will
.... he has touched mine

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Weaving through Lent

For once, I am making time for a meaningful journey through Lent. While we are not yet to the resurrection, this journey is more prayerful and thoughtful than in years past when I treated these 40 days as if they were but another New Year's resolution gone bad.

Instead of feeling as if I am giving up something for nothing, just for the sake of giving up a bad habit, I am consciously trying to align myself with the suffering Christ. Through prayer, fasting, and examining my conscience, the layers of the onion skins are peeling away and the pungent sting of the pierced flesh burns my eyes. Last year, I ran from this, but today I am making an effort to embrace my suffering and learning to face my sinful nature in order to become more Christlike.

And there is just so much, so much I need to change about me to become more like Him. It seems to be an insurmountable process as I have much wreckage in my past. There are my failings, the pain of my childhood, misunderstandings, my stupidity, the numerous familial estrangements, enormous pain, and each one attempts to grind me down to insignificance, uselessness. Garbage.

Ironically, scattered along the way are those suffering too, with pasts like mine, shards of glass piercing their hearts, insecurities, and pain. This is no coincidence that we have found each other and God is bringing us side-by-side to walk together, to grasp a hand, and if needed, to carry the other over the craggy path.

While far from perfect, the purposefulness of self-sacrifice and growing closer to Christ and the knowledge of my own imperfections is opening my heart to receive Him more. His sweetness makes me weep and the tears are the balm to soothe the fractures imbedded in my soul. I am also learning to accept my own weakness and when I am at my lowest, to allow others to lift me with the incense of their prayers and am learning to do the same for them.

By acknowledging my brokenness, my sinful nature and crying out for His mercy, His Spirit is permeating my soul and filling the fissures in my heart. The sense of abandonment is being replaced by His love and the understanding that He has been there all along, even as my weeping and screaming rocked the heavens and I assumed I was alone. I have learned that I am not garbage. I am not worthless. I am healing.

As I told a friend yesterday, God does have a plan and would not leave us at the precipice in limbo--but He is there with open arms and helping us to grow in the fullness of Him.

All I want to do now is to allow Him to replace impossible task for me, but for God, anything is possible.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


For more than a century, Felician Sisters have cared for children in the Milwaukee area. They operate St. Joseph Academy, formerly known as The Child Development Center of St. Joseph. The only elementary school in North America, sponsored by the Felician Sisters offers a unique program for infants through third grade.
Todd Beadle, administrator/president of St. Joseph Academy, Milwaukee, visits a classroom on March 13. The school hopes to construct a 28,000-square foot addition to its facility on South 16th Street and Oklahoma Avenue, Milwaukee. (Catholic Herald photos by Ricardo Torres)According to Sr. Mary Brendan Bogdan, director of missions and development, the academy is so successful, they are looking to construct a 28,000-square foot addition to accommodate its needs.
“The addition would include 14 classrooms, office spaces and bathrooms,” she explained. “This would be very helpful in that we will be able to serve more children and families. We will have improved facilities for our program, a new gymnasium, dedicated science lab, music room and art room. There will be room for outreach programs for the adult community, such as English courses and computer instruction.”
If approved by the Common Council, the $4 million addition would continue the Felicians’ legacy of caregiving.
In 1907, the founder and pastor of St. Hyacinth Parish on Becher Street, Fr. Hyacinth Gulski, asked the Felicians to erect and operate an orphanage in Milwaukee for children primarily of Polish and German heritage.
After helping to raise $100,000 to construct their first building, called the St. Joseph Orphan Asylum, 50
To volunteer or
donate to the school, contact:
St. Joseph Academy
1600 West Oklahoma Ave.,
 Milwaukee, WI 53215
(414) 645-5337
For fund development information, contact Virginia Zignego at Cathedral
orphans, many with physical handicaps, arrived the next year. The orphanage included a 50-bed infirmary staffed by a registered nurse.
For 60 years, the sisters cared for the orphans at their initial building, located at 3249 S.18th Street. The building also served as the main house of the Felicians’ Mother of Good Counsel province, founded in 1910. The “motherhouse” later moved to Chicago, where it is now a “central home” for Felicians who minister primarily in Wisconsin and Illinois; the Provincial House for Felician Sisters in North America is located in Beaver Falls, Pa.
Felician Sr. Mary Victoria Richardson, reads to students at St. Joseph Academy, Milwaukee, on March 13. The school is the only elementary school operated by the Felician Sisters in North America.In the late 1960s, as foster care became more prevalent, the sisters were licensed to operate the South Day Care Center of St. Joseph.
“Here they served children 3 years old until 12 years of age,” said Sr. Brendan. “In 1968, the sisters closed the orphanage.
During the years 1967-1973, the religious order provided a residential treatment site for children between the ages of 9-18 who were wards of the state.”
In 1999, then-Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland recognized the original building had served its purpose and asked the sisters to consider moving to the former St. Gerard Parish.
The sisters agreed and the South Day Care Center of St. Joseph moved to its current location on the northwest corner of Oklahoma Avenue and 16th Street.
“New construction was added to provide for infants and toddlers, and the center now accepts babies 6 weeks and older,” said Sr. Brendan. “The sisters changed the name to the Child Development Center of St. Joseph to better reflect the emphasis that would be put on providing quality education. In April 2009, we added an Early Headstart Program. Our legal name is St. Joseph Academy, and the Child Development Center is the early child care program of St. Joseph Academy.”
The early child care program is accredited through the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, “YoungStar,” with the highest rating possible of five stars. The center serves approximately 180 children per week with an additional 40 school age children in the before and after school programs.
In September 2009, the Child Development Center of St. Joseph opened a Milwaukee Parental Choice School with the addition of a K4 classroom.
There are currently three K4 classrooms, three K5 classrooms, three first grade classrooms, two second grade classrooms and one third grade classroom. The academy is accredited through AdvancEd/North Central School Accreditation. Enrollment is 256 and families are already enrolling students for next year when the school will open its initial fourth grade classroom.
While the project is in its planning stages, Peter Giersch, managing director for Cathedral Consulting Group LLC, the company providing the development services, anticipates the school addition will be completed for the 2015-16 school year.
“The demand for St. Joseph Academy’s particular product is growing at a phenomenal rate and therefore the need to expand this facility is imminent, and we need to seek input from the community as far as the best way to do that in the space we have,” he said. “The obvious answer is with an addition and, thankfully, we have the local alderman (Terry L. Witkowski) behind this.”
While the Felician Sisters are trying to raise funds, Cathedral Consulting is in the silent phase of developing St. Joseph Academy, Milwaukee, is housed in the former St. Gerard School, Milwaukee on the city’s south side.fundraising efforts and looking at possible leadership to assist with the project.
“The sisters have always gone where the need is and one of their mottos is to identify the need and service the need, and with that they are moving forward in faith and trying to arrange financing, because this has to be done,” said Giersch.
He is amazed at the efforts of the five Felicians and 72 employees at St. Joseph Academy in providing quality education.
“The demand for their particular education process is tremendous and that is what is so unique about the school,” Giersch said. “The Child Development Center is like a day care on steroids. They utilize brain-based learning beginning at 6 weeks old. When this project is finished, a baby can start there at 6 weeks and stay until fifth grade and that is the big ‘wow.’ They do an incredible job.”
St. Joseph Academy’s mission is a faith-based educational organization, and the Felician sisters desire is to educate children to be successful life-long learners and problems solvers.
“We are guided by the core values of respect for human dignity, compassion, justice and peace, transformation, and solidarity with the poor,” said Sr. Brendan. “We partner with families and community to fulfill this mission.”
Parents are excited about the proposed expansion because they will be able to keep their children in the school through fifth grade. For school secretary Beatriz Robles, the school is perfect for her family.
“I am so happy to know that the school is growing so much and that it is still a one-stop shop,” she said. “I work here, my kids go to day care and school here. I have a 2-year-old in early childhood education, a 5-year-old in K5 and then I have two other children, aged 10 and 11 and they go to a private school down the block.”
Robles credits the staff with the success of the school, noting they are committed to quality education, are well educated and provide great lesson plans.
“The staff is also bilingual and that helps as my kids have a speech delay in between languages,” she said. “I am from Mexico and my kids picked up much of my Spanish.”
Demographically, the majority of children are from Hispanic and Asian backgrounds, with the remainder being African American, multi-cultural and Caucasian. With a 93 percent mobility rate, the majority of children remain at St. Joseph Academy until they age out of the program.
“We have a very close-knit community and great parental involvement in activities,” said Robles. “I love it here. In the beginning, I worked part-time and then moved to a full-time position and it is wonderful.”

Friday, March 14, 2014


In the intoxicating swirl of wedding preparation, is the serious business of a covenantal relationship being neglected?
In “The Seven Big Myths of Marriage,”Christopher Kaczor explores church teaching on many marriage-related topics. Christopher, a philosophy professor at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, is pictured above with his wife, Jennifer, who added stories from their life together to the book. (Submitted photo courtesy the Kaczor family)The same meticulous planning that goes into color palettes, cake icing and bridal gowns, needs to be applied to planning the marriage, according to a couple who examines the myths of marriage in a recent book.
“The Seven Big Myths about Marriage,” was written by Christopher Kaczor, 44, who teaches a philosophy course on Love and Marriage at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and his wife, Jennifer. They are the parents of seven children.
Appealing to reason rather than religious authority, the book tackles the most controversial and talked about positions of the Catholic Church on contraception, marriage, reproductive technologies, cohabitation and divorce, and argues for the reasonableness of the church’s views on these issues.
“Ever since I began teaching this course, I thought it would be great to have the heart of the course in a book so that people who I can’t teach could pick up the book and read it,” he said. “I asked my wife to include some of her stories which added a lot to the book. Some people might think that by my writing a book on marriage, that ours is perfect, but adding Jen’s stories to the book, it shows that all marriages have difficulties. I think she is a good writer and people could laugh and feel sadness and get a sense of what it is like to be married.”
Seven big myths of marriage
While marriage can seem idyllic to the unmarried, it can be gritty, unglamorous and challenging, and, despite the myths about antiquated ideas, through the church’s teachings, marriages can not only survive, but also thrive, according to the couple.
In his book, Kaczor describes seven big myths:
  • Love is simple
  • Marriage is 50/50
  • Love alone makes a marriage
  • Cohabitation is just like marriage
  • Premarital sex is no big deal
  • Children are irrelevant to marriage
  • All reproductive choices are equal
Kaczor said sometimes people are more polite and courteous to strangers than to their spouse during marriage. It isn’t through big gifts that couples find unity, but through daily small acts of kindness, such as unloading the dishwasher, going to the store for bread and milk, and appreciation for the other person.
Marriages need random acts of kindness
“These are things that I did not really understand for the first 18 years of my marriage, and I am embarrassed to say that. But part of love is really seeking out and seeing the good in your spouse,” he said.
“When you first begin dating you are enthralled with the person and everything is magical and stupendous. After being married for 10 to 15 years, the feelings can be dulled and the couple loses that wonder and good news with the spouse.”
A conventional marriage is comprised of self-giving love where the most important aspect is the will to do good, and a small cost to the person doing the giving.
“If I choose to empty the dishwasher, that is time I could have read a book and listened to music, but if I choose to do good for others, it is a sacrifice, but I paradoxically benefit myself when I intentionally offer random acts of kindness,” he said. “There is more positive emotion and enhancing, and that and the cost benefit we receive is at the heart of all kinds of love, for as long as you live.”
Cohabitating often leads to divorce
Cohabitation as a stepping-stone to marriage, a sort of practice run to see if the couple is sexually and physically compatible, is a common myth among many couples, he said.
Most couples who cohabit either have a high view or a low view of marriage; most of them do not get married or get married and divorce after a short period, Kaczor emphasized. Generally, the women have the high view of marriage, he added.
“I wanted to show the wisdom in not cohabitating before marriage, because the statistics when they cohabit is that they increase the likelihood of divorce.  They are shocked to read the secular sociology and research, and really lots of different studies that point out that it is especially not a great idea for female students, and detrimental to their own likelihood of finding marriage,” he explained. “A typical case involves a couple that moves in when they are 25 and don’t get married. What has happened is that the man has gained what a woman is looking for and a 32-year-old man is better able to provide, but the woman is not as well off as they were earlier because a typical man prefers youth and beauty and most women have more of that at 25 rather than 32. Female students haven’t thought of that, but it does make sense. When the church says ‘no’ to cohabitation, it isn’t trying to put a cold blanket on them or rain on their parade, but it really is a kind of wisdom summarized for us.”
View children as gift, not hassle
Kaczor believes despite the headaches, and challenges from activities, and worries, that children are good for the marriage, and as Pope Francis has stated, “Families are an important mission within the church.” He said a large part of the disintegration of marriage and parenthood comes from viewing children as an option or a hassle rather than a gift or a blessing.
“Children increase the meaningfulness of life, and parents work to help their children succeed. Having children is a real way to get a sense of lasting contribution to the world, and encourages a real depth of relationship with their children and their spouse,” said Kaczor. “The parent-child relationship lasts from the beginning of life and all the way through until the parents are old and, hopefully, the kids are still around to keep that enduring relationship.”
Jennifer Kaczor recalls in the book the day her eldest son left for college, the changes in the household, and the loss she felt at this new chapter of her life:
“He felt sorry for me. I sensed it rather than saw it. I could not look at him. He muttered something about being home for Christmas. I said nothing. I wrapped my free arm around his neck, and then for one instinctive primal moment, I nuzzled my lips into his neck, inhaled his scent, and kissed him softly.
I will probably never do that again. He will probably never let me. It was the most intimate moment we have shared since I stopped breastfeeding him – like a bookend set in place to secure his childhood.”
Through information gleaned from experts, including James Stenson, Catholic author and educational consultant, Kaczor learned about raising his children, and now passes it on to his college students.
“I have students read Stenson’s book, ‘Compass,’ and it really has all kinds of helpful suggestions for raising kids,” he said. “For example, praising children for their efforts and determination that they put into school, sports or another activity, rather than praising their accomplishments. I have a daughter with learning disabilities and I praise her for her efforts. She works so hard and diligently and perhaps won’t be a tenured professor at Harvard, but she will do a great job. That is one of the tips I learned and it has been helpful. I wish I were the ideal father, and I love being a father, but following these guidelines helps me in the direction of being a better father.”  
Kaczor believes if more college students and young adults understood the truth behind these marriage myths, more couples would marry rather than cohabit and more marriages would be successful.
“I know that in society, almost all people get married and I think that is great, but marriages and lives would be happier with understanding some of the themes in my book, if they took them to heart,” he said. “I hope to make a difference. Everything begins with happiness and how to seek it at a higher level.”

Thursday, March 13, 2014


When Edgar Vizcarra and Marisol Bravo were married, July 6, 2013, at St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Racine, neither spoke their wedding vows, yet their wedding was touching, emotional, tear jerking and beautiful.
Altar server Cezar Tinoco-Torres holds the marriage rite for presider, Fr. Christopher Klusman, during the exchange of vows at the wedding of Edgar Vizcarra and Marisol Bravo at St. Paul Church, Racine, July 6, 2013. Above, Bravo is repeating the vows signed by Fr. Klusman using American Sign Language. (Catholic Herald photos by Allen Fredrickson)Additionally, the beaming priest celebrating their wedding spoke no words, nor did most of the guests.
The Mariachi band performing the wedding songs went unnoticed by half of the guests, but it wasn’t as if they were not paying attention.
Instead, the Mass, the ceremony and the vows were conducted with almost poetic and graceful motions with the hands and fingers of Fr. Christopher Klusman, and the bride and groom, all of whom are deaf and use American Sign Language to communicate.
The majority of the wedding guests were either deaf or Spanish speaking, including both sets of Spanish-speaking parents, giving ASL/Spanish/English interpreter, Paola Lopez quite a workout.
“I have done this for 20 years, but this was my first ASL Spanish wedding,” she said. “I am mildly exhausted from the Mass, but I am so happy to be here as I have known Marisol since she was in the fourth grade. She is very special to me and I made a special effort to be able to interpret the whole day. I am so happy she found a nice guy to marry.”
First deaf wedding for priest
For Fr. Klusman, associate pastor of St. Roman Parish, Milwaukee, the bilingual Mass with only two official languages — American Sign Language (ASL) and Spanish —was a challenge, as the pool of qualified interpreters is small.
“This was my first deaf wedding as a priest, and no one forgets their firsts,” he said. “I am really blessed and honored to have Edgar and Marisol’s wedding as my first one and, thanks be to God, that our interpreter, Paola, has known Marisol for a long time. I was so moved by how so many people, such as the family, padrinos (sponsors) and friends contributed through their Mexican culture during the wedding Mass with powerful gifts embedded with symbols, such as a special rosary (lazo) placed around Edgar and Marisol during the eucharistic prayer symbolizing the circular nature of never-ending love.”
Preparing for the seamlessly executed wedding was a challenge for Fr. Klusman, Edgar and Marisol as they had to plan the logistics on making the signing in ASL clear for all present to see.
“One example is that when Edgar and Marisol faced each other during the vows and exchange of rings, they had to stand slanted a bit toward the people so that the people in various locations could see their ASL,” he said. “And then, there is yet to be a fixed translation in ASL in the Rite of Marriage. Edgar, Marisol and I practiced together on various parts of the Rite of Marriage, in which the ASL translation eventually came to a form that was used at the wedding.”
Love at first sight for couple
Mainstreamed into traditional education, Edgar, 23, attended Rufus King High School, Milwaukee, while 21-year-old Marisol, a Burlington native, attended the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in Delavan. The couple met at a deaf community picnic and it was love at first sight.  
“I met Fr. Klusman at my quinceañera and he was the (celebrant) for the Mass,” said Marisol. “We met at Mass many times after that and, later, I introduced him to Edgar.”
While the newlyweds are members of St. Roman Parish, they decided to get married at St. Paul the Apostle, as it was the midway point for both families to attend.
“We wanted to make it easier for all of them,” said Edgar, “The wedding was very difficult to plan and it took a lot, but I was so happy to have the support from my family.”
‘God’s hand behind all this’
In helping Edgar and Marisol prepare for their wedding, Fr. Klusman remarked that the couple was grateful to have a deaf priest to communicate with and learn about marriage in their first language, ASL.
“I felt so honored to be there for them during this most special experience in their lives, and they learned very enthusiastically,” he said. “Life is full of surprises, and during Marisol’s quinceañera, I never suspected that I would be there at her wedding. It made me realize how God’s hand is behind all this.”
In his homily, Fr. Klusman recalled Marisol’s quinceañera and he remembered hoping she would find a wonderful man who would love and cherish her.
“Then, several years later, she came and introduced me to Edgar. The more I got to know Edgar, the more I thanked God that he is the one for her,” he said, adding. “God knew before you were born that you are meant for each other, so God led them to meet again and again.”
Fr. Klusman spoke to the couple on the many meanings for love, meanings that cannot be expressed by the single syllable word. He reminded them their love cannot follow an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. pattern, but it never ends, as demonstrated when the lazo was placed around them during the Eucharistic Prayer.
The tradition of the lazo or wedding rosary is prominent in the Hispanic culture and symbolizes the The attendants and guests at the wedding of Edgar Vizcarra and Marisol Bravo look on during the ceremony at St. Paul Church, Racine, last July.unification of the couple through prayer.
“This means that your love is forever and helps you realize that you can’t do it on your own,” he said. “Marriage is not a ‘one person does all the work’ covenant. It means that you, Edgar and Marisol, say: ‘You can depend on me and I can depend on you and God.’”
For Fr. Klusman, presiding at his first deaf wedding is a special memory, especially since he confirmed Edgar.
“I enjoyed their beautiful wedding reception and was so impressed and moved by their traditions, which placed great emphasis on communality, such as the couple, with family, friends, as well as the Mexican community,” he said.”
Faith unites them
Getting married in their native language was important to Edgar, a machine tool operator at CNS, and Marisol, who said their faith is number one in their personal lives, as well as the lives of them as a couple.
“Our faith is huge, very important, and that is why the lazo or rosary was placed around us, as it is a promise that we will have infinite love for each other,” said Edgar. “I also gave Marisol coins, which symbolized how we will share everything.”
Fr. Klusman explained the 13 coins represented Jesus and the 12 Apostles.
“This means Edgar’s never doubting trust and confidence in Marisol, as well as her of him,” he said.
For close friends, Abby Peterson, 21, Kayla Waters, 19, and Chandler Gloudeman, 20, all of Waukesha, the deaf Mexican wedding was a first for them, and a joyful experience.
“We all met through the deaf community,” said Peterson. “I knew Marisol first through the Wisconsin School for the Deaf and met Edgar a couple of years ago. Seeing them get married was wonderful.”
Waters, who met Marisol while they attended school together at the WSD, said it was also her first deaf wedding, and found it interesting the wedding was also translated into Spanish.
“It was so cool and different from anything I have ever been to before,” she said.
Meeting Marisol through Waters at a Deaf group, Gloudeman said she was happy to be there to support her friend at the wedding, which lasted more than two hours.
“It was a great wedding, but so long,” she said, laughing. “I didn’t know that Mexican weddings lasted so long. That was a new experience all the way around since I have never attended a deaf wedding or a Mexican wedding. It is great to see them both so happy.”

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A clean heart

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.  -Psalm 5: 10-14

As the ashes were smudged into a dot onto my forehead yesterday, I could think of little else than Psalm 51. So many years have passed where I had intended on making a prayerful lent, turning away from sinful thoughts, words and actions and yet, I failed miserably. I followed only the skeletal outlines of Lent with no substance--it was often empty, and I meandered through the motions. 

The heart has good intentions, but the mind and my sinful being takes over and rather than getting back up, I gave up. And the 40 days become just as any other 40 days, riddled with daily woes, worldly people, those who lie and inflict pain. No matter the season, these issues will never disappear. There will never be the perfect day. There will always be reason to be vengeful, to lash out, to inflict harm with the tongue or the pen or the hand. 

In Matthew Chapter 5, Jesus outlines a guide for us to live each day. Nowhere tucked in those verses does it say to be spiteful, vengeful or seek justice. Nowhere does it say to be selfish, and really, isn't that what it is all about? It is all about  me. How did someone hurt me? How did they hurt MY family? MY friends? And we  I want to exact revenge. 

And while I give up my usual chocolate and candy, I know it is much more than the sweets that sometimes take a front seat opposed to more nutritious fare. It is about sacrifice and becoming a little Christ the best way that I can. When the desire for these sundries shout out to me at various moments, I remember why I have given them up, not for nothing, not for a silly tradition,  but to be close to Him. Those moments I can pray to Him for strength and remember his insurmountable suffering for me.  With the giving up, I am trying also to give up my own evil ways. 

I want a pure heart so that I can see Christ. I want to be merciful so I am shown mercy. I want to be a peacemaker so I can be a child of God.  And with those wants, and the desire to be close to Him, I also know that persecution follows because it followed Him first, but if I embrace this suffering, I can inherit the Kingdom of God. 

So, as the little dot of ash on my forehead reminded me of where I came from and where I will end up, it encourages me to be a better person. To strive to live a holy life, and through my failings and sufferings, hopefully I will become a little more like Him. 

There is so much yet for me to do

Friday, February 21, 2014


Lynda Gilpin didn’t realize she was looking for a retreat until a friend brought a flier to her Bible study group. The information on the one-day retreat, Firstfruits, its schedule and the fact it included child care intrigued the young mother.
“Each time I attend, I am spiritually moved, refreshed and motivated,” said Gilpin, a member of St. Mary Parish, Hales Corners. “I come away with ideas to ponder and to motivate me for the month until the next retreat day. I feel like my faith life is like an onion and each time I go, I am exploring another layer, learning more and getting deeper into my faith.”


March 11 – St. Anthony on the Lake, W280N2101 Prospect Ave., Pewaukee
April 10 – St. Alphonsus, 5960 W. Loomis Road, Greendale
May 13 – St. Anthony
on the Lake, Pewaukee
     To learn more about Firstfruits, host a session or register,, email:
or call (262) 271-7859.
Women who juggle marriage, family and work may find it difficult to find time for a retreat. Firstfruits is the result of years in prayer for a ministry designed solely for women, according to executive director Joan Carey. 
“I had been in ministry for over 15 years at Christ King Parish and began to see a need for women to get together and grow in their faith. But because of the demands of children and work, it was hard to carve out an entire weekend for a retreat or commit six to eight weeks of studies,” she said. “I also began to see that a number of women were making an exodus to Elmbrook Church or other faiths because their parishes couldn’t offer adult faith formation or moms’ groups because of a lack of finances and staff resources.”
Because Firstfruits is a non-profit 503 (c) traveling ministry, it is autonomous and not financially burdensome to a parish. 
After praying on this for several years with Kathie Amidei and Angie Flanagan, members of St. Anthony on the Lake, Pewaukee, Carey looked for a site to begin the ministry. 
“Kathie (pastoral associate for lifelong formation) was kind enough to give us a place and time to pilot Firstfruits and meet there once a month, because that was doable for most women,” said Carey. “St. Anthony’s became our first home site, where Firstfruits is permanent there, but it is a traveling feast that we take on the road. We have been to Christ King, St. Monica, St. Alphonsus, St. Eugene and we will be taking it to the cathedral in the fall, and starting to take other venues while maintaining our home site.”
Programs attract non-Catholics, too
Rooted in Catholicism, the program also attracts non-Catholics. On average, 60-90 women attend the monthly sessions. Deb Schiel and Terri Nichols relax in the Kiwi Café, at a recent Firstfruits gathering at St. Anthony Parish, Pewaukee. (Submitted photo courtesy Firstfruits)
“We struggle with calling it a retreat since there are so many rich and wonderful retreats out there at Catholic retreat places,” said Carey. “We have referred to it as a soul spa, or a spiritual day spa for women, but that is not to diminish the relevance and richness of what we are offering at any given Firstfruits day.”
Each retreat day offers up to eight unique programs ranging from spiritual awareness, to “Mary’s Way of the Cross” during Lent, arts and crafts Scripture with Salvatorian Sr. Karlyn Cauley, spiritual direction, marriage, intercessory prayer and massages. 
For Gilpin, who after attending five or six retreats, volunteered to maintain the website and handle online registrations, the session on Mary’s Way of the Cross was especially moving. 
“We explored the Stations of the Cross from Mary’s perspective as a mother and how it could relate to today’s world. It moved most of us to tears,” she said. “One time I attended a session by Carol Sullivan about feminine spirituality that changed my life. It was funny and she gave real world examples of how men and women are different, but different is good and both are needed.”
Day of renewal for women
Giving back to Firstfruits some of what she was getting is important to Gilpin who uses her technical skills to assist the group. 
“I frequently get emails or registration comments thanking us for all we do,” she said. “Women express how grateful they are, how much they enjoy the retreats, how much the retreats mean to them, and if they can’t attend, how disappointed that they can’t attend that time.”
Being part of the prayer group that founded Firstfruits is something Amidei is excited about, three years after the ministry began. 
“This is what we envisioned for women who could come and spend the day here, to renew themselves, to spend time with the Lord, be with other women and nurture their own spiritual nature,” she explained. “They could do it for the whole day, or the morning or afternoon; whatever works, we tried to do. We wanted it to be hospitable for women and if they were working during the day, they could come at night.”
Kiwi Café serves camaraderie
One of the more popular features of the daylong ministry is the Kiwi Café, said Amidei, who explained a portion of the sponsoring church’s hall is transformed into a café where women take a break and have homemade treats, good coffee, lunch and soup at night. 
“They can have the opportunity to sit and read or talk,” she said. “It is a place to gather in between sessions.”
The Kiwi heart logo used to represent Firstfruits and the Kiwi Café was the combined efforts of the three women who noticed a resemblance between the halved kiwi and an image of the Sacred Heart. 
“Angie is a graphic designer and it all came together,” said Amidei. “It is perfect, because we think of Firstfruits as giving our best and not what is left over. It is the beginning of an abundant harvest and kind of evangelizing about opening women’s hearts to the Lord as they bring their first fruits to him.”
Whether they feel creative or not, women enjoy working with their hands said Sr. Karlyn who always includes an art project with her workshops.
“One session we did was on earthenware vessels,” said Sr. Karlyn, a folk artist who gives classes at her studio located at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School. “We have also done a little weaving and when the projects were done we matted them and put them under plastic. They looked very professional.”
Art projects encourage creativity
The 90-minute to two-hour sessions offer women the opportunity to minister to each other about things going on in their lives.
“I think this is a great way to learn and better than a straight lecture,” said Sr. Karlyn. “The women really seem to enjoy making the projects and after we are done, we put all the pieces up like a little art exhibit. It is amazing to see how every single project is different and they all learn viewpoints from each other. Every time I teach women, they teach me even more and we have great conversation.”
Seeing the fruits of fervent prayer is rewarding for Carey who said women often appreciate the flexibility of the program. 
“We say, ‘Come when you can and leave when you have to,’” said Carey. “It is perfect for society today and the women just comment on the warmth and the environment. They love beautiful things and in a typical parish, a day of reflection might not be in a beautiful space, but we try to make a point to make this a warm and welcoming environment. The Kiwi Café is the hub of Firstfruits and it transforms the space into an area where women feel truly cared for in a feminine way. It is women ministering to women in their uniqueness, spirituality and beauty.”
Women can choose from a variety of sessions throughout each retreat day. Through the combination of fellowship, hospitality and the environment, Carey has witnessed personal healing among the women who attend. 
“We hope that more parishes would like to have a Firstfruits retreat day, but all women are invited to register for one of the existing sessions,” she said. “We are open to women of all ages and all faiths and offer child care in the mornings.”