Monday, August 30, 2010

Reflections on another year at St Lawrence

Attending Mass in the Chapel at St. Lawrence Seminary yesterday, I was feeling a bit melancholy on several levels. As I listened to the sea of men’s voice singing the Gloria I began to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but at the same time remained aware of this glorious place.

“How did we get here?” I whispered to God.

Contemplating this expensive school and reflecting all that has happened in our lives, I knew there was no possible way we could afford to send Erin to a high school such as this. We just did not have the resources to make it happen, but yet he is here.

Wildflowers, birds, a variety of small animals and the loving and graceful guidance of the Capuchin Franciscans surround the 150-year-old tree lined campus, located high upon a hill in Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin.

How blessed we are that our son is able to attend this place and receive not only an exemplary education, but the rich permeation of his Catholic faith in his daily life.

Again, I whispered. “How did we get here?”

Above the deep baritone voices, above the angels and saints praising The Good Shepherd, I heard His voice.

“I have provided this for your son.”

And I wept.

His call is louder than a mother’s voice missing her son and more powerful than I ever imagined. My son is where he is supposed to be and I am comforted.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Amazing Slushie

raspberry lime slushie made by Kelly

Baby feet

Precious summer days
chalk covered baby toes......
hugs and love......we love you Annia

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ray Reiman, may you rest in peace thou good and faithful servant

Of all the wonderful individuals I have been privileged to meet in my career
as a writer, Ray Reiman was at the top of the list. His faithful dedication to
the Church, to friends, and his family were unparalleled and an inspiration to me.
One of the greatest days for me was the time we were actually able to meet and
share lunch together. Thankfully I still have the pictures to remember him. 
He battled cancer the same way he did everything else--with grace, faith and
the knowledge that the Lord's plans for him were far greater than his own.

I am honored to have called him my friend, and Ray, I know you are soaring with the eagles!

Reiman, Raymond P. Born to Eternal Life on August 22, 2010, at the age 
of 86 years. Beloved husband of Geri (nee Motowski). Loving father of Kathy
(Michael) Paczak, Michael (Meredith) Reiman and Joseph Reiman. Dear
step-father of Sandra Dierberger (Pierre Cantin), Thomas (Mary Jane) 
Daniels, Mark (Kristin) Daniels and Patricia (Joseph) Busalacchi. Fond 
brother of Roy (Bobbi) Reiman and Vernon (Elayne) Reiman. 
Brother-in-law of Karen (Tom) Buehner. Further survived by 11 
grandchildren, one great - grandchild, nieces, nephews, 
other relatives and many friends. Mass of Christian Burial Thursday
11:30 AM at St. Alphonsus Church (6060 W. Loomis Road, Greendale). 
Visitation Wednesday 4-7 PM at the Max A. Sass & Sons Greenridge
Chapel, and thereafter Thursday 9:30-11:30 AM at the church.
Prayer service Wednesday 7 PM at the funeral home. Interment
St. Adalbert Cemetery. Ray was a graduate of Iowa State University, 
where he was very active in the Newman Club. He was an agricultural
journalist in Washington, D.C. for over 25 years. Ray was also the past
president of the Over 50 Club at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church
and a member of the Sacred Heart First Friday Club. (note corrected location)

Beautiful Daughter

I have two gorgeous daughters--here is my oldest, Kelly. She is here for a little R & R and to visit friends and family.

Berries in the morning

the remainder of two pints
Well, these were supposed to top some fluffy buttermilk pancakes, but Kelly and I couldn't resist and ate the berries sans the cakes. They were good, nonetheless--plain, unadulterated in their natural state. On top of their juicy goodness--it saved me work and calories...all good.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mike DeWitt ‘doing what God wanted’

Mike DeWitt

As the cross country and track coach at UW-Parkside for 29 years, Mike DeWitt has a litany of accomplishments: an inductee into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame for Women’s Cross Country, coaching more than 125 All-American runners and racewalkers and 25 collegiate national champions, and personal athletic victories.

Yet, it is his walk with God that means the most to this coach, athlete, husband, father and grandfather. The latest step in that walk was his appointment as the first head cross country and track coach at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla.

“This is a chance for me to deepen my Catholic faith and to continue to grow professionally in beginning this new program,” said DeWitt. “So many things have fallen into place in the process, including my wife, Pam, fitting into the Donahue Academy in a middle school teaching position.”

Competition is character building tool

While he considers his new position a ministry, don’t mistake that with a less-than-ardent love of competition. DeWitt treats competition as a tool to build character. It has also built winning teams.

His UWP women’s cross country team won the NAIA national championship in 1986, placed in the top five as a team eight times and finished outside of the top 10 twice in 14 years. When the program switched to NCAA II, the team finished in the top 10 of the NCAA II championships five times and was ranked in the top 20 in all but three seasons since 1995.

Since 1984, six of his All-American runners and racewalkers competed for the United States in the Olympic games. Additionally, his teams have earned numerous academic and sportsmanship awards as part of the NAIA, NCAA II Great Lakes Region, and NCAA II Great Lakes Valley Conference. More than 15 of the athletes he recruited graduated as the top students in their academic fields.

After graduating in 1972 from UWP, where he was the school’s first track All-American, he competed in four Olympic Trials and represented the United States in international competition on six occasions, including the 1989 World Cup. He also served as the head coach for the USA team in the 2001 Pan Am Cup.

Faith keeps him grounded

While his devotion as a competitor and coach is noted in record books, it is the faith from his early youth that rooted his devotion to God. Raised in a Catholic home in Kenosha, DeWitt received the sacraments at St. George Catholic Church (now St. Elizabeth) attended the parish grade school and met his wife and married her at the same parish nearly 38 years ago.

He and Pam are the parents of two boys and two girls, Ali 37, Matt 30, TC 28, and Lindsay 27, and grandparents of six. Until the move to Florida, they were members of St. Lucy Parish, Racine, and alternated between the Racine parish and St. Peter, Kenosha. Pam is a former teacher at St. Catherine High School and John Paul II Academy in Racine.

Born on All Saints Day, DeWitt, who will celebrate his 60th birthday, joked that he is blessed to have all the patron saints with him at all times.

“Because of that, I feel drawn to keep up with reading the Saint of the Day,” he said. “And I like to encourage my students with my love of the saints. I have a statue of St. Joseph on my desk and my favorite saint is St. Miguel (Febres Cordero) from Ecuador; he was a teacher and worked with all kids. They loved him and he traveled around and went to Spain, but he was frail and sickly, not like me. Interestingly, I have raced over 1,000 times and Barcelona, Spain is where I had my best race. I am not afraid to say that I am using my talents the way the Lord gave me and I try to learn from my non-Catholic students and they seem to enjoy learning from me.”

Always finds time for Mass
Mike DeWitt checks the time of a UW-Parkside racewalker during a race at Petrifying Springs Park in Kenosha in this undated photo. Several runners and walkers coached by DeWitt during his 29 years at the school competed nationally and internationally. He was recently named head track and cross country coach at Ave Maria University in Florida. (Submitted photo courtesy Parkside Athletic Club)

A daily Mass attendee, DeWitt makes time to attend Mass while on the road and encourages his students to attend as well.

“I have missed Mass only a couple of times,” he said. “Once was coming back from St. Louis and my car broke down and I couldn’t get to Mass, and there was a time in Atlanta and we weren’t able to find a Catholic Church. But ever since then I have managed to make it, even in Russia, where we walked to an old dilapidated church with no statues and the plaster falling down. Sometimes it has been very difficult and I thought I wouldn’t, but something always happened to give me that five minutes or extra time, and since 1989, I have never missed an opening prayer. All kinds of funny things have happened that should have prevented me from going, but I still go, so I guess I am supposed to be there.”

Places trust in God’s providence

While one of the most difficult situations happened last year when his son TC, who lives in California, was shot after his van was stolen, it was also another opportunity to trust in God’s providence.

“We got the message and the incident happened at 4 a.m. Wisconsin time and it took a few hours for his friend who he owned the house with to call, and he didn’t get back to us until 9 or so the next morning,” said DeWitt. “I saw the number come up and didn’t answer it. Twelve hours later, I checked my messages and there was one from a police sergeant. I asked what happened and she told me that TC was going to live, but they weren’t sure a few hours before – so if I had gotten the message earlier, it would have been much more difficult.”

DeWitt and his family drew strength and peace from prayer warriors from all faiths.

“We came through this with a kind of calm quiet and not a panic,” he said. “My whole life has been that way and we just try to quietly follow God’s lead. There were so many times in our life when we needed money to stay up on bills and then it would come, or when the draft came through and I was one of the last guys and didn’t have worry after I finished basic training. I know the world doesn’t revolve around Mike DeWitt, but I do know that nothing is coincidence and it is all a matter of God’s will.”

Hopes to freely practice faith

DeWitt employed the same calm approach when contemplating another coaching position. While he enjoyed his tenure at UWP, he was open for something new and hoped it could be a place that he could freely practice his faith. Several positions sounded hopeful, but didn’t work out for one reason or another. Then, Ave Maria approached him.

“Everything seemed to fall into place. I was offered what I needed to make it work and Pam got the job at Donahue, which allowed us to buy a second home in Florida,” he said. “Every little thing that we wanted, happened. They have a 24-hour adoration chapel at the school and I sat there for a while one of the days I was at Ave Maria. I was praying and asking God about leaving Kenosha because we have family here, a job here and all of a sudden I just started thinking that I would not be in front of the Blessed Sacrament at this university if it was the devil that led me here. So, it all worked out how it should be. It wasn’t a leap of faith, but we just prayed for an answer for our prayers and wanted to do what God wanted.”

DeWitt hopes to bring physical and spiritual exercise to Ave Maria, and he looks forward to beginning and ending the school day with prayer and sitting alongside students at daily Mass.

“My philosophy is ‘Don’t miss workouts and don’t miss Mass,’” he said, “Sometimes I get distracted but I try to get there. There is time for everything and we can do it if we have faith and trust in God.”

What Should I Wear?

What should I wear?

Choice is simpler when closet holds six items or less

For one month Kenosha resident Stella Brennan went on a fashion fast, wearing only six items of clothing, which are pictured here on and around her. ( BILL SIEL )
8/18 2:50 p.m.


Kenosha News correspondent

Despite all the pieces of clothing in Stella Brennan’s overstuffed closet — some still with tags on them — she tends to gravitate towards her favorite cluster of outfits each day. So, when childhood friend and Kenosha native Heidi Hackemer hatched an anti-consumerism plan to wear just six items or less for a month, Brennan and about 100 others from around the globe signed on for the challenge.
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“I follow Heidi on Twitter and watched as she started signing people up for this clothing diet,” said Brennan, 31, an insurance agent and mother of two who lives in Kenosha. “All I saw at first were these single, spoiled New Yorkers and I thought to myself that they had it too easy, so I told her to sign me up.”

The rules were simple: Wear only six items for a month from those already in your closet, not counting shoes, underwear, pajamas, swimwear and accessories. For her six, Brennan chose a black business suit, one black and one pink blouse, a pair of jeans and a seasoned pink T-shirt. Each piece of clothing needed to allow her to transition from her role as businesswoman, to wife, to mother of two young children, to pet owner (the family has a golden retriever and three cats).

“I had to have something that would juggle between taking care of my kids and wouldn’t stain from food or get covered in animal hair,” she explained. “I also needed the items to look professional for work and still be OK for play with my 8-year-old son, Tommy, and for tea parties with my 3-year-old daughter, Audrey.”

Freeing up time

While the challenge was tough at first, especially with Brennan’s multiple responsibilities, the most amazing revelation for her was that nobody noticed. No one. Not even her husband, Kelly, a machinist, who is in charge of the family’s laundry duties.

“He still doesn’t know,” said Brennan, who participated in the fashion fast from the end of June to the end of July. “In fact, he saw me out working in the yard one day in my pink flowered pajamas and tank top and he never said a word. That still amazes me.”
Surprisingly, not even her mother, Elin Lansdown, or sister, Steinunn Seay, who she sees daily, noticed her recurring clothing repertoire, leading Brennan to believe that people don’t really pay attention to what you wear.

“I finally told my mom the other day that I did this, and she just said, ‘Well, I just thought you really liked those jeans,’” Brennan said with a laugh. Then she added, “And you know, I can’t tell you what my mom or sister wore yesterday or what my husband wore either. I think we believe that people notice, but they really don’t. What we wear just isn’t that important.”

For Hackemer, a New York strategic business director at Bartle, Bogle & Hegarty advertising agency, the concept was born following a discussion with a friend about the excessive time and energy involved in choosing daily attire.

“We thought it would be pretty cool if we could get our own wardrobe down to a ‘uniform’ set of clothes that looked great,” she said. “We had a hunch that we might free up our minds and lives in other ways. At first, we didn’t think that many people would join us, maybe two or three, max. But after a few days of talking and Tweeting, we had about 100 people from around the world sign up.”

Too much stuff

Logging in for the Web challenge at Six Items or Less (, participants joined from the United States, India, Europe, Dubai, and Brazil. Each checked in at least once a week to describe their experiences with the challenge. Through it all, Hackemer learned that most people have a difficult relationship with their clothes.

“This experiment gets people thinking, and, for those who participate, unshackles them a bit from the clothing treadmill that a lot of us are on,” she said.
For Brennan, the challenge gave her time away from shopping to think about simplifying her lifestyle and uncluttering her closet, and her children’s closets.

“No 3-year-old should have 26 pairs of shoes and so many clothes in the closet, especially when she will grow out of them in a month,” Brennan said. “My son has too many clothes, too, and I am just not going to buy anything more unless they need them.”

The six-items-or-less challenge will be repeated in the fall, and so far, Brennan is on board to do it again. The only changes she would make would be to choose better quality clothing this time.
“Some of my clothing began to fall apart, buttons fell off, and there were threads hanging out,” she said. “And the suit — I just can’t wear it again. It sits in the back of my closet and I feel sick looking at it.”

Although she hasn’t yet parted with any of her 72 pairs of active shoes (she has boxes of seasonal shoes in storage), Brennan donated numerous bags of clothing to charity and plans to donate some of her business attire to Dress for Success, which provides professional clothes for disadvantaged women as they search for work.

“I would feel better about myself knowing that those items went somewhere like that, to help other people trying to find a job,” she said.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Simple Pleasures

The giggle of my 7 year old and jabbering of my 11 month old granddaughters.....
  • loving kisses by my little Bichon
  • playful kitties living under my porch
  • chirping of the birds in the yard
  • gratitude towards my neighbor for her friendship and awesome produce that she presents to us each season
  • dear friends who know just what to say
  • a husband who loves me when I cannot love myself
  • and Erin, always faithful-always loving--always kind

When I have days of darkness--these pleasures bring a glimmer of light through the cracks in the wall and help me to realize that God is still there, a radiant beam piercing my stone heart.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Scents of Fall

As I took Argyle for a walk through the yard today and as my bare toes brushed against a crisp brown leaf, it came to me---the sudden passing of summer.
Where did it go?
Wasn't it just yesterday that Erin came home for the summer?
Wasn't it just last week that we took him on a little vacation?
Fond memories of my nephew William rolling in grass in the backyard, little Annia playing in our wading pool, blooming flowers in my Mary Garden, hummingbirds flittering in the Wigelia gathering is nearly over and yet, there are still flowers to bloom, birds to sing, Annia to play with, and two days left before Erin leaves.
Did I stop to smell the roses? Not really, but....there is one beautiful yellow rose blooming in the garden--thank you St. Therese........I will breathe in the intoxicating aroma tonight, before the stars shine upon my house.

You can tell a lot about a person

by the way they treat their mothers. I read this in "Bold, Fresh" by Bill O'Reilly and it has stuck with me for the past couple of days.

It seems that there have been innumerable times when I have been around people who treat others with such disrespect and disdain and if I think back, that is exactly how they treated their mothers.

What a terrible shame that is--regardless of the mother, most of the time, unless they are psychotic or sociopathic drug abusers, they do the best they can in raising their children. We are all imperfect creatures striving to do the best we can with what we know. Do we make mistakes? Of course we do--but then so do the children of the mothers they are complaining! Fathers too-I have seen many dad's get treated poorly when all they were doing is trying to make a living and attempting to raise honorable, moral children? 

Have we done too much feel good parenting without consequences? I think so--we have raised our children in an entitlement atmosphere and many times become weak parents who are afraid to provide rules, inflict just punishments and teach responsible behavior. But for now, those weak parents are what I call the 'Candy Land Moms and Dad' someday the game will be over, the candy run out and we will have children who will flounder without direction. They will fail. 

Am I sorry for the mistakes I have made as a mother? Of course--but like my parents, I plod on, trying to raise them to make God proud and for that, I am not sorry.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Welcome to our newest little grandbaby

Here she is: Alexa Juliana--born this morning around 9 a.m. She weighs 7 pounds 3 ounces and is 19 inches long! Welcome to the world my precious granddaughter and God Bless you Ryan and Jenny!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sick of Crabgrass

See this junk? It's crabgrass and it's all over our yard. Last year, we had a little, but this year it has taken over like wildfire.
So, what did we do differently? I have a theory--a conspiracy theory and before you think me paranoid, here me out and tell me what you think!

In April, we went to a big named home improvement store and purchased some of their brand crab grass killer and weed n' feed. We bought probably a couple hundred dollars worth of this stuff and and spent a couple of backbreaking days applying it to the yard.

Guess what? Not only did it not kill the dandelions, it also propogated the crabgrass like never before. I firmly believe that that weed and feed we purchased was infilitrated with crabgrass. It is a conspiracy--because what do you do when you see this? You go back to the store and buy a much stronger weed killer and spend more money. Then next year you start all over again.

So, after going through several gallons of Round Up (never will buy that store brand again) we promised ourselves that we will hire a service next year to take care of the unsightly weeds because, a) they guarantee their work, and b) it really would be cheaper in the end to have them do it--not to mention save our backs!

So, that's it--my gripe for the week. Crabgrass-yuck, I can't stand it!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Happy Birthday to my Mom-Bonnie Rose Witiak Pieh!

Well Mom, today would have been your 71st birthday! I remember you always told me that you didn't think you would live very long--of course, I objected at such nonsense because for me you were larger than life and would always be there for me. Sadly, you were snatched from us at such a young age and it seemed like another cruel joke after just losing Dad.

How I remember those daily 8:30 a.m. calls where I learned of your plans for the day, and you heard all the tales about what the children were doing. You were my rock in some very difficult times and I know that I was there for you as well. 

We went through a lot in our life together, didn't we mom? Life wasn't always easy--not by a long shot. But somehow we managed to weather that storm together and the trials we suffered only seemed to bring us closer together.

I know the faith issue was a tough one for you Mom, but I know that after being with our Lord for nearly nine years now-all those fears have long given way to a glorious reunion with Jesus and all the angels and saints. 

The last message you gave me when you left this world is an indelible imprint on my soul and gives me hope for my own reunion with Him, in His time. Although you were unconscious your words were as clear as if you were standing next to me. I have often reflected on those words and they have helped me through some difficult times. 

So see Mom, you taught me something about faith despite feeling as if you had nothing to share. You shared so much with me, Mom, your faithfulness to our family, to Dad, to your brothers and to your parents. I am often awed by your selfless and quiet suffering for the sake of family unity. You may think no one noticed--but I did and so did God.

So Mom, on this beautiful anniversary of your birth--put on that satin pink dress, have Dad put on that beige suit and dance with him in front of the throne. I can't wait to see you both--give Dad a hug and kiss from his pumpkinseed, ok?  I love you and miss you more than you know.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Suffering through and with Christ

As Christians, we are all called to carry our cross as Christ did: but what does this mean? Does it mean that we say we are willing to suffer, but only a little bit? Is the suffering on our terms? Do we leave ourselves open to the suffering only to complain once it comes?

My friends, I am the worst of the complainers--I have often begged the Lord to let me follow him and to let me suffer and carry my cross, but when the suffering comes, I am whining and complaining that it is too much. What a hypocrite I am! If I am to truly suffer with Christ, I need to be about being a joyful sufferer. That is an easy task when things are going well, aren't they? When I am having a great day or week or month, I take His love and providence for granted. But when things get rough, I am complaining and crying and begging for mercy--as if I have the right!
It is my prayer that I will learn through my suffering to embrace it as all good and all holy and use it as an offering like sweet incense to the Lord reaching to His heavenly throne.
Lord I complain sometimes when I have a little misfortune, a wound or when I am sick or tired, rejected, despised or persecuted. 
But you were covered through your entire body with painful wounds;  you were pierced with pain by the crown of thorns, you were stripped of your flesh by the scourging, you were insulted with terrible blasphemies, you were spat upon, you were humiliated, you were inflicted new wounds upon your wounded shoulder by the crushing weight of the cross, you were inflicted more wounds upon your wounds by the brutal stripping of your garments, you were pierced painfully by the nails on the cross, you were hanged upon the cross to bleed painfully to death, you suffered asphyxiation as you found it very painful to breathe, and yet your physical agony was only part of your suffering compared to your spiritual agony because you are God, and your holy soul was sorrowful unto death as you surrendered your life in exchange for our eternal life.  
 You saw the ingratitude of men for your great sacrifice, and you suffered for the pride of our sins, for the aggressiveness of those whom you created with so much love, for the hatred of men who always receive all your love if only they come to you.  

My Lord Jesus crucified, I come humbly before you, everlasting fountain of healing and life, Powerful source of our Resurrection, food for our souls in the Holy Eucharist, eternal refuge of Divine Light, gate to the Majesty and Glory of the Father and our only hope and salvation.  
Divine Merciful Lord, I pray and beseech on behalf of all humanity for your Mercy  and compassion, for your healing and blessings and for your Salvation.  
Oh Precious treasure from Heaven, you who are hidden to the proud, fill my heart with humility and purity that I may be worthy to receive the promises of everlasting life in your Glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

Lord into your Sacred Heart I place my heart united to all my needs and desires, 
I present humbly  my petitions, please deign to listen to my plea, embrace me with your love, respond to my soul, look at me your child who comes attracted by your love. 
My Lord Jesus; In your crucified body I reverently place my sinfulness, my sicknesses and those of the people that I pray for; since you bore our diseases and infirmities, since you endured our sufferings and paid for our sins. Please dissolve them in your mercy; grant me these petitions in your holy name and in the name of your sorrowful mother, my mother. Amen.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Who do you say that I am?

Mark 8:27-33

 And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesare'a Philip'pi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Eli'jah; and others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." And he charged them to tell no one about him. 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.  But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men." 

 Who is Jesus for you, for me?  At a crucial moment, Jesus tests his disciples with an important question: Who do men say that I am and who do you say that I am? 

He was quite recognized in Israel as a mighty man of God, even being compared with the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah. Peter, always quick to respond, professes that Jesus is truly the Christ. No mortal being could have revealed this to Peter; but only God.

Through faith Peter grasped who Jesus truly was. He was the first apostle to recognize Jesus as the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. 

Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah, which means Anointed One. Peter's faith, however was sorely tested when Jesus explained that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die in order that God's work of redemption may be accomplished. How startled the disciples were when they heard these words! How different are God's thoughts and ways from our thoughts and ways!  

Through humiliation, suffering, and death on the cross Jesus broke the powers of sin and death and won for us our salvation.  The Lord Jesus tests you and me personally with the same question: Who do you say that I am?
Lord Jesus, I profess and believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You are my Lord and my Savior. Make my faith strong and help me to live in the victory of the cross by rejecting sin and by accepting your will.

Lord put my suffering and humiliation to good use. I offer it to you as a sacrifice for your most heavenly altar. I will not turn my back on you even if the path before me looks easier. While I have kicked and screamed  when walking over the craggy, infested path, I know it leads to you and I embrace it only to see your most holy face. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Your word is your bond

"Your word is your bond"is something my mom always said to me.  And as a businessman, my Dad hardly relied on contracts or long drawn out written forms--for him, a handshake was the way he dealt with business and personal agreements. If someone shook his hand, that was a binding contract---and it wasn't until much later, in the late 1990s that he learned that individuals with integrity were tough to find. 

As a businessman, he came up with an invention and looked for someone to create his product. He shelled out millions of dollars to a designer in England only to realize that the owner cashed my Dad's check and skipped town. Not only was my Dad out his own millions, but he owed other investors as well. He valued his word that these investors would get their money back and I believe that the stress from this incident is finally what killed him. Not long after this happened, he suffered a heart attack, had 7 bypasses, and later several other heart related medical conditions. He died on Good Friday in 2000. These investors, knowing the risks they also took in this venture were ruthless and pounced on my mother--long time friends, bankers, and other associates would not leave her alone. She sold most everything to pay back these debts and eventually, it killed her just 18 months after my Dad.  I often wonder if those greedy and unscrupulous people are ever ashamed at the way they treated my parents--some of whom were life long friends.

When I went through my painful divorce and annulment, I was hit hard as well from those who were closest to me most of my life. While I thought I had support from my family, 'close friends,' and parish associates, truthfully, they all left and it was just God and me. 

After years of anguish, I learned to reinvent myself and become stronger. No longer do I accept abuse, or ill treatment or merciless teasing. I have made a choice to remain strong and surround myself with those who are supportive and loving. Oddly, my new family and circle of friends are  much more supportive and caring than were the ones in my old life. 

Truly God can make all things new again and he has done so with me-I am beyond grateful. 

One important lesson I have learned is the value of integrity and one's word. Hand in hand with my faith, it is the one thing inside of me that motivates me to keep going and stay strong. Having and using integrity means being like a rock; strong-willed, steady, and proud.

Thank you Mom and Dad for the valuable lesson of integrity. I wish you were here to thank personally.  

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Friends, family-is blood really thicker than water?

In Matthew 10:36, Jesus states that "Thy enemies will be that of your own household." Wow! the first time I heard that, I really couldn't comprehend in my young mind the ramifications of that passage.

Automatically, I assumed that family would always be there. I mean, I remember my mom caring for my grandparents. I remember my dad doing whatever he could for his dad, despite his often grumpy demeanor. After all, they valued and respected all of the Ten Commandments, and honoring thy Father and Mother were right up there with Loving the Lord above all.

I remember much discourse in my mom's family--my dad was an only child and because he craved family so desperately, didn't understand the strife that accompanied extended family with children, aunts, uncles and cousins, in the he tried to be a peacemaker. No matter the pain and agony that my mom felt due to familial problems, she courageously stepped forward to suffer rageful and jealous behavior from her brothers, disapproval from her parents, and still she continued plastered upon her face.  Incredibly, I watched as she forgave. Time and time again, she forgave and extended the olive branch and I am still in awe of her courage.

Growing up, our family life was not harmonious by any stretch of the imagination. There was substance abuse, as well as physical, emotional and worse. As the eldest, I was at the top of the list for the arrows and barbs--because I needed to set the example for the others. If they failed--I failed and I received the punishment to go along with it. There were many other issues, not worth mentioning in a blog, but suffice to say, despite it all, I knew it was important to follow God's commandments by honoring my parents.

I tried to do my best. Often I failed and at times felt resentment towards them, but I remained faithful and helped where I could.  Before my Dad died, he asked my forgiveness and the same with my mother. They need not have asked as I forgave them long before, but their actions were beneficial to them, I think. They were able to go in peace to meet our loving Lord because of their reconciliation efforts.

Deep down, I assumed that my parents repeated lessons to us about blood being thicker than water would hold true and faithful forever, even after they died. Unfortunately, that was one lesson I was unprepared.

How on earth would I know that once they died, that some of my siblings, uncle and aunt and even two of my children, would turn their backs on me--leaving me to wonder why.

Years later, I am still confused as to the reasons for the estrangements.  I will always hold out hope for reconciliation with all of them, including grandchildren that I have yet to see.  I would love nothing more than to have them all back with us--but at the same time, I am blessed for I learned that God indeed can place friends in your life that are as dear to you as family. My dear friends are there in good times and bad, in sickness and health and will be there whenever I need them and that is such a comfort.

So, back to Matthew--yes, I do believe that our enemies are that of our own household for if we follow the path to oneness with our Lord Jesus Christ, we will make a lot of enemies--because often our families cannot understand that path, nor do they choose to take it. Our friends are those who are generally on the same unpopular path and consequently understand the pain, suffering and challenges that accompanies the way to heaven.

The pain has been intense, but yet in other ways it feels good to know that I am exactly where God wants me to be.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Looking forward to Kelly visiting soon

Yeah, summer will wrap up quite nicely with first, a visit from my eldest daughter, Kelly and second with a visit from my sister Amy and my nephew William. Sure can't believe how quickly the summer has flown by--very soon we will be taking Erin back to school where he will be a sophomore in high school. He is growing up so quickly and I know it won't be long before we are looking at colleges for him. It is so strange to have my youngest child thinking about post high school when inside, I still remember quite clearly going to high school myself.

I have such great memories of Mr Werve's Symphonic and Jazz Bands, my days in Drama Club, Variety shows, French club, and some of the wonderful teachers and even not so wonderful teachers I had. Probably most difficult is seeing my children mature and develop lives of their own and not have my parents to share in their joys and disappointments. They were not perfect, but they were my parents and I miss them every single day of my life. For those of you who still have living parents--cherish them because tomorrow they may not be here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Friend, Godly man

Bishop William P. Callahan witnesses the marriage of Frances Connelly and Aaron White on Sept. 5, 2009 at the Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee. According to Frances’ mother, Mary Connelly, the photo of the bishop congratulating the couple at the end of the wedding Mass is their favorite wedding photo. “(Bishop Callahan) just looked so joyful. It was the best – just like a Christmas card photo.” Pictured at right is Fr. James Jankowski. (Submitted photo courtesy the Connelly family)

He remembers it like it was yesterday. When Conventual Franciscan Fr. James Jankowski incensed the altar during his Mass of Thanksgiving as a new priest, the base of the censor smacked the edge of the altar, catapulting the searing coals into the oh-so-flammable altar cloth.

The cloth began to burn, and without breaking a sweat, Bishop William P. Callahan, then, Fr. Bill Callahan, master of ceremonies, grabbed a couple of orders of worship and flicked off the coals.

“I remember Bill saying later on, ‘Good thing that wasn’t a casket!’” laughed Fr. Jankowski, former pastor of St. Josaphat Basilica. “From that time on, I was so very careful about incensing around the altar, and I think of Bill every time I do.”

Their 32-year friendship began when Fr. Jankowski applied to join the Conventual Franciscans of St. Bonaventure Province. Bishop Callahan was serving as the vocation director then, and Fr. Jankowski was the first vocation he processed.

“As a religious brother in our community, I lived with him for several years at our house of studies,” said Fr. Jankowski. “I spent one year at Holy Family Parish in Peoria when Bill was the pastor and I was the director of music.”

During those years, Fr. Jankowski felt drawn to the priesthood and remembers Bishop Callahan as a tremendous support to him.

Packed up and moved to Milwaukee

“In the summer of 1994, I received permission to study for the priesthood at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners with residency at the Basilica of St. Josaphat,” he said. “At our provincial chapter that year, Bill was named the pastor and rector of the basilica as well. Not only that, Fr. Robert Joseph Switanowski, who was the associate pastor in Peoria with Bill, was likewise assigned to the basilica. So, the three of us packed up and moved to Milwaukee.”

Throughout their friendship, Fr. Jankowski witnessed the love Bishop Callahan has for the priesthood, and is confident the La Crosse Diocese is getting a dedicated and faith-filled bishop.

“Every time he celebrates the Eucharist, he puts his whole being forward to that great encounter with Christ,” the priest explained. “His presence radiates the sacredness of the moment and the intimacy of that union with Christ. Likewise, his living the Eucharist after the celebration validates his great love for the Eucharist and the priesthood, which makes that possible.”

Compassion often apparent

Bishop Callahan’s compassionate side was often apparent to longtime parishioner Peggy Sytowski, but never more so than the years in which she helped with the basilica’s St. Joseph’s Table. In fact, one memory still moves her to tears.

“We had all these high level donors and a business man who paid for the whole catered dinner,” she explained. “But Fr. Bill didn’t sit with all of them; instead, he sat face to face with a man who appeared to be homeless and visited there with him for over half an hour. No one else in the room talked to this guy and yet Fr. Bill treated this man like everyone else and gave him his full attention.”

While happy for the La Crosse Diocese, Sytowski admitted she will miss Bishop Callahan’s homilies and genuine love for everyone.

“I am so sad about his leaving,” she said. “But they are getting a wonderful bishop and I know he is going to do a great job there. They are lucky to have him.”

In 1995, Sharon Kubacki, director of administrative services at the basilica, began volunteering and later became a paid staff member. During that time, she developed a close friendship with Bishop Callahan.

“I knew him when he was first ordained and have been a parishioner here all my life,” she said. “When he came here, I volunteered to do financials for him and then began working full time in 1998. He is such a terrific man with a great sense of people – he always sees the good in them and it will be very hard to see him go.”

‘Bigger than life type of guy’

The only consolation for Mary and Jim Connelly about Bishop Callahan’s new appointment is that he will remain within Wisconsin. The couple developed a close friendship with the bishop after visiting the basilica a few times. They were not only impressed with his homilies, but also awed that, after only meeting them once, he remembered their names.

“We couldn’t believe that he remembered us,” said Mary. “He was this bigger than life type of guy with an incredible zest for God and life; and I remember that we just felt like we knew we were home when we went there.”

During the basilica’s restoration, Bishop Callahan often called upon Jim, an interior designer, for advice on decorations. While her husband was happy to offer advice, Mary joked that the suggestions were rarely heeded because it was always Fr. Bill’s way or no way.

“We have wonderful memories of him asking advice and then doing it his way anyway,” she said. “He was a hoot in many ways – always very respectful of Jim’s opinions, but had a clear idea about what he wanted. He really cared about the music, the liturgy and pageantry, vestments, decorations and incense. It just adds such a special way to praise God and to carry out the mission of this beautiful church.”

Daughter’s wedding is fondest memory

Although they have many fond memories of their friendship with Bishop Callahan, their daughter Francis’ wedding stands out foremost in their minds.

“He did the wedding Mass when she got married last year and out of all the 3 million pictures we had, there is a favorite one,” said Mary. “He was congratulating them at the end of the Mass and he just looked so joyful. It was the best – just like a Christmas card photo.”

As director of the Basilica Foundation for eight months, Susan Rabe appreciates Bishop Callahan’s commitment to people and finding methods to bring people together to benefit the less fortunate.

“He truly enjoys connecting with people and loves being a priest,” she said, adding, “And when I learned that he personally directed all the interior decorating aspects of the basilica restoration and new construction of the Pope John Paul II Pavilion, I was bowled over. He has quite an eye for colors and textures. He’s quite the visionary in more than one way.”

Franciscan spirituality evident

As the coordinator of the English as a Second Language Program at the basilica, Bonnie Dompke worked closely with Bishop Callahan and appreciated his support of the program.

“He was so supportive of this program and offered encouragement to me all the time,” she said. “I remember the first time my husband Al (Alvin) and I came to the basilica, it was on our way to another parish. We experienced the Franciscan spirituality there and never left.  Fr. Bill was always so down to earth, and even if he was busy, he took time to talk to you and never acted as if he was in a hurry to leave. You felt like the most important person in the room.”

While they won’t get to hear his homilies as often, the Dompkes plan to make regular trips to La Crosse to attend Bishop Callahan’s Masses.

“It will be a nice trip, but much longer,” she said, adding, “But it will be worth it.”

A significant tie between Bishop Callahan and Al Dompke is that both are recipients of the Only Jesus Award through the St. Josaphat Basilica’s Holy Name Society.

“I received mine in 1995 when Fr. Bill was pastor here and he received his last year on May 2,” explained Al. “The award was presented to him by our president, Steven Lazarczyk, who thanked Bishop Callahan for saying yes to promoting the Holy Name Society at St. Josaphat Basilica Parish and for his continued support of the Holy Name Society.”

Long sermons: ‘Worth every minute’

At the basilica the word in the pews was, “Don’t attend the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass if you are in a hurry,” joked Michelle Peña and Christine Ostopowicz, who affectionately refer to Bishop Callahan as a bit long winded.

“His sermons are very long and he always had that Mass. It was very traditional; you just couldn’t be in a hurry because you never knew how long it would last,” said Peña, laughing. “Mass would last at least an hour and 15 minutes, but it was worth every minute of it. He even laughs at himself and has often commented on his long sermons ... he loves to talk, but what he says is always very meaningful.”

Ostopowicz agreed and added that like the other Franciscans, Bishop Callahan’s Franciscan spirit seemed to draw people to the church.

“Fr. Bill and all the other Franciscans seem to have something special about them that just brings people here,” she said, adding, “He was so supportive and caring. I remember when he came to the hospital at 2 a.m. to give my dad the last rights after he had a stroke. I felt so guilty for calling him in the middle of the night, but he didn’t mind and insisted on staying with my husband and me for a long time to comfort and support us.”

Deck the halls at Christmastime

While both women have worked with Bishop Callahan in various capacities — Peña as a longtime catechist and Ostopowicz with the Big Band and dinner dance fundraisers – most memorable were the years helping with the basilica’s Christmas decorations.

According to Ostopowicz, Peña was the creative force behind the decorations and she was the helper. Trumping both was Bishop Callahan’s propensity to redecorate after hours.

“Well, he was sort of picky,” laughed Peña. “I was an art major so he let me have a bit more freedom than others. I didn’t ask what he wanted; I just would do it. So, we would have this place all decorated for Christmas and then I’d come in the next day and it was all rearranged. I wasn’t offended by it – that’s the way he was; he liked having things a particular way.”

Kidding aside, when Bishop Callahan came to the basilica, the parish was in dire financial straits and paying the utility bills was often a challenge that left parishioners bundled in heavy coats during winter Masses and avoiding the areas of the building that were in disrepair.

“I remember the first time I sat in the church for the Milwaukee Symphony Concert and a chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling,” said Peña. “I told Fr. Bill about this when he came aboard; once he came, the money problems went away and things were solved. We didn’t have to worry about things falling from the ceiling or being cold in the winter. Things have happened underneath him and it has a lot to do with his real professionalism and ability to gain support from the community, and the community gave back to the church.”

‘Fr. Bill’ will be missed

Described as a father, a friend, a graceful and godly man, Peña and Ostopowicz will miss their “Fr. Bill” and will try to follow him when they can.

“We missed him when he became bishop and will miss him more now that he is leaving for La Crosse,” admitted Peña. “He has made such a difference in the Catholic world and in my world and in Chris’ world and the people he touches through meetings. You don’t forget him once you meet him. We love him for who he is, both professionally and how he is as a person. Our loss is truly their gain.”

Preserving parish history is archivist’s labor of love

The prairie grasses along Ottawa Avenue hadn’t yet given way to asphalt roads, subdivisions, and local businesses when Dousman and neighboring Ottawa’s first Catholic Church, St. Bruno, held its first Mass in 1852.P32POF-HENDRICK

The nearest church was what is now known as St. Lawrence Parish in Jefferson. In those days, St. Lawrence was called “The St. Bruno Mission.” In 1852, the St. Bruno Mission Church was enlarged and officially named St. Lawrence.

“The first Mass was held in a private home, by visiting priest Fr. Michael Haider, pastor of St. Lawrence in Jefferson,” said Debra Hendrick, St. Bruno Parish historian. “The altar was constructed out of boxes, and built by the priest. The tiny parish became a mission of St. Lawrence Church.”

However, don’t get Hendrick started on today’s priest shortage! She explained that in the 1840s and early 1850s only about seven priests provided for the needs of 2,000 Catholics in the Wisconsin and Iowa Territories. Missionary priests rode on horseback over dirt roads doing missionary work, which consisted of baptizing, converting, hearing confessions, performing marriages and celebrating Mass.

“Now that was a shortage,” she said. “I like to ponder this sometimes, because it is not a new problem.”

A history buff, Hendrick worked for more than 12 years with her uncle, Dan Lauer, on the restoration of the “Old St. Bruno Church” in Ottawa, located on the present parish cemetery property along Highway Z.

Because of the itinerancy of the early parish, photos and documents resided in various homes and hands, and Fr. John Schreiter, former pastor of St. Bruno, became concerned that much of the parish’s history would be lost when people moved or passed away. After reading an announcement for a parish archivist in a 1997 bulletin, Hendrick volunteered.

“I remember I was so excited, and perhaps a bit worried that somebody else would ask for the job before I could, that I drove home rather fast and called Fr. John immediately, she confessed. “I knew I would be good at a job like this, but I found out later that nobody else wanted the job, so all the hurrying was for nothing.”

Since beginning the project, she has compiled a written history of the parish, created four history books filled with pictures, stories, newspaper and bulletin articles, parish church and cemetery land grants, marriage certificates and a history of the Ottawa and Dousman area. 
One of Hendrick’s ongoing concerns is educating others about important documents so they are not discarded.

“Important items and information has been thrown out by well-meaning people in the parish because they did not know that these items are important,” she said, adding, “But information and pictures still turn up in drawers and boxes at church, and in parishioners’ attics and basements. A couple of years ago, a Fr. Kevin called me to see if he could talk to me about his own personal family history he was working on. He came to see me along with his sister, who actually was a (religious) sister and we shared information. He asked a lot of questions, which I was able to answer for him, but then he mentioned that he had a marriage certificate for one of his ancestors from a St. Bruno Congregation in ‘Altrua, Wisconsin.’ I asked him if I could see it, and much to my amazement, I showed him that it did not say Altrua, but actually said ‘Ottawa.’ So now, we have in our archives a copy of this certificate signed by Fr. Franz Spath and dated Oct. 26, 1868.”

With assistance from current pastor, Fr. Ralph Gross, Hendrick has pieced together additional information going back to Fr. Alphonse H. Foltz, the parish’s first parishioner to be ordained to the priesthood.

“The certificates ranged from his baptismal through testimonial and letter of his first assignments,” said Hendrick. “Some of these certificates date back to the 1920s. Fr. Ralph found these certificates in a drawer at church.”
Name: Debra Hendrick
Age: 50
Parish: St Bruno, Dousman
Occupation: Owner, operator: Debbie’s Day Care and Preschool
Book recently read: “The Ponds of the Scuppernong,” by Robert Duerwachter
Favorite movie: “Brigadoon”
Favorite quotation: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you." 

­(Submitted photo courtesy Debbie Hendrick)

The research is ongoing and often the information is a surprising treasure trove of stories for the 50-year-old wife to Kurt, mother of three and grandmother to six children.

“One of the biggest things I learned, and what many people did not know prior to my research, is that St. Bruno Congregation first became a parish in 1865 with Fr. Lawrence Schreiner, the first pastor,” said Hendricks. “St. Bruno then became a mission of St. Mary in Sullivan in 1871, and remained a mission until 1957.”

Her decision to document parish history is a reflection of the love she has for her parish.

“I also serve as the Saturday evening Mass sacristan and coordinator and am a former religious education teacher,” she said, adding, “In the 1980s, I taught guitar and music at the school and created a children’s choir that sang for Mass and special occasions.”

When her family joined the parish in 1965, Hendrick became a member of the parish and attended the grade school all eight years. Her daughters also attended the school and two grandchildren are enrolled for the fall.

While her husband is employed as the maintenance supervisor for St. Bruno, Hendrick has run Debbie’s Day Care and Preschool in Dousman since they were married 27 years ago. Working more than 12 hours per day, it leaves her only evenings and weekends for research.

“I just really enjoy what I do,” she said, displaying a bit of occupational wit.  “In fact, in the archives I have recorded, ‘In 1965, Debbie Hendrick’s family joined the parish, and Debbie was enrolled in the first grade at St. Bruno’s School.’ So far, nobody has caught this bit of archivist humor.”