Saturday, December 19, 2009

For Vue Yang, faith is life

Vue Yang
If Vue Yang of Sheboygan could convey one message, it would be to let the Hmong residents know that they are not alone.

While helping refugees adjust to life in Wisconsin takes the work of many groups, Yang has devoted much of his life to keeping the Hmong connected through their cultural background and through his love of the Catholic faith.

In November, Yang, a member of St. Peter Claver Parish in Sheboygan, received the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Vatican II Service in Communication Award for his work in helping to bridge the cultural gap through his work in the parish, the community and through the Hmong radio program on 91.1 FM, that he has run since 1983.

“I was very surprised to receive it,” he said. “I did not expect to receive any award because I just do the normal things I am supposed to do – helping people through running the radio show.”

The 59-year-old husband and father to four children appreciates the opportunity to do something other than run the Hmong Union Market with Paj, his wife of 31 years.

“We work eight hours a day and this weekly radio show gives us a chance to help others by giving them information about schools, adoptions, climate, rules, regulations, laws, parenting and how to be a good citizen,” he said. “It helps them to know the new lifestyles that the Hmong will go through.”

A radio program like Yang’s might have been helpful when he immigrated to the United States.

“I was born in Laos and left there before the fall,” he said. “I graduated in Laos and went to France where I attended the French engineering school called, “Institut National Des Sciences Appliqu├ęs de Lyon, France.”
Name: Vue Yang
Age: 59
Occupation: Owner of Hmong Union Market,
Parish: St. Peter Claver, Sheboygan
Favorite movie: “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”
Book recently read: “The Asian Jesus,” by Michael Amaladoss
Favorite quotation: “Give the man a hook, teach him how to catch fishes; he will be proud of himself.”
(Submitted photo courtesy of Vue Yang)

After earning his master’s degree in chemical engineering, he worked for four years in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates from 1977 to 1981 for Schlumberger Overseas Company on the oil drilling platforms.

In 1981, Yang and his family moved to Sheboygan and he worked for Ametek as a chemical engineer where he acquired five U.S. patents for the design of water filtration systems for residential and commercial applications.

During that time, he and Paj, a lifelong Catholic, joined St. Peter Claver and Yang attended Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes. He was baptized and confirmed at St. Peter and in 1986, the couple became naturalized citizens.

Recognizing the need for continuity and communication within the Hmong culture, Yang developed the radio program to help the thousands of refugees who fled Laos due to the war against communism in the late 1970s.

“The radio program is not specifically Catholic, but is for everybody who wants to listen,” he said. “I want to give them the best information and the best tools to make their daily life easier. Sometimes I am able to give an answer that can’t be found in a newspaper.”

In addition, Yang and Paj have been involved in Radio Veritas Asia since 1994 to evangelize the Catholic faith to Asians living in the Philippines, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam. Because traditionally there was no written language, the Hmong relied on radio for information.

“The programs are important because the biggest problem among the Hmong here is the language,” he said. “I am talking about people that came here as adults and while many do not become Catholic, those that do have trouble going to church. The Hmong go to church faithfully, but when it comes time for the homily and the readings, they don’t understand what is going on.”

To help foster a greater understanding and appreciation for the Mass, Yang was instrumental in beginning a monthly Hmong Mass and Hmong Bible studies at St. Peter Claver.

Culturally, Yang admitted that the Hmong and most Americans born in the United States have vast differences, but those differences dissolve when it comes to sharing the Catholic faith. Hmong Catholics try to live a faith-filled life by a quiet, humble and reverent example, he said.

“Just because we have a different lifestyle when we go home, it doesn’t mean we are not Catholic. We are just Catholic the Hmong way,” said Yang. “We live the best we can with Christ and apply that to our daily life. A lot of the Hmong who have become Catholic have extended families and make friends – they are taking the love of Christ and spreading it to others who are not Catholic. They are part of them and are a part of us. By doing so, people may see the goodness in our hearts and might decide to join the faith.”

While Yang’s days are filled with operating the store, producing the radio program and organizing the Hmong Masses, he also finds time to serve as chairman of the Lao, Hmong and American Veterans Memorial and as a member of the St. Peter Claver parish council. He also teaches English at the parish and promotes a variety of Hmong publications.

His involvement stems from a Christ-driven desire to educate others not only in faith, but in all aspects of life.

“I feel that I do these things because that is what my faith is,” he said. “That is the bottom line. I try to treat others nice because that is the same as treating Christ nice – that’s what we believe in. Everybody is Christ and if they don’t believe in the Catholic faith, we try to be nice and help them out. To me, faith is what you are born to live and die with; we have a long life and I want it to be a whole life. It isn’t some little test that we pass and then do something else – faith is life.”

Kenosha parishioners are missionaries

TWIN LAKES — Tables piled high with supplies emptied rapidly last summer as seven eager missionaries stuffed large suitcases to near bursting.

Men and women had gathered from St. Alphonsus Church in New Munster and St. John the Evangelist Parish in Twin Lakes to take part in the fourth trip to Farm of the Child Orphanage in Trujillo, Honduras. The goal was to paint the interiors of six homes for the children who live in them.

Many of the children at Franciscan-run Farm of the Child in Honduras suffer malnutrition and other health problems and have limited access to education. While in Honduras, the mission team from St. Alphonsus, New Munster and St. John the Evangelist, Twin Lakes tried to better the children’s lives by painting the interiors of six homes for the children who live in them. (Submitted photo by Susan Riley)
Most of the children arriving at Franciscan-run Farm of the Child suffer malnutrition and other health problems, limited education and a lack of love and affection. Staff and volunteers provide a warm bed, clean clothes and healthy food, and the children are provided medical care to heal them from any illnesses. 

The mission team, led by Robert and Susan Riley, included Fr. Michael Erwin, pastor of both parishes, who, in addition to working with the team, celebrated three Masses in the chapel at the orphanage. The experience was humbling for the 42-year-old priest, after witnessing the faith of the volunteers, staff and children.

“I think my greatest impression of this orphanage was the support for these children who would otherwise be lost to society and dead at an early age due to difficult situations,” he said. “They bring love, education and lead them out to the other end as leaders back into the community and are changing children’s lives.”

While he heard many stories from the Rileys, experiencing it in person gave him a greater appreciation for the missionaries and those who run the orphanage.

“This is a little town and they take these high-risk children and transform them into very good members of society,” Fr. Erwin said. “Being able to be a part of this is a way we live out our faith. There are so many young people in their mid-20s who work there and volunteer there and help run this place and do it filled with grace. They take their faith very seriously and multiple times per day offer their hearts in prayer.”

In addition to painting the interiors of the six homes, the team brought along 16 suitcases filled with school supplies, flip flops, scissors and nearly anything else they could cram into their luggage. The items were collected as a result of the two parishes’ first “Pack a Suitcase” drive.

“We had a tremendous outpouring of help,” said Robert Riley, member of St. Alphonsus Parish. “I couldn’t believe we had so much support from little St. Al’s and St. John’s – people really cared and stepped up to help these little children.”

Originally, the team numbered 14, but due to a coup in Honduras, some team members postponed their mission until the political situation stabilizes.

“It was scary at first,” admitted Fr. Erwin, “And even I was debating whether to go or not. Some discerned it was too risky and situations in their lives didn’t lend themselves to go, but they will be part of a group that goes next year.”

Despite the political upheaval, Fr. Erwin discovered a peace-loving culture, with people who are proud of their nation and are interested in empowering the citizens of Central America.

“It was a marvelous thing and fun to be a missionary,” he said. “We were able to take our faith on the road and the risks that went with it. We were able to get to know new folks and let them know us. Anytime we can do that, it is a good thing, whether it is meeting new people at church or taking a risk by going to a different area of the world. The difficulty might be in the language but we stretch ourselves anytime we take risks like that.”

Most families live in tiny homes with dirt floors, and make an income of approximately $300 per year. Despite their incredible poverty, the residents are welcoming, friendly and willing to share what little they have with the Americans who come to help, according to the missionaries.

“My wife and are I are 68 years old and I guess we are nuts to keep going,” said Riley. “But the Holy Spirit calls us to remain involved and we will keep going until he tells us to stop.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

School fondly remembers principal

School fondly remembers longtime principal

P3lorussoMILWAUKEE — Even after 39 years at the former St. Bernadette School in Milwaukee, Mary Lorusso, principal of Northwest Catholic – West Campus, still searched for ways to excite and reach her students.

Students who might have been a bit shy would eagerly sign up to participate in the annual school plays. Others found their voices by participating in the children’s and youth choirs. Countless more discovered their faith by Lorusso’s example as a faith-filled Catholic.

To those who knew her hardworking nature, it was no surprise that on an unseasonably warm All Souls Day, Lorusso was home, in her yard, raking leaves.

But what happened next has left her students, colleagues, friends and family stunned.

Lorusso greeted her neighbor and waved to him as he entered his home. When he came back outside, she had collapsed on the lawn.

The 64-year-old, mother of two daughters and grandmother to two, died the next day of a brain aneurysm.

News of her death gripped Northwest Catholic School and St. Bernadette Parish at what is ordinarily an exciting time of the year preparing for Thanksgiving and Advent. Administrative assistant Lana Anderson embraced tearful students in the hallways, while others wondered what life would be like without the most dynamic administrator and teacher they had known. Counselors from Messmer High School came to offer support to the grief-stricken students, and Anne Dunlop was placed as interim principal to ease children and staff through the transition.

“I lost my best friend,” said Anderson, who knew Lorusso for 14 years, 11 of those while employed as her assistant. “She was my peanut butter and I was the jelly and now I am flying around with nothing to stick to.”

Her voice was deep from the heart, her faith and love of God’s people were grounded in justice, fairness and trust, said Fr. Charles Zabler, pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope, one of the three parishes which comprise Northwest Catholic School.

“Her presence was so casual and comfortable,” he said. “She gave you this sense of being at home and yet possessed a comfort level that she could be approached and yet was as much a woman of conviction and determination than I have ever seen. She had a strong faith and the kids came first, and let us know that the reason we do everything was for the kids.”

When St. Bernadette School merged with St. Catherine of Alexandria and Our Lady of Good Hope to form Northwest Catholic, it was Lorusso who gracefully assisted others through the process while burying her own pain of the consolidation.

“This was excruciatingly painful,” said Fr. Zabler. “She had ownership of that school for 39 years. She started as a music teacher and became an administrator. It was hard for her to yield ownership to the tri-parish with a new name, but she did it gracefully.”

Among her passions, the most important aspect of her life was instilling a faith-based and faith-valued education in children.

“To her, it wasn’t private education, it was faith education,” Fr. Zabler said. “At her funeral, one of her daughters said, ‘We knew we shared our mom’s love, but we didn’t know we shared it with thousands and thousands over the years.’ That was apparent with the huge number of people who attended her funeral.”

Although he knew her just five years, Fr. Zabler was impressed by Lorusso’s servanthood and availability to anyone who needed her.

“She had a way of being available and present to all things, not overbearing, but as a strong leader,” he said. “She also had the capacity to draw people to take ownership for various things, just as projects, performances, and school itself.”

Despite the changes that accompany uniting parishes and merging schools, the one constant was the cheerful and steadfast principal who served as a reminder of the stability of the past.

“The pastors from all three parishes are relatively new, and the school staff adjusted to accommodate the changes, but through it all, Mary gave the West Campus a sense of continuity,” said Fr. Zabler. “And now we, as a school and parish, have to go on and celebrate our continuity as well.”

When Debbie Hintz, St. Catherine parish director, began working at the parish in 2006, she was amazed to learn that Lorusso had been a cornerstone of St. Bernadette since 1970.

“She was still so wonderfully dedicated to Catholic education and very concerned about children and making sure the children in the area received a good Catholic education,” Hintz said. “After all that time, she had to reapply for her position when the schools merged, and although she was chosen to remain at the St. Bernadette campus, she was willing to do what was best for the school, children and parish communities and worked hard to make the Northwest Catholic a reality.”

The school is part of Milwaukee’s School Choice program and comprises a diverse population of Caucasian, African-American, Indian, Hispanic and Asian students, and Lorusso was proud of this aspect.

“On the Tuesday before she died, she gave a wonderful presentation on Northwest Catholic that was open to any parishioners,” Hintz said. “Everyone was impressed with how well the school was doing and of Mary’s pride and dedication in the school. Losing her is a great loss to St. Bernadette and Northwest Catholic. She was instrumental to bringing it all about and making a good school. I will miss her.”

In addition to separate memorial services at the school, a Mass was offered for Lorusso on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

While ideas for a more formal memorial are undecided, Anderson said the school yearbook will be dedicated to her, and some of the parents are thinking of putting on a play in her honor.

“We have so many ideas, after all, she did those plays for 35 years,” said Anderson. “We have thought about something like having plaques to honor her plays, a bench in the grotto or a Lorusso Avenue street sign erected; we aren’t sure, but we all want to do something for her. This is such a big loss for everyone.

Wow, what a night

There are days when gratitude does not come easily for me, but if I don't try to reflect on the positive, the enemy comes in to rob me of my peace and my joy.

Last night on the way to our religious education classes, we were rear ended by an inattentive driver. The accident, thank God was low impact, but for my husband who has suffered through two complete cervical fusions of his neck, any trauma is terrifying and painful.

Thankfully, it appears that he will be ok, but it was quite scary to think that in just a blink, he could become paralyzed. There are days I feel as if I am caring for a china doll, rather than a strapping 6' 1" husband who used to golf, play racquetball, participate in martial arts, baseball, basketball, etc. His days and mine have changed so drastically in the past few years and it is easy to get down about it all.

Since his injury, our finances are wiped out, I work too much, and our activities have diminished to the point where we just don't do a lot socially.

There are days we both truly wonder if God is punishing us for something.

Then I remember Job. Job was so loved by God, yet our Lord allowed him to be tested with atrocities that I cannot imagine. Like Job, we have lost members of our family, endured pain and suffering, we have lost our finances, and at times we have at times, lost hope. Unlike Job, who lost far more than we have--we don't always handle it with the same grace and trust and that is an arena I have to become more immersed.

For today, I pray for the grace to endure, the patience to fill my heart when those on the outside seem to think we have 'bad karma' or don't know 'the secret' or are not thinking positive enough and are causing our own problems. I pray for those people who do not understand that when we prayed that we become like Christ--that it meant to become like him in all things and his sufferings far outweigh anything we have ever gone through.

So, if this is our cross--we gladly pick it up if it means everlasting happiness with him in heaven. For today matters nothing compared to forever with HIM.

Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow fun

Oh the snow outside is beautiful, but I am not at all prepared for 12 inches of the stuff-blech. I just hope and pray that the drivers out there are cautious enough to drive safely!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Our new little baby!

After losing Zachary in such a tragic way, we are happy to report that we have a new little baby coming to live with us next month. This is Argyle Mahoney and was born in Mauston, WI--we can't wait to welcome him to our little family..........ah yes, another little one to housetrain, but the way he looks, it will be worth it!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Local efforts to aid deaf must increase, say deaf ministers

Communicating in American Sign Language, Deacon David Sommers leads the Bible study class at St. Andrew Parish in Delavan during a gathering earlier this year. A Bible study for the deaf is one of the outreach efforts at St. Andrew. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)
Waking to the buzz of Saturday morning lawn mowers, hearing elevator music and listening to the homily during Sunday morning Mass are sounds often taken for granted.

While some parishes offer an interpreter to sign and speak with their hands to the deaf population, most deaf and hearing-impaired Catholics sit in silence, paging through the missalette, possibly wondering what is going on or feeling left out or choosing not to attend Mass at all. Comparatively few resources are available to assist the deaf in worship or within the Catholic community. The hearing members do the readings, music is designed for those who can listen to the tones and in some cases an interpreter signs what the priest is saying.

In an attempt to address the needs of the Catholic deaf community worldwide, the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry organized a Nov. 19-21 conference held at the Vatican, “The Deaf Person in the Life of the Church.” (See accompanying story, Page 7)

In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, ministry to the deaf and hard of hearing community is part of the intercultural ministry overseen by Eva Diaz.

Masses for the deaf/hard of hearing

Saturdays - weekly
St. Joseph, 1533 Erie St.,
Racine, 4:30 p.m. (interpreted)
St. Joseph, 1619 Washington St., Grafton, 4 p.m. (First Saturday of the month only) (interpreted)
Blessed Trinity, 327 Giddings Ave., Sheboygan Falls, 4 p.m. (Second, fourth Saturdays of the month only) (interpreted)

Immaculate Conception, 1610 Monroe St., West Bend, 10 a.m. (Second Sunday of the month only) (interpreted)
St. Joseph, 1619 Washington St., Grafton, 10:30 a.m. (Third Sunday of the month only) (interpreted)
St. Paul the Apostle, 6400 Sprint St., Racine, 10:30 a.m. (interpreted)
St. Joseph, 824 N. East Ave., Waukesha, 9:30 a.m. (interpreted)
St. Peter, 2224 30th Ave.,Kenosha, 9:30 a.m. (interpreted)
St. Andrew, 714 E. Walworth Ave., Delavan, 9:30 a.m. (interpreted)
St. Matthias, 9306 W. Beloit Road, Milwaukee, 9 a.m. (First, second and fourth Sundays interpreted; Third Sunday signed)
Good Shepherd, N88 W17658 Christman Road, Menomonee Falls,
11 a.m. (interpreted)
Shepherd of the Hills, W1562 County Road B, Eden, 8:15 a.m.
(First Sunday of the month only.)
Terri Matenaer, coordinator for deaf ministry, is pleased the archdiocese offers interpreted and signed Masses, but she acknowledged that there is much to do in reaching out in the community. Much of the parish outreach to the deaf takes place through St. Andrew Parish, Delavan and St. Matthias Parish, Milwaukee.

“We have a newsletter called ‘Hand in Hand,’ and religious education for children at St. Matthias and St. Andrew. We also have a Deaf Advisory Council and are trying to come together and build plans for the future ministry program in the whole archdiocese, not just in Milwaukee or Delavan,” she said. “We are trying to have several activities available whenever we have a gathering together of the deaf community.”

Deaf Ministry

For more information on deaf ministry in the Milwaukee Archdiocese, contact Terri Matenaer at (262) 321-0464 or by e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Matenaer, who is also deaf, said that many in the deaf community remain passive about their needs and either attend Mass without the benefit of an interpreter or don’t attend at all.

“With the hearing population, people can choose to listen or not to listen,” she said. “But with the deaf, if we don’t have an interpreter, we don’t understand what is going on and many just decide not to go. I am afraid we are losing many deaf Catholics because we don’t have enough to offer to them.”

For Fr. Brian Holbus, administrator of St. Roman Parish, Milwaukee, addressing the needs of the deaf religious and laypeople hits close to home. Fr. Holbus has a deaf brother and sister.

“We have hearing loss in our family,” he said, adding, “And it was hard for my brother and sister while we were growing up – they couldn’t hear what was going on at Mass. But I was the confirmation sponsor for my brother, and although my sign language was not great, I was happy to help him prepare to receive the sacrament.”

Taking classes as a teen to learn American Sign Language and cued speech helped Fr. Holbus to better communicate with his brother and sister, and ultimately prepared him to serve for nearly seven years as pastor of St. Andrew Parish, Delavan.

The Wisconsin School for the Deaf is located in Delavan. Catholic youth from the school attend religious education programs and Mass at St. Andrew. In working with the deaf community, Fr. Holbus realized how left out hearing impaired Catholics are in everyday life, from participating in Mass to the sacrament of reconciliation.

“My sign language is not all that good,” he explained, “But I always try to be there for the deaf who want to go to confession. It’s hard to address the entire needs of the deaf community because there are so few clergy who are able to communicate. I think it is very important to have a deaf priest, such as Chris Klusman, who was my intern in Delavan and will be ordained in 2011. There is a real future here with priests who are deaf.”

While there are only two hearing impaired members attending St. Roman Parish, Fr. Holbus is regularly called to assist with situations among the Hispanic deaf community in Milwaukee.
“I grew up in Racine and learned some Spanish while growing up,” he said. “So now there are times I am called to translate for the deaf Hispanic community at the hospitals or doctors’ offices and it really puts me in an awkward place having to translate for them. For instance, I might have to talk to young women about personal matters and medications, and it just isn’t something I feel I should be talking with them about.”

According to Fr. Holbus, the local Catholic deaf community still suffers from fallout following the sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by the late Fr. Lawrence Murphy who, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is believed to have molested as many as 200 boys from 1950 to 1974. Murphy, who died in 1998, was placed on the archdiocese’s list of priests with substantiated claims of sexual abuse in 2004.

“It is very important for the church to listen to the deaf and to rebuild the ministry – so many left the church not only because of the sexual abuse scandal, but because we are not meeting their needs,” said Fr. Holbus. “It is hard to encourage these people to remain Catholic when there is such a bad history and when we have nothing to offer them.

“To me, the ministry needs to grow to having deaf Catholics evangelizing and ministering to other deaf Catholics,” said Fr. Holbus, adding, “Confession is a big thing – how do deaf Catholics go to confession with a priest who is unable to communicate via sign language?”

Slowly, the deaf community in Delavan is growing in numbers and confidence with the help of Patty Kostechka, coordinator of deaf ministry at St. Andrew, and Deacon David Sommers, who is also deaf.
Deacon Sommers also coordinates deaf ministry at St. Matthias and assists with the celebration of Mass in sign language each week. St. Matthias offers an archdiocesan religious education program for deaf children and the International Catholic Deaf Association (ICDA) meets at the parish monthly. A signed Bible study is also offered to deaf adults.

Members of the St. Matthias deaf community offer sign language classes to the broader parish and perform in a signing choir to help hearing parishioners be more aware of deaf culture and language.
Yet, Fr. Holbus said the Catholic Church as a whole needs to embrace and encourage all hearing impaired Catholics.

“They organized a program that included deaf catechists and those devoted to the faith who ministered well to each other as deaf people – we need to do that all over the world,” said Fr. Holbus.
Matenaer is hopeful that with the Vatican’s concern about the deaf community more will be encouraged to assume some leadership roles in the church.

“We have a few who are more outspoken, but we really need to reach out to the younger Catholics and help them to grow in their faith by giving them the same opportunities as those in the hearing population,” she said.

Great article by the Benedictine Sisters on low gluten altar breads!