Thursday, May 31, 2012

On grandparenting

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting my daughter and son-in-law after the birth of their first baby.
A son, Josiah James.
Perfectly formed with silky smooth skin, all fingers and toes, downy hair highlighted with a tinge of red.
Though he won't recall, we spent five nights together, rocking, feeding, singing Irish ballads,  discussing his future, and commissioning his guardian angels...just the two of us, in the quiet solitude as the world slept.
Blessed beyond measure to have two parents and a host of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends who already love him.
Hearts that were solidly encompassing all the love they could hold, suddenly cracked wide to embrace this new life--one of God's perfect creatures.
Considering we are all created in God's image--His love grows to include more life each day....and that gift is ours also. I felt my own heart grow, once again beneath my breastbone.
Grandparenting is a gift that blesses the parent, edifies us to see life come from the life we have produced.
What a miracle
Thanks be to our most gracious God.
 Kelly and Josiah

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Legally blind, senior has clear view of his future

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When Ryan Puc races along the grueling terrain at a varsity cross country meet, as part of  the relay team at varsity track meets or playing on the varsity basketball team, all he can see of the world around him is a blur of color and shapes and the markings on the asphalt or gymnasium floor.ryan2Ryan Pruc, 18, a senior at St. Joseph Academy, Kenosha, has not let poor vision keep him from excelling. In addition to good grades, Ryan excelled in sports, including cross country, track and basketball, and was a member of the student council and campus ministry. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)
Ryan, 18, has macular dystrophy, a condition that allows him to see only peripherally. The condition causes the central portion of the retina, known as the macular, to deteriorate progressively, resulting in significant loss of fine focal ability. Diagnosed as an infant, his vision continues to diminish, until at some unknown time, it should stabilize. He is legally, but not totally, blind. Ryan shares this incurable diagnosis with his mother, Carmen, and sister Jasmine, 21.
His lack of sight is not an issue when Ryan, one of the top athletes at St. Joseph Academy in Kenosha, is racing, nor is it an issue as an award-winning saxophonist.
Working alongside classmates on the computer or reading textbooks can be daunting, but one does not hear the high school senior complain.
“I manage my schoolwork like every other student in my school; it just takes me a little longer to do things when I have to use a smaller font, otherwise I like to think of myself as just another student,” he said.
Just another student – the kind of whom school administrator Ed Kovochich wishes he had more. Kovochich called Ryan one of the nicest kids he’s met in his 41 years of education.
“He is on top of my list because he is just a well rounded young man, respectful of others and a tremendous athlete,” he explained. “He has won medals in cross country and the track relay team, been involved in campus ministry, served on the student council, is a student ambassador and a wonderful saxophonist.”
Kovochich called Ryan – who has earned a 3.4 grade point average – hardworking and diligent.
“Whenever we need a volunteer for development night, Ryan is always first in line; he gives tours of the school and tutors the younger kids on the saxophone. You can’t get any better than that,” said Kovochich. “He has served as an altar server and usher at his parish, St. Anastasia in Waukegan, and has a heart for Jesus – he’s very Christ-centered.”
Ryan initially struggled with grades, as he couldn’t read the textbooks or work on the computer like other students. However, this year St. Joseph Academy provided Ryan with large print books and papers and a computer with a larger font.
“I used to feel that I had to make so much more of an effort to keep up with the other students,” he said. “This year, they have really helped me by increasing the font on pretty much everything they give me, which is very helpful. It feels like I’m finally on a level playing ground as the other students.”DSCF0933Ryan Puc poses with Megan Irving in this submitted photo. (Submitted photo courtesy St. Joseph Academy)
While struggling to see faces, words and scenery is frustrating for Ryan, he believes his condition made his faith much stronger because he has learned to rely on God for everything.
“I always thank God for everything he has given me and I know things could be a lot worse,” he explained. “Even though my vision is poor, it makes me a stronger person in general and I thank God for that. There is no reason to blame God for my bad vision; no one is perfect and it is one of the things that makes me, me.”
While she admires Ryan’s accomplishments, his mother, Carmen, is most impressed with the depth of his faith and how he prays every day.
“That’s how he believes he can overcome all obstacles,” she said. “His faith is amazing and he is just a strong Catholic person and has faith in all that he does.”
Enrolled at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota for the fall semester, Ryan plans to major in biology as a prerequisite to medical school.
“I worry about this choice, but Ryan believes he can do it and overcome his visual problems with the development of new technology,” said Carmen. “He is such a good boy and never puts his vision in front of anything he wants to do. So, I believe that he will do anything he puts his mind to doing.”
Along with his dedication and faith, Ryan has a personality that attracts others, according to Carmen.
“He gets along with everyone,” she said. “And I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like him.”
While life with limited vision is difficult, Ryan said it is like any other tough situation – pushing through it is the key to success.
“If I could get through it with vision impairment that makes everyday life a little harder, then others can make it through high school the same way, by pushing through it,” he said. “At the end of your senior year, you will realize that overcoming all these struggles and never giving up has made you a better person.”
School guidance counselor Angela Sereno is impressed with the high standards Ryan sets and accomplishes, despite his visual problems.
“He is a hard-working young man with high goals that I know he will achieve,” she said. “He has never let any outside influences deter him from doing his best. I congratulate him on his many years of success.”
Whether or not Ryan realizes his goals of becoming a medical doctor, he will not be easily dissuaded, and offers advice to others who might be struggling.
“I would like to tell others to never give up on the things you have a passion for,” he said. “That’s how I have been successful in the things I have been in. I’ve never given up or quit and I will not; that is what I always keep in my head. So don’t give up, no matter what.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Geriatric chaplain is youngest in Milwaukee

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Erschen06St. Camillus chaplain Samantha Erschen works with resident Dotty Arata to make cards for wounded veterans at St. Camillus on Friday, May 11. Erschen is one of the youngest chaplains in the United States. More photos can be viewed at (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)Ten years ago, as a high school student, Samantha Erschen wept under starlit skies as she tried to make sense of the overwhelming adversity she witnessed while on a parish mission trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
She wondered aloud to Jon Metz, her youth minister, why these children grew up among alcoholism, abuse and neglect, while she enjoyed unconditional love, security, education and a strong Catholic faith.
“He told me, ‘Sam, God is planting a seed in your heart. You can choose to forget about this seed upon your return home, or you can water this seed and let it grow,’” Erschen explained. “It was at that moment that I knew I was going to dedicate my life to God to make a change in the world by attending college when I was old enough, study theology, and do what I could to let that seed grow.”
While attending Cardinal Stritch University, Erschen participated in the Religious Scholars Vocation Program, which provided her with intense ministerial formation. Her mentor, Sean Lybeck-Smoak, encouraged her to take another path for the year-long internships, during the final two years of her program.
“I was 19 years old, wanting to do youth ministry, and I heard my mentor tell me ‘no’ because I needed to step outside my comfort zone for growth,” she said. “I asked myself the reasoning of why I love the youth. My heart answered that the youth are voiceless in this society, so I thought and prayed and asked myself, who else are voiceless? That’s when it dawned on me – the elderly.”
Internship opens unexpected door
Erschen began an internship in visitation ministry to the sick and homebound, which later bridged to an internship in hospice chaplaincy for two years, after which she discovered her calling in journeying with people through some of the most emotionally challenging times of their lives. She graduated from Cardinal Stritch in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and religious studies; and a master’s degree in ministry in 2011.
At 24, the Pewaukee native is one of the youngest chaplains in the United States and the youngest in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Her role as chaplain at St. Camillus Community in Wauwatosa is to care for the souls of the community’s residents.
Connecting souls not generational
Those residents, most of whom are 80 and older, taught the St. Anthony on the Lake, Pewaukee, parishioner one of the most valuable lessons she has learned in her life: Death is not the enemy and aging is not to be feared.

A letter to young people

Greetings young ones,
Blessings and prayers. May God be with you. We, the members of the church of St. Camillus, with wise minds, write you, young people of Milwaukee, to discern and put into practice God's will.
We are all called to be ministers of the church. Be true to yourself and God. Be grateful and proud of the calling you received from God when you came into this world. Walk humbly in the presence of God. God is wise and knows what is best. Have faith in Christ, serve him, and pray to remain close to him. Follow your hearts – God calls us through our hearts. Listen to God. Be still. Pray often and practice your faith. Pray first before other activities during your day. Following God’s will is not always easy. Be strong. If you follow God’s will all your life, you will be satisfied. Be kind, loving, and caring to your elders: listen to them. Stop bullying and jiving others. Know where you stand.  Again, we say, be true to yourself. There will always be a price to pay based on decisions you make. Set boundaries. Be accountable with your life. If you do wrong, ask for forgiveness. If you get hurt, learn to forgive.
Always know that God loves you and the Holy Spirit will always support you in doing good and lead you. You are in our prayers.
With love in Christ,
The members of the St. Camillus Assisted Living Bible Study: age range of 77-98 years of life experience
The white-haired, stooped women and men who slowly walk the halls of St. Camillus might, at first, regard Erschen, with her light brown hair, blue eyes and deferential manner, as more like a granddaughter than a spiritual advisor. But, quickly, they realize that connecting souls bypasses all generations.
“My job as chaplain is to journey with people through this stage of life with the ups and downs of growing old and dying,” she said. “I firmly believe that regardless of the stage of life, or abilities, each person needs purpose to maintain a strong relationship with God. When a person enters assisted living, they lose much of their independence, and have many people serve them. It is not until they, too, serve that they find purpose, and strengthen their faith. I wrote my master of arts ministry final paper on this topic. Along with holding their hands as they leave this earth and enter eternal life, praying with them, and being of support for family, I also enjoy providing opportunities for the residents here to serve.”
Mission trips provide inspiration
Among the opportunities to serve, she includes residents in creating cards for soldiers serving in the Middle East, conducting international missions through painting wooden Christmas masks for orphans in Costa Rica, or participating in an Easter picture exchange with children of the Guatemala City Garbage Dump. The latter two locations were the sites of volunteer mission trips that Erschen took.
“We also illustrate biblical storybooks for the memory care units on campus, make crafts for those ‘sicker than ourselves’ in skilled nursing, and facilitate bereavement ministry where we make sympathy cards for the families of our neighbors who die,” she explained. “We also create thank you cards for the staff members who care for them, organize children’s ministry where we give love to the children from our attached day care while our parents work. And we lead ‘Living Stations of the Cross’ on Good Friday for the whole St. Camillus/San Camillo community where the residents act out the passion of the Christ.”
Residents share wisdom, experience
In addition to finding purpose through outreach, the residents participate in prayer and rosary services throughout the year, and share their experiences and wisdom in a weekly, one-hour Bible study that Erschen started after she began her ministry at St. Camillus three years ago.
“We study a pericope and share wisdom of how that passage relates to our life,” she said. “The Bible study started as three or four people with a mix of different Bibles and translations. After (being) granted permission to buy the same Bible in large print, (the Bible study) has grown to average 15 residents each week. We close with a contemporary Praise and Worship song, which the residents enjoy.”
During one of the Bible studies, Erschen led a discussion on Paul’s letter writing style. As a group, they wrote a letter to young people about the world as they see it today. (See accompanying sidebar.)
Some of the most intimate moments occur in times of trials for the residents, such as the experience of grief and loss. To handle those difficult moments, Erschen leads a discussion on the feelings of grief and, together, they journey through each challenge.
‘Wisdom visits’ lead to life lessons
“One other intimate spiritual experience with our residents occurs with what I call ‘wisdom visits.’ This is where I visit each resident individually and request him or her to share with me the wisdom they have learned throughout their life. I quickly write, recording the incredible insight each person here has to offer, provoked by questions, such as, ‘What did your parents teach you?’ and ‘Tell me about difficult times in life – what did you learn from them?’” explained Erschen. “In each visit, I have found that spirituality cannot be separated from life stories and wisdom. Through helping the elderly find purpose, I find purpose in life.”
Recently, Erschen received the Cardinal Stritch G.O.L.D. (Graduate Of the Last Decade) Award. In addition, she has received other awards for her work, including Employee of the Year in Customer Service in 2010 for her outstanding service at St. Camillus.
That same year, she also was recognized by Divine Savior Holy Angels High School as its Young Alumna of the Year, recognizing her exemplary leadership in society. In 2009 she also was the recipient of Stritch’s Pace e Bene award, given to students who incorporate Stritch’s mission into their personal, spiritual and faith lives.
While honored by the awards, Erschen takes no credit for them. Instead, she gives credit to those who have invested their time and talent to help her find her vocation, grow closer to God and become the woman she is.
“I have been blessed with many mentors and coaches along the path of life thus far,” she said. “I listen to their feedback and advice, as well as where God calls me, and that has directed me to intense professional ministry. I hope these awards are seen as a reflection of the love others have given me throughout my life, and the openness I have to learning, as an example to other young people. When you are open and listen to God, God will take you on a wild adventure. I never imagined working as a geriatric chaplain when I was 19 years old.”
Shares God’s love daily
Most important to Erschen is the opportunity to share God’s love with others in her daily life and work.
“Everyone needs love, regardless of stage or phase of life. The elderly, at the end stages of their lives here on Earth, often become abandoned, and need even more love,” she explained. “They are the wisdom of our society, and yet, often the forgotten. It is my job to journey with them, providing them my undivided attention and presence, and offer the love of Christ.”
Without the strong presence of Christ in her own life, Erschen believes she would be unable to enjoy her vocation and share his love with others.
“I believe that when a person does not follow where God calls them, they will not find complete fulfillment,” she said. “Each person has unique talents and passions given by God. When these are followed, fulfillment in everyday life becomes achieved.”

Monday, May 21, 2012

On a wire and a prayer

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SrEdna05Suzanne Leberman, a jewelry instructor for the day shift, left, looks over a piece of jewelry that Sister of St. Francis of Assisi Edna Lonergan is creating on Tuesday, May 7. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)The swirling hues in the gemstone and crystal jewelry Sister of St. Francis of Assisi Edna Lonergan’s designs seem to be an extension of her compassionate soul. Whether it is a heart shaped pendant, teardrop earrings or delicately woven sterling silver wire and Swarovski beads strung together for a bracelet, her jewelry is exquisite and specifically created.
“I tell my hands to make it really good and just for the right person,” she said. “It is all a prayer.”
It is a prayer that Sr. Edna has prayed for the past 20 years each evening at her dining room table. For a half hour or so before bedtime, the 69-year-old Franciscan bends and twists wire, shaping it with the beads while reflecting on the good that will come of her efforts.
As president of the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, a community-based health and educational day care service for children and frail adults, all profits from “Sr. Edna’s Creations” supplement funding for the underserved within the Milwaukee community.
Center reflects Franciscan mission
The center, which Sr. Edna founded in 1983, is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. Its mission reflects Franciscan values in meeting the spiritual, psychological, social and physical needs of all who participate, regardless of faith, culture or ability to pay. The intergenerational program brings clients of all ages together for planned and informal activities, and also serves as a resource and support center for caregivers.
According to Sr. Edna, children benefit from positive one-on-one attention from nurturing, caring adults, and the adults gain a sense of purpose by sharing wisdom and skills with children. Adults talk and smile more as they remember their own childhood and their children. They also participate more in activities and look forward to special moments as they share and learn from one another.
“We have babies here from 3 weeks old who have disabilities, but many are of typical development, and all ages in between to over 100 years old,” she said. “It is so fun. We laugh and watch the little kids in their swimming suits carrying their towels, and some even go to the pool with boots on. They are so excited to tell everyone that they are going swimming. Sometimes they go to the Shepherd House, which is for the people with dementia. They love the children and the children love them – it is so non judgmental.”
Sr. Edna has a million stories from years of working with the young and not so young, but recently, a conversation between two developmentally disabled young adults brought the focus of her ministry home, albeit with a humorous twist.
SrEdna10A necklace made by Sr. Edna Lonergan, president of St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, is an example of the jewelry she donates to the center’s gift shop. All of the proceeds from the sales of her jewelry benefit the center’s clients. (Catholic Herald photos by Ernie Mastroianni)“One client was debating with the other client about prayer. She said, ‘You don’t know how to pray! This is how you do it. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spearmint. Amen!’” said Sr. Edna. “It was so clear that we had her repeat it and she said it the same way again. It was so neat to see that they were recognizing the importance of prayer, but it was fun, at the same time.”
Sr. Edna’s art in local boutiques
Her wearable art has captured the attention of brides-to-be, women wanting a unique style, and for those searching for a special gift. Some of her designs can be found at the Bucyrus International Museum Gift Shop, Zita Bridal Salon, Miss Groove’s Boutique and St. Ann Center’s Seasons of Life gift shop.
“Each time I make a pair of earrings, which sell for about $20, I know I can afford a bath for someone, or pay for their toenails to be cut,” she said. “I have a donor who purchases all the beads and supplies for me, and then everything, 100 percent of everything, goes to our clients. There are a lot of people who can’t afford a bath, or who can’t take a bath because they are blind and can’t ambulate or in a wheelchair. It makes me feel good to know that when I sell a piece of jewelry that I can afford to do something to make them feel better.”
Artistic ability discovered by accident
While she doesn’t wear it herself, Sr. Edna enjoys pretty jewelry and bringing out the femininity in women. She learned of her natural artistic ability by accident.
“I went to a National Conference on Aging in Washington, D.C., about 20 years ago or so, and one night there was nothing going on. Since I love to walk, I thought I’d take a walk and on my way, I ran across a pretty Y shaped necklace in the window of a store. I didn’t think I could afford it, but wanted to see it because I thought it would be nice for one of my friends,” she explained. “The lady who ran the store said that it wasn’t for sale, but I could learn how to make it.”
It was a quiet night for the small beading store, so the owner worked with Sr. Edna and taught her how to make the Y shaped necklace in the window. She was amazed that she enjoyed the process and felt happy making something functional and pretty.
“I bought enough supplies for three more of those necklaces and thought it might be a nice way to raise money for our clients,” she said. “We had been collecting used jewelry and selling it to raise money for our clients since 1984, but this was a new component to add to our boutique.”
Each piece takes anywhere from a week to a month to make, depending on the intricacies of the design. Sr. Edna completes most of the work, but she has two friends, including roommate Sr. Adele Thibaudeau, who help her string beads and provide her with some creative ideas.
Home jewelry parties offered
The amount of wearable art Sr. Edna creates varies from year to year, but it isn’t important for her to keep track. However, she estimates raising $35,000 to $40,000 annually for the St. Ann Center.
“This year I hope to make more, and am trying to reach out by doing home jewelry parties,” she said. “So far, they have been very successful and I really enjoy them because I can play around with colors. I love to dress people up, figure out their season and what color jewelry would look best on them.”
Her desire to care for others as a religious sister began at just 3 years old. At 14, feeling God was calling her to become a nun and to serve the cognitively disabled, she joined the convent.
“My parents volunteered every Saturday at St. Coletta’s and they dragged all of us kids along,” explained Sr. Edna. “I started shining floors and moved up to peeling potatoes. That is an amazing place and I am fortunate enough to be able to use my expertise in gerontology to serve others at St. Ann’s and through our various schools for the developmentally disabled. I am really proud of our community and what we have done. We have never looked for the money – we just do it and the money somehow comes.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

St. Mary Visitation teachers head to NASA

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ELM GROVE — Three St. Mary Visitation teachers recently returned from Texas where they rode on the “Vomit Comet.”
1-84St. Mary Visitation School, Elm Grove, teachers, Michael Falk, left to right, Kathy Biernat and Kylie Daemmrich, pose for a photo at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The teachers were selected to participate in NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program where they conducted experiments aboard a NASA reduced-gravity simulator. (Submitted photo courtesy St. Mary Visitation School)Yes, you read that right.
Junior high science teacher Kathy Biernat, sixth-grade math teacher Michael Falk, and fourth-grade teacher Kylie Daemmrich traveled to Johnson Space Center in Houston in February to conduct experiments aboard a NASA reduced-gravity simulator. The aircraft allows passengers to experience the sensation of weightlessness, hence the nickname.
“We had been given anti-nausea shots prior to the flight and, thankfully, the meds worked,” said Daemmrich. “The flight was amazing. There really aren’t words to describe it.”
Biernat agreed, and explained that NASA officials encouraged the pre-flight injections due to the high probability of nausea.
“We were told that without the shots, a third would be severely affected, a third a little affected and a third would not be affected,” she said. “We all took it, and out of 35 of us on the flight, there were still three who did get sick and that was with having the shots.”
St. Mary’s educators were one of 14 NASA Explorer School teams selected for the honor. The teams performed scientific investigations aboard a modified aircraft which produces weightlessness for approximately 20 seconds at a time by executing a series of parabolas – a steep climb, followed by a free fall, over the Gulf of Mexico. During the free falls, the participants were able to gather data in the unique environment and experience near-weightlessness.
Each year, NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program (RGEFP) gives undergraduate students and K-12 educators the opportunity to propose, build and fly a reduced-gravity experiment. NASA Explorer School participants flew experiments provided by the agency. These three experiments, which included how liquids react in microgravity and how the absence of gravity affects mass and weight, were replicated by the teachers in their classrooms, allowing students to gather data that was compared to the data the teachers obtained during their flight.
The trip was the culmination of months of work for the teaching team, as well as the junior high and fourth-grade students. According to Daemmrich, the grades collaborated to conduct experiments at 1g or regular Earth gravity.
“The students had been making and modifying predictions about the results of these same experiments in 0g and 2g environments,” she said. “Their discussions were truly insightful.”
While this is the second year St. Mary Visitation participated in the NASA Explorer School project, it was the first time the teachers were selected to travel on the all-expense paid trip to Houston. The project is aimed at providing teachers of grades four to 12 with authentic learning experiences centered around the NASA missions.
The opportunity stemmed from Biernat’s involvement with the NASA Explorer Program last summer when she spent a week in California reviewing NASA curriculum1-87Kathy Biernat, junior high science teacher at St. Mary, with the assistance of a NASA instructor, floats in the zero gravity simulator. (Submitted photo courtesy St. Mary Visitation School) and participating in webinars.
“When I came back in the fall, my eighth-graders were able to manipulate a 32-meter radio telescope in California from my classroom,” she said. “They Skyped with NASA scientists and discussed their data. One of my students said that he felt so empowered to be able to do this.”
Through her experience, Biernat was qualified to write and sell St. Mary School as a team of three teachers who would work together throughout the year on a variety of experiments and, if selected, would travel to Houston to perform the same experiments.
“I figured we wouldn’t get selected for this because there were 1,300 schools eligible for this, but we ended up getting chosen,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it, they paid for our airfare, hotel, car, food and the $41,000 an hour plane ride while we were there. It was incredible.”
While working on the experiments during the year, students learned from their real-world experiences, which enhanced their understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In addition, students were able to participate in video conferencing with NASA scientists, role-play and problem solve.
“On the flight, we had little glass stations with gloves in them and manipulated the experiments,” said Biernat. “We did five trials of each in hyper-gravity and five in hypo-gravity and analyzed the data. We also brought toys along with us that the kids had voted on and played with them in zero gravity and in hyper-gravity. We brought along a rubber popper that hardly went at all in hyper-gravity, a bolero game, a toy called a firefly that spins and shot colors out and a Slinky. We did 33 parabolas up and down and had 45 dives – it was great.”
At zero gravity, the participants began to float and at 2g or double the Earth’s gravity, bodies sank quickly to the floor of the aircraft. Some participants sat against the walls and some chose to lay down, but surprisingly, no one experienced an uncomfortable pressure.
“Zero g was incredible,” admitted Daemmrich. “There was no feeling of falling. You just floated. You also had no control over where your arms, legs and torso went. Sometimes your feet just floated above your head and you couldn’t get them down without help. It was weird and different to see people bouncing along the ceiling or just hanging like spiders or lizards along the walls. The fact that you didn’t feel like you were falling made us adventurous and willing to embrace the novelty of this extraordinary opportunity.”
In fact, Biernat took advantage of her upcoming 50th birthday to convince NASA officials to allow her to perform a couple of flips during the 23 seconds the plane descended into hypo-gravity, or zero gravity.
“I was all for hanging onto the straps and all, but I also wanted to have some fun, too,” she said. “They discouraged me from doing the flips because they were dangerous, but I was persistent and they finally allowed me to do it. It was incredible.”
The following day, students at St. Mary Visitation Skyped with their teachers and were able to ask questions about the flight and the results of the experiments. The teachers also toured three JSC buildings: the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, the Precision Air Bearing Facility and Mission Control. They participated in professional development with NASA engineers and astronauts, and networked with math, science and technology teachers from around the country.
“The trip inspired and energized us to continue the paths we are on and incorporate more STEM activities in our classes,” said Daemmrich. “As an educator, I came away from this experience with a renewed passion for math, science, and technology and how to bring them to life for my students. These have always been my favorite subjects to teach, but now I’m focusing on how I can meet the standards through student-centered activities that will encourage my kids to become lifelong learners and problem solvers.”

Monday, May 14, 2012

All I wanted was a little piece of heaven....

Mother's day is never an easy time for me. The two women I most admired in the whole world are gone. My grandma, Elvi died a couple of decades ago and my mom, Bonnie passed in 2001--both were exemplary women, mothers and grandmothers.

Most likely, neither knew how much they were valued, cherished, respected and loved. That fault lies in part, with me, because I failed to tell them often enough just what their presence and guidance in my life meant. Without these two, I would not be here, nor would my brothers and sister, my five children, my beautiful grandchildren and an amazing collection of nieces and nephews.

Perhaps we are all guilty of not telling others what they mean to us--until it is too late. So, on Mother's Day, I was looking for a piece of heaven in order to quietly thank my Mom and Grandma for all they have done for me.  We went to Mass at a different parish because I wanted to meet a priest I recently interviewed for a story.

As I prayed in the quiet stillness among the elaborate statuary, under the most perfect and intricate artwork of any church in our area, I could hear the angels. Softly singing their praises to God just loud enough for my spirit to lurch, my soul to awaken, my heart to resonate--heaven. I was there, it was, it IS real.

The Mass began and while I was present with the physical-- the ethereal within me joined with the angels and saints, Jesus, Mary and Joseph and yes, my Mom and Grandma.  Truly, it was as if time had never passed.

While I had heard this teaching many times, I had not experienced the true transcendence until that Mass--the experience where time stands still
..... and heaven comes down to earth.
Where the Alpha and Omega meet.
Where I am with Jesus as he walks the Via Dolorosa to the Cross.
 When he is crucified.
At the empty tomb.
On the road to Emmaus.
And I joined with the Angels and Saints to sing Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty.....

I was there, and wept for the enormity of the experience, and for the years and thousands of Masses that never reached this depth within my soul. At first, I chastised myself, but then gratitude, grace and peace won out and I was able to fully thank my most Blessed Mother for her guidance, and my mother and grandmother for their unconditional love.

Praise be to God-I looked for a piece of heaven and graciously, He granted it to me for that special moment.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Stories in rhyme bring Bible to mind

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As a grandmother and educator, Karen Streich understands the importance of developing early reading skills. She enjoys snuggling in a comfortable corner of the sofa and reading stories to her 4-year-old grandson, Alexander. Through her words and Alexander’s imagination, they have traveled through far away lands of talking animals, fairy tales and imaginary adventures. karenstreich1Karen Streich, a retired Pius XI High School theology teacher, has published "God's Wonderful Plan," a book in rhyming verse for children to help teach them about the Bible. (Catholic Herald photo by Maryangela Layman Rom├ín)
Retired from Pius XI High School where she taught Catholic faith, morality and ethics, and world religions in the theology department for 23 years, Streich, 70, wanted to share biblical stories with Alexander. She began a quest to find captivating books to ignite the small child’s faith.
“I was looking through the books at one of the big bookstores and couldn’t find anything I liked,” she said. “One night I was reading to Alexander from a Dr. Seuss book about the planets. It was done in rhyming verse and was a lot of fun. That’s when I thought, ‘Why not do this with stories from the Bible?’ When I came home, I started writing.”
Most important to Streich as she penned her stories, was to ensure Alexander would learn about the Bible and share the love of Jesus with him. Drawing on her years of experience in teaching the Catholic faith, she wrote stories in verse form.
While it was never her intention to publish the stories, a surprise visit from a close friend changed everything, and her book, “God’s Wonderful Plan,” seemed to be God’s plan.
“I showed her some of the stories and she told me that I could publish these,” Streich explained. “That’s when I started looking for a publisher. I did research on publishers that did children’s books and got a response from one that does more weekly kinds of things. They liked what I wrote, but said they thought it should be a regular book with illustrations.”
Streich learned that many publishers require agents, and others would hold the manuscript exclusively for six months with no assurance of publication. Finally, she visited the library and educated herself on the publishing world.
“At this point, my friend came over waving an article from the business section of the Journal Sentinel and saying, ‘Here’s a lady who found a publisher.’ It was Beaver’s Pond Press in Minnesota,” Streich said.DSC_0001 “I researched the company quite extensively, liked what I saw, submitted the manuscript and here we are! It has been a joyful experience and I can’t say enough about how wonderful they were and how helpful.”
Before she decided to go ahead with publication, Streich consulted with the two religious education directors at her parish, Our Lady of Lourdes.
After reading several stories to them, they were unanimous in encouraging her to go ahead with the publishing process.
“They said that there is so little available for children that are of really high quality. I am convinced it is possible to teach children Scripture in a way that would not require unlearning as they mature in their understanding of how the Bible was written,” she said. “As an example, not taking the seven days of creation literally, or presenting the story of Adam and Eve as a ‘story’ that teaches us about God and ourselves. Because the stories are in rhyming verse, they are engaging and move quickly, focusing on main ideas.”

More info

Karen Streich is hosting a book launching party for “God’s Wonderful Plan,’' at the Harmony Inn, 5601 Broad St., Greendale on Sunday, May 6, from 1-3 p.m.
“God’s Wonderful Plan: Stories and Lessons from the Bible sells for $16.95, and will be available at the book launching party, as well as through the following vendors:
T. H. Stemper Co.
1125 Potter Ave.
Milwaukee, 53207
(414) 744-3610
Li’l Friar
622 W. Lincoln Ave
Milwaukee, 53215
(414) 902-3521
Little Read Book
7603 W. State St.
Wauwatosa, 53213
(414) 774-2665
Martha Merrell’s Bookstore
231 W. Main St.
Waukesha, 53186
(262) 547-1060
Marian Center
3712 N. 92 St.
Milwaukee, 53222
(414) 464-7288
Catholic Books & Gifts
7346 W. Greenfield Ave
West Allis, 53214
(414) 258-2665
Each of the stories invites dialogue with an adult to fill in age-appropriate details. For example, in the story on Jesus’ death, Streich states that they killed Jesus, but does not go into details of the crucifixion.
“Parents can decide how much or how little their child is ready to hear,” she said. “My primary goal is that I want children to know that God is absolutely in love with them, and God has a plan to help them know that love through Jesus. I also want them to know Jesus’ special concern for those who sometimes are not loved.”
The book, “God’s Wonderful Plan” is illustrated in watercolor, by Sarah Nygaard, a published illustrator who holds a bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The artwork is just beautiful,” said Streich. “Sarah did an awesome job. The pictures accurately reflect the people and culture of biblical times. For example, in the Last Supper story in my book, Jesus and the Apostles are seated on cushions, not on chairs.”
The book contains 14 stories and was an instant hit with Alexander, who was excited to be included with his cousin in the illustration of the story of Jesus and the children.
“They live 350 miles away, so my daughter is reading them to him and he likes the stories very much, but I can’t wait to read them to him myself,” said Streich. “My daughter and son-in-law have been telling everyone about the book for months. When I first told them I was going to publish a book, I thought they might think I was crazy, but they got behind the idea right away.”
Years ago, Streich taught second grade and nursery school, so she was interested in gauging their reaction of that age bracket to her stories and illustrations. At the end of March, she shared her newly printed book with groups of first Communion students and their parents at Our Lady of Lourdes.
“The reactions of the children and parents were very positive,” she said. “The people in the illustrations look Middle Eastern; however, in the story of Jesus and the children, I asked the illustrator to include children of various ethnic backgrounds. The first person to purchase a book was an African American father – I’m not sure if that was a factor or not. We did the same thing in the picture about heaven. There aren’t a lot of faces, but the hairstyles indicate people of various cultures.”
Streich is hosting a book launching party at the Harmony Inn in Greendale on Sunday, May 6.
“This event is open to everybody, and even if you are not in the market for a book, I hope people come to celebrate with me anyway,” she said.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Parishioners set 'Hearts Afire' for Mary

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Approximately 60 Catholics participated in the “Hearts Afire” program at St. Peter Parish in Kenosha to consecrate themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Based on the book, “33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-it-yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration,” written by Marian Fr. Michael Gaitley, the parish-based program was one of a few pilot programs in the country. IMG_8675Rosemary Moenssen, a member of St. Peter Parish, Kenosha, places a rose in a vase before Mary, during a Hearts Afire session at her parish. During the 33-day program, about 60 people consecrated themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. (Submitted photo courtesy St. Peter Parish, Kenosha)
The retreat program prescribes 33 days of spiritual reading and prayerful pondering, broken down so that participants spend seven days each on the Marian consecration teachings of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximillian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Teresa, and Blessed John Paul II. The final five days are for review before reciting the Prayer of Consecration.
Designed to set hearts on fire with the love of God and neighbor, and to inspire works of mercy in families, parishes and communities, Marian Fr. Angelo Casmiro, associate pastor of St. Peter, was excited to witness the changes in the lives of the participants.
“We had the participants making their consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 26,” he said. “People were really excited coming into this program and I saw so many people drawing closer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, reaching out in fellowship and developing new friendships as they studied and got together each week.”
St. Peter selected as pilot parish
About half of the participants were from St. Peter Parish, a fourth from Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish, Kenosha, and the remainder from other Racine and Kenosha county parishes. St. Peter was chosen as one of the pilot churches after Fr. Casmiro, a former graphic artist, designed the book cover for Fr. Gaitely’s book.
“I know Fr. Michael as we were in formation with the Marians in Washington, D.C. at the same time, and after I designed the covers for both of the books he has written, I found out about the Hearts Afire parish-based program,” Fr. Casmiro explained. “I inquired about the program and was happy to be picked to be one of the pilot locations for this.”
Group setting is more fulfilling
While the retreat can be done on an individual basis, Kathy Uhl, 69, member of St. Peter, believes the group setting is more fulfilling.
“I have talked to a few who did it from home, but missed the interaction with other people,” she said. “When you participate as a group you get the benefit of feedback and a greater understanding of the program.”
Each day, participants were to read a section of the book, say a prayer and write in their workbook. Once a week, the group met at St. Peter where they held small group discussions, and watched a teaching video hosted by Fr. Gaitley.
“The program was so inspirational and gave me an overwhelming closeness to Mary,” said Uhl, brushing back tears. “It’s hard to put into words, but it was not only spiritual, but helped me to understand Mary, the Holy Spirit and Jesus better. It really gets me so choked up any time I talk about it.”
Because she had been away from the church for a few years, Uhl was looking for ways to grow closer to the faith she embraced as a child and young adult; Hearts Afire has given her a new perspective.
“I am not just memorizing and learning prayers and songs anymore,” she said. “I feel that Mary is really watching over us, and I am able to give to her my worries. I ask her to please watch over my children and grandchildren and I feel much more peaceful – an inner peace, actually, and I can sit and be quiet and know that she is there.”
When St. Peter member Rosemary Moenssen heard about Hearts Afire, she was surprised to learn she was chosen to be a small group leader. While she had participated in the St. Louis de Montfort Marian Consecration, she was surprised at the difference between the two programs.
“This one, for me, was so up to date and more meaningful to me than the original one,” she said. “It was painless and very uplifting.”
For couple, program is life-changing
Moenssen, 72, felt her relationship with the Blessed Mother was not as close as it should be. With nothing to lean on but her Catholic elementary school education, where she was taught she shouldn’t be as close to Mary as to Jesus, she kept Mary at a distance.
“But through Hearts Afire, I learned we can do both,” she said. “My relationship and my faith have strengthened. My husband, Don, went with me. I can also see changes in him, and it makes me so happy. I was so surprised that he wanted to go, and now he has agreed to pray a decade of the rosary with me every night. The program is truly life changing.”
Compelled to attend a retreat, Bill Soens, a member of Holy Cross Parish, Bristol, noticed the ad for Hearts Afire after attending Sunday Mass at St. Peter Parish.
“I didn’t know anything about Consecration to the Blessed Mother, but I felt that there was something missing in my life,” he said. “My mom passed away, but always had a great devotion to Mary; my sisters and my brother have a devotion to Mary, but somehow it never clicked with me.”
Commitment is similar to marriage
Longing for something missing in his life, Soens, 56, went through a lengthy “dark night of the soul” after his wife filed for divorce, his dad and sister developed cancer, his best friend died in an accident, the country was attacked on 9/11 and he lost his job at Abbott Laboratories.
“I felt such a dry spell in my faith, so I signed up and then found out I was going to be a small group leader,” he said. “I wasn’t sure about doing this as I wanted to help myself, but the coolest thing was that sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit and sometimes by helping others, you end up helping yourself.”
Through the program, Soens learned to pray and trust in the providence of Mary, but when it came time for the consecration ceremony, he had cold feet about the commitment, which he described as similar to that of a marriage.
“I wasn’t married in the church and that is why I think my marriage failed,” he said. “I gently tried to push us toward having our marriage blessed, but I felt like the Lord was telling me back then that I was either going to walk with him or walk with her because I couldn’t continue living the way I was living. With this consecration, I felt as if I was committing myself to this woman and giving her total control, letting her do all in my life. It’s like telling a man that he not only has to listen to his wife’s directions, but let her drive the car, too!”
Mary offers ‘motherly embrace’
Through consecration to Mary, one becomes closer to Jesus, explained Soens. He learned throughout the 33 days that the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are joined in a motherly embrace as the fully human Mary carried the fully human and fully Divine Christ.
“Do you realize how important it is that women are made to embrace life and hold life and men are the makers of life?” asked Soens. “Men will yell and run; women are the embracers, the ones with the tender touch to love. You run to Mom when you fall and scrape your knees and she embraces us! Mary and women have that; men don’t.”
Soens is anxious to see where this new path takes him.
“I haven’t grown wings or anything, but feel good about being consecrated to Mary,” he said. “I woke up this morning and thanked God that I could open my eyes and get out of bed. The best thing is that I can still pray to Jesus, but I also have Mary, a mom, in my life again.”