Monday, February 27, 2012

Living a Lenten Life

While not as trite as a New Year's resolution, Lent does offer certain similarities. We give up, offer up or try to do something out of our comfort zone in recognition of all that Jesus did for us--to remember his 40 days in the desert, to recall his intense suffering, to remember why we are here. Along the way, I have failed at giving up things for Lent, or partaking in certain spiritual practices. The problem with many of the things I have done, is that I have made it all about me and not about God or the service to others. When we surround ourselves with ME, we are bound to fail.
However, each Lent is an opportunity to get a mulligan, but better because God does not keep score.  Lent is our opportunity to try again to reach heaven through the confines of this earth.  A chance to try again in giving up those things that separate me from God's desire for my life.  A chance to separate myself from the things that have become false idols for me. A chance to try again to take up those practices that might bring me closer to God.  A chance to try a new spiritual practice that has the ability to draw me near the face of the Almighty.
Another Lent, another chance to purge the chaff, to create a new wine skin.
The soul of Lent is God.  Lent isn’t about me. It is all about Him.  Each and everything I do or don’t do during these next weeks should be an attempt to keep God at the center of my life.
Everyone needs a mulligan,  a chance to make something right.  What in your life needs to change so that God comes first?  Are there things you need to give up or take up for this to happen?
May God bless your Lent. May it be filled with moments where you encounter the living Jesus. May you find fulfillment in He who broke through the bondage of sin to bring us the hope of eternity. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Elvis: Back in the building at St. Martin of Tours

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FRANKLIN — Nearly 35 years after Elvis Presley’s death, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is best remembered for hip-gyrating classics like “Hound Dog’’ and “Jailhouse Rock.’’ But when Elvis impersonator John Van Thiel performs at St. Martin of Tours Parish, Franklin, on Saturday, March 3, he’ll portray another side of his hero: The spiritual Elvis. The Gospel-singing Elvis. The Elvis who inspires some fans to trust in God as they don their blue suede shoes. elvisElvis impersonator, John Van Thiel, will perform at St. Martin of Tours Parish, Franklin on Saturday, March 3. The three-hour “Rock ‘n’ Soul” performance, a fundraiser for the parish, will feature both Gospel music and rock ‘n’ roll. (Submitted photo courtesy John Van Thiel)His three-hour “Rock ‘n’ Soul” performance will portray the two faces of Elvis Presley – the rock ‘n’ roll side and the spiritual side. The notion of Elvis as a man of faith may seem contradictory, but the late entertainer grew up in the Assembly of God church and was a man of deep spiritual conviction.
“I always felt very connected to his Gospel songs because of the feeling Elvis put into his music,” said Van Thiel, a Racine resident. “He put his heart and soul into the music and, even if you didn’t listen to his lyrics, the music is intense because of the sound and his voice was his best stuff.”
Message may ‘shake up’ die-hard fans
Van Thiel’s message may shake up some die-hard Elvis fans accustomed to the wilder, darker side of the entertainer, but fans with a burning love for Elvis will appreciate his spirituality.
“You can look through all aspects of his career, and Gospel music or Gospel albums are present,” said Van Thiel. “You figure Elvis recorded nearly 800 songs and had 100 number one hits, but his only Grammy Awards were for his Gospel recordings, which he won three times. It is ironic that it is not a side of him that people really associate with him, but it’s what drove him and it’s important to bring out that side of him.”
Elvis was a flawed human being who struggled with life, but on the inside he was very spiritual and on a quest to figure out his lot in life, explained Van Thiel.
“His music ministers to everyone, and when I am singing for people, I see so many things come back to me,” he said. “One time I did a concert up north and a woman came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Thank you so much for the last two hours – I forgot I had cancer.’ Another couple came up to me and said that listening to my Elvis Gospel music helped them get through the loss of their daughter who died the month before.”
Chance meeting sparks fundraising idea
Mary Dutkiewicz, a member of St. Martin of Tours, met Van Thiel at a classic car show last summer where he was performing, and was captivated by his entertaining style and warm personality.
“My husband and I have a 1935 Ford that we bring to the shows, and while people were looking at the cars, we ventured off to watch John singing on the pavement to the public,” she said. “He was very good and after he was through, he came over by me, put his arm around me and shook my husband’s hand. He was a very nice sweet man.”
Without thinking, Dutkiewicz, a member of the parish Think Tank Committee to bring new ideas to the parish, asked the Elvis impersonator if he ever did church fundraisers.
“That just came out of my mouth, I had no intention of ever asking him this,” she explained. “He then gave me his card, told me he loves to sing Elvis Gospel music and has a lot of followers but not a large enough place to entertain.”
The parish has a gymnasium with enough space for 600. Dutkiewicz wrote a letter to her pastor, Sacred Heart Fr. Yvon Sheehy, who thought it was a good idea.
“John came to the church and gym and dreamed how to set everything up,” she said. “We will have tables around him, nice lighting to bring out the atmosphere and he will go to the tables to sing to the people. It’s so much fun; he throws out teddy bears when he sings the ‘Teddy Bear’ song. I know people will like this performance as he is very well liked wherever he goes. It should be a good fundraiser for our parish because Gospel music is the biggest plus and no one has to sell Elvis.”
‘Quiet, shy kid’ blossoms as ‘Elvis’
If you want to go:

“Rock ‘N Soul: The Two Faces
of Elvis Presley” by John Van Thiel
Saturday, March 3: 7-10 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m.
St. Martin of Tours Parish
7963 S. 116th St., Franklin
Admission $20 in advance,
$25 at the door
For tickets call: (414) 425-1114
Ticket prices include snacks
There will be a cash bar, raffles and door prizes
As a manger of marketing communication for a Franksville firm, Van Thiel always liked Elvis, but didn’t know the full impact the man had on his life until much later, well after he began watching his movies and singing along to tapes his father recorded for him, in the privacy of his bedroom.
“I was always this quiet, shy kid, and really still am, but when no one was around I would sing along to his tapes and later, after college, would sing along to a karaoke machine at home,” he said. “Finally, I got up the courage to enter an Elvis sound-alike competition. I sat there all night and finally got up there and thought I did OK, but they awarded the prize to a regular. I felt dejected until another guy who had been watching all night came up to me and told me that I should have won.”
After many more karaoke nights, Van Thiel began entering contests at Potawatomi Casino and other casinos against some of the major Las Vegas Elvis impersonators.
“I was really reluctant to do this because here I was just this karaoke schmuck and most of these contestants were from Vegas, but my brother and friends kicked me around and finally made me to do it, and surprisingly, I have won a few awards,” he said. “For me though, I just had this desire to replicate Elvis’s voice – I fell in love with his voice; it was so velvety, expressive and diverse. In just seeing him perform, it makes you feel like you already knew him. He seemed sincere, genuine and likeable and impressed me as a kid. That is the kind of Elvis impersonator I strive to be.”
Fans show their love
For more than seven years, Van Thiel has portrayed Elvis professionally, performing at concerts and competitions. While the contests are exciting, he doesn’t participate solely to win.
“I just want to have fun and what happens happens,” he said. “A lot of times people are looking for validation and I guess for me that validation was that people thought I was lip synching the songs. That is a huge compliment and I guess that means I am doing what I am trying to do.”
Most important to Van Thiel is portraying Elvis in a respectful manner, captivating audiences with the late entertainer’s playful sense of humor, but without the bondage that notoriety can bring.
“Elvis was very good with the crowd and I am thinking that he would have liked to spend more time with his fans, but was so popular he couldn’t,” he said. “He adored his fans and I adore mine. They bring me gifts and cookies and are phenomenal fans. I always wonder who I am to deserve this. It all started with one man who did what he did and influenced the whole world and decades later; people are still enamored with him. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to do what I do.”

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Siena Retreat Center director reaches out to youth

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Open a heart.
Inspire a mind.
Transform a soul.
Change a life…
RACINE — These words capture the desire of Claire Anderson, the new director of retreat programs at Siena Retreat Center, to affect the hearts and minds of individuals, so that they, in turn, can be a positive influence in their families, communities, organizations and the world.
SnowWalkThis is a view from the woods at the Siena Retreat Center in Racine, a center run by the Racine Dominicans that has served individuals and groups for more than 40 years. (Submitted photo courtesy Siena Retreat Center)Whether it is the waves crashing upon the shoreline of Lake Michigan, acres of sun-kissed lawn, the tranquil chapel, or the mammoth labyrinth, all offer a setting in which God can reach the busiest hearts. For the first time in the center’s 40-year history, a layperson is director of retreat programs, a ministry of the Racine Dominicans. Anderson replaces Racine Dominican Sr. Rita Lui who retired after 20 years as the center’s director.
Before assuming this role, Anderson, 41, served as pastoral associate at St. Robert Parish, Shorewood. There she oversaw the congregation’s social justice and outreach ministries, including senior ministry, a partnership with a school in Uganda, referrals to emergency services, and assisted with the coordination of liturgies and Christian formation. In addition, she served as director of youth and young adult ministry at St. Robert and looks forward to incorporating this population into programs at the retreat center.
“I have spent a lot of time considering how to integrate youth and young adults into the program,” said Anderson, who is working on the 2012-13 retreat year, which runs from September through August. “I am working with our board and staff to offer retreats that aim to address the spiritual needs and hungers of younger generations, in addition to the generations who might be more familiar with retreats. In my view, so much in the world is shifting very quickly – technology, the environment, the economy and so much is interconnected, that it takes time to sort all that out and to find meaning. I want young people to know that they are especially welcome here.”
In addition to attracting younger retreatants through providing younger speakers and age-appropriate topics, to boosting the center’s online presence, Anderson plans to research and find the means necessary to satisfy the spiritual hunger among those in a wide variety of demographics.
Anderson holds master’s degrees in divinity studies and European history, and a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education. She is completing the ecumenical doctorate of ministry program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Her expertise and sensitivity to Sr. Lui and desire to grow the program are encouraging to Sr. Kathy Slesar, Racine Dominican vice president.
“I was impressed with how she expressed her desires and hopes for this ministry, along with the respect she has for Rita and the foundation that Rita built,” said Sr. Slesar. “Claire brings a wide range of skills and lots of educational experiences. She also has a great ability to work with a wide range of personalities.”
While modern technology was intended to make life easier, it has rebounded to create a faster, more frenetic paced, stress-filled society leaving people to believe that setting aside time for a retreat is a frivolous and unproductive use of their lives. This is a misnomer, according to Anderson.
“Many people view a retreat as a luxury, thinking, ‘I couldn’t possibly afford the time.’ Those who come here for some time away, however, change the paradigm to ‘I cannot afford not to come – to contemplate life, to pray, to prioritize or reprioritize my life,’” she explained. “Publicizing this paradigm is a priority for me. An online video and a new website address,  , are steps toward this goal.”
To reach the needs of those seeking more meaning and the desire to grow closer to God, the center offers 37 retreats through August, ranging from an evening to a week. Approximately, 6,000 people visit it each year.
“We offer private retreats, with or without meeting with a spiritual director, and group retreats on a wide range of topics, including the spirituality of certain saints, prophetic justice, discernment, artistic expression and many others,” said Anderson. “In any given year, there are retreats especially for men, for women and for couples.”
While the Siena Center is Catholic facility, the retreats are available to anyone of any faith tradition, including those who have no affiliation to a faith tradition, as long as they are open to spiritual ideas.
“Those with no faith tradition also get a lot out of the retreats we offer,” said Anderson. “This is an incredibly active place. From the justice and rights commission to daily community prayer to the senior companioning, and ESL (English as a Second Language) programs that are also housed at the Siena Center, this is a very vibrant place.”
The Siena Retreat Center offers spiritual direction and training, directed retreats, and an extensive contemporary bookstore. The center also hosts the gathering and retreats of other organizations and groups focused on spiritual wholeness.
“We also offer a nationally-known Spiritual Guidance Training Program, which is currently inviting applications,” said Anderson, adding, “We are always quick to remind people that everyone who comes through our doors is held in prayer.”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Community leans on faith

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They had the greatest smiles and the best laughs, and their joy rubbed off on their families, friends, soccer teammates and classmates. crossesThree crosses stand on Harry and JoAnne Theisen’s property in Campbellsport, between where the vehicle left the road and ended up during the Feb. 4 crash that claimed the lives of Campbellsport High School students Katie Berg, 16, Caitlin Scannell, 17, and Sabrina Stahl, 15, and injured six other girls. (Catholic Herald photo by Erik Peterson)A little depressed? Caitlin Scannell, 17, would cheer you up.
Wanting a little music? Katie Berg, 16, would sing country songs.
Needing a hug? Sabrina Stahl, 15, was ready with open arms.
The three Campbellsport High students killed in a car crash early Saturday, Feb. 4, were remembered fondly last week by friends, as their families, school and churches prepared for funeral services. Six other girls were injured in the crash that devastated the tightly woven community.
“Caitlin was from our parish and very active in our Life Teen program and was preparing to help put on our 30-hour fast and other aspects of the program and promote it,” said Brad Mintie, director of religious education/director of Life Teen at Shepherd of the Hills Parish, Eden. “She had a bright smile and a big heart. Basically, if Life Teen was doing something or there was a fundraiser, she was involved in it, and was very well liked by all.”
Parish holds candlelight service
The parish held a memorial candlelight service that Saturday evening after Mass and invited all to come to remember, reflect and cry. For two hours teens, family and friends of the nine girls came to pray.
“We wanted a place for everyone to come that was outside the high school,” said Mintie. “We set up journals and papers so the kids could write notes to the girls and put their names up, played music and sat for a while.”
A brief welcoming prayer by Fr. Joseph Juknialis opened the channel for talking and healing. Every 15-20 minutes Mintie said a prayer for each of the girls and allowed the visitors time to grieve and mourn without news media, without pressure, and without fear of allowing their emotions to go. The journals were later brought to the school for students to continue sharing their memories.
“Afterwards, people seemed grateful they had a safe place to go where they weren’t being preached at as to how they should feel,” he explained. “It was important to give them a place to go to get them a place away from school to pray; I didn’t want to preach, but just wanted to allow everyone to grieve.”
A Bible study during the week was another opportunity for the teens to gather and pray, and the next Life Teen night will be devoted to allowing students to share their feelings and to help them cope with the terrible loss.
“Caitlin’s brother, Ryan, also set up a scholarship to be given to young people in memory of the girls,” said Mintie. “I am very impressed with him, and with the way Campbellsport High School has come together and invited the church community to be there all week. The whole community has really come together in support of all the kids.”
Confirmation went on as planned
While confirmation is a time for celebration, the day took on a somber tone as Bishop Donald J. Hying tried to comfort the brokenhearted at St. Matthew Parish the following afternoon.
When the news first broke that Allie Adams, a member of St. Matthew Parish, who was in critical condition, and that Sabrina Stahl’s brother, Nickolos, were both to be confirmed that day, the initial thought was to reschedule the confirmation Mass. However, according to Fr. Neil Zinthefer, pastor of St. Matthew Parish, they decided to continue, as two other parishes were included in the confirmation Mass and it would be difficult to reschedule. Both he and Bishop Hying also hoped that by continuing, it would be the beginning of healing for the community.
“I was surprised that Nick and his family decided to come; but Bishop Hying did a wonderful job of tying in the reality of the catastrophe and the confirmation in a verycrossA cross was erected on the property of Harry and JoAnne Theisen, members of St. Matthew Parish in Campbellsport, at the spot where the vehicle left the road in the Feb. 4 crash that claimed the lives of Campbellsport High School students Katie Berg, 16, Caitlin Scannell, 17, and Sabrina Stahl, 15. (Catholic Herald photo by Erik Peterson) healing consoling way,” Fr. Zinthefer said. “It was a good thing for people who were there and I think it was helpful for them afterwards because many there came over and were ministering to them. They supported them and it represents part of the way our whole community is responding to it. We all know each other and it is good to see that they are reaching out, as many of the families came over to offer their support.”
Torn with the idea of continuing, Beth Schmidt, director of religious education at St. Matthew Parish, said it didn’t feel right to hold the confirmation Mass, but under the advice of Bishop Hying and Fr. Zinthefer, she agreed that it might be a balm for healing.
Bishop’s message was healing
“Afterwards, it did feel like (it had) a very calming effect and we received much positive feedback,” she said. “Nick was confirmed and actually, when I saw (him) and his family show up for practice, it got me through the day because I felt that if they could do it, then I could do it.”
The message from Bishop Hying was meaningful to everyone, but especially to Nick, who he addressed personally, explained Schmidt.
“He talked about life being a series of lights and shadows and he told Nick that he gave him credit for coming that day,” she said. “I think that showed everyone that was there just how strong you can be at these times.”
While none of the deceased were from St. Matthew Parish, the impact of the accident has hit them hard, especially since Fr. Zinthefer lost three other members of their small parish the same week and was trying to plan those funerals in between trying to come to terms with his own grief and consoling grieving parishioners.
“It has been so difficult; there has been a great loss here. But I am encouraged to see that Allie is out of ICU and that things are looking up for her; she has been a great help to us each week in our Sunday morning preschool religious ed program,” he said, choking back tears. “I am impressed with our community and how everyone is being so supportive. The girls who are recovering will heal, but their psychological wounds will take much longer. All of the parents are hurting – we have had a number of parents who have endured the death of a child and they have mentioned how this opens up all those wounds, but at the same time allows them to reach out to others who are now going through the same thing.”
Tragedy hard on first responders
One of the difficult aspects of the accident about which many are unaware were the number of first responders, rescue and fire department personnel who arrived on the scene and knew the nine girls. To help grapple with their loss, Fr. Zinthefer attended a counselor-led session at the Campbellsport Fire Department.
“The counselor went around and asked everyone to share about how this accident affected them. It was very moving to hear because these people all know each other,” he said. “So many people are connected and even though the parish might not be directly connected, the kids are close to many of our families through school. My youth director is doing wonderful work at the high school and has been there for anyone who needs help.”
When Harry and JoAnne Theisen, members of St. Matthew Parish, woke to flashing lights in their bedroom window at 3:45 a.m., both knew immediately that something terrible had happened. Looking out their window, they were horrified to see the crushed vehicle that had once held the nine girls. While they couldn’t  have prevented the tragedy, the couple wishes they had heard the impact and been able to do more than stand behind the rescue workers.
“We just wished we could have been there to hold their hands and to let them know help was on the way and that they were not alone,” said JoAnne. “But we had to find out like everyone else about who was involved and what had happened.”
Throughout the day memorials were erected, crosses and flowers sheltered by the hundreds who stop by to kneel, pray and reflect on the lives lost and those changed. While emotionally difficult to view the memorials from their front door, JoAnne believes that they offer consolation to them and to the others who visit.
“I see young people coming by all the time to kneel and pray by those memorials, and it does seem to help in a way,” she said. “As tragic as this has been, our community has been drawn together and it doesn’t matter who you are, what you believe or what church you attend, we are all family and we all care about each other.”
The Theisens attended Mass that first Saturday evening and JoAnne was not sure she would be able to fulfill her role as lector and went to Fr. Zinthefer for moral support.
“I just wasn’t sure how I could get through it and said to Fr. Neil that it was going to be a rough one,” she explained. “He said, ‘Yeah it is, but we gotta do it,’ and afterwards he gave me a hug and said,‘We did it.’”
Community pulls together
Whether standing in the halls offering hugs, a shoulder to cry on, or a few silent glances of encouragement, Schmidt spent the first part of last week at Campbellsport High School serving as a rock to grieving students and staff.
“We provided food for the students all day as they came in and out of the grief counseling sessions and just trying to give any assistance we could,” she said. “The food was provided by the community and it was like the fishes and loaves miracle, as the food kept coming forth and it was like a never ending supply.”
Reaching out through her own grief was difficult as she knew most of the girls involved in the accident, but she also knew that the students needed her to be strong.
“I knew Sabrina, as she had gone to school with my son since kindergarten, and most of the other girls,” she said. “The other two who died, I knew through Allie, who was such a pretty, bubbly girl who was always helpful and kind, especially to the little children she helped in our preschool program. Once some of this calms down in the community, we want to have a Mass of healing here at the parish – it will be greatly needed as we all search and look for understanding.”
Another way St. Matthew was reaching out was to help with Katie Berg’s funeral. She was buried from Campbellsport Alliance Church and, according to Fr. Zinthefer, the parish human concerns committee supplied the food for the reception following her funeral.
“The people from our parish are just reaching out to help in any way they can,” he said, wiping back tears. “I wouldn’t be able to do anything because of all the funerals and loss here this week, but thankfully, others are reaching out. It is difficult to get through these tragedies; and I try not to think about it so much. We prayed for everyone this past week and began our Mass with a ceremony of lighting the candles to commemorate all the lives that have been lost and changed. But it has been a challenge for everyone.”

Pipe dreams come true at St. Stanislaus

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Pipe dreams can come true. On Feb. 19, the full, rich tones of the organ at St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr Parish and Oratory, Milwaukee, will once again reverberate throughout the building. pipe-organOrganist Lee Erickson works on a repair project on the St. Stanislaus organ in Milwaukee on Thursday, Feb. 9, with Dave Broskowski (above in background) of Broskowski Pipe Organ Service of South Milwaukee. Erickson will play at an organ dedication concert at St. Stanislaus on Friday, Feb. 19. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)David Broskowski from Broskowski Pipe Organ Repair of Milwaukee has recently completed the painstaking job of restoring the organ, with parts dating to 1893, bringing the instrument back to its former glory.
After spending approximately four months of work on the organ, Broskowski, who worked on the project with St. Anthony organist, Lee Erickson, admitted he was pleased with the results.
“It is a beautiful church building with wonderful acoustics and a wonderful organ; I am happy to see the results as I have tuned and worked on this organ for the past 23 years,” he said.
Broskowski explained that the organ was last refurbished in 1956 and included many pipes from the original 1893 organ, along with organ parts that were added during that restoration.
“What we did was to clean the pipes and regulate them to produce the proper tone. Then we put in and redid the action of the organ, which is the part that controls the playing of the pipes,” he said. “Then we rebuilt all the bellows with new leathers and we supplied a new control system – this is the part that translates what the organist plays on the keys and pedals and makes the pipes play according to the organist’s wishes.”
Broskowski also replaced the console – the portion of the organ containing the keys and pedals. The
If you want to go:
Organ rededication
and choir recital
Sunday, Feb. 19, 12:30 p.m., following 10 a.m. Latin Tridentine Mass and reception
St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr Parish
and Oratory
524 W. Historic
Mitchell St.
renovated console was originally built and installed for the organ in the former minor seminary chapel building on Kinnickinnic Avenue.
“The project cost right around $50,000 and was raised by the parish because they realized that what they had was better than replacing and buying a new one,” he said. “It is a real quality organ with excellent tone. The original 1893 pipes came from an organ built by the Schuelke Organ Company located on the south side of Milwaukee at the turn of the century. The Schaefer Organ Company did the 1956 restoration from Slinger. So, with the console from the minor seminary, this organ is the compilation of three different organs. It was a good use of existing resources and maintaining Catholic history here.”
The 12:30 p.m. organ rededication and choir recital is Sunday, following a reception after the 10 a.m. Latin Tridentine Mass. Under the direction of choir director Thomas Darien, the St. Anthony and St. Stanislaus choirs will perform. Erickson is excited to hear the organ’s robust sounds.
“It’s nice when everything works and I am so happy that the parish thought it was important to restore this beautiful organ. It’s hard to play it properly when it isn’t working,” he said. “We will be playing some music that isn’t too lofty, and it’s nice that the St. Stanislaus Choir will be participating, too.”
The organ restoration is significant to parishioner Michele Kolp as she not only grew up at St. Stanislaus Parish, but so did her parents and grandparents.
“This organ is part of our history and in 2016, this parish will be 150 years old,” she said, adding. “There are not many parishes that can say that.”
Kolp anticipates a large crowd of current and former members of St. Stanislaus to attend the event.
“We want people to know that we are still open and that our church is a wonderful historical landmark,” she said. “We are still going and that says a lot about our spirits and the mission of the Kashubes of Jones Island, the family who founded this parish.”

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chef 'Mic' serves up lessons in life

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chef1Marita Makurat Pietrykowski, “Chef Mic,” poses in a kitchen classroom at Waukesha County Technical College on Tuesday, Jan. 31. A 1970 Mount Mary College graduate, Pietrykowski was awarded the college’s 2010 Madonna Medal for Professional Excellence for her leadership in the community and in her profession. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)Although she considers herself a late bloomer, Marita “Mic” Makurat Pietrykowski’s cooking expertise has captured the attention of a number of people, including those from the American Culinary Federation-Chefs of Milwaukee, the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast, and Bishop Richard J. Slkba. “I had the privilege of cooking for him when he came to our parish for confirmation,” she said. “He sought me out, telling me that the chicken I served was the best he had eaten, and that he had eaten a lot of chicken dinners at confirmation time.”
The 63-year-old chef and member of Queen of Apostles Parish, Pewaukee, was awarded Mount Mary College’s 2010 Madonna Medal for Professional Excellence.
The award is presented annually to a graduate of Mount Mary College who exhibits extraordinary leadership skills, and passion in her profession. According to Jessica Pelnar, alumnae relations assistant, Pietrykowski, who graduated in 1970, is a worthy recipient.
“Mic was chosen as a Madonna Medal recipient because she set herself apart from her peers in her outstanding professional excellence,” said Pelnar. “She sets a wonderful example for our students and alumnae. In everything she does, she is determined and passionate.”
A teacher with love of cooking
Although Pietrykowski graduated with a degree in secondary education, teaching middle school math for a year in Italy, she found her love of cooking after working as a dishwasher and in banquet set-up at Waukesha County Technical College in 1982.
“My friend, Anna Marie Urbanski, got me the job at WCTC; I used to watch the chef instructors and students and fell in love with the culinary industry,” she said. “I was given the opportunity to go through the apprenticeship program at WCTC and graduated in 1992.”
After graduation, Pietrykowski joined the American Culinary Federation-Chefs of Milwaukee and served as the organization’s first female president from 2002 to 2007. She was also the only female chef named Chef of the Year in 2002. In addition, she has served as advisor to WCTC’s Hospitality/Culinary Club for the past 10 years, worked with the campus co-op program, pairing students with restaurants, resorts and catering companies, and chaperoned students through the Study Abroad Program.
Love of cooking is ‘inherited’
The daughter of a postal worker and a nurse, Pietrykowski believes she inherited her love of cooking and food from her grandmother. Her specialties are Italian foods and the comfort foods her grandmother used to prepare. When she has time, she enjoys preparing family favorites for her son Rico, wife Susan and two children, of Washington, D.C.; and daughter Dawn, husband Chad and their three children who live in New Berlin.
“My grandma cooked the way all grandmas seemed to, a handful of this, a pinch of that, and a lot of love,” she said, adding. “And that is my recipe, too, now that I am a grandma.”
While avid viewers of the Food Network and other televised cooking shows might conclude that Pietrykowski develops a plethora of her own recipes and gleans ideas from the cooking programs, both could not be further from the truth.
“I think everyone adapts their own recipes; I had a recipe for lasagna that called for cottage cheese, but my family didn’t like the lumps, so I pureed it – simple things like that. I think a recipe is just a guideline; that’s why
I love cooking; you can play with your food,” she said, adding, “I don’t watch the chefs on TV because they are not real. Julia Child was real. My favorite chefs are my students – it’s great watching them create and grow and become self-assured.”
Lifetime scout still helps out
As a lifetime Girl Scout, Pietrykowski has held many positions such as troop leader, camp counselor and council president since joining at the age of 7; but she receives the most enjoyment through working with her granddaughter’s troop.
“I love showing them how to do stuff in a kitchen, such as making crepes and ice cream and pizzas,” she said.
As the Event Pathways manager of the Girls Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast, Megan Buehler appreciates Pietrykowski’s cooking expertise, as she has assisted Girl Scouts of varying ages with cooking, sustainability, restaurant associated jobs and new culinary technology used in garnishing.
“At the events, the girls learn about proper knife techniques, basic cooking skills, how to safely handle food and equipment and nutrition,” said Buehler. “The girls have the opportunity to tour the WCTC demonstration kitchens and culinary labs, and they gained insight into how to operate a restaurant, from back of the house food preparation to front of the house management where they actually serve their guests in their restaurant. The girls are also walking away with important life skills including teamwork, communication, learning patience and developing math skills.”
‘Great role model for the girls’
Over the past three summers, Pietrykowski has influenced the lives of 350 girls, giving them the confidence to cook for their families and perhaps consider a career in the culinary field.
“I’ve gotten to witness the great experiences she can provide for girls in a one-day experience, so I can’t even imagine the impact she’s had on those girls she spent an entire week with at camp or was the leader for over the course of a year,” said Buehler. “She serves as a great role model for the girls in many ways and is truly proud of their accomplishments at the end of the day.”
Not only are the girls pleased with their endeavors at the end of the session, many return for consecutive summer sessions, eager to seek out Pietrykowski to share their ongoing culinary accomplishments.
“Mic puts in a great deal of work into these events and despite them being long and tiring days, she is ready to make improvements for the next event and has the best experience for the girls in mind,” said Buehler.
Award recipient humbled
Receiving the Madonna Medal was humbling as well as an honor for Pietrykowski as she credits the college for preparing her to become a leader and a teacher.
“I was surprised to hear that I had been nominated and am so very grateful,” she said. “But it is the faculty and the staff who empowered us as students and that is what I strive to do for my students.”
In her quest to give back, Pietrykowski is active with Mount Mary as a class representative to the board of directors of the alumnae association.
“I am proud to do that and to help in any way,” she said. “Mount Mary was a great strength and peace in my life and remains that today.”
Although she retired from teaching full time at WCTC in July, Pietrykowski teaches in the family and consumer education division of WCTC and offers one or two day classes on various cuisines. She also continues to teach part time in the culinary management program and serves as one of the advisors of the student hospitality/culinary club.
“My final act as club advisor will be taking the students to Italy,” she said, “I am looking forward to that trip.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Book Review-The ‘Weird Sisters’ are not all that weird

The first hundred pages or so of the book was a bit of a snooze, nearly causing me to regale it to the shelf. It was littered with too much description of who the sisters are, and too much blather on their various differences. It took a bit to set up their rather far-fetched situations, but when the story did begin moving, it was enjoyable.
There is Rose, afraid to leave home; Bean, who fled their small town early but has returned after making a weighty mistake; and Cordy, the vagabond, who is inopportunely pregnant.
Their father, Professor Andreas communicates with his family almost exclusively via Shakespeare, photocopying pages from the plays and highlighting various passages. It's in this way he informs his daughters of their mother's cancer. The story is a peculiar twist on the emotionally distant fatherly role, and although the liberal sprinkling of Shakespeare quotes often strives to retain credibility, along with my patience, Brown seems to make it all come together.
"The Weird Sisters" is written in first-person plural. The sisters are speaking as a single voice-- as though all three sisters are somehow hovering above it all, telling the story together -- it gives the book a theatrical feel.
 As a discourse on sibling dynamics, and their ability to grow closer through the challenges of their mother’s disease as well as the reality of living together again, the book very much succeeds. While each sister's story of self-improvement is fairly predictable, echoing Shakespeare: “all's well that ends well,” Brown seems to pull off the sentiment conveyed by the book's tag line: "We love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much."
"This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Finding myself through the pain of Levaquin Toxicity

For my dear friends who have wondered where I have disappeared, here is an explanation of what has happened to me, and why I have not been as busy on my blog, facebook, or with my writing.

On December 9, I went to a Pain Management Clinic for a neurostimulator trial to deal with pain in my lower back. Because I recently had a total knee replacement, I was was given as a precautionary measure, a bag of IV Levaquin while under anesthesia, followed with a 5 day regimen of 750 mg Levaquin , an antibiotic belonging to the fluoroquinolone class. 

These antibiotics, as I now know, have been used in the past to treat anthrax and are meant to be used only as a line of last resort. They also carry a Black Box Warning from the FDA, which warns of possible tendinitis or tendon rupture, heightened in those over the age of 60.

Yet this warning does not begin to cover the horrifying realities of this drug. Since taking the pills I was prescribed, I have experienced a host of unusual symptoms which have not subsided after discontinuance of the antibiotic: severe tendon pain, a shocking feeling throughout my body, peripheral neuropathy in my legs, hands, and feet, unrelenting insomnia, painful cracking and popping joints, muscle pain, hair loss, digestive issues, weight loss, severe tinnitus, and the list goes on. 

These side effects of fluoroquinolones are listed in the package insert as "rare," but the widespread and often unnecessary usage of these antibiotics leaves thousands of lives severely afflicted. Ironically, the medical profession that prescribed these drugs, as well as the pharmacy that dispensed them to me never mentioned any side effects and in fact, when I spoke with my doctor and the pharmacy, both dismissed my symptoms as "too rare to happen" and offered no solution to help with them. 

Following up with a rheumatologist only made matters worse, as he prescribed a six day regimen of prednisone. After hearing my symptoms increased after this dosage, his only solution was not only to prescribe more prednisone, but also to inject my tendons with the stuff and prescribe nitroglycerin patches on each inflamed area. I refuse to be a guinea pig, so I cancelled the follow up appointments.

My reaction so far has in fact been mild in comparison to others I have spoken with, many of whom have ended up permanently disabled by tendon issues and in constant, unrelenting pain due to these drugs.

This problem is not minor, nor is it as uncommon as we are led to believe, and it certainly is not one that can continue to be overlooked by the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies. As a 51 year old, previously healthy and active woman, my life has been drastically altered by 750mg of Levaquin, and I can only hope that I will soon recover and go on to live the life that I had expected to. I have yet to find a doctor who knows what to do to alleviate the symptoms and have begun planning for the worst as it truly feels as if I am dying from the inside out. 

But this posting is not just about me. It is about our country, our society, our families, our children, and the thousands of human lives that have been - and if nothing is done, will continue to be - brutally modified by the misuse of these potent drugs.These antibiotics are given for minor infections, for precautionary measures and given to the animals raised to one day be placed on our dinner tables.

And if that is not reason enough, we must look at the extensive burden these drug reactions place upon our healthcare system. Previously healthy patients become forced to make visit after visit to a plethora of doctors and specialists for their symptoms, have numerous surgeries to repair damaged or ruptured tendons, or even collect Social Security disability benefits if their damage is severe enough. Costs for health systems and insurance companies soon become staggering, not to mention the costs for the individual victims and their families. In an economy that is already struggling, these costs are infeasible.

Awareness must be raised for this issue, as doctors must stop prescribing these antibiotics for simple and uncomplicated infections. Pressure must be put on the drug companies and the FDA to stop disregarding the harsh and widespread effects of these drugs, to issue drastic warnings about them (if not remove them from use altogether), and to make efforts to end the human suffering that they have inflicted on innocent people who simply wanted a cure for an infection. I speak for myself and for every person who has had their life altered by a fluoroquinolone antibiotic. It may be too late for some of us victims to recover, but it is never too late to repair our system and make sure that no one in the future will have to experience such unnecessary misery.

Thankfully, God has blessed me with friends and a wonderful husband to get me through some of the worst days. With Him, all things are possible!