Thursday, January 26, 2012

In Burlington, Catholic education 'thriving'

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When it was time for Michelle and Tom Pederson to send their children to school, neither considered sending them anywhere but St. Mary Grade School in Burlington. The three children are the fifth generation on Michelle’s (Smetana) side to attend St. Mary and Catholic Central High School.
01-19-12-CHN-15Kindergarten students, left to right, Matthew Schultz, Brody Vos and Dylan Siemers work in a computer lab on Thursday, Jan. 19 at Catholic Central High School in Burlington. (Catholic Herald photos by Allen Fredrickson)“It was never really a choice where I was going to attend school,” said Michelle. “I guess my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents made that choice for me. They taught me to love St. Mary’s, and how important it is to support the church and school. It was an easy decision for me to send my kids here because I had attended both schools and I know how special they were to me. The religious foundation, of course, is the most important reason.”
Academics, extra-curriculars encouraged
With teachers and staff earning less than their public school counterparts, one might assume that SMS or CC is lacking in programs to handle students needing extra assistance. However, with a closer teacher student ratio, students are not only handling the work load, they are thriving.
“Our oldest daughter, Mikayla, is 14 and a freshman at CC. Nothing comes easy to her, and she has to work hard at everything she does,” said Michelle. “We were very concerned that the challenging workload and courses at CC would overwhelm her, but were reassured by other parents that the staff would do everything they could to help her. Now, as we finish the first semester of the year, this was confirmed. The teachers and staff really care about each and every student.”
The school encourages not only academic excellence, but also extra-curricular activities, such as music, sports, theater and forensics.
“Mikayla was on the freshman volleyball team this year and is planning on playing softball this spring – two opportunities I am sure that she may not have even qualified to participate in the public schools,” said Michelle.
For the couple’s younger daughters, Sara, 13, and Anna, 7, St. Mary Grade School prepares them to apply their homework for test preparation, as well as other problem solving tasks they encounter. In addition, the school encourages outreach to the community.
“These things include visits to the nursing home, raising supplies and money for charities, and helping out at Love Inc.,” said Michelle. “What I didn’t realize about both schools, until my daughters came here, was how much the students that wanted to be, or needed to be challenged, were offered such opportunities. This is true from kindergarten through 12th grade.”
Campus features grade, high schools
In a city of approximately 10,000 residents, it is unusual to find two thriving Catholic grade schools – St. Charles Borromeo with an enrollment of 199 students and St. Mary with 343 students -- and one Catholic high school 01-19-12-CHN-25Sixth grade student Stephanie Gregg works on a Spanish lesson at St. Mary Elementary School on Thursday, Jan. 19, at one of two thriving Catholic grade schools in Burlington. The community is also home to St. Charles School. More photos can be viewed at (Catholic Herald photos by Allen Fredrickson)with an enrollment of 150. Even more unusual is the PreK-12 campus, which Immaculate Conception Parish is nestled between St. Mary Grade School and Catholic Central High School.
Michelle and Tom believe that sending their children to a Catholic school is an investment in their children’s future, despite the higher price tag. However, thanks to a generous benefactor, many students are able to utilize the annual Rewald Scholarship program to offset tuition costs.
“They offer a monthly payment program at both SMS and CC,” said Michelle. “Catholic Central also has other scholarships available, especially to incoming freshmen. The two things that really make this tuition affordable are the generosity of our parishes and the dedication of the staff.”
Solid sacramental community evident
Permeating the entire educational structure from age 3 through 18 is a solid sacramental community, one that provides a natural opportunity to reinforce the Catholic faith perspective in school, extra-curricular activities, home or in commercial establishments. Regular prayer, liturgy, faith formation, rosary and theology classes are part of daily school life.
According to SMS principal, Loretta Jackson, the mission to pray, teach and serve is sincere.
“We are part of a proud Catholic community based on family traditions of supporting our faith through education,” she said. “We have great traditions of volunteering, donations, praying and living. The commitment on the parts of those in our community has afforded us many wish list items that include, but are not limited to, various technological advances.”
Each student in the grade school has a buddy in another grade to study, play with and work on service projects. For Catholic Schools Week, the buddies will join for a service project one day and will be together the next day for an all-school “Peace” Bingo to complement this year’s theme, “Be a builder of Peace.”
“The students love developing relationships with older students,” said Jackson. “They high-five each other and stop by to say ‘hi’ during lunch. They also get excited to see them at Mass on Sunday. We love it.”
United campus allows for sharing resources
According to Jackson, one of the greatest benefits is the united campus, combining the pre-school, grade school and high school. Bringing the grades onto one location allows for the sharing of resources, facilities and personnel.
“Some of this is done formally through things like our middle school students going to CC for technology and being taught by the instructor there, a shared band instructor and transportation for some of our students by CC buses,” she said. “Sometimes there are things like high school students helping in our classrooms, our students traveling to watch the CC championships, or the preschoolers attending Mass with the grade school, or the grade school and high school celebrating together. We have a strong administrative team that works together for the good of all our students here on campus.”
The emphasis on a challenging curriculum is evident in that 99 percent of students graduate from CC and of those, 98 percent go on to higher education. According to CC development director Georgean Selburg, students have attended prestigious universities and colleges such as Harvard, Marquette, Princeton, Purdue, UW-Madison, Washington and Yale.
“Our students have also been appointed to West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy,” she said. “Our school is the perfect place to learn and grow with the average class size being 14. Although our tuition is $7,670 or $6,990 for a student belonging to a member parish, the amount of money earned through senior scholarships more than helps finance costs. Over the past three years, 77 percent received nearly $3 million in scholarships.”
Students come from out of state
In fact, the high educational standards are one of several reasons Lake Villa, Ill., residents Terry and Karen Schwenn travel to Burlington each day to ensure their oldest son, Stephen, a sophomore, receives the best in Catholic education.
“Our family chose CC for many reasons,” said Karen. “One that stands out the most for me is the family atmosphere and sense of caring I received from the staff and families. From the moment we took interest in the school, we were led with a smile and a helping hand.”
Choosing CC was an extension to the Catholic life already practiced at home, and the Schwenns said they are confident Stephen is surrounded with people who care for and about him, and will receive an education concurrent with their values.
“We provide Catholic education to our children from preschool to high school,” said Karen. “Catholic education is faith-based with emphasis on how we want our sons and daughters to treat others, as well as to know how others should treat them.”
An overall sense of fairness in the disciplining of students attracted Kathy and Scot Ferguson to St. Mary Grade School after a disappointing few years in the public school system. As the parents of 12-year-old Makenzie and 8-year-old Audra, the couple was disenchanted with the popular concept of disciplining an entire class for the problems of a few.
“We felt our daughters were losing valuable instruction time because of all the time wasted on discipline,” said Kathy. “At St. Mary’s, we found the staff has a professional and firm approach to discipline, where bullying is not tolerated and all of the students are not serving the consequences for the misbehavior of one or two students. The students respect the staff and the staff respects the students.”
When their daughters attended public school, topics such as faith and God were taboo, but they said attending St. Mary has allowed both to grow closer to God at home and church because they are encouraged in their faith.
“St. Mary’s is such a nurturing environment for Makenzie and Audra because you can feel the love of God in those classrooms and in that school,” said Kathy. “The staff uses their experiences and faith to guide the students and nurture them. This makes them feel accepted, loved and safe at school.”
Parents wanted ‘faith-filled education’
As long time members of Immaculate Conception Parish, Drs. Sharon and Timothy Smith, both dentists, wanted their four daughters to enjoy the same benefits of Catholic education as they had while growing up.
“We wanted their education to be faith-filled like ours and to pass that gift on to our children,” said Sharon. “They have so many opportunities here such as student government, clubs, musicals and sports and that is one of the many things that is so nice about this school.”
The couple’s daughter, Maggie, is a junior, while the older three attend college, one on a volleyball scholarship to Colorado State. Despite the small school atmosphere, CC seems to prepare its students for life on larger campuses and living in bigger cities.
“One of our daughters went through four years at Madison and is now at Marquette Dental School. We thought going from this small school to Madison would be intimidating, but on the contrary, it seemed almost empowering to her,” said Sharon. “She learned all sorts of time management skills and was pretty well prepared for life. I was just amazed and our other daughters have had similar experiences.”
Topper athletics is tops
Greg Groth, principal of Catholic Central, is also a parent, proud of the school’s award winning sports department. His son participated in the 2001 basketball state championship team.
“Since 2001, we have had 14 state titles in five different sports,” he said. “Our coaches are strong in their faith and the kids want to come here because of our success.”
Athletic director Eric Henderson is proud of the number of state championships that the school has won since joining the WIAA in 2000, but is equally proud of how the school accomplished those achievements the past 12 years.
“We have tremendous student athletes, coaches and families who care about the values that their children leave CC with,” said Henderson. “I believe the commitment and dedication to excellence by our student athletes and their families are second to none. It is amazing the amount of students I see working in the weight room, working on their footwork, and shooting baskets when I get to school at 6:30 every morning. There is a sense of pride in Topper athletics that has provided a tremendous example of what it takes to be successful from generation to generation.”
As principal, Groth is credited with bringing CC to a higher standard of education, but he is quick to point to his staff and their visions for the school’s success.
“I have not done anything special,” he said. “We have put together a staff that believes in our vision to be a great Catholic high school with outstanding athletic teams. Our vision has no boundaries and knows no limits. This is a special place. It is a privilege to work here with these kids and our staff. Our member parish priests and principals have also done an awesome job promoting the advantages of kids staying in the Catholic schools system.”

Husband and wife take team approach to art and design

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sheldonsAfter years of teaching in the Burlington public school system, Susan and Mark Sheldon take a team approach to the art department at Catholic Central High School, Burlington. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)New Catholic Central students taking art class might be initially confused that classes are taught by Mrs. Sheldon in the morning, and Mr. Sheldon in the afternoon. But, it doesn’t take long to realize that the husband and wife team work seamlessly to bring the art department to new and exciting levels.
Mark Sheldon remembers meeting his future wife, Susan, at a design class at Illinois State University in 1966 and jokes about how she convinced him to become an art teacher. After graduation, the couple began teaching art and design in the public school system for about 20 years until Mark left to become principal of the Burlington Middle School for the next 12 years.
“Susan kept teaching art and design at the Burlington High School while I served as administrator at the middle school,” Mark explained. “When I retired I was fortunate enough to become employed at CC when an art position became open. I have had a great time teaching here, and after a time, became the part-time dean of students, too.”
Through Mark’s many stories to Susan about the quality of education, staff and students, she was eager to join the CC art staff after retiring from the public high school last June. Since the fall semester, Susan teaches art and design in the mornings, while Mark serves his role as dean. In the afternoon, Mark resumes his position as art and design teacher.
The couple, both 64, brings experience and talent to the CCHS art department. Susan has twice received Teacher of the Year Awards, and as a team at Burlington High School, they were part of the department that received the prestigious Schwalbach Award, Art Department of the Year for the state of Wisconsin. In addition, Mark received the Administrator of the Year Award when he served as principal.
“Susan has much teaching experience in K-12, and in recent years has become quite skilled in media arts,” said Mark. “She teaches the media courses such as digital photography, video-art and yearbook. But she is a versatile educator and also teaches drawing and painting.”
Both enjoy teaching and seeing the success of their students. Between Susan and Mark, they hold several degrees and certificates, and have participated in numerous workshops and conferences over the years, gaining knowledge of the best practices in teaching.
“We use a constructive approach, empowering the students to use creative and critical thinking skills as they develop their problem solving skills using the design process,” said Mark.
While both could earn more by returning to the public school system, both appreciate the small, family oriented school where education and faith are stressed.
“We love it here and cherish the close interactions with students and staff,” said Mark, adding, “This is a very special place. The most rewarding part of teaching in a Catholic school is relating to the Seven Key Themes of Catholic School teaching. This really has an impact on student motivation and behavior. Students are so very involved in every activity of the school, and because of this, they have so much more opportunity to practice leadership than in many schools. We enjoy seeing many of the students we have taught over the past 40 years who have become successful adults, several in the art and design area.”

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Empathy and Compassion

Mother Teresa said:
Smile at each other, smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other - it doesn't matter who it is - and that will help you to grow up in greater love for each other.

It seems that we as a people, have lost empathy and compassion for one another. We have become detached, uncaring and often apathetic. When I grew up, when we asked how someone was doing, we stuck around for the answer. If it was great news, we rejoiced with that person. If the news were more dire, we absorbed that person's pain and offered a shoulder, a loving comment, some reassurance, a casserole or earnest prayers. In short, we cared.

Lately, I've noticed when observing others in conversation or in the midst of my own, that people are distant, distracted, or basically uncaring. How sad this is and how sad we have become if we would rather tweet, email,  facebook or instant message someone in lieu of speaking in person or on the phone. Somehow, when a voice or a face are not connected to the person--we are not connected and that person is placed neatly on a shelf, next to last year's bestseller.

When we say, 'we will pray for you' how often do we really mean it? Do we spend time speaking with our Lord and asking for the intentions of that person? Have we sent a note, made a phone call, or stopped by to see how we could help? Or, are we more concerned with our own agendas, our own lives and struggles that we cannot see the suffering in front of us---especially when they are in our own families?

For me, one of my goals this year is to concentrate on the person speaking to me as if that person is the most important person in the world. For regardless of the callousness of this world, I do not want to become callous. I want to ooze Christ's love and let people know that I truly do care-because, I really do.

If we lost compassion for the hurting, for the sick, the dying, the suffering and lonely--we have lost the message of Christ, who said

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
    “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
    “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
   “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”  (Matthew 25:41-46)

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution. --
Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Time for Catholics to 'reclaim the joy'

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Fr. Domenic Roscioli is a storyteller. Whether presenting a mission or delivering a homily, he pulls the heartstrings or tickles the funnybones of his audience with his tales. p.12-Roscioli-A-01-19-12Fr. Domenic Roscioli, senior priest of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, holds the two CDs he recently added to his Fr. Dom product line in this photo taken Jan. 7. The CDs, “Guns and Ice Cream” and “Smashing Potato Chips,” are stories from his many life experiences. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)
After presenting a parish mission last year in Florida, participants wondered if his many stories were available on CD.
They are now – two CDs recorded by the enterprising priest and filled with tales from his many life experiences. For example, he recalls the story of chaperoning a group of seriously ill children to Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ireland one year. Two busloads of kids and camp counselors traveled to a former English military base to swim in their Olympic-sized pool, when jeeps filled with armed soldiers suddenly surrounded the bus. After a rather rude order to the bus driver by a curt soldier, the bus driver left for the military office, while the campers remained on the bus.
A senior priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Fr. Roscioli, one of the camp counselors, was apprehensive about what might transpire. Turns out there had been a bomb threat. Finally, the campers were allowed to swim and get back on the bus, with a quick stop at the commissary for ice cream on a stick.
“The bus driver took a liking to this little frail kid from England – they whispered, and suddenly the kid, with a strong British accent reached his arm out to that redheaded soldier and offered him an ice cream,” explained Fr. Roscioli, who remembers craning his head out the bus window to see if an Irish soldier would receive ice cream from an English kid.
The soldier moved close to the boy’s outstretched arm, moved his gun to the back of his body and accepted the ice cream.
“We all live somewhere between guns and ice cream,” explained 63-year-old Fr. Roscioli, a Kenosha resident. “We have hurt experiences and nurturing experiences like ice cream, and what is most important is to remain on the ice cream side and go from there.”
Reminder that all life is precious
This story and many others are a compilation of personal experiences that the priest shares in parish missions. From growing up Italian Catholic and attending an Irish Catholic school to his work with Newman’s camps, the stories were so popular that he has released his first two CDs in a series designed to reclaim Catholic joy. The first CD is titled “Guns and Ice Cream” and the second is “Smashing Potato Chips.”


“Guns and Ice Cream,” or “Smashing Potato Chips” are available for $15 each through

Andreas Gift Shop
2401-60th St.
Kenosha, WI

St. Gregory School office
3160 S. 63rd St.
Milwaukee, WI

For other Fr. Dom products
“I got the idea after doing a parish mission in Florida last year,” said Fr. Roscioli. “What I do is to run the missions by telling stories. I talk about camp, about growing up Catholic in the ‘50s and growing up Italian Catholic. Some of the stories are funny, some make you laugh and some make you cry. But the premise of the stories is to remind people that all life is precious from womb to tomb and all in between.”
Fr. Roscioli is a familiar name in the Milwaukee Archdiocese and around the country for his charitable efforts to support Next Step, a camp for those over 16, and run similar to Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camps.
Next Step camps are free for teens and young adults suffering from cancer and include weekend retreats and longer adventures such as hiking, canoeing, kayaking and other road trips.
The CDs are a companion fundraising effort to Fr. Dom’s Duck Doo, Holy Spirits Wine, food products, apparel, books, saint cards and gift baskets.
Time to ‘reclaim the joy’
As a separate mission, which Fr. Roscioli calls a parish mission within a mission, a needy family is identified and is the recipient of product sales and raffles after the mission concludes.
“The parish gives us the name of a family struggling with a life-threatening illness and we try to have that part of the mission focus on action, rather than just prayer,” he explained. “Faith calls us to action and we do a giveaway, raffle and offer part of the proceeds from our CD sales to the family. Then we set up all the food items and wines and have people order them, and that becomes more fundraising for that family. My business partner, Jody Becker, came up with this idea and it has been very well received.”
With the sexual abuse crisis plaguing Catholic dioceses world wide, Fr. Roscioli admits that Catholics have been scarred over the past decade. It’s time, he said, to reclaim the joy of the Catholic faith again.
“I try to, in the stories, show people that oftentimes what appears to be the roughest of times leads to the best of times in where the Spirit leads you,” he said. “I often quote the poet Hilaire Belloc, who said, ‘Wherever the Catholic Son doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine.’”
People can make a difference
He tells the story of Richard who had a brain tumor and loved to tell jokes, but his jokes didn’t always have the right ending to them, due to his illness, and if you didn’t already know the ending to the joke, you wouldn’t know to laugh. Richard wanted to take part in the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp talent show, but Fr. Roscioli was nervous that Richard wouldn’t receive the appropriate responses to his jokes.
“So we painted on butcher paper a big sign that said, ‘Please laugh at Richard’s jokes and stood behind him with the sign as he was telling his jokes,’” he explained. “And if you are forcing laughter with 250 people laughing their heads off at jokes that don’t make sense, it is contagious. And then, I tell people to be thankful for the Richards in their lives. I just try to connect each story with those in my audience and try to help them to see that they can each make such a difference in the world.”
Personal stories of faith
The CDs include personal aspects of Fr. Roscioli’s diagnosis of sarcoidosis and cancer, which he explains was a blessing, as it changed the way he preached and prayed.
“When someone comes up to you and asks what you did that God gave you cancer, or wants to know what they did that their child has cancer, we can say it is God’s will, but really, God didn’t do this,” he explained. “Look at the air we are breathing, and what we are drinking. He allowed it to happen, and I believe it is so God’s glory can shine through. When we are threatened, we are at our best. When someone is sick, we worry about them, and their care is focused, and when we get pushed against the wall, our hearts explode with love. When a crowd hears a priest say that it isn’t your fault, the whole thing takes on a sense of freedom.”

Crowning Moment

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All smiles, Susan Kaeppeler, fourth grade teacher at Kenosha’s St. Joseph Academy’s lower campus, was greeted with red carpet treatment when she arrived to class Monday after a whirlwind weekend where she saw her oldest daughter, Laura, crowned Miss America.night1-07Laura Kaeppeler is applauded on the first night of the Miss America competition in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy the Miss America Organization)
The 23-year-old brunette won the Miss America title at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, Jan. 14.
“Some of the parents decorated her classroom, and made some posters and put them up in the gym as the school day began,” Pauline McTernan, St. Joseph development director, told your Catholic Herald in a telephone interview. “We rolled out a red carpet, presented her with a crown, bouquet of flowers, and balloons and led her to the gym as the school day began.  The teachers all wore T-shirts that said, ‘I teach with Miss America’s Mom.’ It was so exciting!”
Particularly touching to McTernan was Susan’s impromptu speech as she reminded students what her daughter had said to them when she visited the school a couple of months ago.
“She asked if the students remembered Laura’s message and no matter who she pointed to, the kids remembered what Laura had said to them,” she said. “I will never forget it either, as it knocked my socks off. She told the students to put God first, to believe in yourself, and to never give up. And the students got it; it just shows what type of girl Laura is. Her whole family is wonderful and has strong convictions and good character.”
For mom, win is ‘unbelievable’
Three days after the win, Susan, in a telephone interview with your Catholic Herald, said it hadn’t sunk in yet. Explaining that her daughter entered the pageant only hoping to make it to the top 10, she said, “I still don’t think it has really sunk in that she has won, even after a couple of days already. I wake up in the morning and say, ‘Boy, did that really happen?’ It was kind of a surreal moment and it still seems unbelievable.”
She and Laura were extremely nervous the day before the pageant, admitted Susan, but she said on Saturday a sense of calm came over them as they knew the result was in God’s hands.
“We just felt him taking over and had a sense of peace about it,” said Susan, a member of St. Therese Parish, Kenosha.
On the night of the contest, too, Susan said God’s presence was felt.
“Interestingly, before the five girls who were the last contestants went on stage, they gathered in a circle and prayed together,” said Susan. “They all agreed that whoever God thought should be continuing on this journey would be the one selected and they would all be so excited, love and support the winner. There was no sense of upset or anything when the others didn’t win; it was all very cohesive, and they were so supportive of Laura. It was a great experience.”
p7Kaeppeler-5Susan Kaeppeler, fourth grade teacher at St. Joseph Academy, Kenosha, is greeted by students at the school, following the weekend when her eldest daughter, Laura Kaeppeler, was crowned Miss America 2012. (Submitted photo courtesy St. Joseph Academy)Following the crowning, a winner’s reception was held in a private suite with Miss America directors, pageant officials, friends and family. However, just an hour of private time was allowed after the pageant, and Laura was whisked to New York where she has been making the talk show circuit.
“She was on ‘Good Morning America’ and several other shows (Monday) and (Tuesday),” said Susan. “We have no idea where she will be off to and don’t have her schedule. But she will be traveling, that’s for sure. She will only be home two to three weeks out of the year.”
Weeks before official Wisconsin homecoming
An official Wisconsin homecoming will be scheduled within the next four to eight weeks, but other than that, most of Laura’s time will be spent traveling.
Susan is looking forward to her daughter’s year.
“It is an awesome opportunity for her,” said Susan, adding. “Laura’s sincerity, willingness and ability to reach out as positive mentor to young people will be powerful. She hopes to bring many things to the children whose platform she is supporting and it will be a great year of service as mentor to young people.”
She said her daughter is grounded and will not allow fame to change her personality.
“We are all very grounded in our faith, and, of course, she will change but that will be in her self-growth,” said Susan. “She will be able to experience things she has never experienced but will always stay true to herself. For Laura it has never been about the outward beauty, as she knows her talent and gifts are from God and this is a great opportunity from him. I don’t anticipate her as being anything but humble, sincere and true to herself.
Family, friends witness event
Susan and McTernan were among a contingent of at least 100 friends and family in Las Vegas to witness the special moment for Laura.
The Miss Wisconsin delegation hosted a standing room only party at one of the hotels for Kaeppeler’s supporters the evening before the pageant.
“It was incredible to see how many people were there for Laura,” said McTernan. “You just couldn’t help but feel the love for this beautiful young lady.”
Kaeppeler was crowned the new Miss America by a panel of seven judges during a live telecast on ABC. The event was a culmination of a week of preliminary competitions and months of preparations for the titleholders from 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
As Miss America, Kaeppeler will spend the next year touring the country to speak to a variety of groups and raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network, the Miss America Organization’s official charity. She won a $50,000 college scholarship and retains her title for one year. She also earned a $2,000 scholarship for her opera performance of “Il Bacio” in the talent portion of the competition.
She holds a bachelor of arts degree in music and vocal performance from Carthage College, Kenosha. She told pageant officials that she intends to use the scholarship money to pursue a law degree and become a family attorney who specializes in helping children of incarcerated adults.
According to McTernan, the pageant experience was surreal and it will be a while before the excitement wanes.
“There were so many who came to support her from Kenosha – long-time friends and family who knew her since she attended St. Therese Grade School. I was there with a group of 14 and watched the whole thing,” she said. “It was phenomenal to see this young girl that I knew as a youngster grow up to such maturity and grace.”
‘Generous, loving character’ evident
While the experience was dreamlike to McTernan, after hearing Kaeppeler sing, she remembers turning around and telling her (Kaeppeler’s) sisters, Sarah, a senior at St. Joseph Academy, and Rachel, a 2009 graduate of the school, now in college, that she was going to win.
“No one could sing better than Laura, and when I saw the finalists go from 15 to 10 to 5, I just shouted, ‘She is going to win!’”, said McTernan. “She couldn’t help winning the title; she is gorgeous, charismatic and an inspiration to young people.”
Just before the crowning, McTernan was moved to tears as she witnessed a joyful Kaeppeler crying, and with her mascara running, grasp the hands and speak a private message to the first runner up, Miss Oklahoma, Betty Thompson.
“She said, ‘No matter who wins, I am just thrilled that I got this far and I won’t feel anything but happiness for you.’ Then she said, ‘We are all winners,’” added McTernan. “To me this showed the genuine and loving character of Laura.”
Laura is remembered fondly by residents of Kenosha.
“She is a very sweet and lovely young lady,” said Linda Brown, St. Joseph Academy administrative assistant, where Kaeppeler graduated in 2006. “I know her and her family quite well. She is a very humble young woman.”
Fans in Milwaukee, too
Although she watched the pageant from her armchair, Carol Degan, principal of Blessed Sacrament School, Milwaukee, couldn’t help but reflect on the young woman who once graced her sixth grade classroom at St. Therese School in Kenosha.
“When I saw her win, I screamed,” she confessed. “It was so exciting! She deserved it, as she was always one of those kids who was pleasant, well liked, a good student, well rounded, involved, creative and always concerned about others. She is a product of her upbringing. Her family is a group of wonderful people; and her mom is a lot like her. They are caring, willing to help others and do for others. And they all have a very strong faith.”
Because Kaeppeler visited Blessed Sacrament School and spoke to students in October, students returned to school brimming with enthusiasm Monday morning.
“It was as if she were part of this school because she came here to visit,” said Degan. “When Father (Robert Turner) asked the children at Mass who had watched the pageant, most of the kids raised their hands. They felt a proud connection to her. Father was excited, too, although he had not gotten to meet her when she was here because he was gone that day. She will be a wonderful Miss America and will represent Wisconsin and Kenosha very well.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Angels in unsuspecting places

Contending with not knowing whether I am going to live or die from one moment to the next has been extremely unsettling to me the past 6 weeks. The ongoing, profound effects of a routine round of the antibiotic Levaquin has formed me into someone I no longer recognize.

Gone is the stalwart, unwavering wife and mother who, given the chance would work herself into the ground because things had to be just that perfect around the house. I worked longer, harder and was tougher than anyone. But, as they say, 'life can change on a dime.' No longer am I the strong one--and dealing with a disabled husband, that situation puts our household at a huge disadvantage.

I have become weak, weepy, weary and worn out--yes, it is a 'w' sort of day today.

Not a minute goes by when I am not in severe pain due to this drug. I have lost weight, lost hair, muscle strength, suffered nerve and tendon damage and much more.  Frankly, there are more nights than not, that I believe I will not make it to see the next sunrise.

However, in the abyss of this murky mire of pain, there are bright spots-and many of them. If I hadn't known it before, and I think I always did--there are plenty of angels masquerading as people roaming this earth. How amazing they are!

Whether it is a call from a sister or sister-in-law, a smile from a stranger in the store, or learning that others are praying for me--I know that God is sending His angels to blanket me with His love. Out of the blue, those who don't know me personally have offered heartfelt assistance, advice and listening ears with hopes that I recover--how blessed I am to experience this loving kindness.

Unlike many who leave this earth suddenly, I am also blessed with the opportunity to make amends with those I may have hurt, discounted, or was less than charitable towards. It matters little that a few of them are not interested in reconciling, what matters is that I forgive them for the pain they have caused me and that I have asked for forgiveness from them......what they choose to do with that, rests upon their shoulders and resides in their souls. I love them all, nonetheless. 

Each morning, I am offered the privilege to say 'Thank you' to God for another glorious day of being alive. Pain or not, each day is a gift and another opportunity to gaze into my sweet husband's eyes, love my children, grandchildren and yes, my little dog too!

Yes, sometimes, the whole toxicity feels like a sucker punch to the gut and leaves me feeling angry and wondering why, but all in all, I am still grateful. Grateful to my parents who chose to have me, grateful to live in a country that is free, grateful for clean water, heat, and a roof over my head, grateful for a wonderful husband, five children and soon to be seven grandchildren. The legacy will continue long after I am but dust in the wind. 

Mostly, I am grateful to God for opening my heart and soul to true happiness, forgiveness and the ability to accept His unconditional love and the gift of Faith.........and thank you for your angels--both earthly and ethereal.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

He's a rugby player, a bagpiper and a priest!

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Ermatinger05Fr. Cliff Ermatinger puts on a short performance on the bagpipes for parishioners after the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Anthony Church in Milwaukee on Sunday, Jan. 8. He is playing a set of Great Highland Bagpipes, made by Atherton Pipes in Naperville, Ill. The pipes are made from holly and African blackwood. More photos of Fr. Ermatinger playing the bagpipes can be viewed at (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)Fr. Cliff Ermatinger is a Catholic priest, but don’t be surprised to find him on the rugby pitch, participating in a bagpipe competition or in the woods training a hunting dog.
Chicago native Fr. Ermatinger not only dispels the myths that a priest’s life is all prayer, he may well have rearranged the idea of what it means to be a Catholic priest, and few young people could argue that his life is lacking excitement.
Not only is Fr. Ermatinger fluent in five languages, he is the author of five books, and a world traveler, giving courses in spiritual theology, spiritual direction, apologetics and youth formation. He has served as media spokesman for the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI on Good Morning America, the BBC, CBS, Vatican and international television stations. If that is not enough, he is training a Gordon Setter Scottish hunting dog; and has a passion for rugby, hunting, fishing and is an accomplished bagpiper.
The 47-year-old former member of the Legionaries of Christ felt God’s first call to the priesthood when he was 5, and while he never intellectually veered from that calling, he decided to stray from the plan after attending Archbishop Quigley High School. Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki was the school’s Dean of Discipline when the future priest attended the high school. After graduation, he put God on the back burner and joined the Marines.
“I figured I’d be a reservist in college, put my time in as an officer and then get back to God,” said Fr. Ermatinger. “Even though it was a good thing I was trying to do, it was not easy on my conscience. I knew God wanted me to become a priest, and I deviated from that plan.”
During a routine training exercise at Camp Pendleton, he suffered a serious injury, lost a lot of blood and for the first time was confronted with his own mortality.
“I was thinking about what I can offer God after he had given me everything,” said Fr. Ermatinger. “It felt like I had emptied him.”
After the injury, he was processed out of the Marines, and as a senior at Gonzaga University, in Spokane, Wash., came upon the book, the “Ascent of Mount Carmel” by St. John of the Cross.
“It was instrumental in my understanding of my need for ongoing conversion and the need for spiritual life formation,” said Fr. Ermatinger. “My encounter with St. John of the Cross was defining for me. I began looking for (religious) orders after that.”
A consultation with the Carmelite nuns in Des Plaines, Ill., helped him to discern the Legionaries of Christ, as he felt called to a strict religious order. He joined in 1987, but due to the many internal issues with the order, left in 2009, returned to Chicago and served two Hispanic parishes there.
“When I was with the LC, the revelations of the crimes of the founder coupled with a lack of strong will in reforming, led me to leave. I knew I wasn’t going to change things,” he said. “The moment I said it wasn’t for me, I had tremendous peace. I had migraines and insomnia the whole time I was with them and once I decided to leave, they came to an end.”
While he enjoyed serving the church in his hometown, his father and sister lived in the Milwaukee area, and Fr. Ermatinger wanted to be closer to them, so he reconnected with Archbishop Listecki about being incardinated into the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
“He was also the pastor at my home parish and I had great respect for him,” said Fr. Ermatinger. “Leaving Chicago was difficult, but it was a beautiful transition and I’ve been blessed with serving St. Anthony Parish and School (Milwaukee), and happy to be near my family.”
At 18 months into the three-year incardination process, Fr. Ermatinger has rekindled his college love of rugby with students at the primarily Hispanic school. A self-described “nitty gritty” rugby player, he implemented a St. Anthony High School Rugby club.
“I’m trying to get some coaches to help out because my participation has been sporadic due to parish and school responsibilities. I would be doing a great disservice to the coaches who are so constant by calling myself a coach, but I can put my two cents in and my hand in it,” he said, laughing. “Before seminary, I played a lot in college and for the Chicago Lions. In Chicago, I started a middle school rugby club – I love it, the kids play with such heart, passion and seriousness and it is beautiful to see that.”
Those passing by the St. Anthony rectory between 10 p.m. and midnight might hear the lonesome sound of bagpipes emanating through the walls. Though his Germanic last name is misleading, Fr. Ermatinger has Scottish ancestry. Since he was 12 years old, the bagpipes captivated his attention, and now, he competes around the country in the Highland Games.
“In fact, I took my vacation time last year to go to Scotland for some individual training and had a great time,” he said. “Playing bagpipes is a good channeling of my creative energy and mental attention. It requires being so focused that you kind of forget everything else to dedicate yourself to play the tune and execute it with perfection – which can be taxing at times, but it’s very therapeutic.”
Over the years, he has won numerous awards for his ability to learn the various idioms and expression of performing the music in the Scottish tradition. Not one to brag about his accomplishments, Fr. Ermatinger tosses his many awards in a drawer as he focuses more on the cultural and musical aspects.
“It is a beautiful cultural world that I grew up in, and I enjoy having it part of my life,” he said. “There have been times I played for my parishioners, and even had a bagpiper at my installation Mass at St. Anthony. It is such a rich part of my heritage.”

Monday, January 9, 2012

What does resentment do?

When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge — or embrace forgiveness and move forward. 

Pretty much everyone has been hurt by the actions or words of another. Perhaps your mother criticized your parenting skills, a family member ridiculed you, your co-worker sabotaged a project or your spouse had an affair. Perhaps you suffered untoward abuse by family members. These wounds, while often devasting can leave you with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness or even vengeance — but if you don't practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. 

What is forgiveness?

Generally, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, positive parts of your life. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you. Forgiveness can let God in and allow His healing balm to wash away the pain and open your heart for more love.

Forgiveness doesn't mean that you deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn't minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace and calm that helps you go on with life.

What are the benefits of forgiving someone?

Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for compassion, kindness and peace and love. Forgiveness can lead to:
  • Healthier relationships 
  • Happier outlook
  • Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse

Why is it so easy to hold a grudge?

When you're hurt by someone you love and trust, you might become angry, sad, bitter or confused. If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice.

What are the effects of holding a grudge?

If you're unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can't enjoy the present. You might become depressed or anxious. You might feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you're at odds with your spiritual beliefs. You might lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others.

How do I find forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a commitment to a process of change. To begin, you might:
  • Consider the value of forgiveness and its importance in your life at a given time
  • Ponder the facts of the situation, your culpability, and how this combination has affected your life, health and well-being
  • When you're ready, actively choose to forgive the person who's offended you
  • Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life
As you let go of grudges, you'll no longer define your life by how you've been hurt. You might even find compassion and understanding for others going through a similar situation.

Forgivness releases you from bondage and makes room for reconciliation, blesses the morning with new sunrises and new opportunities for happiness. Give it a try!

Forgive us our debts just as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us. (Matthew6:12)
If you forgive others their wrongs, your Father in heaven will also forgive yours. If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you either. (Matthew6:14-15)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Live Nativity ministry for St. Robert parishioners

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Nativity-A-01-05-12Taking part in the annual live Nativity scene at St. Robert Church in Shorewood on Christmas Eve, 2011, are, from left, shepherd Dave Rowley, Wyatt Lambrecht, 5 months, as the baby Jesus sitting on the lap of Joseph, portrayed by the boy’s father, Brad Lambrecht, Shana Rowley, Wyatt’s mother, who plays the role of Mary, and Julie Gallo, a shepherd. Dave Rowley is Wyatt’s grandfather. More photos can be viewed and purchased at (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)All eyes were on the camel during the Christmas Eve, live Nativity at St. Robert Catholic Church in Shorewood – not because the 600-pound dromedary was impressive, but because everyone wondered whether he would be allowed a reprise of last year’s performance when he processed down the center aisle of the church prior to Christmas Eve Mass. In 2010, with the permission of St. Robert pastor, Fr. Dennis Dirkx, the 12-foot camel clopped up the marble stairs and down the aisle to a standing ovation from the congregation.
This year, due to insurance issues, the camel remained outdoors; the 2010 exception was made only because last year was supposed to be the swansong of the annual live Nativity; that is, until 16-year-old Joseph Gallo decided to keep the tradition going as a confirmation service project.
“I was bummed out when I heard the news that it wasn’t going to continue, because I have done this live Nativity almost my entire life with my family and friends who were with me from second grade on,” said Joe, a junior at Pius XI High School. “I also wanted to take on this project because it started with Fr. John Pulice who started this live Nativity with my mom. Fr John baptized me and I just wanted to honor him and do it as a service to my community and have fun with my friends. It is a fun thing that not many people get to do.”
When he was 2 years old, Joe served as the littlest angel in the years before the Nativity was taken outdoors. Since that time, he has participated in nearly every capacity, as larger angels, Wise Men, and shepherds. He said the event is a major part of his Christmas celebration and the life of his family.
As a fourth grader, Joe remembers his role as a shepherd because he was caring for a pot bellied pig during the performance when one visitor surprised him with the comment that the Jews never had pigs and therefore there should be no ham on the set.
“Father came out and said that this was an inn and that we were the Gentiles and had people who ate pork in there,” laughed Joe. “The guy didn’t say much after that.”Nativity-B-01-05-12Paul Gallo, his brother Joseph, and their parents Don and Mary Jane Gallo pose with live Nativity scene animals, including the camel Dooley, outside St. Robert Church in Shorewood on Christmas Eve, 2011. Holding the camel in the foreground is George Strobl, owner of the animals. More photos can be viewed and purchased at (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)
“It is really a ministry for us,” he said. “We have three shifts that begin after the 4:30 p.m. Mass and various members of our family are in this every year.”
The live Nativity, featuring animals from George Strobl’s farm, is important to Joe’s parents, Don and Mary Jane Gallo, who encouraged their children Paul, Julie and Joe to participate each year when the Nativity was included during Mass as part of the Gospel reading.
“Later we moved it outside as the kids got bigger and they wanted to bring in some sheep,” said Mary Jane. “My husband and another family got it going by building the stable in sections. They were involved for many years and decided to step away after their children graduated high school, so they needed people to carry the torch and organize it. I try to keep it going with pictures, and am hoping that someone else will take it on so it doesn’t end.”
In its 12th year on the corner of Capitol Drive and Marilyn Avenue, the live Nativity has featured children in various roles, such as 8-year-old Katie Loughrin, who began her role as the baby Jesus when she was just a month old, and this year, as one of the angels. According to her mother, Laura, that first year was quite different than the balmy weather experienced this Christmas Eve.
“It was very cold that year and we had her all bundled up, but it was a fun experience,” said Laura. “Katie has been part of the angel procession into church, but this year was able to do both – in church and in the live Nativity.”
Over the years, Shana Rowley had various roles in the live Nativity, from holding the flashlight outside, to leading children down the aisle in church, holding the ox and playing the part of the Blessed Mother. This year, her role as Mary took on new meaning as her 5-month-old baby, Wyatt, played the part of baby Jesus.
“He loves the attention, and since he is a miracle baby, I couldn’t be happier to know that I am passing on this tradition to him and spending his first year being part of the Live Nativity,” she said.
Rowley has Crohn’s Disease and not only is pregnancy difficult to obtain, there are serious side affects that accompany it, but young Wyatt was born healthy.
Participating in the live Nativity each year is a boost for her faith, and Rowley looks forward to the connectedness she feels to the Holy Family and to all who come.
“It is a magical night and makes me feel part of something,” she said. “We are all there for one purpose – to share the story of the Christ child – and you can just feel the energy all around.”
While most of the onlookers are excited and surprised to see the menagerie along the busy Shorewood streets, Rowley expects that there will be at least one who isn’t so taken with the scene.
“The kids don’t see a lot of these animals and I can pretty much guarantee that there will be at least one little girl in a red velvet dress and white boots that will start wailing each year because she is frightened of the animals,” laughed Rowley. “But most of the kids are smiling and happy to see the animals – I enjoy seeing their little faces.”
While the live Nativity is intended to bless those who might not have exposure to the true meaning of Christmas, for the Gallo family, the blessing comes back to them in abundance.
“It brings to the experience the true meaning of the holiday and reminds us why we are celebrating and goes back to that day,” said Mary Jane. “It is like we are walking in the feet of Christ when we come into church with the animals and the little ones that are angels, then the shepherds and Jesus, Mary and Joseph and it makes you think about what really happened. It really has become our ministry.”

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Thinking positive about recovery

After total knee replacement in October and then dealing with Levaquin toxicity in December, my body has taken a beating. No longer do I take simple things for granted, such as walking, sleeping, digesting food, or living without constant pain. Rather, I'm focusing on small steps--an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep, the blessings of having a job that I can work from home, children who are grown and don't need my constant attention, spending time with grandchildren, and a loving and sympathetic husband and teenage son who are helping me through this.

While I am unsure as to my longevity, or future mobility, I'm grateful for each moment, each kindness, and each day to wake up and see the sunshine.

There are many unanswered prayers, but I trust that the same God that allowed this illness to happen will see me through the vicissitudes of life that far out-shadow the physical pain.

Life is short, sometimes shorter than we ever imagined, but one aspect of coming face to face with your mortality is the appreciation of all the gifts we have taken for granted.

I look back at my five children and am in awe of who they have become. My eldest daughter and her husband are living an amazing, God-filled life and are expecting their first baby, my eldest son finished four years in the Navy and will be graduating college this spring. He somehow manages to juggle school, work and raising our beautiful granddaughter-and does it well. My second son completed 6 years with the Marine reserves, and is employed as a prison guard--he and his lovely wife are the proud parents of a gorgeous daughter and are expecting their second baby in the fall. My second daughter and her husband are the proud parents of two wonderful boys, the newest born just after Christmas; and my youngest son is a junior in a minor seminary and has become such a holy, reverent and honorable young man.

How blessed I am and how can I complain to God if my life is cut short by this illness? -He has already given me so much.

James 5: 7-11
  Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
  Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Who needs New Year's Resolutions?

Magazine articles, television segments, and surveys all asking the proverbial question: "What is your New Year's resolution?" Marketing schemes galore encourage those to shape up, lose weight, get more sleep, get organized, get out of debt, and find more personal happiness. Unfortunately, by month's end, most of the well-intentioned resolutions have gone by the wayside--as much remembered as dear Aunt Edna's fruitcake that was tossed in the trash a few days ago.

For me, like others, resolutions don't work and instead of a grandiose plan, I am trying the "One day at a time" approach for changing my life. 2011 was a very difficult year for our family--there was great loss, heartache, major medical problems and financial catastrophe, culminating with putting our beloved "forever" home on the selling block. It would be easy to fall prey to feeling sorry for ourselves and not focus on the positive....after all, what positive can be found with a list like that, you ask? Plenty.

First and foremost--we are and continue to be blessed by God to endure all that has happened. If it were not for our strong Catholic faith and the Communion of Saints praying with us, we would not be here to even complain about our heartaches--for surely despair would have propelled us to an entirely different outcome. We have not gone hungry and have not had to endure living without heat and running water--we are blessed.

Secondly, we have family members and dear friends who have walked the craggy path with us, held our hands, bound our wounds as we have bled, and offered us shoulder upon shoulder to cry until the tears refused to fall.

Third, we are blessed to see our children become fruitful--with grandchild number seven making his or her appearance in September. How wonderful to know, that long after we have returned to the dust of the earth, our generation will continue to fill the vast areas of the earth.

While I am battling the health issue of my life, I continue to be grateful for each day that God has allowed me to be here with my wonderful husband and continue to remain hopeful that we can still grow old together.

So each day is a day to say 'Thank you" to God for a new and glorious day. For a day to be allowed to laugh, to cry, to weep and to mourn---and to feel loved.

Thank you for this day and all the majesty that accompanies it.

Happy New Year!