Thursday, May 26, 2011

Faith helps teen overcome illness, loss

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p.6paigesiehrPaige Siehr, 17, who was diagnosed with Autoimmune Hapatitis, the result of taking prescription Accutane for acne and a genetic predisposition for the disease, graduated from Catholic Memorial High School Sunday, May 22, with a 4.1 GPA. The aspiring nurse practitioner, who plans to attend UW-Madison, was recently honored with the “Molly Burke Courage Award,” an annual award presented to a CMH senior who survives a battle with cancer or other serious illness while demonstrating remarkable success in four areas: academic achievement, community service, extracurricular activities and faith. (Submitted photo)On days when 17-year-old Paige Siehr desperately needed reassurance, she sat alone in her room and shared her doubts with God.

“I am not going to lie about it,” she said, after learning that she was suffering from Autoimmune Hepatitis, the result of taking prescription Accutane for acne coupled with a genetic predisposition for the disease. “I was not really sure why this was happening to me. But, I just kept going to church and praying all the time since this happened. I have gone through a lot of stuff, but I try to take each day as it happens, and even when others can’t understand how I am feeling, I know I can always talk to God.”

Life has not been easy for Siehr whose father died seven years ago after he suffered a blood clot following an injury at Quad Graphics.

“It’s been so hard on all of us,” she said. “My mom (Margaret) and my brother Aaron have had a difficult time without him.”

When Siehr began the Accutane treatments a year ago, her doctor required monthly blood tests to ensure her liver enzymes remained in the normal range. One of the rare side affects of this medication is liver damage. Despite careful monitoring of her blood counts, after she stopped her treatments, her liver enzymes increased significantly. While she wasn’t immediately aware of any symptoms, she now remembers feeling very tired and having some pain in her side. She wasn’t sure why.

“The illness happened so gradually that I didn’t realize how sick I was. I was scared when they told me that I needed a liver biopsy because sometimes the liver becomes so scarred and you need a new liver. A lot of people become jaundiced from this, but thankfully, I didn’t,” she explained. “Fortunately, there was only some scarring and I was told that the liver can heal up to 25 percent of itself. It is still swollen but I should be OK.”

Siehr follows a daily regimen of Prednisone treatments to reduce the swelling and takes other medication to help with liver function and healing. She will need to be supervised for the rest of her life, as the disease often has no side effects and can be fatal if not treated.

“If the doctor says it is OK, I might be able to go off the meds in a few years,” she said. “It is similar to Type 2 Diabetes in that the disease can go away if you take care of yourself.”

Not one to wallow in self-pity, Siehr, a Girl Scout Gold Award recipient, remained a positive, cheerful student at Catholic Memorial High School where she recently completed her senior year. Despite her illness, she graduated with a 4.1 GPA and plans to attend UW-Madison to study nursing. She hopes to become a nurse practitioner.

Watching her friend maneuver through school, extra-curricular activities and the illness, classmate Katie Kostroski nominated Siehr for the Molly Burke Courage Award.

“Paige is the kindest, most generous, and caring person I know and have ever met,” she said in her nomination letter. “As our National Honor Society president, Paige remains diligent and compassionate no matter how difficult her path to recover from serious illness gets.”

The annual award is presented to a Catholic Memorial High School senior who survives a battle with cancer or other serious illness while demonstrating remarkable success in four areas: academic achievement, community service, extracurricular activities and faith.

The award is named after Molly Burke, the daughter of John Burke, Catholic Memorial English department chairperson, International Baccalaureate coordinator and varsity girls soccer coach, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Feb. 17, 2009. She began chemotherapy the next day and recently completed all of her treatments.

“Her last treatment was April 28 and Molly, now 4, was able to ring the bell at Children’s Hospital to signify the end of her chemo treatments,” said John. “So, we are encouraged by her progress and pray for continued health now that the chemo is no longer a part of Molly’s life.”

According to John, the award was created after Nikki Condit, one of his students and a member of his soccer team, created purple bracelets with the phrase, “Be of great heart and fear less” on the top and “pray for Molly” on the inside. She sold the bracelets in school and through Stefan’s Soccer Supply.

“When she came to me with the proceeds, my wife and I decided to donate it to Catholic Memorial in order to set up a scholarship fund for CMH students who show courage similar to what we see in Molly’s fight every day,” he explained. “Then, Holy Apostles, where my daughters go to school, got involved and they do a fundraiser each spring to contribute to the Molly Burke Courage Award Fund.”

On May 17, Siehr received the $250 scholarship, and her name will be inscribed on a plaque that hangs in the CMH library.

“Paige exemplifies the values of this award because she has shown courage in the face of a serious illness and, like the first recipient of the award, Maggie Golden, Paige demonstrates a remarkable level of kindness and compassion toward others, despite her own personal suffering,” said John. “I am most impressed with Paige’s ability to accomplish at such a high level, even while she endures such physical challenges.”

When Siehr isn’t studying, leading National Honor Society meetings, or working at Prairieville Park Mini Golf Course in Waukesha, she and her friend Katie Umhoefer raise money to purchase fleece for blankets to donate to Children’s Hospital.

“We started this group called ‘Children for Children’ and make fleece tied blankets for kids at Children’s who are being treated for cancer,” she said. “We both want careers in the medical field and always wanted to do something for the hospital, so we decided to do this. We sold T-shirts and candy at church and put all the money toward buying fleece. Just before Christmas we brought 20 of them, and we recently bought more fleece to make about 25 more blankets.”

There are moments when Siehr gets down about the illness, numerous doctor appointments, and not having her father around, but she said she finds comfort in her faith, her mother, family and her school.

“My mom and I talk about everything,” she said. “Since Dad died, she is my best friend, and just like her, the people at school are amazing; it would have been hard to get through all of this without them, they really care about every person.”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

God Cares

Confession time: I wallow. Rarely do I wallow in smugness. Nor do  I wallow in my successes, or self-importance, or superiority.

I wallow in self-pity, self-loathing, insecurity, inferiority, and feeling as if I don't quite measure up to where I should be monetarily.

 We won't get into the psychobabble reasons for these feelings--just know, they exist.

It isn't constant, but it is there-nonetheless. Like my computer's anti-virus program, the wallowing sits in the background working, taking notes, preparing files and then when the conditions are right--it attacks and I sink into my own dark night of the soul. 

The other day, it attacked with unexpected fervor and I was beside myself with grief. The unkind voices in the corners of my heart were spinning terrible tales and the sounds became deafening. I was unproductive and miserable. I needed a diversion.

Since the dog didn't even want to be near my pathetic wallowing self, I tied my shoes and took a walk to Walgreens to pick up a few things for the house.

Along the way, my eyes fixated on an elderly man pulling an overloaded shopping cart, filled with what looked like everything he owned. Head bowed, he trudged toward me and appeared to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. As he passed, I tried to capture his attention to smile, or say 'Hello'--I wasn't really sure of my intention.

Our eyes never met.

As he passed, I turned to take a final look and noticed the two pieces of torn cardboard wedged into the back of his cart. Both were faded handwritten messages scratched out in what looked like a black Sharpie.  The top one merely said 'West" and the bottom one said, "God Cares."

God cares? I thought to myself? God Cares? This man, who had nothing but his shopping cart, worn shoes, and probably a stomach that cried out in agony carried this precious message. Wow! Here I am merely faced with selling our home--but we have a home. We are faced with financial troubles-but we have an income. We are dealing with familial issues-but I was not walking alone. As I walked into the store, I began not only chastising myself for wallowing, but also not for stopping and buying that man, that angel, a meal at the McDonald's near by. I promised myself that if he was still there when I came out, I would buy him whatever he liked.

Although I hurried out, he was gone. I figured that someone had surely given him a ride to wherever he wanted to go.

For the past few days, I have thought of this man and the message he carried. I am blessed that he passed my way. God does care. We only have to look beyond our own wallowing to see just how much.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Honor Flight Honors Heroes

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100_9066Bernie Flatley, left to right, Ed DePreter and Tom Goss first met as members of Holy Family Parish, Whitefish Bay. Now residents of The Milwaukee Catholic home, the trio took a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight to Washington D.C., a free day trip with meals for World War II vets. (Submitted photo courtesy the Milwaukee Catholic Home)MILWAUKEE — When Tom Goss woke up early Saturday morning on April 16, he carefully dressed in his Honor Flight jacket, and waited near the front door of The Milwaukee Catholic Home at 3:35 a.m. He looked like an eager child waiting to open his Christmas gifts.
His best buddies, Ed DePreter and Bernie Flatley were not far behind, and equally as anxious to fulfill their final mission. The men first met as members of Holy Family Parish in Whitefish Bay.
The three men and 397 other World War II veterans along with 400 guardians from Wisconsin spent the day in the nation’s capital visiting monuments and memorials. The highlight of the excursion for DePreter, and what started tears flowing in his eyes, was the World War II Memorial that was completed in 2004.
“I was pretty choked up by that and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” he said. “Everything was great, absolutely great. It was a very tiring day, but probably less tiring for me than a lot of the people; regardless of the fact that I am 86, I am very active. But, my friends who were not quite as active and rely on the wheelchairs really were pooped.”
Like most of the veterans, DePreter waited more than a year for a seat on a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, which provides a free day trip with meals to Washington, D.C., for World War II veterans. The group left Mitchell International Airport early in the morning and returned to Milwaukee late that evening, spending the day visiting the Iwo Jima Memorial, Air Force Memorial, World War II Memorial, Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery to watch a changing of the guard ceremony.
Strategic planning led to final mission
It was one final mission requiring incredible strategic planning to pull it off. Goss’s son Tim registered the three best friends for the flight last September, after his mom became interested in the Honor Flight program after learning about it from the Charlie Sykes radio show.  
Untitled-1Bernie Flatley, bottom, Ed DePreter, left, and, Tom Goss, right, all fought in World War II. Goss’s son, Tim Goss, registered the three best friends for the Honor Flight last September. Seven months later, they fulfilled their final mission by being part of the group of 400 who spent a day in the nation’s capital. (Submitted photos)“My dad is a Korean War disabled Marine bomber vet and Bernie and Ed were both bomber crew members for the Army Air Force,” he said. “My dad was so excited for this trip that he got ready to go in just 15 minutes, despite having an artificial leg. When I went to check on the other two, I was thrilled to discover that they were all up and ready by 3 a.m. and buzzing with excitement.”
To tourists visiting the monuments, the names on the stones may not hold great meaning, but for the hundreds of World War II veterans, the names etched into the concrete are permanent reminders of losing close friends, blood spilled into the earth, loss of youthful innocence and fighting to retain American freedom.
For First Lieutenant DePreter, who volunteered for the draft in 1943, and served in the 96th Bomb Group, AAF Station 138, at Snetterton Heath in East Anglia, England, it was an opportunity to remember the 30 missions flown to Germany and France and those men who touched his heart.
“There was a man named Emmett Brown who asked if anyone on our crew (was) Catholic,” he said. “I told him that I was and he gave me a cross from a rosary that was handed down to replacement crews. I put it on my rosary and carried it with me for 30 missions. There was no replacement group after me, so I kept it and still carry it in my pocket.”
Bernie Flatley, 87, was drafted when he was 17. He served as an engineer gunner in the 464th bombardment group in the 15th Air Force and was stationed in Italy. He flew in 51 missions – well above the usual 30. His missions primarily targeted German controlled oil fields in Ploesti, Romania. He also flew to Germany and other locations, and discharged from the Air Force as a technical sergeant.
Before World War II began, Tom Goss, 87 joined the U.S Marine Corps and was stationed in the South Pacific on Green Island. He bombed islands in the Philippines during his missions. He participated in dive-bombing missions during the Korean War using a new Corsair airplane. He retired from the Marine Corps as a major.
Guardians are unsung heros
The Stars and Stripes Honor flights began in Wisconsin several years ago, and have become immensely popular. The organization raises money to take veterans on flights while they can still travel. With more than 1,000 World War II veterans dying daily, the organization is ramping up its fundraising efforts to bring more veterans to Washington. To ensure the comfort and safety of everyone, each veteran is assigned a personal guardian.
According to Tim Goss, the guardians are the unsung heroes of the trip.
“Each guide pays for (his) own flights, and they are not cheap – they pay $500 and believe it or not, there is a waiting list to go on the flights,” he said. “In fact, these men are dying to give their $500 to take somebody. It is a chance to give the veterans the respect they deserve.”
04-15-11-CHN-03World War II veteran Ed De Preter, right, with nephew Mark Maierle, left, of Greendale, and former Wisconsin Governor (1970-77) Patrick Lucey, a resident at Milwaukee Catholic Home and an Army Captain, listen to the MCH choir at a send off party for World War II vets at the Milwaukee Catholic Home in Milwaukee on Friday, April 15. View or purchase more photos from this event. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)When Mike Broker learned about the Honor Flight program a couple of years ago, he thought it was a tremendous opportunity to serve as a guide with his son and say thank you to the men and women who served our country.
“They are truly ‘the greatest generation,’” he said. “My father served in World War II and my son David, 23, was named after my father. I wanted to make sure that he, like every other person his age should understand who these few remaining people are and what they did to ensure the life we unfortunately take for granted.”
Despite the rainy weather, the veterans began their day seeing the World War II Memorial and were greeted by Oconomowoc resident Vice Admiral Dirk Debbink, Chief of Naval Reserves.
“From there we saw the Korean Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S Marine Memorial also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, then the Air Force Memorial and finally, Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” explained Broker. “I think it was a positive experience for them and I am sure it brought back many memories. I couldn’t help but wonder later that weekend, if they were remembering the truth about war or the romanticized version that we see in the movies. I am sure they have remembered both the past 70 years.”
Travelers return to emotional welcome
While the day was a blur for many of the veterans, due to their age and health conditions, the reception they received upon arrival at Mitchell Field will likely remain embedded in their hearts.
“As far as I am concerned, they could have sat on the plane all day and bypassed the trip to D.C. The greeting these guys received at Mitchell Airport was one for the ages. Scores of people – many who had no family on the trip, were there to show their love and appreciation,” said Tim. “The place was packed; 15 rows deep on one side of the cordoned parade path and plenty more on the other. As I told a friend, I felt that it could have been a crowd to greet The Beatles.”
As the veterans exited the concourse to the main lobby while music played, the crowd applauded and shouted and waited patiently to shake the hands with the veterans.
“As I wheeled my father through the procession, I could only cry and say ‘Thank you’ over and over,” Tim said. “We were all united there in our love and support for these men who had saved our nation and who helped preserve the utmost appreciation for humanity on a global basis. It was an emotional thing to behold. Most of these men are in their very last years of life and this was, most likely, their final moment in the sun.”
Stepping off the plane and into the airport terminal, Broker was unsure what to expect for he had heard the experience was unlike anything he could imagine, but he had no idea, how incredible, until a Scottish band welcomed them to the airport.

Alexian Village residents also make the trip

Two residents, Joe Bauer and Virginia Awe, from Alexian Village, Milwaukee, also traveled on the April 16, Stars and Stripes Wisconsin Honor Flight.

"We are honored to have United States Military veterans living at Alexian Village. It was a very rewarding and emotional day for Joe and Virginia," said Gary Mohn, CEO of Alexian Village. "We have great respect and gratitude for all of the people who have served our nation in the military and I thank them for their service."
“Further up the concourse, there were men dressed in all of the wartime uniforms from every branch of the military, saluting every veteran,” he said. After that, came the men and women currently serving; they were saluting and shaking hands welcoming them home and thanking them for their service to our country. This is where the tears started to flow! From there, we were channeled through a narrow path that is cordoned off from the crowds allowing the vets to shake hands with people on both sides. This took a long time and maximized the ‘coming home parade’ so to speak. Toward the end of the parade, the family members were there to greet them with hugs and kisses.
My vet, Bernie seemed to be a natural around people, so he was definitely in his element shaking everyone’s hand, smiling and accepting kisses from every woman he came upon! Tom was more reserved, but he also shook many hands and seemed to be more at ease once he spotted his family.”
Milwaukee Catholic Home saluted its heros
Behind the scenes, the Milwaukee Catholic Home supported and encouraged the three men to partake in the Honor Flight, explained Tim.
“They got this trip going in full force and arranged a packed going away party, and showed one of the DVDs I made about the careers of each of the three men,” he said. “The Catholic Home went over the top and when the guys came back, they honored them with a welcome home celebration and showed all three of the DVDs from start to finish.”
While DePreter remembers every aspect of the trip, including the vast amount of food given to them, the best part was feeling appreciated by the public when they came home to Milwaukee.
“I felt like a celebrity because there were so many people there, even little children and babies – it was so late, I couldn’t believe so many people waited for us,” he said. “It just made me cry. In my lifetime, I have cried a lot, from losing my friends in the war, to losing my wife, and then, my only son. It made me feel good to feel so appreciated, it has been so long and we didn’t really have that feeling of appreciation before.”

Make Room for the Grandkids

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Villard-Square-A-20110214Located above the new Villard Library, Villard Square GrandFamily housing will include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and will feature in-unit laundry facilities, free underground parking, a movie theater, rooftop patio and play areas, exercise studio, beauty salon and an on-site supportive services liaison. (Submitted illustration courtesy Gorman & Company)As husbands and wives age, they often imagine downsizing their living quarters. They anticipate a more leisurely lifestyle with lighter meals, carefree vacations and activities befitting a couple in their 50s or 60s with grown children. Those visions may disappear as the spare bedroom vanishes, fruit rollups and tubes of yogurt are added to the grocery list and grandchildren move in, sometimes for good.
In some senior living centers,  as many tricycles as walkers line the hallways, and cities are trying to figure out the best way to accommodate – under one roof – grandparents and the children they are raising.
Thanks to a partnership between Northwest Side Community Development Corporation and Wisconsin based Gorman & Company Developing Company, low and moderate income grandparents raising grandchildren can move into the area’s first designated “grandfamily” housing unit located on the city’s north side.
Located at 3427 W. Villard Ave., Villard Square GrandFamily housing is accepting applications for a July occupation date. According to Patricia Bruce, director of Family Caregiver Support Network, Interfaith Older Adult Programs Inc., Villard Square, located above the new Villard Library, will make a big difference for older adults caring for their grandchildren, or young relatives.

Villard Square GrandFamily

New housing for
older adults and
their grandchildren
3427 W. Villard Ave.
One-, two- and three-
bedroom units available
For rental information:
(414) 461-1787
“Grandfamilies and relative family caregiving has been one of the fastest growing types of families in the country,” she said. “Because the relatives often use their own financial resources for these children, they can be some of the poorest. Gorman first came to us with their intent to build GrandFamily housing in 2006. At last, thanks to Howard Snyder, executive director of Northwest Side CDC, it will happen.”
The one-, two- and three- bedroom apartments will feature central air, in-unit laundry facilities, high ceilings and study spaces. In addition, the facility will include free under-ground parking, a movie theater, rooftop patio and play area, exercise studio, beauty salon, business center, community room and a counseling lounge staffed with an on-site supportive services liaison.
The support from Jewish Family Services will serve as a liaison, linking residents to local, state and federal benefits and services. The building is expected to create a new and unique intergenerational community that will cater to the needs of older adults and their young children.
“There isn’t anything like this in Wisconsin,” said Bruce. “And at a time when social services are being cut back, this is an awesome community effort for a variety of situations.”
While Blessed Trinity Parish, located near the new Villard Square, served Catholic families in the area, the parish will close its doors in June to merge with St. Catherine Parish at 5101 W. Center St. Despite that, members hope to use the proceeds from the sale to establish an outreach center where they can continue the food pantry, emergency assistance program and their environmental sustainability efforts to meet the needs of residents in the neighborhood.
For Snyder, the housing project, which will accept Section 8 vouchers, is a happy ending to the city’s decision to close the Villard Library a couple of years ago.
“This library was one of the smaller and least significant with regards to patrons using the library, so the city decided to close this one,” he said. “The community residents went nuts and demanded that the library stay open. It did, but the building was in poor shape. If it was located in (a more affluent) neighborhood, they would have a better building. It was hard to imagine how the city in the beginning of a financial crisis would afford to build a new library.”
After Gorman & Company collaborated with Northwest CDC regarding the concept of a multi-use facility, Snyder knew it was a great idea. The $11 million project would continue to serve the area with a library, as well as fulfill the increasing need for grandfamily housing. After WHEDA approved money through housing tax credits and respite dollars for the 47-unit facility, the city agreed to fund the ground floor library.
“I am very excited about this; the data suggests that there are a lot of people who are older who are are caring for their children’s children. Parents these days are in and out of jail, dealing with drugs, mental health issues, moving due to jobs or not available due to being in the military. There are all kinds of reasons why people care for kids,” he said. “Putting Jewish Family services on the premises will offer certain services for the families. Things have changed; if you haven’t parented in 10-20 years, you may not know where the schools are, or know things that the city has to offer for families.”
Combining the new library with a housing structure will bring a lot of impetus to the Villard Avenue neighborhood explained Ted Matkom, president of Gorman & Company’s Wisconsin Market. The grandfamily housing is one of a handful around the country and initially a challenge to get going.
“It wasn’t a recognized market and was difficult at first because people didn’t know what grandfamily housing was. But having the library on the bottom gives us an edge up and is a tool that many housing areas don’t have,” he said. “There will be programming and services for after school, on-site interfaith assistance for families, and help for an underserved market of the population.”
According to Matkom, sources say that more than 20,000 grandfamilies are living in Milwaukee County under varying degrees, and screening of potential applicants is necessary for safe housing.
“Some are informal situations, such as incarceration or kinship care, but we are targeting those individuals with legal custody of the child,” he said. “We don’t want a housing situation that the parent can just come and grab the child.”
A grand opening is planned for the library in October, and Snyder hopes to coordinate the Villard Square grand opening for the same date.   
“We are hoping that interest is high for this type of housing,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of kids living on the commercial strip, but we are hoping that with the influence of the library on the first floor, that interest will be high and the housing and rents will hit the spot.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

New Shoes

I remember it as if it were yesterday, my first pair of new shoes in about 20 years. I was 40, and finally had enough money to take a drive to Boston Store where I found the most perfect, comfortable leather shoes with two buckles on them. I inhaled the earthy aroma, took them to the clerk, and paid cash for them. Such a treat it was, because for once, I traveled alone, no strollers, diaper bags, bags of Cheerios or bottles-just me and an entire shopping mall!

My heart raced and an enormous feeling of pride enveloped my senses as the clerk placed the prized shoes in a box securing it closed with white twine. She handed it to me to carry while I finished browsing that Sunday afternoon.

Since I gave birth to my eldest in 1984, my purchases were relegated to Stride Rite shoes for each of my five children, diapers, clothing, perscriptions and accessories to ensure that each looked like all the rest of the rest of the children belonging to middle class families that I knew. Even monetary gifts I received for birthdays, holidays or mother's day were all used to provide for my children--but I didn't mind, those precious children were my life.

However, we were far from middle class--finances were very tight, and money was scarce. The children had a multitude of health issues requiring hospitalizations and expensive prescription medications. To ensure they were dressed well, had enough food, participated in sports, dance and music, I took in ironing, mending and taught piano lessons. In the wee hours, I staved off sleep to sew clothing for them--always matching outfits for the holidays. Garage sales were a weekly family activity that served to round out their wardrobes and supply of toys.

Later, homeschooling helped to preserve precious resources as area Catholic Schools were too expensive--but the experience brought us closer together as a family.

  Despite my efforts, there was little to go around, especially for me, and I remember wearing the same pair of tennis shoes for at least five years--that sole pair of shoes served as dual duty at church, running after toddlers, grocery shopping and other activities. I remember my mom being a bit embarrassed when I was going to wear those same worn shoes to my brother's wedding--so she loaned me a pair of hers. While the gesture was nice, it posed a certain problem, she wore a  9 and I wore a 6--after seeing me wobble around in those, she was gracious to find a pair of inexpensive white dress shoes, that I wore for years until they fell apart.

Now that most of the children are grown, I look back on my efforts with a sense of pride for helping them get a good start regardless of our financial situation. I have been blessed to enjoy many more pairs of shoes since that year I turned 40--but none has given me the same satisfaction.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Electrical engineering grad couldn’t ignore God’s call

p.3KB_IMG_0360After graduating from the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 2004 with a degree in electrical engineering, Kevin Barnekow began graduate school at UW-Madison. Before his first year of graduate school ended, however, he applied to Saint Francis Seminary, St. Francis. Barnekow will be ordained a priest of the Milwaukee Archdiocese on Saturday, May 21. (Submitted photo courtesy Saint Francis Seminary)This is the fourth in a series of articles introducing readers to the five men who will be ordained priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Saturday, May 21.

There were no prominent miracles or revelations in Kevin Barnekow’s childhood. He has great memories of spending time with his family and watching sports, especially football. As a high school student and class valedictorian at West Allis Nathan Hale, he applied to colleges and enrolled at Milwaukee School of Engineering.

His student life was unfolding the way he had planned, but what he didn’t expect was the wisp of God’s breath beckoning him to pray at the nearby Cathedral of St. John during his free moments.

“It was during that time that I began thinking about whether or not I was called to be a priest,” Barnekow said.

After graduating in 2004 with a degree in electrical engineering, the 29-year-old transitional deacon whose home parish is St. Aloysius Parish, West Allis, was accepted into the graduate school program at UW-Madison as a fellowship recipient and research assistant.

“Basically, I got paid to attend UW-Madison so that I didn’t have to work,” he said. “I saw that as an opportunity to seriously discern a priestly vocation.”

During that year, Barnekow began praying the Liturgy of the Hours and attending daily Mass. He joined a discernment group at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary and before his first year of graduate school concluded, applied to the seminary.

“While there was no defining moment that led me to pursue a priestly vocation, the will of God seems to show itself most significantly in retrospect,” he said. “That is, the people I met, the experiences I had, and my family life seemed to plot out a trajectory that was leading me to seminary. For me, obedience to God meant that I would have to recognize how he had always been active in my life.”

While his family and friends have occasionally questioned Barnekow’s decision to become a priest, they never questioned God or the value of priestly ministry, but rather if he would be happy in that role.

Happiness, though, has accompanied his call to serve during internship experiences at Three Holy Women Parish, Milwaukee,  for the past three summers while working with Fr. Tim Kitzke, Fr. Mike Michalski and Fr. Brian Mason. Additionally, as part of his seminary formation at American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium, and his studies at Catholic University of Louvain, he ministers for several U.S. military chaplaincies in German and Belgium.

“Ministry in a military parish is a very interesting experience because of their desire to have a close-knit community,” Barnekow explained. “Husbands and wives can be deployed at anytime, and so the parish community functions very much as a source of support and community in those circumstances.”

As ordination approaches, Barnekow ponders the humanness of the call to serve the divine, and the feelings of unworthiness that accompany it.

“The greatness of God’s love is shown in that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us, the righteous for the unrighteous,” he said. “In point of fact, we do not deserve it. It is the grace of Jesus Christ and his love that makes us holy and brings us into the Trinitarian life. It is Jesus who makes us into new creations and makes us worthy of our vocations. It is his love that makes us lovable.”

Aware of human frailties, Barnekow admitted there are times he has felt inadequate in his vocation, but interspersed through those moments are revelations that he has felt the most entitled to rely on God to see him through it.
“And he always gets us through it by means of his sacraments and his church, that is to say, our family and friends and all the faithful who are from a pilgrim fellowship seeking holiness and life after the pattern of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection,” he said. “My greatest challenge right now is to learn the practical day in and day out details of priestly ministry in a parish and how to pray well. Being a priest requires a healthy prayer life and also experienced, intelligent and wise pastoral art. The Gospel must be applied, (and) come to life in the lives of believers, and that takes skill and discernment.”

While Barnekow anticipates the blessings that accompany each of the sacraments, he is especially drawn toward the ministry of the sacrament of reconciliation and leading the faithful toward a loving and merciful God.

“It is such a great sacrament of healing, but it seems under-utilized by the faithful,” he said. “I have always experienced it powerfully and I look forward to being able to help the Christian faithful experience mercy and healing through that sacrament.”

Most Catholics believe that priests give up their lives in service to Jesus Christ, and while Barnekow admits this is true, he hopes Christians follow suit in their own vocations, whether their lives are consecrated, single or married.

“Anyone who seriously pursues his or her vocation will have to seek to follow God’s will in preference to his or her own,” he said. “This is always difficult. This always involves renunciation and detachment. The season of Lent helps to educate us in penance, detachment and renunciation. But, we do those things so that we may have life. Jesus says that if we lose our lives for his sake, we truly find life. After all, he is the way, the truth and the life. God trains us in faith, hope and love and the other virtues so that one day our wills will be harmonious with his will, but that takes time and work.”

While all are called to holy work, the priest is a special symbol of that for the people of God, but Barnekow believes that it is an image that should bring to mind the obligations and joys of the faithful.

“In the end, the sacrifice of our lives, the gift of our lives, is what true life consists in,” he said. “This is the meaning of St. Paul’s statement, ‘Life is Christ,’ which is also Archbishop (Jerome E.) Listecki’s episcopal motto.”

Barnekow credited his family and friends for supporting him on his journey to priesthood.

“My parents, Bill and Linda Barnekow, two brothers, and my family have all been such great role models for me,” he said. “There are important priests in my life, especially those involved in seminary formation at Saint Francis de Sales and at the American College. These are models of priestly life and ministry, but my family was my first role model. I would never have been able to identify and follow the examples of good priests if I had not been educated in leading a good and honorable life by my family.”

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation: A must read

Reading Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation gave me a newfound appreciation for growing up American. Young Kimberly Chang immigrated with her mother to New York, they did so seeking the American Dream, but instead they lived the American nightmare. For more click here

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Remembering mom

Hey Mom, do you remember the Mother's day when I tried to make you breakfast in bed and dumped the orange juice all over you and Dad? After that, I usually had you come to the kitchen for breakfast!

Or how about the time I set the new kitchen carpet on fire when I tried my hand at crepe suzettes? Yeah, you forbid me from lighting Grand Marnier in the house ever again.

I laugh when I recall our late night shopping trips to Southridge until they closed for the night; and losing the car in the parking lot. Since the mall doors were locked, we had to climb over walls to find that the car was on the other side of the building.

I remember laughing over nothing with you until we nearly wet our pants! 

It was great going together to see the latest James Bond movies--sorry for falling asleep, but I didn't get as enthralled with Roger Moore as you did. Now the Sean Connery flicks? Oh for those, I always stayed awake!

Remember walking into town those chilly evenings when there was a huge blizzard going on? Why on earth did we pick those nights to go shopping? Could be that the shopping was an excuse to go for a steaming cup of hot chocolate at the Coach Lamp? Or later, a Tom and Jerry at Palm Gardens?

There were some tough times in our family, I won't deny it, but I always knew that you loved me and did the best you could with the tools you had. I know that life was often difficult for you as well and I am just grateful to God that we went through those trials together and grew closer as a result.

My regret? You left much too soon--you had barely gotten to know your grandchildren and you have so many of them now--great grandchildren too. You would be so proud to see them all, I know that I am.

Mostly, I miss our 8:30 a.m. phone calls to map out our days--we barely missed a day talking together. After you died, it took me years to break that habit and for the longest time, I just called your number to hear your voice on the answering machine. I love you Mom--Happy Mother's Day. You were the best  and I can't think of having a better mother than you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thanks to transplant, Claire’s dreams seem possible

P.6-7CLAIRE4Claire Bevec, right, shares a laugh over lunch with best friend Jordan Richards at St. Mary School in Kenosha, in late March. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)More than anything, 10-year-old Claire Bevec loves to surround herself with animals, especially horses and dogs.

“I like to imagine that I’m riding a horse very fast because it makes me feel really happy and free,” she said. “I also like to draw and color pictures of horses.”

Claire imagines what she would like to be when she grows up; and topping her list is a wish to be a wildlife photographer for National Geographic Magazine.

“But I wouldn’t mind being a therapy dog trainer either, because they take dogs to visit sick people, or maybe a vet,” she said, thoughtfully. 

Until recently, Claire’s dreams didn’t seem possible, but thanks to a kidney donor, a team of surgeons at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and enormous prayer support, the fourth grade student from St. Mary Grade School, Kenosha, has a chance of doing whatever she wants to with her life.

Born March 16, 2001, to Linda and Frank Bevec, Claire was diagnosed with auto recessive polycystic kidney disease and congenital hepatic fibrosis shortly after birth. She was also born with a cleft lip and palate. The couple was told by doctors that their baby would probably not survive beyond a few days or weeks.

“We had her baptized in the NICU when she was two days old,” said Linda. “Then, when it appeared she was getting stronger, they talked about her needing a transplant when she reached 20 pounds. But she continued to thrive even though she had numerous setbacks and was readmitted to the NICU throughout most of her first year.”

Surprising everyone, Claire continued to grow and flourish despite numerous surgeries, hospitalizations, medications, clinical manifestations and other setbacks. By January 2010, the family was given the news that it was time to prepare for a transplant and search for a donor.
While Claire’s attitude is positive and living with the disease is the only life she has ever known, there are a few things she is anxious to change.

“I really don’t like not being able to eat certain things like bananas, chocolate, oranges or too much meat,” she said. (The low protein, low potassium, low sodium and low phosphorus diet helps to protect her kidneys and liver from further damage.) “And I get really sad when I have to get shots for my red blood cell count every week because it burns and hurts a lot. I don’t even mind having my blood taken, but the shot is the worst ever.”P.6-7CLAIRE3Kidney transplant recipient Claire Bevec, 10, leaps in her mom Linda’s arms, as mom leaves during recess at St. Mary School in Kenosha on Thursday, March 31. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

Claire has undergone seven plastic and reconstructive craniofacial surgeries since she was four months old. She has undergone speech therapy and will need additional cranial and facial surgeries, but Linda said her daughter’s confidence and joy shines from within, describing her as a perfect gift from God.

“I hope she never forgets that, ever,” said Linda. “She is a quiet and reflective girl, joyful and happy – she wishes she didn’t have kidney and liver disease or a cleft lip and palate, but again, it’s all she has ever known.”

For a year, doctors searched for a suitable donor and despite three close matches, only one kidney donor was suitable. Finally, Claire was scheduled for the transplant Dec. 31, just as her kidneys prepared to shut down, which would have forced her to begin regular dialysis treatments.

Days before the surgery, she needed a nephrectomy to remove both severely enlarged cyst-covered kidneys, placing her temporarily on dialysis until the transplant surgery.

The donor, Jeff Albrecht from Lafayette, Ind., gave Claire the gift of life and after more than five hours, the transplant was completed. Jeff’s recovery was rapid and he was soon well enough to visit Claire in the hospital before returning home to recuperate.

Baby steps are the way the Bevec family copes with Claire’s post-surgical period. There was the day she had two IVs removed and sat in a chair. There was the day she moved from Pediatric Intensive Care to the post-surgical floor, the day her catheter was removed, and the day she walked around the nurse’s station.

They rejoiced when she drank, ate, slept and, finally, on Jan. 12, they thanked God that Claire joined Mom, Dad, 11-year-old Frankie and 5-year-old Grace at the dinner table.

“Thanks be to God for bringing our Claire home,” said Linda in a Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Blog update, “Five of us at the table once again, prayers of thanksgiving, a teasing big brother who awkwardly is happy to greet her and a little sister full of giggles and wiggles. And there’s our Claire, shining like a bright star right in the middle of it all … where she belongs.”

On March 3, Claire, greeted by a large welcome banner created by her fellow students, returned to school at St. Mary. She also celebrated her 10th birthday on March 16 with a walk on the beach and a soccer game with her visiting cousins from California, according to Linda’s blog,

While each day of Claire’s life has been a blend of suffering and joy, trial, pain and disappointment, the single thread weaving through the family was faith. They turned to God, and were helped by the love, friendship and financial support of their prayer community.

“We belong to St. Anne Catholic Church in Pleasant Prairie and joined after moving here five years ago from Indiana, and have never felt more at home in a church. It truly is a faith family at St. Anne, a living body of Christ,” said Linda. “My faith has been challenged and strengthened by all of this in many ways. I always had a solid faith growing up and experienced typical ‘wandering’ at times. But it’s deeper and broader now and there’s always room to grow.”

For the Bevecs, the difficulties in life offer a point of encounter with Christ.

“That’s why the soil down in the valley is so rich and fertile. The time we all spend there is an opportunity to really speak with our Lord, to experience his love, grace and guidance – and to grow,” Linda explained. “Having Claire in my life has given me so many opportunities to know Christ and to continually seek him.”

P.6-7CLAIRE2Transplant donor, Jeff Albrecht of Layfayette, Ind., visits Claire Bevec at Children’s Hospital, Milwaukee, on Dec. 29, 2010, the day before her kidney transplant surgery was scheduled. (Submitted photo courtesy the Bevec family)A lesson learned beyond the suffering with a special needs child is the importance of intercessory prayer, an action that even young Frankie and Grace are able to grasp and execute.

“Our son Frankie has spent a lot of time in hospitals with Claire over the years, and our daughter Grace is just starting to experience that,” said Linda. “We pray for children everywhere who are hurt, sick or suffering. I hope they will always have tender hearts that way.”

As they walk with Claire on her road to recovery, the family has become vocal proponents for the value of organ donation, specifically the Wisconsin Department of Health Services organ donor registry, and the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, which helps families raise money for all the uncovered transplant related expenses.

“Even with the very good medical insurance, we’re expected to pay $60,000 out of pocket for Claire’s nephrectomy, dialysis, transplant and immunosuppressive drugs,” said Linda. “Both our parish and school family have rallied together to help us with this. We are so humbled and grateful and it’s hard to express in words how we feel. John Kennedy once said, ‘The highest form of gratitude is to not just to utter words of thanks, but to live by them.’ We hope to return the kindness and generosity we’ve received and keep passing it on to others in need – keep God’s grace flowing.”

For Claire, her dreams of running free with the horses is about to come true as she was recently approved through the Make-A-Wish Foundation; it’s a gift that has given her the will to fight through the pain.

“Her wish is to spend a week working on a horse ‘dude’ ranch in the mountains of Montana,” said Linda. “She just loves animals and she always says, ‘I was meant to live in the country.’ She can’t wait to see mountains out West and go hiking and horseback riding – it’s the free spirit in her, no doubt.”

No doubt. And as Claire aptly adds, “I love, love, love, love, love horses!”