Thursday, April 29, 2010

Therapist is ‘godsend’ for special needs kids, families

Carol Wingenter, 50, an occupational therapist, plays a game with 5-year-old Gabriela Smies, April 23, designed to develop her fine motor skills, in the clinic she created in her Brookfield home. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)
For a child with autism, or one with sensory issues, living in isolation because of an inability to communicate and socialize with others can be utterly disabling.

Parents trying to coax their child out of the lonely place are often frustrated and depressed, consumed with unanswered questions and often, left with little outside help.

When Paul and Maureen Mikna realized that their eldest son Adam had high functioning autism, they sought help from occupational therapist Carol Wingenter. Years earlier, Maureen worked with Wingenter and was so impressed by her techniques, that she was the first person of whom they thought when looking for help for their son.

In an effort to provide the most loving and thorough care to children with autism, Asperger syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other sensory issues, Wingenter set up a clinic in her Brookfield home after years of working in hospitals and clinics. 

“She is truly an angel,” said Paul, a member of Holy Apostles Parish in New Berlin. “She has her whole basement set up like a physical therapy clinic and is a godsend for people with special disabilities. In addition to finding unique ways to reach these types of kids, she also provides babysitting services, and even does baking with them.”

It can be difficult to receive insurance funding for therapy when dealing with autism and other sensory disorders, which leaves parents fighting a frustrating battle in addition to the ones they face with their children.

“It is really hard and we all end up being at our wit’s end trying to get help for our kids,” said Paul. “Carol works with us and charges reasonable rates, and she does it in the welcoming environment of her home. She gives them so much TLC and has done so well with Adam that he is doing fine now as a freshman at Pius High School.”

Although Wingenter works more than 40 hours a week with 50-60 clients who come on varying schedules, she considers it a labor of love, rather than a job.

“I love what I do, and my only complaint is that there aren’t eight days in a week so I can get caught up,” she said, laughing. “It’s very rewarding for me. Working with these kids and their families, I learn so much and they teach me about life and how to succeed and what to do with what we are given. They have helped me look at positives in any situation. I especially enjoy seeing the families accept the differences, learn how to work with them and finally realize that the differences can actually be a gift.”
People of Faith
Name: Carol Wingenter
Age: 50
Parish: St Dominic, Brookfield
Occupation: Occupational therapist
Book recently read: “A Different Life,” by Quinn Bradlee
Favorite movie: “Blind Side” and “The Sound of Music”
Favorite quotation: “… if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Mt 17:20
(Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

After the initial assessment, Wingenter helps families understand their children and how to focus on what their children are able to accomplish, rather than on what they cannot do.

“Parents become more comfortable with their parenting skills after we work together and learn what to do and what not to do,” she said. “I deal with a lot of kids who have sensory issues and are sensitive to noises, only eat certain foods, and don’t process environmental stimuli like you or I might. If they encounter touch in school, for example, their body might go into a flight or fright reaction and it may be taken as hurtful or aggressive and then they might strike out. So I work with the child on how not to react in an unacceptable way when ordinary things like this happen.”

By integrating coping techniques that include strategies to feed the individual’s system and state of knowing where their body is in space, Wingenter builds trust with her clients and helps them learn to be more independent and able to move unencumbered.

“Sometimes the children are fearful of any movement imposed on them,” she said. “But I do see progress, although it might seem slow. I remember I had one boy who came to me and he basically shrieked and was unable to do much else. But after working with him, he began to read and do multiplication ahead of his peers, and continued to meet any challenges that came his way. I see that with a lot of kids that I work with.”

It’s often difficult for outsiders and parents to grasp the high intelligence exhibited by many with Asperger’s and autism. Challenging for them is the contrasting behaviors that on the outside might seem peculiar, but correctly directed, can be quite rewarding.

“If they can channel the brilliance and if they can see the gift of intelligence and be able to find a niche for that gift, it really helps,” said Wingenter. “The outside world looks at them as odd or strange and if they only focus on that, they won’t appreciate the gifts and special quirkiness they can offer.”

Wingenter’s success rate in working with her clients is so great that she has never needed to advertise her services. Clients hear about her through word of mouth and support groups, and some physicians seek her help in working with their patients.

“I do seem to get a lot of referrals,” she said. “And I appreciate it as the work really gives me perspective to know what is important in life. I also recognize how important faith is because the families I work with who have a strong faith do far better than those who struggle with it. There is a level of acceptance with the faith-filled parents because they are able to see the positives rather than just the negatives with their children.”

When she isn’t working, the 50-year-old Wingenter devotes much of her free time to volunteering in the confirmation program, Risen Program for Special Needs Children, and the Just Faith program at her parish, St. Dominic in Brookfield.

“I was baptized there and I really enjoy helping where I can,” she said. “I also help with the gardening and enjoy doing that because it is so different from my other activities. My weeks go by so fast and I enjoy every day that I get to help others.”

Catholic ‘elves’ help Lutheran family

Baby Jesus so sweet
Members of Tina Parr’s third and fourth grade classrooms from St. Leonard School, Muskego, pose with gifts for the Gettelman family and a special message for 2-year-old Drake Gettelman in this photo taken just before the Christmas gifts were delivered last year. (Submitted photo courtesy Tina Parr)


Bless Baby Drake as he begins to eat
Keep him tender in your care
as he grows and gets more hair.
– Poem to baby Drake from Ryan P.

Bits of colorful wrapping paper flecked the floor of Tina Parr’s third and fourth grade classrooms before the Christmas break last year. Dozens of children giggled, wrapped gifts and created handmade cards and letters.

The mood of the gathering was happy, but deep down, St. Leonard School students empathized with and prayed for the recipients of the gifts, and hoped that somehow their efforts would alleviate a bit of Brian and Kristen Gettelman’s stress since their son Drake’s birth nearly three years ago. The Muskego students and their families worked to make a memorable Christmas for Drake and 6-year-old Alexis.

Born three weeks early with chronic lung disease, Drake was transferred from West Allis Memorial Hospital to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin shortly after his birth. Two days later, he was in surgery and connected to a heart and lung bypass machine.
During the first of several surgeries, a nerve was severed and vocal chord paralyzed, leaving him to cry silent tears.

In the beginning, he required a feeding tube to protect his airway from obstruction.

According to Kristen, his health issues are the result of two rare gene mutations that his doctors have not seen. While he has improved, Drake has chronic asthma and requires an inhaler and daily breathing treatments.

“He is doing well, but will always have an inhaler and suffer with acid reflux from the disease,” said Kristen. “The doctors expect that he will be caught up (physically and cognitively) to most of the kids by the time he gets to kindergarten.”

While the family is optimistic about Drake’s long-term prognosis, the medical bills from Drake’s six-week hospital stay have strapped the family, exceeding their insurance company’s $2 million cap. Daily hospital charges exceeded $100,000, and he will require lifelong medical intervention. Fundraisers helped Brian and Kristen with a portion of their expenses, but they expect to be paying Drake’s medical bills for the rest of their lives.

When Parr learned of Drake’s illness, she wanted to find a way to help the young mother who stepped up to care for her family when her own parents were ill, and incorporate a lesson on the Corporal Works of Mercy with her students. With so much of the family’s income going toward medical expenses, Parr realized that a little help from a classroom of tiny Christmas elves might make a big difference.

“I have known Kristen for almost 20 years; she was my former neighbor when I was growing up in West Allis. She and her family were there for us when we needed help,” said Parr. “For the past three years, my third grade students donated their own money so that Drake and Alexis were able to have Christmas presents each year. Each year, I ask that a family in my classroom collect money for the kids, another parent purchases the gifts, and we drop them off for the family before Christmas time. This was the third year we were able to help this family.”

Students purchased and wrapped craft kits, art sets, puzzles, stickers, lip balm and hair accessories for Alexis, and crayon sets, movies, puzzles and games for Drake. Some children included jokes in their cards and letters to Drake and Alexis, and others brought in their piggy banks to send money to purchase presents for the children.

“I was taken aback by their generosity to help others,” Parr said. “The most important lesson is that the season was about giving, not receiving and that Jesus is our greatest gift.”

While the majority of students’ efforts center around Christmas, Kristen acknowledged that the ongoing letters and cards throughout the year are reminders of the love and prayers, and are the most meaningful to Alexis and Drake.

“Especially for Alexis, the handmade cards are her favorite,” she said. “She loves sitting down and reading and re-reading them. Tina’s class sends cards and letters for all the major holidays and it just brightens up my kids’ lives so much.”

After Drake’s birth, Kristen quit her job at ACL Labs to care for him. The loss of income and their financial difficulties would have caused a great depression in most families’ lives, but a strong faith and the support of Parr, her students, friends and family have carried them.

“This has been so positive for us to know that people do care,” said Kristen, a member of Hales Corners Lutheran Church. “During Christmas, our kids are like all other kids and they want everything. It’s hard to tell them that we can’t give them what they want, so what Tina and her class did really was wonderful. We just continue to pray, keep a positive attitude and realize that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.”

While Parr would like to be able to do more to help the Gettelman family, she knows her efforts are planting a seed among her students about what it means to be a Catholic.

“Being Catholic means being open to all,” she said. “This means that our class supports a Lutheran family with a sick child that attends a public school. The best thing would be to have them live in a house with an air filtration system, but that is asking too much and an unreasonable goal, so for now, I call Kristen to support her and we try to help make their family’s Christmas each year a little more merry.”

Future Priest Happiest when he serves others

Antony Primal Thomas, a native of Kerala, India, is one of five men who will be ordained to the priesthood for the Milwaukee Archdiocese this year. He is also a member of the Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)
This is the first in a series of articles introducing readers to the five men who will be ordained priests of the Milwaukee Archdiocese this year. Four will be ordained Friday, May 15, and the fifth will be ordained July 17, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee.

As Antony Primal Thomas played with his friends and two brothers as a little boy in Kerala, India, God awakened pieces of his heart. He remembered feeling the best when he helped others, whether it was his family, teachers, friends or his parish.

“I used to go to church every day as a child; I was an altar server and loved to help out my priest,” he said. “I looked at the priests who served our parish and thought they always seemed so happy.”

Throughout his years of grammar school and while attending St. Thomas Catholic High School, Thomas felt the Holy Spirit was calling him to the priesthood.

But he also began to experience the world. The tugging, while still present, was overshadowed by his newfound ambition for higher education and a career. He attended college and earned an engineering degree.

“I worked as a civil engineer for a while, but started to realize that doing service for others gave me more happiness than a lot of money,” he said. “As a professional worker, I didn’t have that kind of social work available to me and my job became monotonous doing the same thing every day.”
Thomas quit his job, joined the Missionary Community of St. Paul, and left home in 2001 to serve as a Missionary in Kenya, Africa.

The Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle is an international association of Catholic priests and lay people. They live the spirituality of Christ the Good Shepherd, based in daily prayer and working in unity with the local bishops.

As a missionary, Thomas worked in Kenya for seven years, with an additional year in the Dominican Republic to assist with evangelization, development projects and education. As he worked with the people, God’s call grew louder, and in 2008, Thomas arrived in Milwaukee to continue his relationship with the Community of St. Paul and to study for the priesthood. 

The 35-year-old will be ordained by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on May 15.

“I know that I am a human being, failings and all; I feel that I am not worthy, but with God’s mercy, I respond to his call,” said Thomas.

As a transitional deacon, Thomas has served the community at St. Andrew in Delavan under the leadership of Fr. Jim Schuerman. While some parishioners might have struggled to understand his Indian dialect, Thomas was equally challenged to understand and learn sign language, as the parish serves the Delavan School of the Deaf.

“I was interested in learning sign language before, and thanks to working at St. Andrew, I am able to sign a few things in the Mass and have learned from the deaf members of the parish,” he said. “They have also had to learn from me. I have known English for seven years, but it can be difficult to understand me at first, so I slow down and once people get used to it, they understand me perfectly.”

Working closely with Fr. Schuerman has offered Thomas glimpses of parish life, he said, describing Fr. Schuerman’s approach as something he hopes to emulate in his own parish work.

“I really admire him,” said Thomas. “He is so dedicated to the church and I love the way he listens to the people, talks to them and especially the way he cares for the schoolchildren and the parish.”

Following his ordination, Thomas looks forward to serving St. Patrick and Cristo Rey parishes in Racine, and hopes that his good listening skills will be an asset to the community.

“I am so excited to be ministering to the people through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist,” he said. “When I say the words to change the bread and wine into the Body of Christ, I do know that I am an unworthy man, and God is going to do some kind of wondrous thing through me and it doesn’t make sense. To me, he is doing something through his love and I just get excited, but I don’t know how to explain it. He is using me through his love to change himself.”

While his hobbies are few, Thomas is a self-described “reading freak,” and reads whenever he has a spare moment, which for a transitional deacon is not too frequent. He admitted to reading several books at once and is currently devouring three: one on Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, another on St. John Vianney, and “Priesthood Imperiled” by Bernard Haring.

“Reading is really one of my things,” he said. “I don’t get into sports too much; my sport is reading.”

Despite the distance from his neighborhood in Kerala, and missing his family and culture, the opportunity to serve as a priest in the Milwaukee Archdiocese will be a joyful, prayerful and powerful moment, Thomas said.

“My parents and brothers will be here for my ordination and I hope to go back to India to visit on holidays, but I am so happy to be here to serve the Milwaukee area,” he said. “I just always believed that the life of a priest and serving the Lord is wonderful. My prayer is that many young people will join the seminary and want to be a priest to work for the kingdom of God. I am looking forward to gaining more youth for the church. I always keep the young in my prayers because we always need more priests.”

Once he begins serving the Racine parishes, Thomas hopes to organize a youth group that will eventually lead to missionary work.

“If I can start a youth group and lead them toward a prayerful life, maybe we can do some mission trips,” he said. “I believe that once we do that, some of them will be interested in doing social work and will serve the church either as a priest or lay person. Our youth of today don’t seem to have good leadership and guidance. One thing that we can do as a priest is to guide them and see what they want, whether it is the priesthood or a good married and family life.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Happy Birthday Molly Urness-Thompson!

Have a happy 21st Birthday Molly! Hope you have the best day ever! Wish I could be there to share it with you, but give your little Max a kiss and know that I felt the same overwhelming joy when you were born! So, kiss that downy head, caress his little cheeks and drink in the aroma of his silky skin---for this is your blessed baby and you will always love him, no matter what.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Welcome Max

Welcome to our newest grandchild--our first boy! Welcome little Max, born at 1:45 PM April 22 to my lovely daughter Molly Urness and her fiance Jim. Congratulations to all--may you experience the unconditional and never ending love of a parent towards a child.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

St Lawrence Seminary Springs from Humble Beginnings

It’s affectionately known as the “Hill of Happiness.” Whether students graduated from St. Lawrence Seminary High School in 1864 or will graduate in 2010, a common thread is woven through each of them – a strong devotion to Catholicism entwined with a solid education. 

Two diocesan priests, Fr. Francis Haas and Fr. Bonaventure Frey, arrived from Switzerland to establish a Capuchin order in the United States in 1856. Two Swiss Capuchins joined them on Mount Calvary, and both joined the order after building a small friary atop the lush, wooded hill. Four years later, the Convent Latin School opened as an offshoot of the friary.

Initial enrollment was four students, each of whom paid $10 to cover room, board and tuition. Fifteen students enrolled the following year and 20 more a year later.

Adding a college wing in 1864 offered the high school boys a stepping stone to study for the priesthood. Enrollment quickly grew and another college wing was added in 1867.

Optimistic, the 1868 school year began with 28 Capuchin friars and 42 students in the newly completed friary and college. The joy turned to disbelief as a Christmas fire in the sacristy gutted the entire complex, except for a portion of the church.

From the ashes, school rebuilt

The rebuilt school, “The Little Seminary of Saint Lawrence of Brindisi,” named after the founder of the Capuchin Order, reopened the following fall. Another college building, St. Joseph Hall, was erected in 1872, and the Laurentianum, the current main office building and classrooms, was built in 1881.

In 1895 Fr. Haas died after realizing his dream to found a Capuchin order in the United States, and with the knowledge that St. Lawrence was a renowned educational institution for young men interested in the religious life. Fr. Frey lived to see the 50th anniversary of the Capuchin foundation in Mount Calvary. He died in 1912, also leaving the legacy of the successful St. Lawrence Seminary High School. The school’s name was formally changed from St. Lawrence College to St. Lawrence Seminary in 1953.

When he was a boy, Capuchin Fr. Werner Wolf, local minister (superior) of the Capuchin Friars at St. Lawrence Friary, followed his older brother Eugene around the campus while discerning his secondary education. Fr. Eugene attended St. Lawrence, joined the Capuchins and resides in Mount Calvary today.

Fr. Wolf attended St. Lawrence from 1946 to 1950, and went to the Capuchin novitiate in Huntington, Ind., after graduation. His first permanent assignment as a Capuchin out of formation was in 1960 at St. Lawrence Seminary, where he taught speech, religion and geometry.

For 18 years, Fr. Werner Wolf served as teacher, prefect, spiritual director, formation director and vice rector. In 1978, he served as provincial director of vocations and director of a residential pre-novitiate program, followed by several years as an itinerant preacher. Several positions later, he was asked back to Mount Calvary to serve as local minister of the Capuchins.

“I thought it would be difficult for me to come back to (St. Lawrence Seminary) when asked in 2005 after so many years in vocation and formation ministry. First of all, I believe the present administration runs a tight ship, but a good one, outstanding formation morally, educationally, spiritually and socially,” he said. “Upon returning, I found two items really standing out, one, the fraternity system of student living and life and two, morning and evening prayers each school day and three Eucharists each week.”

The Friday Mass is a powerful experience, according to Fr. Wolf, who said the entire student body, the staff and faculty attend as one community. The prayer life and the fraternal life provide a close-knit family atmosphere that draws students together, he said.

While student dress, demographics, enrollment, technology and music changed since Fr. Wolf set foot on campus in the 1940s, the greatest change has been the focus on security and protecting the school’s youth.

Overcoming scandal
A sexual abuse scandal rocked the campus in the early 1990s after it was learned that five Capuchin friars abused 14 former students from 1968 to 1986. The abusive friars are either deceased or left the order, and none was convicted of a crime.

Not one student dropped out when the scandal broke during the 1992-93 school year, and enrollment has remained constant at around 225 students. Parents and alumni maintained their loyalty to the school’s mission, but significant changes were made to protect this tragedy from ever happening again, Fr. Wolf said.

“Security is an obvious change. Before, dorms were never locked, nor most areas,” he said. “Now, no dorm, room, or activity area functions without supervision by an adult.”

In learning from its mistakes, the school has continued to flourish despite a decrease in vocations and, according to Fr. Wolf, the continued existence of St. Lawrence Seminary High School is nothing short of a miracle.

“I come back to the hill that is literally ‘out in nowhere’ existing in this day and age – it is like Notre Dame,” he said. “In many ways, as time has changed, it is a marvelous ministry training school and is going to continue to impact and imprint the local and total world community in some manner or form.”

Strong leadership guides school
When hundreds of seminaries closed in the 1960s due to a decrease in vocations, Fr. Keith Clark, president emeritus of St. Lawrence Seminary, saved the school from following the same path, according to Fr. Wolf.

“His leadership brought Capuchins and lay staff together in a common trust and value system,” he said. “Rector Fr. Dennis Druggan and others pick up on that and have placed it on solid footing for the spirit, life and culture of the 21st century.”

As a student in the early 1950s, Capuchin Fr. Ron Smith remembers a completely Capuchin staff except for those working in the kitchen, housekeeping and maintenance, and a primarily white student body.

“I was present for four years of high school and one year of college,” he said. “After that, I joined the Capuchins in the novitiate in Detroit where Fr. Solanus Casey (Venerable Servant of God) also lived.”

Showing the Calvary spirit by being Christ-like was the focus of spirituality at the time, as well as a strong devotional life through the rosary, communal meditations, the Mass and the sacraments – most of which remain constant today, said Fr. Smith.

“One important item that remains constant in the school is the importance of the individual,” he said. “Faculty meetings attest to this. When I taught here in the 1960s and 1970s, meetings were long because time was taken for each individual. The growth, challenges, successes, failures, joys and sorrows of our students became part of faculty concern, care and prayers. Faculty meetings and other gatherings still reflect this central concern.”

From 1966 to 1977, Fr. Smith taught English and served as a dorm supervisor in St. Mary’s Hall from 1966-1970. He also served as coordinator of a group of minority students, which called itself the Coalition of Oppressed Peoples, and was intended to be a support for minority vocations and a vehicle of instruction and information on race relations and stereotyping.

Academically, more challenging
Returning to St. Lawrence Seminary in August 2006 as an English teacher, Fr. Smith now serves as spiritual director; substitute English teacher, study hall supervisor and helps with recruiting new students.

In addition to demographic changes, the course schedules are academically more challenging than they were.

“There are college credit courses being taught at the upper class level,” he said. “I know more reading is required, including during break times. There are more electives available than there were in my previous times at (St. Lawrence Seminary).”

While the school has not had a separate college for more than 40 years, Fr. Smith finds it difficult to judge whether the change is positive.

“This is a change in student leadership and maturity which I am sure had its influence and implications, but is more difficult for me to judge,” he said. “I believe that college age students had a great positive influence upon me as a student, especially those who went on to become ordained or entered religious life. The fidelity of these men, Capuchin and non-Capuchin, remains an inspiration in my life.”

Focus on developing spiritually
The focus at St. Lawrence to live a deep spiritual life and develop a greater appreciation of the Catholic faith is one reason Fr. Smith felt drawn to the priesthood.

“I learned the practice of ‘lectio divina’ (contemplative prayer) at (St. Lawrence Seminary) and it has been a part of my prayer life ever since,” he said.  “I have very good memories that go back to my days as a student in the early 1950s. Friendships formed during those years have lasted through the decades to the present time. Living so close together in the big dorms of those days, living very simply without many things, and in a tight schedule with few options or electives of any kind, our shared life gave us experiences of faith and inspiration.”

While discerning his vocation to religious life during his first year of college at St. Lawrence Seminary, Fr. Smith was moved during a retreat by Capuchin Fr. Rupert Dorn.

“Sharing that experience of discernment with closer friends at the time is a lasting happy memory of mine through the years, including discussions in which we were not in agreement. That discernment process required me to think through my priorities of faith and gain a better sense of listening to the Holy Spirit.”

Graduates enter various career fields
As the provincial minister of the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order, Fr. John Celichowski began his education at St. Lawrence Seminary as a freshman in 1976. Although vocational discernment is still an integral part of St. Lawrence, graduates go on to a variety of professional careers, such as doctors, lawyers, members of the FBI, engineers, and other noteworthy professions.

The Celichowski family is no exception.

“All three boys in our family graduated from (St. Lawrence Seminary), my twin brother Chris and I in 1980 and Tim in 1982,” he said. Chris has been married for 21 years, has four children and is a partner in a law firm in Edina, Minn. Tim has been married for 22 years, has two sons, and works for an environmental engineering firm in Milwaukee.”

Throughout high school, Fr. Celichowski enjoyed participating in student council, Right to Life club, track and field and cross country.

“I’m almost embarrassed to say that, after 30 years, I still hold the school record for the 3,200-meter run,” he said. “When I was there, football and basketball were the big sports. The school dropped football many years ago and it has been replaced by soccer and wrestling.”

Fr. Celichowski joked that his class was on the cutting edge of technology when he learned to type on an IBM Selectric typewriter under the tutelage of Sr. Veronita.
“Now, they have cell phones and social networking sites that were more the realm of science fiction when we were students,” he said.

Fr. Celichowski’s fondest memory of his time at St. Lawrence is the brotherhood of students and the solid Catholic education he received.

“In addition to the brotherhood, the dedication and example of so many of the friars who served there, the liturgies, learning how to take responsibility for my spiritual development, and trying and succeeding at running after I failed to make the basketball team were so important in my formation,” he said. “High school sports taught me a lot of lessons about leadership, self discipline and teamwork.”

Parents can feel confident that by sending their sons to St. Lawrence, they will be exposed to quality Catholic education, become a whole person in body, mind and soul, and learn the central lesson of the Gospels, he said.

“That greatness is not so much in achievement and power, but in service, regardless of one’s particular vocation” said Fr. Celichowski, quoting Mark 10:35-45, when Jesus reminds his followers that to be great, they must be servants, “’For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

banner-inside-top Croatian superstar shares faith through music

Tajci performs at Sacred Heart Croatian Parish in Milwaukee on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009. The singer was a widely known singing star in her native Croatia in the late 1980s and early 90s. Accompanying her are, from upper left, Hannah Mergler, from Delaware, Ohio, Larissa Dedoryka, from Athens, Ohio, and Denny Bouchard, from Los Angeles. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)
A Central European phenomenon, Tatiana Matejas, rocked stages, headlined magazine covers and drew screaming mobs wherever she appeared.

At 19, Tajci (Tay-CHEE), as she was affectionately known in her native country of Croatia, reached pop star status equivalent to Beatlemania in the 1960s. She won the Eurovision Song Contest, similar to today’s “American Idol,” and the program skyrocketed her career. The platinum selling singer and recording artist had dolls made in her image and was considered a role model to teens throughout Europe.

Energetic and perky, Tajci’s image, bearing a striking resemblance to American singer Madonna, was the perfect accoutrement to the intoxicating sentiments following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union. Although she was famous, popular and rich, her soul felt empty. She was alone, and her country was plunging into war.

On her 21st birthday, she sang a song in a tiny chapel about Jesus speaking with Simon Peter and his hearing the message to “leave your boat at the shore, come and follow me.” She believed God was giving her the same message, and she left her family and fame behind and began her journey to follow Jesus.

“I fled to New York with two suitcases and a couple of hundred dollars and left everything else behind. The money I had, I gave to charity,” she said. “I barely spoke English, and didn’t have a place to stay, but that just empowered me to go ahead and do it.”

Spiritual journey was life-saving

Considering it her spiritual journey, Tajci knew that in order to save herself, she had to leave it behind, seek anonymity and a more normal life.

Secretly baptized Catholic as a baby, Tajci sought to find meaning in her faith that was kept hidden from government officials who forbid the practice of religion.

“My dad was also a singer; he had a voice like Andrea Bocelli and especially because of his visibility, we had to keep our faith a secret and be careful not to say anything out loud,” she said. “We knew what Christmas was, but didn’t realize it was something to really celebrate. We sang songs about snow, toys and joy, but nothing about Christmas or Jesus because we would have been interrogated and taken to an island off of Croatia as a political criminal.”

A famous Croatian singer was interviewed on Christmas Day one year, and said “Merry Christmas” on national television.  While he wasn’t imprisoned, due to his overwhelming fame, his music was banned for an entire year. On the surface, Croatia appeared to be open to religious expression, but as Tajci explained, it was a ruse because of the American funding the country received.

“They liked to keep the world thinking that we were more open, but we did get persecuted even though they didn’t want everyone to know,” she said. “There were hundreds of priests who were persecuted – one had his passport taken away and when he left to attend his mom’s funeral, he was not allowed back. It was all those things and more.”

‘Brainwashed’ into system
As a child, Tajci enjoyed performing with her father’s band, and later, tried to please her teachers and the government by perfecting her voice and piano playing. She attended the Croatian Music Conservatory and joined a theater group in the fifth grade.
Tajci performed at Sacred Heart Croatian Parish in Milwaukee
in December and frequently gives concerts in the Midwest.
For more information on Tajci,
her music or to schedule a concert, visit
or contact Matthew Cameron at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

“I wanted to play piano for our dictator (Josip Broz Tito), played the game and became brainwashed into the system,” she said. “It wasn’t until I was a teen and was singing with my dad at a concert in Canada that I saw people talk about God openly. They had a church together as a community and were brought together by their faith. At first it was uncomfortable and then I thought it was really beautiful.”

Later, she read a poem written by a Croatian poet that told about the non-talked about God, Christmas and creation. It was then that Tajci says she began discovering and playing with the fire of Christianity.

Faith blossomed in New York
Her Catholic faith blossomed in the obscurity of New York, where she immersed herself in prayer, and explored God’s plan for her. She changed her name back to Tatiana, performed menial jobs, studied musical theatre and learned to speak English fluently.

“I turned to God and had a friend who took me to a Dominican church – they didn’t care that I was famous and looked at me like I was everyone else,” she said. “I learned about Jesus and how he was and about all he said. Those things spoke to me – he didn’t own anything. He was a carpenter – not just the rabbi – and he was walking in sandals in the road and around his area. He didn’t accumulate stuff. His whole thing was for others. All the wisdom and riches and treasures were available in his life and yet, he cared about others. And then, his final sacrifice – everything about him just moved me.”

Later, Tatiana moved to Los Angeles and stayed at a retreat house run by the Carmelite Sisters. While there, she met her future husband, Matthew Cameron, who encouraged her to tell the story of her spiritual healing and she was once again comfortable with the name Tajci.

For the past nine years, she, Matthew and their three children, Dante, Evan and Blais, have traveled the U.S. freely sharing her music and her testimony.

“I put my heart and soul into whatever word I sing,” said Tajci. “If you are able to come and silence yourself and leave all the craziness of the world at home, you will be moved. I am a believer and truly believe that God dwells in our hearts and if you let him, he will shine through the vessels of his grace and that is what I believe.”

Family lives by faith
For those reasons, she does not charge for her performances, and instead accepts free will offerings if audience members are moved to do so.

“We say if you feel like this is something you want to continue and you experience something beautiful, than gift it to us; if not, please take it and spread it around,” explained Tajci. “We live by total faith and because we are human, we struggle, too, because our world is not set up to do this. But, it is liberating and free. My existence really is to find people who will barter, doctors, dentists and others and hopefully there is something I can do for them.”

A far cry from the packed stadiums in Croatia, Tajci’s venue is primarily within Catholic churches throughout the United States, although she has traveled to Central Europe to perform. The size of the crowd matters little to the petite singer who seeks only to touch hearts, especially the hearts of the youth, through her music.

“I like being around kids and relating to them,” she said. “I recently got the best compliment from a 22-year-old kid who said to me. ‘You know, I really don’t care about the style of music you do, but I sat through the concert and it was weird – it was like it went to my heart and not through my ears.’ He was a tough kid, not like a mama’s boy. He was in leather and piercings – but that was the best compliment I ever had.”

Life now filled with Holy Spirit
Living simple and free but with a soul filled with the Holy Spirit is more important than a house filled with new furniture, cars and toys, according to Tajci, who remembers a happy childhood, but one that had few material possessions.

“We didn’t have much, but we had so much love and music,” she said. “I remember getting two oranges at Christmas and I was excited. When my dad died, he didn’t leave anything material and did we care? Not one bit. I have a trinket of his, a hat – I can keep it around a bit and I have some of his recordings. Those are more important to me than anything material.”

Making their home in Cincinnati, the family attends St. George Parish within the Newman Center of the University of Cincinnati. The faith community embraces Franciscan spirituality, a way of living that the Camerons find most comfortable.

“Our children go to a little Catholic school in the neighborhood and the teachers are just wonderful,” she said. “Since we take the kids on the road with us most of the time, they work with us so they don’t get behind on their assignments.”

Her faith and family are most important to the singer and her husband of 10 years, but it is the message to follow the longing of one’s heart that Tajci tries to share with all she meets.

“If you believe that you have everything you need,” she explained. “You just have to follow that truth that is written in the depths of your heart. I wasn’t brought up in the church and yet, I fought and knew it was written in my heart for so long. There is no place for greed, selfishness and struggle with those things.”

New Grandson coming soon!

We are waiting for you little Max and excited for you to be born. 
Molly, little mama--we love you and are praying for an easy delivery for you and a healthy baby.
God bless you all!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I don't want to complain, but............Omaha Steaks is a rip off

Did you ever order those Omaha Steaks? We have, on the advice of a kitchen-challenged, recipe ignorant relative. After her praises, we bit the bullet and ordered.

At first, the burgers and steaks were ok, not great, but ok and the relatives insisted that the meat was an amazing quality gullible me, I bought it hook line and sinker.

We didn't order often, but always tried to stock up during the holidays and of course, my email box became inundated several times a week with emails from the company purporting their steaks with discounts and coupons galore.

The quality has deteriorated the past few years so I hadn't ordered in a while, but I thought I would give them one more chance today after receiving a $25 coupon from erewards after answering a bunch of surveys........and that is another story.

I digress.

The coupon gave me some free items with the purchase of $50 worth of products--easy to do, as everything on their website is overpriced. I wanted to use the coupon in conjunction with an offer they sent me today with 50% off my order and half price shipping. I clicked on the order form and added the items, and tried to use my free coupon. It didn't work. Then I tried again using the coupon and then added the sale items, which mysteriously jumped in price to nearly double, plus shipping.

I ended up using the coupon and paying the higher price on my order and $16.99 to ship--and then redid my order as if I were going to order from their sale email. The price was CHEAPER with the sale email page than with my discount coupon.

So the surveys I took was a waste of time. The coupon was worthless.

An email to the company about the worthlessness of their coupons came back with a tart answer stating that the deals cannot be combined. Well, I wasn't disputing that fact. What I was disputing was that the value of the coupons when they cannot be combined with any other offer is a rip off.

I responded to take me off their mailing list that I would never order again and her response to me was.... 'gladly.'

Wow--this is really a great way to save business, isn't it?

I'd rather buy meat from one of those super sized department stores than from this company ever again. What a major rip-off and what uncaring customer service.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fundraiser a hair-raising experience for St. Joan dads

The St. Joan of Arc dads participating in the Mustaches for Cash fundraiser compiled the photo above to encourage donors to support their cause. Organizer Dan Mowbray is pictured in the center. (Submitted photo)

NASHOTAH — Jeff Tjugum’s overgrown mustache was a conversation starter.

It was also admittedly, “kind of ridiculous” looking, but that was exactly the point.

Tjugum was one of about a dozen St. Joan of Arc School dads who were sporting the throw-back facial fashion as a way to initiate donations for the Nashotah school.

“Teasing was the fund raising driver for my donors,” said Tjugum, who raised $1,200 of the $5,300 total, by sharing the experience in nearly excruciating detail to friends and family.

“I shared the challenges my wife and I would face if we were unsuccessful in our efforts,” he said, adding, “Several donated for my wife’s benefit, as she does not like facial hair. Others enjoyed the good-natured fun of raising my discomfort during the ordeal. I kept them up to date with pictures and the final results of our success.”

The Mustaches for Cash fundraiser was the brainchild of Dan Mowbray, who got the idea after seeing a picture of a baby-faced friend sporting an uncharacteristic and amusing mustache.

“The picture was very funny and the dads at St. Joan thought it would also be a funny way to raise some funds for our school,” he said. “As far as fundraising goes, we are like most dads of Catholic schools, supporting a wide range of fundraising such as buying and selling everything from candy to socks.”

Mustaches for Cash lasted a couple of months, as the participants began growing their facial hair prior to hunting season and the last wisps were shorn by New Year’s Day.

The end total surprised everyone, and although growing time was supposed to run Nov. 1 through Jan. 1, rules were changed to accommodate the already met goals, allowing for an early trim in time for Christmas.

“We were blessed with some really generous donors that seemed to fall into a few categories,” mused Mowbray. “They were, ‘1. Sure we will support the school, it’s a good cause, 2. Yes, we’ll donate; we want to see you look ridiculous, and 3. I’ll sponsor you so you can reach your goal and shave that thing off.’”

While Tjugum was the lead money winner, Mowbray stated that it was a close shave to reach first place as Tom Schoenauer was tied for first or just a hair behind in second place.

“Some of his sponsors demanded that he go until the full Jan. 1, deadline,” he said. “So it was funny seeing him with a fu manchu mustache at Christmas Mass.”

Growing facial hair destined for public ridicule didn’t faze Mowbray, who recently went door-to-door selling nuts for the Daisy Scouts.
Three of the dads who grew mustaches to raise money for St. Joan of Arc School, Nashotah are Dan Mowbray, left to right, Brian Gilmore, and Brian Borkowski. The fundraiser, which brought in $5,300 for the school, was the brainchild of Mowbray. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

“We all agreed that Mustaches for Cash was easy, fun, and not too time consuming,” he said. “Our parish is very generous with supporting our small school and we have a yearly goal of $50,000 to give back to the parish. There are so many people who work hard trying to come up with funds for our school and parish that we wanted to pitch in with something unique and fun.”

Brian Borkowski, another participant, provided graphics for the fundraising, including a “Mustaches for Cash” kit, and helped make the event successful.

“He included a desk sign for work, pledge cards, posters, the standings poster and much more,” said Mowbray. “He was really huge with this campaign.”

Friends and family of the participants, but especially students, fueled the enthusiasm for the fundraiser. Weekly standings posted near the front office drew a plethora of attention by students wondering whose dad was raising the most money.

For Borkowski, the daily cheering from his second grade son, Zachary, kept him from giving in to the beguiling power of the electric razor.

“It was tough at times to go to work with a goofy mustache when you typically have a clean cut face, but the kids loved it. Zachary enjoyed watching the progress on the weekly graph,” he said.

And, of course, misery makes good company. The knowledge that each of the participants endured the same chiding went a long way to seeing the fundraiser to its completion.

“For whatever reason, seeing cheesy mustaches on your friends made for good conversation,” said Mowbray. “I was compared to the guy on “My Name is Earl,” when I was really going for the Burt Reynolds look.”

Donations poured in from all across the country in support of shaving or growing the manly facial hair.

“My sisters from Rhode Island and Chicago supported my mustache, as well as a friend of mine from Cincinnati, Ohio,” said Mowbray, laughing, “Once we reached our goal everyone gladly shaved. We didn’t have a shaving party because we thought it might be scary as well as violate some health codes.”

The love exhibited by parents and parishioners for St. Joan of Arc School, which has received exemplary status from the Milwaukee Archdiocese, is similar to a tightly woven family. Principal Mary Ann Rudella is grateful for the overall volunteer spirit.

“I have been a principal for 18 years and that reason our school is what it is, is because of the school community,” she said. “They have a tremendous sense of stewardship by giving to and serving the school and the parish community.”

While this effort was more amusing than the ordinary fundraising projects, Rudella admitted that without the creative efforts of parents like those who grew mustaches, St. Joan of Arc School would be unable to exist.

“Oh my gosh, we are very grateful for the help, and our parents are very creative with fundraising efforts, and with the cost of education rising all the time, we are so blessed with the help,” she said. “On top of that, the kids thought it was so funny and enjoyed teasing all the dads and watching them get scruffy.”

With small class sizes, a country setting and family spirit, parents like Mowbray, Borkowski and Tjugum are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the continuation of a high quality Catholic education for their children.

“Everything about St. Joan of Arc is welcoming. The campus is really an unbeatable setting located right in the middle of corn fields, but close to everything,” said Mowbray. “It’s cool to be part of something that is definitely a best-kept secret. A lot of people have never heard of St. Joan of Arc or know where Nashotah is; it sounds like up north but it is really Delafield. Everyone knows each other, the class sizes are small, the test scores are great, and the staff is talented and energetic. Even our maintenance guy is cool.”

When not fundraising or helping children with homework, St. Joan of Arc families often gather for Friday night family open gym to connect, play dodge ball and have fun.
“We have an attitude of not taking life too seriously,” Mowbray said.

The dozen men are a bit tight lipped as to future fundraising efforts, but Mowbray did reveal a possibility that might just top the mustaches.

“Maybe Mullets for Moolah,” he joked. “I think I’ll start growing mine so I have it in time for Summerfest.”

‘Angels’ mirror kindness of volunteer


One day, Dan DeMatthew was a lively 52-year-old man who mowed lawns and washed cars for his neighbors, shoveled walks in front of the Racine Police Department, volunteered with the St. Catherine High School sports teams, served at the annual Holy Name Society fish fry, and befriended a cognitively disabled man – often taking him to lunch and for a haircut.

Although he worked full time as an administrative manager for the city of Racine, his desire to help others had him volunteering where needed, brown eyes shining at the personal satisfaction received by serving quietly and without fanfare, in the background.

But on a sweltering August afternoon in 2009, Dan’s life changed in an instant – the time it took for the shirt he tied to the handlebars to tangle in the front wheel, flip the bike and send Dan’s head careening into the pavement. As usual, he was on his way to help someone; this time he was planning to mow his mother’s lawn.

The spine injuries Dan suffered that day made him a different person. A CT scan showed no damage to his brain or skull, but an MRI confirmed a central spinal chord injury requiring surgery to fuse three vertebrae in his neck. His injuries resulted in quadriplegia, a significant loss of feeling in his arms and legs.

According to Amy, his wife of 28 years, extensive physical therapy has given Dan some use of his arms and legs, and greater hope that one day he will again walk unaided.
“He is amazing,” she said. “I have worked as a recreational therapist for 10 years and I see how hard he works to overcome the muscle spasms, and how he fights to loosen his frozen shoulder, and build up his strength. He is a very hardworking and determined man.”

People of Faith
: Dan DeMatthew
Age: 52
Parish: St. Patrick, Racine
Occupation: On long-term
disability from the city of Racine
Favorite movie:
“Remember the Titans”
Book recently read: “Three Cups of Tea,” by Greg Mortensen
Favorite quotation: The poem, “If” by Rudyard Kipling (see below)

(Photo by Gregory Shaver © The Journal Times)
Dan spends much of his day in a motorized wheelchair, needs assistance with his personal care, a hospital bed sits in place of the couple’s regular bed and a wooden ramp built by friends hides the steps to the front door, yet he is not bitter and has never asked, “Why me?”

Rather, he has used his disability as a springboard for prayer and gratitude toward others. The plaque above the fireplace in their home says, “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.” While he and Amy raised their children, Joe, 27, and Jamie, 21, in the Catholic faith and sent them to Catholic schools, the injury has given him an opportunity to reflect further on God’s grace and ultimate plan for his life.

“I think that it is time for me now to listen to the Gospel and reflect on things from the past week, be thankful and think about things in a better way,” said Dan. “Things could be different, but I reflect on things to make myself a better person. I have tried to live my life to serve God, but didn’t always take the time to pray like I should.”

Amy quickly corrects him, and reminds Dan that by the way he lived his life, volunteering, helping when asked, and by his daily actions, that each day was his prayer to God.

“I tell him when he says that he feels guilty that he didn’t always pray every day, that everything he ever did in his life was for others and was a prayer,” she said. “He lived a life to serve God but didn’t really realize it. Now, God is picking him up in his life by providing us so many angels who have helped us since day one.”

Indeed, for Papa Dan, as he is affectionately called by students and alumni of St. Catherine High School for the hours of driving to and from sporting events, coaching and cheering the teams, the angels have been showing him how important his life is to those in Racine and beyond.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss; …..
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!
— Rudyard Kipling

“We have had over 55,000 hits on our Caring Bridge Web site that we set up when Dan was a patient at Froedtert Hospital for two months. We have received thousands of cards, prayers and candles lit for his recovery,” said Amy, adding, “And the entire time Dan was a patient, someone was with him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He was never left alone.”

Before Dan arrived home, the angels descended upon the DeMatthew home to paint, rip up carpeting to allow for an easier wheelchair ride, construct the ramp, build a shed in the backyard, and remodel the garage to allow Dan easier access from the car to his home. Additionally, Racine’s Roma Lodge hosted a benefit for Dan to raise funds to cover his future medical expenses and renovations to their home.

“I have never seen anything like it,” said Dan. “There were close to 3,000 people who came, donated their time and baskets of things to raffle off,” he said. “They served over 1,600 dinners and the lines were so long that not all the people could get in. It was like a big Racine reunion. People gave so much of themselves, and it was so humbling for Amy and me.”

In some relationships, family bonds disintegrate when tragedy happens. One spouse can’t handle the stress of caring for the other, the children become estranged, and the injured person becomes depressed. In the DeMatthew family, the opposite happened. While always close, the family relationship seemed to cement to an unbreakable bond with God.

“Joey lives nearby and has been my rock,” said Amy. “He calls each day to see if we need anything. He senses if anything is going on between us and helps us. We never expected our kids to do things like this at such a young age. We raised them a certain way and are so grateful that they have turned out to be so loving toward us. Jamie graduates in June and will be moving home to help us out and then he plans to go to graduate school.”

To learn more about
Dan DeMatthew’s story visit
Caring Bridge
The Racine Municipal Credit Union has a benefit fund in Dan’s name.
Donations can also be made at the Caring Bridge Web site.
Long-term prognosis for Dan is uncertain. The doctors are optimistic and tell him that the sky is the limit as to what he might accomplish. He battles muscle spasms and is looking into acupuncture for pain and an implanted Bacolfan pump to help with the spasms. Dan continues to participate in physical and occupational therapy, and hopes to be able to resume some of his volunteer activities.

“We are so fortunate to know so many good people,” he said. “People have been so concerned and care so much about us and it really makes things easier – we get cards every day and they mean so very much to us.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

God bless you Molly Kathleen! I am praying for you for a healthy baby, safe delivery and as much happiness as I felt the moment I laid eyes on you for the first time. 
I will always love you, my sweet girl

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lent, Easter and the Rosary

by Karen Mahoney

Ice cream, chocolate, and cookies all have something in common.
They're all things people give up for Lent.
While those small sacrifices are good, attending daily Mass, performing acts of charity or praying the rosary puts more emphasis on enhancing our spiritual life. To prepare for the gift of resurrection, we must show contrition for our sins, mortification for our senses and our souls, and patience and willingness to die to ourselves.
Meditating on the sorrowful mysteries during Lent keeps the image of Christ's suffering in our minds as we say the Hail Mary prayers. As we pray, our love for Jesus intensifies.
When we recite the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, the first is the "Agony and sweat of blood in the Garden." The second half, the "sweat of blood," is often not mentioned, but has tremendous bearing on the remainder of Christ's Passion.
In extreme fear or apprehension, blood vessels of the skin undergo excessive dilation, and rupture into the sweat glands, causing a blood and sweat mixture to exude. Called haematidrosis, Jesus suffered this condition, which caused the whole surface of his body to be bruised and tender.
After hours of abuse before the high priests and Pontius Pilate, Jesus was stripped of his garments and scourged with a flagrum. This consisted of two leather thongs with sheep bones or pieces of metal in the ends. During his brutal attack, the lashes broke his skin and even tore pieces off.
The crown of thorns was fashioned out of thorn branches called, "Camel Thorn." The spikes on this bush are one and a half to two inches long and jammed into Jesus' scalp. As the scalp bleeds profusely, blood would have run into his eyes and onto his beard.
In the fourth sorrowful mystery, Jesus was forced to carry a piece of lumber about six inches side and eight feet long on a sore and bleeding shoulder and back.
Clothes stuck to his wounded flesh were stripped off. His arms stretched out, and roman nails hammered through each wrist and into the wood. The cross was lifted and a final nail hammered through both feet into the wood.
For three hours, he suffered. The severe trauma Jesus suffered caused fluid to gather around his heart, so that when the soldier pierced the right side of his chest, blood and water flowed out.
In his final words, Jesus opened heaven to the thief and all of humanity. He presented his mother to John and to us, and gave himself to his Father in heaven.
The Rosary has changed thousands of lives, why not give it a chance to help yours?

Prepare for May-the month Roman Catholics celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary.

by Karen Mahoney

For Roman Catholics, May is the month we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since the 18th century, we begin our month with the annual May Crowning. Young children often dressed in First Holy Communion dresses and suits carry roses, placing them in vases at the foot of the Mary statue in their parishes.
May Crowning is a tradition in which the faithful of the Roman Catholic Church honor the life of Mary for her role as the mother of Jesus and Queen of Heaven. The faithful place a crown of flowers on a statue dedicated to her and often a rosary is recited in honor of her sacrifice.
Similar to First Fridays, the month of June is a time to consecrate ourselves to honoring Our Savior�s Sacred Heart. We can honor Jesus by attending daily Mass, with a novena to the Sacred Heart and by praying a daily rosary.
For modern Catholics it may seem odd to pray a rosary once a year, let alone every day. Many have not grown up in households where vocal prayer was commonplace.
In my home, we prayed grace aloud before meals, but never a family rosary or alone on our knees before bed as we often see in old movies. We prayed silently in our heads or whispers at church, our prayers hushed so as not to call attention to ourselves.
"Say your prayers," my Dad occasionally reminded me as I climbed the stairs to bed. But he never prayed with me, and neither did my mother. They never stayed to hear my "God blesses" or to pray with me. In all the years of my life, I never heard my parents pray at home.
We had a crucifix in the living room, and a dusty Bible on the bookshelf. We attended Sunday Mass with our Dad, and my mom, the reluctant convert, remained home. As if to make up for it, she often sent money to Catholic organizations and would sometimes receive rosaries as a gift for her donations.
"What do we do with this?" I would ask her.
She had no idea, and my Dad was too busy to show us, so the rosaries were tossed in a drawer. Forgotten.
It wasn�t until I was in my thirties that I began to embrace my faith and learn what those precious beads meant. In the beginning, I stowed away about once a month in the corner of my bedroom, silently fingering the beads and whispering the prayers.
I began the prayers in desperation, to help me through a difficult time in my life. Through my fingers traveling over the little bumps, God was working at smoothing the bumps in my life.
I began to heal.
As I began feeling the power of the rosary bringing peace to my life, I began praying more often, in the car, aloud with my children, before Mass, and with prayer groups. It became a source of comfort and identity and a link to Our Heavenly Father and to the Blessed Mother.
The Rosary is powerful and life changing. For those just beginning, take it slow, pray a decade a day and try to complete a rosary in five days. After you become comfortable with the prayers, try to pray two rosaries a week until you pray one each day.
Remember that the Blessed Virgin Mary herself instituted the rosary. In the 13th century, she appeared to St. Dominic, gave him a rosary, and asked that Christians pray the Hail Mary, Our Father and Glory Be prayers.
The rosary is a meditative form of prayer. Through the mysteries, we meditate on the great episodes that brought about our salvation by Christ with Mary as co-redemptrix.
Regular praying of the rosary is an excellent source of strength, especially in times of crisis. Somehow, we are delivered from adversities in a way we don't know how it happened. Take time out to pray the rosary, especially in this month of Mary and the Sacred Heart and see how your life will change.
I promise, it will.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easter Blessings

In the midst of the Octave of Easter, I am truly feeling blessed to be able to celebrate the resurrection of Christ every day this week. Imagine, every day this week is the same as Easter Sunday! What a wonderful gift we have in Christ's gift to us.  Thank you Jesus for your sacrifice and for dying for my most wretched sins. I ask you, and all the angels and saints to make me a better and more loving person.

I thank you for my sweet husband, my children and grandchildren and the wonderful friends you have placed in our lives.

Racine Project Aims to Work Miracles

RACINE — “God anoints you … work miracles” was the theme for people of faith as the Catholic Association of Racine (CAR) kicked off its 2010 Catholic project with a citywide Mass and workshop in late January at St. Catherine High School.
As celebrant of the Mass, held in the auditorium, Fr. Allen Bratkowski, pastor of St. Richard Parish, empowered Catholics by explaining that they were all prophets appointed to a special mission and to put that mission to action.
“Racine is filled with hurting pain, but miracles flow with anointing through baptism,” he said. “Christ nourishes us through the Eucharist. We as a prayer community are prophetic voices and working hands to serve Jesus and love as God loves. We put love into action to serve as prophets in our Catholic Church.”

For more information or to help:

Catholic Association of Racine
700 English St.
Racine, WI 53402

(262) 633-3822
Following Mass, Laura Sumner-Coon, member of the strategic planning committee, explained the project that began in 2008 to draw Catholics in the Racine community together.
“The mission of the Catholic Association of Racine is to coordinate collaborative activities, education and faith practices for the Racine Catholic community, providing to all the opportunity to grow closer to God,” she said.
Members involved in CAR’s mission are from 10 Racine-area parishes. The organization’s board of directors consists of one member from St. John Nepomuk, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Joseph, St. Richard, St. Patrick, St. Rita, St. Mary by the Lake, St. Edward, and St. Sebastian parishes and a member from the Racine Dominicans.
The organization began to foster collaboration around education, which for years, divided area parishes, said Sumner-Coon.
“We learned that we could no longer be effective on that issue, but could be a strong force in uniting the Catholic community to strengthen faith formation and faith in action around Racine in ways a single parish could not accomplish alone,” she said.
To keep the mission of CAR alive, the organization began involving parishioners and those disenfranchised from the church to discuss the needs within the Racine community. A series of focus groups last year resulted in a list of questions to evoke discussion within various parishes to learn the most critical issues in the Racine community, who is missing in the churches, what would strengthen faith life and the area parishes’ best accomplishments.
The intent of the gatherings was not to name the problems in Racine, but to recognize what is important to Racine-area Catholics and discover opportunities to put their faith to action, and take strategic steps to make a difference outside the confines of their churches.
“We learned that Catholics in Racine wish to be united, establish an identity together beyond the parish walls and to collaborate on the issues where they think they can make a difference,” said Sumner-Coon. “Catholics are worried about the state of their church, their leadership, want support for all the people in the church and want to reach out to those who have left the church.”
Additionally, the group determined that Catholics desire greater meaning in their faith walk and wish to have more opportunities to live out their faith in the community.
“They feel that Catholics are good at uniting for a cause and finding a solution,” said Sumner-Coon, adding, “As a group within the greater Racine community, we could be making a difference in the way we live out our faith together.”
As groups continued to meet, eight areas of community concern surfaced, and included:
  • Poverty
  • Jobs and joblessness
  • Housing
  • Health care
  • Financial literacy
  • Spirituality, outreach and inclusion
  • Education
  • Crime and violence prevention
To address those significant community issues, CAR hosted the kickoff event with members of the community offering suggestions on moving forward through breakout sessions on the eight topics. Attendees were invited to participate in groups that were areas they felt comfortable with, or most spoke to their hearts.
Speaking to a half-dozen individuals on crime and violence prevention, Sammy and Denise Rangel, program coordinators of SAFE Streets Outreach Program, a division of SAFE Haven, a non-profit agency to improve the quality of life for youths and families by providing safe living environments, crisis support and community intervention, discussed the organization’s operation.
“We try to reduce situations where kids can be exploited, harmed or abused, and work with prevention issues such as gang prevention,” said Sammy. “Our goal is to try to help kids get out of dangerous situations and work with families as well.”
SAFE Streets provides emergency shelter, street-based outreach and education, survival aid, assessments, counseling, intervention and follow-up support. SAFE streets works within the schools system, the juvenile justice system, as well as on the streets to reduce violence and crime.
“We don’t always succeed, and our job can be very sad,” Sammy admitted, “But we try to reach the kids, educate the families and identify danger signs and bad behaviors. We require the families to become more involved in their child’s life and not wait for me to solve their problems and we don’t continue the program if the families won’t work the program too.”
A lack of affordable and sound housing, shortage of rental assistance and lack of education on receiving financial assistance drew several attendees to learn about alternatives such as Habitat for Humanity.
Bringing a Catholic presence to Habitat for Humanity and developing a Catholic rental voucher program with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could address immediate needs to offset the current three-year waiting period for adequate housing in Racine.
“The housing group is planning to host an open forum in the near future to look at several possibilities, including the purchase of foreclosed homes for rehabilitation and sale to those eligible for Habitat for Humanity,” said Anna Marie Clausen, director of CAR.
To combat joblessness and underemployment, Jim Schatzman, representative of Racine Vocational Ministry, chronicled the issues of a lack of job skills, such as dressing, attendance issues, focus and job training.
Creating a collaborative Catholic job posting system, job mentors and career counseling are several methods for area Catholics to get involved.
Since the CAR meeting, a job fair, which drew more than 1,000 people, was held in early March at St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Racine. (Catholic Herald, April 1)
Although the attendance at the CAR gathering was smaller than anticipated and required combining several groups into one, seeds were planted, admitted Clausen, who asked that each group come up with one to three actions that were doable for the coming year.
“We did hope for a larger attendance, but the people who came are very interested in making a difference and sharing their resources in the community,” she said. “We have several outside of the Catholic faith who are interested in working together ecumenically with the Catholics in the area to see what we can do. If we have to tackle less than the eight topics to begin with, that’s what we will do, but we are looking forward to doing something to help.”

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Author's faith reflected in his books, life

Six of author Nicholas Sparks’ books have been made into movies. The most recent, “The Last Song,” starring Miley Cyrus and Greg Kinnear opened in theaters, March 31. A lifelong Catholic, Sparks often interjects faith into his stories. (Submitted photo by Alice M. Arthur, courtesy Grace Hill Media)
In each of Nicholas Sparks’ books there’s a deep sense of family, romance, sensitivity and faith – ironically, the same attributes that the 44-year-old author strives to achieve in his life. The North Carolina husband and father of five has written 15 books that have sold more than 50 million copies and have been printed in more than 30 languages. Six of his books have been made into movies, and his most recent, “The Last Song,” opened nationwide Wednesday March 31, starring Miley Cyrus and Greg Kinnear.
Your Catholic Herald caught up with Sparks last week by telephone to discuss his movie and the man behind the sensitive romance novels that have attracted fans world-wide.
The film is a story of first love, responsibility and second chances. It depicts reconciliation and the unbreakable bond between a father and a daughter, one that withstands disappointment, estrangement, anger and loss.
The film stars Cyrus, who portrays 17-year-old Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Miller. Her life was turned upside-down when her parents divorced and her father, Steve (Kinnear) moved from New York City to Tybee Island, Ga.
Still angry three years later, Ronnie is alienated from her parents, especially her father, until her mother decides it would be in everyone’s best interest if she spent the summer on Tybee Island with him. Ronnie’s father, a former concert pianist and teacher, is living a quiet life in the beach town, immersed in creating a work of art that will become the centerpiece of a local church.
Movie is lesson in forgiveness
An ideal lesson in forgiveness and healing, “The Last Song” is released during the Easter season, a time of reflection and reconciliation, and for Sparks, a life-long Catholic, filled with wonderful family themes.
“We are dealing with divorce in this movie and I wanted to show that despite divorce or whatever pain there is, that people can still be pleasant even though they might be angry with each other,” he said. “In this story, the parents are not getting back together, but they have learned to treat each other with kindness – and I wanted to get a message across that if people are tired of fighting, that divorced couples can genuinely show kindness and be genuine about it.”
Faith plays a central role in the film. When Ronnie visits her father, he is immersed in a project to create a magnificent stained glass window for his church.
“There are a lot of wonderful lessons in this story, such as family themes, forgiveness, growing up and love between a father and a daughter,” said Sparks. “We also deal with the daughter’s first love and the inspiring story of the father’s personal journey and his experience with the presence of God. It’s hard to determine the most important message because it is all tied together - family, faith, forgiveness, redemption, and the choices and paths we are going to choose.”
Catholicism woven throughout his life
For Sparks, the choice to write faith-filled novels is not an intentional process, rather a byproduct of his Catholicism woven throughout his life. He insists he will never write about adultery or use profanity in his novels, and acknowledges that “The Last Song” is a chaste film. Living in a small Southern town void of chain coffee shops, taxi cabs, large theaters and malls, Sparks writes about the type of life he knows.
“Faith is integral to nearly everyone in these small Southern towns,” he said. “If you move here, people won’t ask you what you do – they will ask what religion you are. They don’t care what your answer is, but they will use it to tell you who you will be meeting first because of your faith. I suppose it is like Wisconsin, and it is intrinsic to the area.”
With five children, Miles, 18, Ryan, 16, Landon, 10, and 8-year-old twin daughters Lexie Danielle and Savannah Marin, Sparks, who considers his life fairly ordinary, writes during his children’s school hours. When he has time, he takes breaks and runs errands with his wife Catherine, who he married in 1989.
“No one in my family makes a big deal of my job; it is just what I do,” he said. “So I write at home and come in and out and then stop and we have fun – it’s the same balance as anyone else might have with their job.”
While his family is accustomed to his writing work and seeing his books on the shelves of every library and bookstore, his daughters were not accustomed to meeting a mega singing and acting star like Cyrus. The experience may have been a clue that their dad’s job was a bit different than most.
“Miley was great to work with and good to my daughters who were so thrilled to meet her; after all, she is Hannah Montana,” he laughed. “They liked Greg Kinnear, too; he was funny, intelligent and just rounded out a very close set of people working on the film.”
Co-founder of Christian school
His accomplishments are many, but Sparks is proudest of his efforts to develop and fund Epiphany School. In 2005, he and his wife began thinking more about the options for their children’s education in rural New Bern and compared them to their own educational philosophies. In early 2006, they collaborated with Tom McLaughlin, a graduate of Benedictine College, who did his master’s and doctoral work at Boston College, to begin Epiphany School. The school opened later that fall with approximately 100 students in grades six through 10. The school’s mission challenges students to pursue lifelong learning, faithful discipleship, courageous leadership and compassionate service. As a college preparatory school, Epiphany offers a rigorous course load that is enhanced by travel in coordination with their studies.
“My intention is that, by the time every student has graduated, he or she will have visited 26 countries on six continents, whether it’s studying history of the Americas among Mayan ruins, Ancient Greece at the Parthenon, or ecology and the environment in the rain forests of Costa Rica. Now, the school serves nearly 300 students, and encompasses grades five through 12,” said Sparks. “I live in the rural South and it is a wonderful place in many ways, but it is a small world. It’s easy to believe that there is no world outside of these borders of our country.”
Initially, Sparks wanted to create a Catholic school, but because of the small population in the area, a Catholic school would be unsustainable. Instead, Epiphany School recognizes that God is the source and summit of one’s existence and that one strives to live in harmony with the example of Jesus Christ and Judeo-Christian tradition.
Students have opportunity to travel
Based on trimesters, students have the opportunity to travel three times a year. Currently, Ryan Sparks is in Poland and Birkenau learning firsthand about the concentration camps recently studied in school while reading “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
“His going there adds an element that you just cannot get by reading about it,” he said. “We have students traveling to Cusco, Guatemala, and to see the Great Pyramids.”
Bubbling with enthusiasm, Sparks recalled a trip he chaperoned to Costa Rica while students were studying the rain forests.
“We took this boat ride and there were these salt water crocodiles underneath us,” he exclaimed. “The kid driving our boat was only 14 and was younger than all my students. He hopped into the water with this massive croc – it was so huge it was like a dinosaur. This kid was slapping raw chicken on the water to get its attention like the Crocodile Hunter. Seeing this young boy doing this type of work at 14 really made us all see how our lives are so blessed. We learned what it is like in other places and get a perspective that you can’t get by just staying in Craven County.”
Like his children, Epiphany School is part of Sparks’ legacy and is his way of giving back. Unfortunately, his mom, who encouraged his writing to combat the boredom after an injury to his Achilles’ tendon sidelined him from the track team in college, never saw his first book published. She died in a horseback riding accident at age 47. Though Sparks imagined that his mom would be happy with his writing and movie accomplishments, it would be his kids of whom she would be most proud.
“I think that more than anything I have done,” Sparks said, “She would be happiest about all of the grandchildren.”

Catholic Knights, St. Paul Parish host job fair

(CNS?file photo)
— Cathy Morris was having an internal struggle.
In her mid-50s, Morris was laid off from her cleaning job after the company that employed her lost its contract with a group of local businesses. For several years, she has struggled to find work, but is at a point where she doesn’t know what to do or where to turn.
“It’s hard to make ends meet,” she said. “My family and friends help me, but it is a struggle because I don’t get unemployment anymore and I want to rely on myself – and not burden anyone else.”
Rodney Mastin is in a similar situation. Just 55, he was laid off eight months ago from his job as a forklift driver. While he currently receives unemployment, it isn’t enough money to support his wife and two children.
“I would like to remain in the field of driving a forklift and working in shipping and receiving,” he said. “It’s early yet though, and I am extremely hopeful about finding another job.”
Morris and Mastin found a glimmer of hope March 2, at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Racine. The Catholic Knights Branch 202-Racine and Racine County Workforce Development Center sponsored a job fair with more than 36 local employers and more than 200 job openings.
More than 1,000 job seekers attended the all-day fair that included seminars on Internet job searching, and one-on-one help from résumé doctors to help streamline résumés. For Halston Brown, who is re-entering the workforce after four years of caring for her dying mother, the résumé doctor was the most beneficial aspect of the event.
“I never knew until I was told that people get bored reading résumés,” she said. “I learned how to get my bullet points out and how to account for gaps in my employment.”
At age 50, Brown knows employers often seek a younger group from the job pool, but she hopes her work ethic and other strengths will overcome any age drawbacks.

For more information on employment assistance and other help, contact:

Workforce Development Center

Nationwide Resource List for Unemployment

Food Share/Medical/other Benefits

Angel Food Program

Job Center of Wisconsin

Guide to finding healthcare

United Way of Racine County
“My life has made so many changes, but I am a dedicated worker,” she said. “I was going to school for a counselor’s certificate, but I have to make ends meet, so I can’t do that right now. It’s really hard to find a good paying job in Racine with medical insurance and I have been to two job fairs already with no luck. This fair has so many more jobs and seems to have many more avenues to help, and I tell you, the résumé doctor was the best part of the day.”
The idea for the fair and food drive for the needy was the collaborative efforts of Hub Braun, president of Catholic Knights Branch 202 and Karen Wilkomm-Stiles, financial services representative for Catholic Knights.
“In addition to being an insurance company, we are also a fraternal organization,” said Wilkomm-Stiles. “We wanted to find a way to give back to the community and raise money for those in need. We thought a job fair and food drive would be a good way to do that.”
Braun agreed, and contacted friends through Workforce Development who arranged to contact prospective employers and organize the fair, while Catholic Knights would provide volunteers, food, as well as donate up to $500 in matching funds to the Racine County Food Bank.
“As a fraternal organization, we want to help our members and the community and all of this fell into place,” said Braun. “Our hearts went out to the people who need work. You know, you can give food and money to help, but if you can find a job for them, it means just so much more.”
As the Business Service Team Leader of Racine County Workforce Development, Jane Kurylo has hosted many job fairs in recent months, but acknowledged this one was different.
“We have had such a great response from employers and that is quite unusual,” she said. “We also have more resource tables to help people. Most job fairs have maybe six employers in specific fields like education or health care; this fair has a very wide variety.”
Historically, job fairs appeal to the recent college graduates or those in their mid-30s seeking a career change. Not so these days, noted Kurylo.
“We are seeing all ages coming here, from first timers to those with lots of experience,” she said. “We are also seeing quite a few retirees because of poor 401K returns. The job market is tough, but I am seeing more jobs opening up lately, so I think we are headed in the right direction.”
More than 30 volunteers, including 20 from Catholic Knights, 10 from St. Paul the Apostle, and one from St. Edward welcomed visitors, served food to the employers, answered questions and collected donations for the food drive.
Most surprising to Wilkomm-Stiles was the generosity of those out of work who donated food that far exceeded anyone’s expectations.
“I cannot believe this,” she exclaimed. “The barrels are overflowing – we had to get more boxes to hold all of the donations. Everyone here is excited and I think it is really touching that these people who are so down on their luck have brought in food and cash donations to help others. I think it means something for them to be able to help others going through a tough time, too – and it makes you feel better, too.”
According to Wilkomm-Stiles, the job fair has already produced results. One attendee from Salem applied for a job in health care at the fair, and three days later, he was offered the job.
Another attendee in his 50s received help refining his résumé and now he has two interviews lined up.
She said the workforce development has received many positive comments from employers and those who attended the fair.
It also brought in 1,060 pounds of donated food and $544 for the Racine County Food Bank.