Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mending the fractured heart

We have loved
and lost

We are wounded
and in pain

We have sinned
and been forgiven

We have fallen short
of the Glory of God

But, by offering our pain and melding it to the arms of our Savior on the Cross, 
placing our worries under the flowing blood of our Redeemer

loving as He loved
forgiving as he forgives

we can once and for all
release our agony
 laying it bare, raw, and unyielding at His Feet

And with his grace, 
his mercy
his compassion,
we can become one with Him

and we can choose to forgive
choose to go on
and choose to love

And through the fissures in our heart,
the holes in our soul, 
the tears that cascade in the darkness of the night
His healing balm enters in and mends our broken hearts

and we are new once again

Who healeth the broken of heart, and bindeth up their bruises. Psalm 147:3

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  1 Peter 2:24

Friday, October 29, 2010

Heaven sent gluten free carrot and pineapple cake

Oh Barefoot Contessa, I am head over heels in love, and smitten with your Carrot and Pineapple cake.

The first droplet of the heavenly cream cheese frosting sent my tongue into shock waves of delight. The smooth texture of the cream cheese enveloped in a marriage of unsalted butter and vanilla danced upon my senses almost bringing me to Heaven’s throne room. If you could taste heaven—this would be it. That blend is enough on its own, but no, tidbits of fresh pineapple adorn the top of the cake to give it an extra burst of tart, but tantalizing flavor.

Bedded beneath the canopy of the off white icing is the rich, but light blend of cinnamon, freshly grated carrots, walnuts, raisins and again, fresh pineapple. Nearly meaty with the number of ingredients, the cake is still light and decadent. This hefty dessert is sufficient for a trip to the confession booth, but perhaps we will all receive dispensation since the recipient is none other than our parish priest—a celebration of his 65 years on this earth.

**I doubled the recipe and used a half-sheet pan and adapted to the recipe to make it gluten free—of course, I wanted to partake in the festivities as well. 
Enjoy--and as my late mother would say, "Ungowa"

The ingredients are sinfully delicious:

For the cake:
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all purpose gluten free flour, divided
  • 4 teaspoons Xanthan gum
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 pound carrots, grated
  • 1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple
For the frosting:
  • 3/4 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
For the decoration
  • 1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
I doubled the recipe and used a half-sheet pan
For the cake:
Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light yellow. Add the vanilla. In another bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups flour, the cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Toss the raisins and walnuts with 1 tablespoon flour. Fold in the carrots and pineapple. Add to the batter and mix well.
Divide the batter equally between the 2 pans. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans set over a wire rack.
For the frosting
Mix the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until just combined. Add the sugar and mix until smooth.
Place 1 layer, flat-side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with diced pineapple.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Baby Chloe is 'miracle, gift from God'


Like many toddlers, Chloe enjoys snacking in front of the television.

What sets the 2-year-old apart is that she was never supposed to be able to watch TV or eat solid food. In fact, she wasn’t supposed to run, play or talk as doctors had given her only six months to live.

Not only is she doing all the above, but her doctors are calling her a miracle. More surprising, Chloe’s remarkable story captured the attention of Jerry Lewis, actor, comedian and Muscular Dystrophy Association’s National Chairman. Observant viewers may have seen the family on the annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.

Chloe suffers from a rare enzyme shortage called Pompe disease, which affects one in 40,000 births; the infant onset type causes muscle wastage, nerve damage and heart problems.

Parents dazed by diagnosis

Derek and Annie Lundy were dazed, and struggled to comprehend what they were being told by doctors. It was late spring in 2008, and just days before, they had been celebrating the birth of their third child. On this day, however, the couple learned that Chloe has the rarest form of the fatal disease, Infantile Onset Pompe, Crim Negative, which means that she has none of the enzymes that her muscles need to function.

Chloe’s heart showed signs of distress during labor and Annie was concerned about undergoing a Cesarean Section. But Derek and her mother, Debbie Hendrick, realized something more was seriously wrong.

“It was explained to us that a nurse would rush the baby to the nursery as soon as she was born,” explained Debbie. “She was immediately hooked up to so many machines that you almost could not see the baby. We found out that Chloe’s heart was enlarged and she had some breathing issues.”

Observant nurse ‘saved her life’
Doctors at Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital kept mom and baby in the hospital for a few extra days. The day before Chloe was to be discharged, an observant nurse noticed something.

“I wish I knew her name because I pray for her every day,” said Debbie, adding, “She noticed that Chloe’s heart rate dropped for just a couple seconds. Because she noted this and took it seriously, they decided instead of sending the baby home that they would transport her to Children’s Hospital. This probably saved her life. Most other infants are sent home, and then when problems start to arise, it is too late to save them. Chloe lived in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital for the next month. Most doctors have never heard about Pompe.”

Total strangers pray for Chloe
As Annie and Derek struggled to explain the disease to their older children Braden, 8, and Paige, 7, they also grappled with the grave diagnosis and the newfound status in learning that Chloe was the youngest person worldwide to be diagnosed with Pompe. Terrified, Debbie turned to prayer, begging God to save her granddaughter.

“I was so scared,” she admitted. “Not only for this dear sweet baby that we waited for, for so long and wanted so very much, but also for my daughter, Annie, who might lose her baby. I was desperate to do something to help. I phoned friends, family, e-mailed everyone I knew and begged them all to pray for Baby Chloe. I even asked total strangers in the grocery store for prayers. It is amazing how many people, children, parishes and churches of other faiths have and still are praying for Baby Chloe.”

Treatment includes Genzyme, chemo
To treat the disease, doctors at Children’s Hospital are giving her an enzyme replacement treatment by Genzyme, a similar treatment that was featured in the recent movie “Extraordinary Measures.” The movie tells the true story of John Crowley, a man who defied great odds in pursuit of a cure for his two children who suffer from Pompe.

In Chloe’s case, however, her body does not recognize the enzyme and her own immunities attack the treatment, so she also receives three different types of chemotherapy.

“The chemo is being used to suppress her immunities so her body will accept the treatment; however, with the chemo, her body cannot fight off colds or other infections,” explained Annie, 26, of Sullivan. “This puts her at high risk for other diseases. We had real worries when the Swine Flu (H1N1 flu) made its way to our area. I help my mom run a day care in her home and several of our children had it, and even Paige had it. Every time we were exposed to the Swine Flu, all of us, even my mom and dad, had to get a prescription so that we had less of a chance of carrying the disease to Chloe.”

Family encouraged to share story
Despite frequent setbacks such as colds, weakness, emergency visits to the hospital and a recent surgery to improve the muscles around her eyes, Chloe’s progress is almost miraculous, leaving doctors wondering if it is the medication or the prayer that has kept the little girl alive and active.
The company that makes Chloe’s medications also markets treatments for Muscular Dystrophy. The two diseases are closely related in that both affect the muscles. After showing significant progress, Genzyme contacted Chloe’s genetic counselor who encouraged Annie, Derek and Debbie to share their story.

“Her story got to MDA because the doctors are shaking their heads and telling us that it is a miracle that Chloe is alive, much less running, jumping and playing with other children,” said Debbie. “They have also said that she is an inspiration and a pioneer in this field. We, of course, know that it is a miracle from our loving Father.”

Long term, Chloe’s future is uncertain and the doctors at Children’s Hospital continually prepare the family for the worst. However, out of the seven children throughout the world with the same diagnosis, she is making the most progress. Down the road, Chloe might need additional medical devices, including a wheelchair, but for now, she is happy, cheerful and loving.

Daughter brought mom back to church
“We don’t know what to expect; the doctors say she is in ‘uncharted territory,’” said Annie. “Because Chloe can take a turn for the worse at any time, I take it one day at a time. I don’t look forward and I don’t look back, because today will always be a better day than the last.”

Rather than become bitter or angry with God for her daughter’s disease, Annie, who had drifted away from the Catholic Church, found that her tiny daughter was a gift that God used to bring her back to the church.

“Before Chloe, I was lost,” she confessed. “I wasn’t close to God. I was looking for the right church and the right religion. I bounced from church to church and then gave up. Chloe has brought so much joy into my life. She has taught me so many things and showed me what faith is, and reintroduced me to God. During the hardest time, the beginning of Chloe’s life, I knew something had to be done.”

After much prayer, Annie remained uncertain as to where God was leading her, so she went back to St. Bruno in Dousman, her childhood parish. Welcomed, Annie knew at once that she was home.

“So many people were already praying for Chloe and me, because my mom (also a member of St. Bruno) had asked them to,” she said. “People offered to help me with what I was going through – but I know for certain, that without Chloe, I would still to this day be searching for God.”

Parish family is key support
Despite her unwavering faith, Debbie has had moments of weakness and there are days when she has a difficult time remaining stalwart for the young family.

“My faith doesn’t slip, but the ‘being strong’ part does once in a while,” she explained. “Our St. Bruno parish family has been such a great support to us. They pray for Chloe every day at daily Mass, and the children pray for her at their Mass, too, and in their homes. When I taught religious ed, I used to tell the children that Jesus especially hears the prayers of children. This is most certainly true. Prayer is powerful. Our Father has given us so many gifts; he has gifted us with our beautiful little Chloe, and he has given us time … already far more than the original six months. I have so much to be thankful for. We have been so blessed – we were also blessed to have Chloe anointed at St. Bruno by Fr. Ralph (Gross) during the Mass.”

Music director happy to practice faith openly


 Written by Karen Mahoney, 
Special to your Catholic Herald  
Thursday, 28 October 2010 10:31

As a little girl, Jolita Frank remembers quietly practicing the Catholic faith with her parents. While they attended Mass on Sundays, they did not openly express their faith, nor would they discuss it in public. Formal religious education classes were prohibited, and children could only learn about faith quietly in their homes.

Life in Soviet-occupied Lithuania was not simple for Frank. But, thanks to faith-filled parents, she developed a relationship with God.

“If our school teachers found out that we were learning about the Catholic faith, they would report us,” said Frank, 43. “We lived in fear of that. My parents never said what would happen, but the history in Lithuania was that a lot of people were taken by train to Siberia for practicing their faith.”
In fact, Frank’s maternal grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousins were forced to ride the train to Siberia as punishment for failing to cloak their Catholicism. Her grandfather and uncle starved to death along the journey.

Jolita Frank

Parish: St. Leonard Parish, Muskego

Occupation: Director of music, St. Leonard, Muskego

Age: 43

Favorite movie: “Mamma Mia” and anything with Meryl Streep in it!

Book recently read: “Rome Sweet Rome,” by Scott Hahn

Favorite quotation: Psalm 27:
The Lord is my light and my salvation –
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life –
of whom shall I be afraid?

(Catholic Herald photo by Maryangela Layman Román)
“They separated the men from the women and children, so my family didn’t know that they died until they arrived in Siberia. It was so sad,” explained Frank. “After a few years, the rest of them sneaked out and came back secretly. They lived with my mom’s parents for a while under my mom’s maiden name.”

Despite the looming oppression, Frank grew up in a happy home filled with love; she inherited her father’s love of music, and enjoyed singing and playing the piano. Each time she saw an organ, she fought the desire to sit and finger the keys, reluctant to take lessons as it might cast suspicion around her that she would use her talents to play in church.

“I suppose I could have taken classes, but at the time I thought, ‘What’s the point of taking it if I can’t play in church?’ But some of my classmates took the course and played in church later,” she explained. “And when it came time to attend the Music Academy of Lithuania I could honestly say in the questionnaire that I did not work or play for the Catholic Church. If I would have put ‘yes’ down, I would be on their radar and maybe not be accepted into this highly competitive school.”

Frank earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the academy, and after waiting for two years, sought out an elderly nun who taught her to play the organ. During those college years, she met and married Arturas and had a son, Nojus. To escape the religious persecution, Arturas moved the family to the United States where they could freely practice their Catholic faith.

“I didn’t want to leave my family and friends, but also didn’t want to be left behind, so I decided to go with him,” said Frank. “It was a shock to me because Nojus was only 4 months old and, as a new mom, I wasn’t prepared for such a change in my life.”

A couple of years later, after Rose, now 18, was born, Arturas became ill and died, leaving Frank overwhelmed, heartbroken and afraid.

“I had to figure out what to do, learn the American ways, learn the language, get a job and figure out how to live without going paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “My mom came to help me for a while, and my mother-in-law came later to help me, so I could go back to school.”

With her family’s support, she earned her master’s degree in vocal accompanying from UW–Milwaukee and a couple of years later, went on to earn her teaching certification.
While she was substitute teaching a piano class at UWM, she met her current husband, Daniel, who was taking the course.

“He was kind of cute and followed me around,” laughed Frank. “We married 14 years ago. He was wonderful and raised my kids, and watched them while I went to school or was busy with rehearsals at church or teaching piano at home.”

As she continued to become proficient with the organ, she drifted back toward her childhood dream of playing in the Catholic Church. She has served as music director at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Union Grove; St. Catherine Parish, Milwaukee; St. Anthony Parish, Menomonee Falls; St. Jerome Parish, Oconomowoc; and currently at St. Leonard Parish, Muskego

“I have been so blessed to have wonderful priests who helped me learn the American way of liturgy, and were a great support to me over the years,” said Frank. “I feel so good to be working in the Catholic faith – liturgy is different here than in Lithuania, so I am happy for the guidance I received.”

Living through religious oppression, moving to a foreign country and losing a spouse might crack the strongest of souls, but for Frank, God kept her grounded and blessed with the grace to persevere.

“I talked to God every day, and told him, ‘God, I need you to help me take care of my children and raise them. I will be happy if they are happy,’” she said. “I also asked him to help me by leading the way in all that I did. He was there for me and helped me to meet my husband.”

Without her faith and music, Frank said she would have been lost after her husband passed away.

“Music is the part that kept me coming back to the Catholic faith,” she said. “I love to work with my music and although people look to me for spiritual enrichment, I get it back from them. The relationship between music and faith seem to feed off each other and it is truly a giving and receiving ministry.”

Couple leans on faith to cope with son's death


Written by Karen Mahoney,
Special to your Catholic Herald  
Thursday, 28 October 2010 10:31

As if it were yesterday, Mary Schum remembers the day she found her 17-year-old son, David, dead by suicide. In a haze of anguish and unanswered questions, she shielded the grandchildren she was babysitting from her pain and contacted her son and daughter to pick up their children, while choking out the news that their brother was gone.

“I had to awaken my college daughter to tell her, and my older daughter had to call her brother in California to give him the news,” she said. “My husband, Tim, was at the airport awaiting a flight to a medical conference when the police had to contact him and tell him to come home.”

For parents who have lost a child, the pain is unlike any other. It is a grief that is visceral, piercing, inclusive and life-altering.

The Schum family

The Schum family poses for a family photo in 2004, the Christmas before 17-year-old Dave Schum died. Dave is pictured in the back row, center, behind his parents Tim and Mary Schum. Tim and Mary are featured speakers at “A Day for Healing for All Who Mourn the Death of a Child,” on Saturday, Nov. 13 at St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield. (Submitted photo courtesy the Schum family)

On March 4, 2005, the agony unfolded for the Schums.
The youngest of five children, David suffered from bipolar disorder. He often cut himself to deal with his internal distress. Although Tim and Mary had him in therapy, David chose to go off his medication in December 2004.

“He’d survived other suicide attempts, so we were lucky to have him as long as we did,” explained Mary. “Dealing with his death was the biggest event in our family’s lives. Entering into grief is a unique experience. It is uncharted territory and it completely changed everything in my life.”

Death was blow to professional confidence
For Tim, a pediatrician and teacher at the Medical College of Wisconsin’s primary care clinic, the Downtown Health Center, David’s death rocked his soul as well as his professional confidence.

“I think my confidence was shaken more because of my profession,” he said. “I am trained to save lives, but here I couldn’t even save my own son’s life.”

With the help of their four other children, Joy, Paul, Daniel and Clare, the couple tried to find an explanation for their son’s and brother’s death.

“The emotional drain is tremendous,” said Mary, adding, “It felt like being weighted down with lead weights all over my body. It was exhausting and sleep was difficult. We met with our family therapist who had been seeing Dave for years. Regular sessions with her were very helpful.”

Two and a half years into their grief, Tim learned of a worldwide support group, The Compassionate Friends, a group for parents, siblings and other family members grieving the loss of a child.

“When I attended my first meeting, I knew this was for me,” said Tim. “Here I could speak freely. I knew that everyone there had gone through the same painful experience. When others spoke about something that happened to them (after losing their child), I immediately realized the same had happened to me sometime.”

Couple leaned on their faith

Schums' suggestions for coping with loss of a child

  • “You’ll never get over it, but you will get through it,” advice to the Schums from a parent who also lost a child.
  • Learn to lean on the grace of God – this was apparent during the visitation and funeral Mass. Tim supported David’s Pius XI High School classmates who were suffering the loss of their friend.
  • Seek out support, either in groups or with a therapist. Seek information on grief through books or videos to learn that you are not unusual and that it is possible to survive the pain.
  • Find creative outlets to find relief, such as journaling, writing letters to your deceased child, writing memories, prayers and thoughts.
  • Talk to family or friends.
  • Take it slow, one step at a time.
  • Treasure each day; be thankful for all God has given you.
  • Try to find God’s beauty in nature and be thankful for the time you had with your child.
  • For outsiders, don’t be afraid to mention the name of the child as it won’t cause the parent to suffer, it will be a comfort and they will know you care.
  • Never tell the grieving parent that you know how they feel, because you don’t unless you are also grieving the loss of a child.
  • Phrases like, “He’s with God now,” are true, but aren’t helpful for the parent dealing with grief. The grieving parent might be in shock or angry with God and the phrase is not helpful or timely.
  • Sympathy cards are welcome and treasured by the family who often don’t realize how much their child touched the lives of others – so please do send them.
As members of Holy Assumption Parish, West Allis, Tim and Mary, both 59, relied on their faith and God’s grace to make it through each day.

“I am convinced that the love in our family, among all of us, still unites us to Dave,” said Mary. “We are still a family united by love.”

Through meeting with others, sharing their stories and pain, and talking together as a family, the Schums began to heal and guide their pain toward helping others going through similar crises.

A grief program was instituted at Holy Assumption and Mary and Tim continue to facilitate the follow up support group meetings.

When Clare left home the fall after David’s death to attend law school in New York, Mary, a stay-at-home mom, attended a private retreat and met with aspiritual director.

“In the next year, I enrolled at Cardinal Stritch and graduated in December 2008 with a master of arts in lay ministries,” she said. “My pastoral project was on using small groups in parish bereavement ministry. Currently, I am doing my second unit of clinical pastoral education at St. Camillus, learning to better serve the needs of people who are experiencing multiple losses in their lives.”

Dad relates to parents, teens differently
As a pediatrician, Tim can relate to parents who have suffered the death of a child because, like them, he has experienced great loss.

“I also relate to teens a lot differently,” he said. “I am always on the lookout for potential suicide or self-mutilation signals. So I also teach the next generation of physicians what to do and a little about what it is like. I also am a participant in a seminar held every year for our second-year pediatric residents. The seminar is titled, ‘Coping with the dying patient.’ At that seminar, I go over what my grief is like and some of the coping strategies for me.”

While the family battles painful memories, visions of vibrant young men David’s age, and the whys and what ifs surrounding their loss, Tim and Mary share their heartache and coping mechanisms with others. The couple will be guest speakers at an archdiocesan Day of Healing for all those who mourn the death of a child on Saturday, Nov. 13, at St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield.

They aim to compassionately relate to others in similar situations and offer hope and suggestions to survive.

“My presentation will include what I felt both initially and over the ensuing several years,” said Tim. “I will share how much emotional energy grief consumes. I will share about how many triggers there were for me, in particular for my occupation, caring for teens and for parents, who also had a child die.”

While both suffered tremendous sadness and lack of emotional energy, Tim remembers daily discussions surrounding the same topics, dealing with triggers, post traumatic stress syndrome, decreased appetite, trouble sleeping and the all consuming sadness that David was gone and would never be with them on earth again.

Tim and Mary read books and other materials on grief, and through their study, Tim learned that David’s bipolar illness is a chemical imbalance where the pain of depression and living is worse than the pain of dying.

“I read a book about suicide and one phrase in particular stood out for me: ‘Suicide can be thought of as the worst possible decision in a mind that can no longer function in a rational manner,’” he explained.

Grief process different for mom, dad
While agonizing for both, the grieving process was notably different for each. Tim tried to bury himself in his work, but lacked the energy to do so. Mary cried more, and while Tim cried, he often wondered why he couldn’t express his grief as freely.

“There is no doubt that Dave’s death was hard on both of us,” he said. My wife has been a stay-at-home mom. So I think one of the ways we were different was that she had put so much of her life’s work into raising Dave and our other children that it shook her confidence as a mom. I don’t know how to compare my time at work with her efforts to care for the grandkids and her efforts at the parish. I thought I would be back at work full time easily within two months. That turned out to be completely outrageous. I didn’t get back up to a 40-hour week for a least a year or more.”

Tim found comfort in two phrases from the New Testament during the most difficult moments of his grief. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” and “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”

“The first I felt immediately, and the second as I was further along in my grief process,” he said. “One of the ways I coped was to stop by the Marian Shrine on 68th Street. I would just sit there in the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus and of all of us. To me, she was one of the few that could understand what it was like. Her son also died. So, my relationship with her grew during this whole turn of events.”

Through David’s death, they have learned to appreciate each day as a gift from God.

“Life is a mystery and there is no logic to the way things work out,” said Mary. “I hope to someday see God’s wisdom in everything. I know that God is the God of new beginnings: each day, each new child, each new moment. There is beauty all around us, superfluous, gratuitous, generous beauty and wonder.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

The blessing of forgiveness

Mother Theresa once said," If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive."

 Forgiveness works! It is often difficult, but it works! 

We often think of forgiveness as something that someone who has done us wrong must ask of us. There is always another way of looking at something. My thoughts on forgiveness suggest that you focus on offering forgiveness to the person who has wronged you. 

Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. It is not something you do for someone else. It is not complicated. It is simple. Simply identify the situation to be forgiven and ask yourself: "Am I willing to waste my energy further on this matter?" If the answer is "No," then that's it! All is forgiven. 

In the Lord's prayer, we pray "Forgive those who trespass against us" and while the other person may choose not to open their hearts, we have done our part by truly and wholly offering forgiveness from within. The rest is up to the other person and we pray that God works to restore the lost unity.

Building a bridge

Relationships that come via birth assume a natural connection.
Some are warm and loving, but many are embroiled in constant disputes or difficult in other ways.
At times the reasons for creating distance seem more compelling than the reasons for creating and building relationship, yet in all cases it is of benefit to the heart and soul to create a path of return to love.

Unfortunately, there are numerous instances where members of a family become embroiled in long-standing disputes with each other suffering ongoing feelings of tension, irritability, and judgments that take on a life of their own. This can result in a stand-off over many years in which others are tolerated, but not without a great deal of good-will. There are also times when something much quieter and more subtle takes place which creates distance between self and others. Often the reasons are unclear, but may appear to have to do with differences in faith, jealousy or values which create obstacles to closeness.

Like a debilitating cancer, anger and judgment of one toward another can go on for years, even for a lifetime, or creating apathy leaving a distance so expansive that the original reason for estrangement is lost in a haze of indifference and neglect. 

Then, a bridge must be created to span the chasm that has developed between us and those whom we are related to, not only biologically but spiritually as well.

The desire to build a bridge to those who seem lost to us or separated from us is a need of a spiritual kind, for it involves acknowledging the inner nature of the relationship between ourselves and our parents, ourselves and our children, ourselves and siblings-ourselves and God.

These relationships have all been created within the soul in order to establish motifs of meaning in our journey through life, and the sense of their significance must apply even to relationships that appear confusing, misplaced, or lacking in love, as well as to those that seem gracious and light-filled. Generally, the challenges presented to us in difficult relationships are the most painful in our lives, and overcoming them can become monumental turning points for us, affecting the rest of life in other areas as well.

 Under the cloak of righteousness is a lining of anger and judgment, a heavy article to wear each day. However, the path to forgiveness and acceptance comes from throwing off that coat, leaving us bare and vulnerable for God's touch. If we don't, within the absence of forgiveness we carry the pain of self-judgment with us throughout life as well as judgment of others. This is because judgment of another is always and without exception based on judgment of ourselves in some way that remains hidden. And because it is hidden, it is revealed only by what we reject in another. It reminds me that without forgiveness we become what we hate--we are called to love and only to love.   Often, this is hard to see, and yet rejection of another for seemingly 'justifiable' reasons is always rejection of that part of the self that is like or could be like the other who cannot be forgiven.

In the case of alienation, estrangement, and distance between family members, the situation is somewhat different. Here, there is not the volatility or heat of anger to bring family members into a confrontational engagement. Rather, there is a quiet lack of feeling which covers another more profound layer of experience, namely, a sense of sorrow or loss, based on the feeling that love is not or was not possible. This sense of loss or lack permeates a relationship on such an internal level so that it no longer seems possible to be in a relationship at all. It can be buried so deeply that it may be impossible to remember that there was a time when love was present or a time when love was lost. In our stubbornness, the original experience of woundedness becomes covered over, and in its place we find a sense of apathy or indifference - tools of the devil that are designed to conceal the more painful experience of feeling that love could not be. 

The reasons for this may have been unknown to us in the past and may continue to be unknown, and yet the separation remains.
 It's work to build a bridge to cover the crevasse of estrangement--one must first have a supple heart that is open to acceptance of differences. Through prayer, we must be willing to let the heart grow larger so that more caring is possible, and out of this caring can grow a willingness to experience the original hurt and the original decision to withdraw. Without the willingness to give up indifference or apathy, a soul cannot move past the dark closet of isolation, and can remain, sometimes for a lifetime, in a place where the land is barren and refuses to bring forth blossoms of new.

In cases where relationships are difficult or painful – even in such cases, souls have come together in order to learn from such relationships. Often, the learning is one of the heart about what to appreciate in life, what to seek, what to value. It requires humility, self examination, and an openness to forgive each other's transgressions

There are, in the end, no relationships within families that cannot find their way back to love. This is true no matter how far apart family members may be physically, and no matter how many years have passed. There are no relationships in which the heart cannot seek to extend itself in love and forgiveness to all. It is a matter of viewing things from God's perspective-an understanding that each being who comes into our life, and especially those with whom we have a significant relationship, come bearing gifts of learning and of growth. 

The learning, indeed, may be the increased capacity to love and to forgive that what seems unforgivable. Yet our faith compels us to crack open our shells, allowing the balm of healing grace to flow over our wounds.And through our prayers, and God's intercessions, we can again become one with those who have separated themselves from us. 

While we pray for reconciliation, if we do our portion to bring everything to the foot of the cross, God will do the rest--whether in this life or the next.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

For Russell Arnett, delayed call leads to Catholic orders


As with most 7-year-old boys, Russell Arnett dreamt about what he would do when he grew up. At his bedside each night, he talked to God, prayed for his family and asked for all the things little boys ask. Often, he thought about the worship messages presented at his family’s Southern Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas. On one moonlit evening, his earnest prayers rose like incense to heaven, when he gave God his all – well, almost.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” admitted the 51-year-old. “I said, ‘Lord, I will do whatever your will is, just don’t ask me to be a preacher.’”

After leaving the Baptist Church, Arnett went to college and got a job in a consumer products company as a marketing analyst, and felt a longing for something more meaningful.

As a teen, he dated an Episcopalian girl, and attended service with her one Sunday. Once he stepped into the incense-laden Episcopal Church, he felt at home, and after much soul searching, left his job and attended Nashotah House, a seminary of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion of Churches in Nashotah, from 1996 to 1999.

“All along the way, after that prayer as a young boy, I could see myself on a pulpit praying, but I didn’t know how that would come to be,” he said. “And after doing everything I could not to answer the call, I went to seminary and was ordained (an Episcopal) priest Nov. 11, 1999 on the Feast of St. Martin of Tours.”

Following ordination, Arnett served as an assistant pastor and youth priest at SS. Peter and St. Paul Episcopal Church, Arlington, Texas. He served there until April 2002.

“I felt called to lead my own flock,” he said of his call to become rector of St. James Episcopal Church, West Bend, where he served from April 2002 until September 2006. Arnett loved ministering to his flock, witnessing weddings, conducting funerals, counseling, but most of all, celebrating Mass. Along with the joy and satisfaction came some deep, agonizing and recurring questions.


“I really began getting into the theology of the church and began realizing that the Episcopal Church was the external of what the Catholic worship was all about,” Arnett said. “Nashotah House, which was a wonderful place, focused much on the early church and that focus always made me wonder why we aren’t Catholic.”

With the support of Dianne, his wife of nine years whom he met while in seminary, he met with former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan in 2003 about becoming Catholic.

“He said, ‘I will make you a Catholic right now if you would like; I would love that, but I want you to take this slow and think about it. We will go at your pace and if you ever change your mind, don’t feel obligated,’” said Arnett.

From the beginning, he knew that if he was going to become Catholic, he wanted to serve the archdiocese as a priest.

“I couldn’t imagine leaving the Episcopal priesthood and not (becoming) a Catholic priest,” he said. “I knew it was possible, but I wasn’t sure what needed to be done. I wanted to do this without notoriety or fanfare; it wasn’t about me, it was about serving a parish and giving them something to feel good about.”

Tearfully, he kissed the altar after his last Mass as an Episcopal priest, and Arnett formally left the Episcopal Church in 2006. Suddenly, without a flock and a job, he wondered whether God would give him another chance to celebrate Mass.

“It was so humbling; your whole identity is stripped overnight,” he said. “You may still see yourself as a priest, but no one else does. It’s almost like a death of a spouse – you still feel married, but the spouse is gone.”

He and his wife came into the Catholic Church on July 25, 2007, on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, at St. Jerome Parish in Oconomowoc, and they trusted that if God was calling him to the priesthood, that he would make it happen.

“A good college friend’s parents sent us money and a care package,” he said. “And in it was a 16-CD set of Fr. John Corapi. We listened to him while looking for an apartment in Oconomowoc.”

Adept in sales, due to his previous experience in marketing, Arnett found a job selling cemetery plots and crypts for the archdiocese. Quite successful, he paid off all of his debts and was in a position to take a lower paying job at St. Jerome’s teaching religion to middle school students, adult formation, youth ministry, youth catechism and RCIA.

While it was approved by Pope John Paul II in 1980, when he signed a “pastoral provision” providing dispensation for Episcopal priests entering the Catholic Church (See Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s Herald of Hope on Page 2), being the first person to go through the program in the Milwaukee Archdiocese was confusing for everyone involved.

“It was hard because no one really knew what the educational requirements would be,” he said. “At one point, I was quite discouraged, and then my mom died March 13, last year, and when I got back from her funeral, Bishop (William) Callahan called to tell me he was sorry about my mom; then he said knew it was bad timing, but he wanted me to go to Seton Hall Seminary and do a theological evaluation. My wife joked that my mom was already shaking things up in heaven.”

For one year, Arnett studied 40 books and more than 50 topics. This past March, he took two days of written and two days of oral examinations.

“It was very intense,” he said. “But the professors were wonderful and I passed with honors in seven disciplines.”

While he had the approval of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, he had to wait for formal approval from the Vatican regarding ordination, a process that takes between two and six months. That approval came and Arnett will be ordained to the diaconate by Archbishop Listecki on Wednesday, Oct. 27, St. Francis Xavier, Kansasville. He is scheduled to be ordained a priest in spring.

Since this past June, Arnett, as a layperson, served as parish director of St. John the Baptist and St. Francis Xavier Parishes in the Union Grove/Kansasville area. He will continue in that role following his diaconal ordination.

“I really have to pinch myself sometimes to realize that, God willing, I will be standing at an altar in the near future. That is just an awesome thought. The whole process, there have been so many things where something had to happen in the narrowest time or window and they all happened exactly when it needed to. It may have been in the 11th hour, but once a coincidence, twice a coincidence, but time after time, I realized it was God blessing us throughout this process. While it was difficult, I have so much to be thankful for,” he said.

According to Bishop Richard J. Sklba, then-Milwaukee Archbishop William E. Cousins, Episcopal Bishop Donald H.V. Hallock and other “covenanted partners” entered into a “gentleman’s agreement” almost 50 years ago in which a member of the clergy moving from one denomination to another would not be assigned to serve in the area he previously served so as “to avoid confusion among former parishioners.” With Arnett serving in the Union Grove/Kansasville area, Bishop Sklba said, “The essence of the agreement is honored.” 

Arnett is the first person to go through the pastoral provision process, but he won’t be the first married priest in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Two years ago, Fr. Michael Sheip served the Milwaukee area. The priest and his wife and family have since returned to the Diocese of Venice, Fla.

Currently, there are about 100 married priests in the country and most are former Episcopalian ministers.

“Balancing the two vocations isn’t easy, but it is like balancing family with any vocation,” he said. “I just need to make sure that my own spiritual life is sound and then all else will fall into place. If we bring our spiritual lives together, rather than simply our marital lives, then we will have a good foundation. I look forward to preaching and have literally dreamed of saying Mass….”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Eeek a mouse!

Can't help but reflect on the movie Mouse Hunt, the 1997 comedy about two morons who inherited a house and the mouse living within.

We had several living within and today they are all hopefully on their way to mousie heaven. Similar to the movie, we took major action--ripping out a unit installed in our basement that was supposed to work better than a dehumidifier--yeah right.

Not only did the unit not work, it was a wonderful passage for homeless mice to take up residence in our basement.

We were not one bit amused to see a couple of buck-toothed wonders scamper across the carpeted family room in the basement, nor were we pleased to see that they had invaded my stash of Penzey's spices, and I was really ticked off when I saw that they had gotten into my gluten free pretzels. 

We placed bait trays, snap traps and glue traps and while they occasionally eluded the snap traps the problem continued, so today we went searching for the source.

Armed with an electric screwdriver, sledgehammer, and other equipment including shop vac and leather gloves we fervently tore apart the useless humidity control unit, finding the source of the invasion. After hours of blood, sweat and tears, not to mention a few bad words and huge pile of refuse hauled to the curb, the opening is sealed with steel wool, caulking, insulation and wood--nothing will enter that crevice again. 

And for the stragglers that dared to stay behind we have prepared a banquet of all sorts of sticky traps, snap tracks, bait blocks and other nefarious deterrents.  Sorry guys, you make look cute in the pet shop, but if you are in my abode, you have got to go.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Getting lost in the illusion of sanctity

The quiet stillness of God's Holy breath upon my soul transforms me
makes me yearn for oneness with him as I gaze upon his countenance during Adoration in the warmth of a fall afternoon.
A revelation!
This is what I was born to do
I was born to gaze upon Him,
to live according to His will
to follow His example of forgiveness by opening my heart to those who have injured me
or used me
or mocked me and cast me aside
It is by not holding grudges
by loving when the world is difficult to love
by helping those in need
But often, we are pulled and tugged into a myriad of directions
involvement in clubs, social experiences, fundraisers, classes, and stuffed into the the dark corner of my once supple heart is Our Lord
I thought my heart was in the right direction, but I become too involved
too dedicated
too busy
and I forget to sit
in His presence
basking in the glow of His spirit
listening for His voice
His guidance
His direction.
and realizing that the noise, the screaming, the fear, worries, and angst are all coming from me.
And I realize it is time to retreat
back to His loving arms
home, where I belong
for the war between flesh and blood is in me
it is me

Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the sinner, and out of the hand of the transgressor of the law and of the unjust. Psalm 71:4

Monday, October 18, 2010

A clean heart

Make me know you, O Lord
In the depths of my soul.
Purify me and I will be clean.
Wash me whiter than snow.

Create in me a clean heart, O God

And renew your Spirit within me.
Create in me a clean heart, O God
And renew your Spirit within me.

The sacrifices acceptable to you,

O Lord, are a broken spirit.
A broken heart, a contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

Create in me a clean heart, O God

And renew your Spirit within me.
Create in me a clean heart, O God
And renew your Spirit within me.


In sorrow
She mourns her beloved son
What’s next to follow
No one knows

In sorrow
He mourns his beloved daughter
What’s next to follow
His heart is hollow

In sorrow
She mourns her beloved husband
What’s next to follow
She is now a widow

In sorrow
He mourns his beloved wife
What’s next to follow
His desire for life is renounced to zero

In sorrow
They mourn the passing of a dear friend
Someone they wished to be there tomorrow
It hurts without pretext, whatever sorrow sends

And we know and I know
Sorrow returns not the life’s it borrows
Sorrow is a walking deadly shadow
Sorrow is the virus we dread tomorrow
Sorrow is the devils spell of lethal horrors

Therefore my dear fellows
In sorrow no more I mourn her sorrow
In sorrow
I have closed on her all my doors and windows

Copyright 2006 - Sylvia Chidi

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Happy Baptismal Day Alexa Juliana

Welcome to the Kingdom of God, our precious little Angel, Alexa Juliana Urness

Lord, surround her in your goodness, lead her in your light each day
Help her walk the path you've chosen
guide her steps along the way
Teach her Lord to trust your wisdom
with a faith forever new
Keep her from all harm
and bless her with your grace and goodness too

We love you baby girl, so much!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Marathoner's cause is run for unborn


SLINGER — A couple of years ago, Kate Gehring began running marathons, feeling a sense of camaraderie with fellow runners and accomplishment with each breathless step toward the finish line. As most of marathons in which she participated were fundraisers for various causes, Gehring conceived a cause that led to hosting Slinger’s first 5K Run for the Unborn.

“I was always being asked, ‘Do you want to raise money for this cause or that cause?’ And honestly, they were all great causes, but the one closest to my heart was the pro-life cause,” she said. “I have always felt that if we could get that right, all the other causes would be fixed as well.”

The idea was born during her first marathon as Gehring collected prayer intentions for each mile run from friends and family. It grew during her second marathon when she designed a logo imprinted with baby footprints and raised funds through sponsorship of each footprint.

“I pinned the footprints to the back of my shirt and I did hear quite a few comments during my marathon last year with those on my back. Something about running 26.2 miles really allows you to open up about your life – and let’s face it, there is plenty of time,” she said. “This is where my start-up money came from and when January came around, I decided to dive in and start organizing the 5K as a New Year’s resolution. I have had only good comments about this run, but it does seem that people are reluctant to stand up and commit to the cause.”

The run was held Sunday, Oct. 10, and began and ended at Gehring’s parish, St. Peter. More than 120 runners ranging in age from 1 to 80-plus ran and walked to raise money for local pregnancy help centers.

The 31-year-old and her husband Mitch are the parents of three children. Their eldest, Abigail, 9, ran in the race, while Lily, 5, handed out candy necklaces to runners under 12 who finished the race, and 3-year-old Maximilion spent the day with his grandparents. The couple is expecting their fourth child in November.

“This served as a reminder of the cause as well as an excuse to concentrate on the Run for the Unborn and not train for any other races,” she said. “There was a lot of prayer and preparation that went into planning this.”

While she hopes the event will draw more runners next year, the most difficult aspect was finding sponsors unafraid to make a statement to support the life of the unborn.

“I contacted over 50 businesses, and of them, I had only five business sponsor us. Most of the time, I either heard that the businesses were not interested or I got no response at all,” she said. “This was in addition to the Knights of Columbus helping us. Getting the permits was difficult, too, since Slinger is a small community that has never had such an event before. But Slinger offered a way to keep costs down with much lower permit fees and requirements.”

The family friendly event included a brat fry hosted by the Knights of Columbus, a Life Fair with area pro-life organizations and a children’s activity table. Sponsors donated money, services or products and included Kwik Trip, Sweet Creations Bakery, Gehring’s Meat Market, Road ID and Autumn Oaks Assisted Living.

Under a canopy of fall colors, participants dashed, walked, and strolled through the rolling hills of Slinger’s countryside, bringing a sense of accomplishment to Gehring. Top male and female finishers received a medal and were: Brendan Milikan, Tim Egan, Matt Ohlson, Natalie Mizgalski, Laura Reinke, and Zipporah Caspers.

Gehring is hopeful for the future of the event. As word gets out, she anticipates additional sponsors and runners for next year’s Run for the Unborn, slated for Oct. 9, 2011.

“Start up costs were more than expected,” she said. “I am hoping that we will have some donation in the end to benefit pregnancy help centers. But I believe the Knights and I will meet and take into consideration how much we have, who needs it the most at the time, and retain some to use as start up for next year’s event, so it isn’t coming completely out of my pocket.”

After careful planning, Gehring was edified to see all her hard work come to fruition and pleased to be able to run for those who may never learn to crawl.

“I have worked on this since January, and the time spent has increased progressively from an hour here or there to most every minute of the day,” she said. “But it was all worth it and I could not have done it without the support of family, friends and the Knights of Columbus. There isn’t anything better than supporting the ultimate cause – life!”

Author's romance stories written for over-50 reader


Photo by Karen Mahoney

When she writes, ro-mance sweeps Kileen Prather away from Port Washington, her condominium, its monochromatic siding and her average Midwestern life.

Filled with the spirit of love, she soars beyond the congestion of traffic, hectic vacation hotspots, and the struggles of everyday life as a single, 63-year-old woman working as a tour manager for Mayflower Tours.
Soon she finds herself in a world populated with hardworking, innocent, middle-aged women named Anne and older, more complicated men named Jesse.

Prather is a part-time romance novelist and writes for the over-50 crowd.

After a difficult divorce following a 36-year marriage, Prather listened to members of her tour groups and realized that many were suffering similar situations with divorce, loneliness or complications from illnesses. She realized she could combine her travels with stories she has heard and create novels.

“I always wanted to write, but wasn’t sure how to begin,” Prather admitted. “One day I was traveling down to Texas where I live with my brother in the winter months and got a flat tire. It was 20 below zero and as I was waiting to get my tire fixed, I pulled out my computer and began writing about my adventures.”

After she shared her stories with a few relatives and friends, they asked for more. Prather started writing and could not stop.

“My novels read like travelogues as well as deal with what people encounter on a daily basis,” she explained. “In fact, my book, ‘The Journey Beckons,’ is based on the story of a woman I met who lived in an abusive marriage for 45 years, and whose husband had diabetes. A lot of this book is about what I saw on my travels, what she went through and then I made up the rest.”

With several books ready to print, Prather got into the self-publishing. “The Journey Beckons” and “Journey to Port” are available on her Web site or through or special order through major bookstores.

Prather's books

are available through her Web site,

by check to:
Kileen Prather
P.O. Box 435
Port Washington, WI 53074-0435

or through Amazon, special order from large bookstores.

If ordered from her Web site, book prices are $15.95 and are autographed and include shipping.
“I wanted to have a large publishing house handle my books, but they all said that people over 50 are not interested in romance novels, especially ones that read like travelogues,” explained Prather. “I disagree, as the people on my tours are always looking for romance books to read, and for those who can’t afford to travel, my books give them a glimpse of the rest of the United States.”

Feedback from tour members who read Prather’s books en route encourages her. Their comments give her hope that she can one day cut back on her 17 tours a year, relax and devote more time to writing and enjoying life … and perhaps, experiencing a romance of her own.

“I can’t be doing tours like this when I am 80 years old,” admitted the mother of two boys, Frank and Rick, and grandmother to 4-year-old Isabel. “People who read my books on the tours really like them and they want me to write more, but it’s hard because I have to work so much. It’s also difficult to meet anyone if I am spending months on the road and alternating my time between Port Washington and Galveston, Texas.”

Her schedule also makes it difficult to feel attached to just one church.

When she is in Port Washington, she rotates her daily Mass attendance among three parishes and while in Texas, she attends St. Thomas More Parish.

A graduate of Edgewood High School in Madison, Prather earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UW-Madison and a master’s degree in school librarianship from Central Michigan University. Before she became a tour manager, she served as a school librarian in District 300 in Dundee and Carpentersville in Illinois, and then taught the gifted and talented program and served as the school librarian at St. John Vianney Catholic School, Janesville.

While there are scenes in her books dealing with sexuality, Prather tries to write sensitively and without the explicit content commonly found in secular novels.

“I try to do that because of my faith, as well as the reading audience,” she explained. “Most people in their 50s and up don’t like anything graphic. In fact, I have had comments from others, such as a fellow bus driver, who don’t generally like romance novels, but they liked mine because they were not graphic. I don’t want to do something to injure someone’s sensitivities and bring them to a point where they are turned off by reading my books.”

While she hopes readers learn about the beauty of the United States through her novels, she is also hopeful that they might learn something about themselves as well and realize that they are not alone in their trials and suffering.

“The mature reader can relate to the characters’ hopes and dreams due to their age, relationships and experiences,” she said. “And younger readers can learn what it’s like to face life while dealing with its challenges or possibly relate it to someone in their lives. These characters are ordinary people struggling with issues aging adults have to face such as changing spousal relationships, parents’ concerns or illnesses. Many women and men find themselves divorced or widowed after 25, 35 or even 45 years of marriage. These devastating experiences seem to halt life as they know it. They often don’t believe its possible to start all over again or lead a fulfilling life. They need to know that living takes place and romance is possible, no matter your age.”

For Prather, the escape into writing is a gift inspired by God – a gift she does not take lightly.

“I feel like he is leading me to write and that there is a reason that I am doing this,” she said.

Program develops leaders for black community

Seven lay ecclesial ministers were commissioned in late May, the first commissioned class to complete the Br. Booker Ashe Lay Ministry Program. The program, the only one of its kind in the area, stemmed from the commitment of the Black Religious and Clergy of Wisconsin to bring recognition to the contributions of black Catholics, address black Catholic history and offer support.

If you want to go:

Classes are held on Wednesday evenings from 6:45 to 9 p.m. in Milwaukee at St. Martin de Porres Parish, 3114 N. 2nd St.

For more information, contact Colleen Crane, Capuchin Province of St. Joseph (414) 416-4284.
According to Sr. Callista Robinson, a Franciscan Sister of the Little Falls, the Br. Booker Ashe Lay Ministry Program which began in January 2007, signaled a re-establishment of a lay ministry program for black Catholics in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

“This program bears the name of the late Br. Booker Ashe, a Capuchin religious brother and founder of the House of Peace in Milwaukee,” she said. “This is a three and a half-year course of study which forms students who are laity, religious and clergy in meaningful and effective ministry with the black community and fosters new leadership among black people.”

Seven lay ministers commissioned

After participating in the course, seven lay ecclesial ministers were commissioned in late May at St. Benedict the Moor Church, Milwaukee. Students Peggy Bowles, St. Martin de Porres Parish; Earl Bracy, All Saints Parish; Armitta Kilgore, St. Benedict the Moor Parish; Minnie Linyear, St. Martin de Porres Parish; Carma Teasley, St. Martin de Porres Parish; Jolie Zimmer, All Saints Parish; and Henry Bowles, St. Martin de Porres Parish, studied the Old and New Testaments, black spirituality, social justice, servant leadership, Catholic social teaching and canon law.

While the Br. Booker Ashe program is relatively new, Black Catholic Lay leadership programs are not.
“There was a program founded in 1989 by the late (Marist) Br. Joseph Hager,” said Sr. Callista. “The program had 31 graduates from 1989 until 2003. (School Sister of Notre Dame) Sr. Shawnee Daniels Sykes, the fourth director of the (archdiocesan) African American Ministry Office, changed the name of the Black Catholic Lay Leadership Program to the Lincoln and Julia Valle Lay Leadership Program. The name was changed to honor the two black Catholic lay people who came from Chicago in 1908 to Milwaukee to evangelize black people.”

After difficulty in procuring instructors, the program was discontinued in 2003.

Program offered to all Catholics

While geared toward African-Americans, the Br. Booker Ashe program is open to Catholics of any ethnic group.

“The Booker Ashe Lay Ministry Program is designed to engage, enrich and celebrate the traditions of the church as well as the reality of being a black Catholic from a theological, spiritual, historical, social, philosophical and psychological perspective as these impact contemporary pastoral practice and life,” explained Sr. Callista.

When retired Latin teacher Jolie Zimmer became involved in the lay ministry program it was to broaden her mind and learn about the culture and struggles of the black Catholics praying next to her in the pew each Sunday at All Saints.

The fact that Zimmer, 64, and a life-long Catholic is white made no difference to her or the rest of the class. Her reasons for taking the course were to deepen her faith and connect with others around her neighborhood and the world.

“We are one in the spirit and are joined at the heart of our faith, and I have learned so much about myself, about theology and looking through the lens of African Americans,” she said. “I have also the extra wonderful dimension to have new friends, new connections and go deeper with myself inward and outward.”
While she had no grandiose aspirations for taking the weekly course, the education on black Catholic history gave her a greater appreciation of African Americans’ struggle to join the faith and to remain grounded in Catholicism.

Course gave her confidence to get involved

“The church has been part of their culture, but unfortunately it has been flawed along the way in that women and men were not able to join certain parishes and not being allowed to enter different religious orders,” said Zimmer. “Taking this course gave me the confidence to step forward in my parish, such as becoming the hospitality minister, and taking on more in RCIA.”

Although after completion of the course, students often take on a greater role in their parishes, Zimmer acknowledges that the course’s primary goal is to bring students into a deeper awareness of their faith.
“From going deeper, the growth, the faith becomes internal and if you are going to be in ministry, it has to be internal, too,” she said. “Once you progress yourself as a human being, you are hopefully more willing to quietly step forward in a more meaningful way.”

As a teacher for so many years, Zimmer realized through the course that she was more oriented toward giving and sharing and being the boss, rather than as an open recipient.

“I have had to learn that part of myself such as organizing and being the boss of the classroom is not the only part of me,” she admitted. “Other parts of me are underdeveloped. This was the perfect time for me to take this course because I retired and now I have a chance to be of service to the church and develop a part of me that hasn’t been developed.”

With a new appreciation of her faith as a Catholic, Zimmer is excited to have the knowledge and compassion to share it with others, no matter their ethnicity.

“To be able to share the root of your belief system, your view of the world, and to be sharing that with someone else as a Catholic Christian is just the icing on the cake,” she said. “The whole journey has been interesting and nothing like I have experienced before.”

God is calling her to leadership

When 61-year-old Carma Teasley, St. Martin de Porres administrative assistant completed the class, she realized that God had called her to leadership, and with everyone – not simply within the black community.
“I don’t see the color,” she said. “I see that with what I do in youth ministry that I minister to whatever child is open to receive the message we have for them. At our ministry at St. Martin, we have many more kids than just African American youth – and I love all of them.”

Teasley, who also serves as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, said the course is an opportunity to take ownership of the parishes and to continue educating young people in faith, and as the future – encouraging them to take ownership.
“I learned a lot of things when I went through this, it was so deep,” she said. “They had the most wonderful presenters and teachers.”

As a convert from the Baptist faith to Catholicism, Teasley had a quest to learn more of church history, doctrine and canon law.

“I will never know all of it, of course,” she said, adding, “But my interest was there and I figured that whatever I learned I could pass on to the youth so they could get a better understanding of the faith and more of an interest.”

 Dream is colorless Catholic Church

While her dream is a colorless Catholic Church, Teasley said there have been many times when black Catholics, especially the youth, are ignored, or treated differently than other ethnicities. Sifting through the pain of apathy, Teasley and other black Catholics reflect on the greater call and purpose for their lives.

“It seems that we have a lot of wonderful kids who are doing great things, and yet the black kids don’t get credit for the positive things they do,” she said. “But if something goes wrong, there is a lot of attention. There are times when people ask the kid why they are Catholic, but we arm them with answers and the pride that we feel in being black Catholics.”

Teasley credits her faith with getting her through difficult times, such as the day she developed a rare tissue condition, similar to Fibromyalgia, that nearly landed her in a wheelchair.

“It appeared for no rhyme or reason, and I always tried to eat healthy, exercise, and was a non-smoker,” she said. “If I had given up and not prayed and relied on God for my strength, I would most likely have deteriorated and be in a wheelchair today.”

Course may ‘unlock hidden passion’

Armed with the deeper spirituality she developed throughout the Br. Brother Booker Ashe Lay Ministry Program, Teasley said she is more confident facing these challenges in her life, and she wants to share that message with others.

“I try to tell the kids they don’t have to succumb to obstacles and trials, because those are there for a reason and that is to make you stronger,” she explained. “As long as you can stand up – that’s good. That is what God wants you to do.”

Teasley encourages anyone interested in deepening their faith, learning about African American spirituality and their struggles to take the course – after all, she said, it may unlock a hidden passion.

“If you think about all the different areas in the church that you work or you might want to work and then take this course, you may realize that with this new knowledge, maybe the direction you were in was not really your passion,” she said. “Taking this course can open up many different passions for you.”

Humble Volunteer Honored for Service, Devotion

Written by Karen Mahoney,

Special to your Catholic Herald

Thursday, 14 October 2010 10:42

Photo by Ernie Mastroianni

Mitzi McGovern of Sussex knows love at first sight. It happened to her 23 years ago when she first visited the Ronald McDonald House in Milwaukee. She was amazed at the loving attention given to parents and families with seriously ill children who were receiving treatment at Children’s Hospital.

“I fell in love with the kids and the families instantly, and I was hooked,” she said. “Over the years, I have met so many friends and I love going there.”

After joining the Milwaukee Chapter of the Christ Child Society, McGovern volunteered her time at the Ronald McDonald House, the Christ Child resale shop and tutoring at Blessed Savior School, formerly Our Lady of Sorrows. She downplays her commitment to others.

“It’s nothing special,” she said. “I just love to do it and there are plenty of others who do much more than me.”

Perhaps, but it might be tough to find someone who, at 74, is as active as she is in the 350-member Christ Child Society, as well as in her parish, St. James Catholic Church, Menomonee Falls. At a luncheon last April, McGovern received the organization’s Red Shoe Award for her faithful service and devotion to helping others.

According to Marianne Schulz, vice president and public relations officer, McGovern is the epitome of the selfless volunteer.

“She has been a member of CCS for 23 years and in that time has chaired the scholarship committee, membership committee, mailing committee and served as our vice president,” she said. “In addition to her work at the resale shop and Blessed Savior, she volunteers at St. James Parish and distributes Communion to the sick at St. Joseph Hospital, Milwaukee. No job is too menial for Mitzi. She is always there to lend a helping hand, from cutting out flannel for the layette program to seeing that the newsletter gets in the mail. She’s certainly going to occupy a higher spot in heaven than some of us.”

At the urging of a close friend, McGovern joined Christ Child Society. She did what she could to help, whether making layettes, chairing the annual spring banquet, or collecting and making items for the organization’s “My Stuff” program for children of abuse, neglect or natural disaster. She worked tirelessly, while at the same time maintaining her household and devoting time to her two boys and four grandchildren.

“My husband’s name was Earl, but everyone called him Mac; he served as president of Brown Deer for 30 years. He also worked at the Wisconsin Southern Gas Company until his retirement,” she said. “He passed away 9.5 years ago and belonging to the Christ Child Society has given me so many wonderful friends and helps me to keep busy during the day.”

While the majority of her volunteer hours are logged at the Ronald McDonald House staffing the information desk, giving tours, doing laundry, cleaning rooms and making dinners, McGovern has a soft spot for the hundreds of children she has tutored the past dozen years, some of whom have come back to thank her after graduating from high school.

Without her assistance, the teachers would have a tougher job teaching, and the students would not learn as quickly, according to Patricia Wilkum, principal of Blessed Savior.

“Oh, my gosh, Mitzi is a wonderful, caring tutor for our children. She is here on a regular basis and works with kindergarten and first grade students – sometimes one on one and sometimes in small groups,” she said. “Mitzi is kind and compassionate, and has really helped so many of our students succeed.”

McGovern helps with whatever need arises, whether reading, helping with workbook pages, reinforcing what was taught in the classroom or assisting with putting on bulky winter clothing.

“The children love her,” said Wilkum. “Without her – well, our children really need and appreciate the extra help we get from all the Christ Child volunteers and they would, no doubt, not be as successful as they are. It is because of Mitzi and the rest of the tutors who want to make a difference in their lives.”

Every Tuesday, McGovern works with K4, K5 and first grade students who anxiously await her arrival and often greet her with hugs.

“She is so faithful to these children and they need that,” said Wilkum. “It’s important for these children to have someone who they can rely on to come every Tuesday and spend the morning with us. They know she will be reading to them or doing whatever is necessary to help them learn. She instills such wonderful confidence in these children – I just can’t say enough about her and all the tutors.”

Although her car’s odometer shows it has 158,000 miles on it, it will probably wear out before McGovern tires of helping others and participating in another favorite activity – attending daily Mass.

“I definitely need a new car, but I love going to daily Mass when I can. It helps me and it helps build my faith and to have a soft spot for helping others that need me,” she said. “I have also met so many wonderful people by going to daily Mass. Afterward, a group of us go out for coffee and a hard roll – we call it ‘church and slurp’; it is a lot of fun, and it has really brought me closer to them.”

With the Red Shoe Award, McGovern was presented with a poem, which she has framed on her wall, and a small medal.

“I am really humbled by it all,” she admitted. “Everyone here does a lot – it is certainly not just me.”

About the Christ Child Society

The Christ Child Society Milwaukee Chapter was founded in 1948 as part of a National Christ Child Society, founded in 1887 in Washington, D.C., by Mary Virginia Merrick.

It is a non-profit organization dedicated to child welfare. Its motive and spirit expresses itself in personal service for children and youth regardless of race or creed to honor the childhood of Christ.

The chapter welcomes members of all denominations whose interest focus primarily on following the child by clothing the newborn, providing parental support, tutorial and scholarship assistance and other pertinent involvements necessary in nurturing the youth of the Greater Milwaukee area. These commitments, which enhance human dignity, reflect the goals and principles of Mary Virginia Merrick, founder of the Christ Child Society. The chapter shall provide members an opportunity for individual growth through interaction with the community and each other.

This mission is accomplished by “Follow the Child Programs”:

•Layettes for less fortunate children

•"My Stuff" bags for children in crisis situations

•Outreach – Second Saturday to provide support for at-risk mothers

•Scholarships to children to help them achieve a better education

•Supportive aides to help and encourage children to become better students

The Milwaukee Chapter is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization and has no paid staff. The chapter receives funds from a resale shop/boutique that members operate. In addition, annual social fund raising events, memorials, tributes and general contributions provide funds for chapter projects. All donations are used to conduct the chapter’s charitable works and activities.

For membership information, call the Christ Child Society at (414) 540-0489 and leave a message for the membership chairman or visit the Web site.