Seven years ago, Linda Schmitz struggled with serious questions, feeling down about her life, and wondering how she fit into God’s plan. Steeped in her thoughts, she took a walk and found herself asking tough questions about her life and about the Catholic faith she’d practiced since the cradle.
As she walked, she felt closer to God, and somehow paved the way for the annual Capuchin’s St. Ben’s Run/Walk for the Hungry at German Fest.
“I took a walk after work and just began asking him, ‘Lord, what is it you want me to be doing with my life? Why aren’t I married? Why haven’t I met anyone? What am I supposed to do? Just lead me,’” Schmitz explained. “I just felt that there was something really missing in my life. All of a sudden, I heard a man’s voice say, ‘Feed my children.’ I looked around and wondered where that voice came from. I pray all of the time and I have never heard anything like that.”
She and God talk
With no explanation for the voice she heard, Schmitz, now 56, pondered the message on her way home, had dinner, went to bed and went to work the next day.
As she did the day before, Schmitz prayed and walked after work, asking the Lord the same questions as before. Again, she heard the man’s voice say, “Feed my children.” Stopping, she lifted her arms and began to speak to God.
“How do you expect me to feed your children? I am not Angelina Jolie. How can I feed your children?” she said. “’I don’t have millions of dollars.’”
After a few moments Schmitz, a member of St. Gabriel Parish, Hubertus, realized she was shouting to God in broad daylight, and warily looked around to make sure no one heard her.
“I just didn’t know what to do after I heard the message again, so I went to the food pantry and dropped off a bag of groceries,” she said. “I had recently started going to St. James Parish, (Menomonee Falls) because my mom wasn’t well and it was closer to her.
Each week in the bulletin, there was a list of seven things needed for the Sussex Food Pantry and while people began charging out of church to get on with their day, I would sit in the parking lot and page through their wish list. Then I’d go to the Piggly Wiggly and pick some of the things off the list and would bring it to the food pantry – I began starting my week out that way.”
German Fest loses run/walk sponsor
For a year, Schmitz delivered food to the food pantry, thinking that this was God’s meaning behind his words to her on those two summer afternoons. However, asthe office manager for German Fest, Schmitz was accustomed to phone calls each summer about the walk/run preceding the festival. However, after the latest sponsoring organization became overwhelmed with the amount of work entwined with the event, it backed out, leaving German Fest without a walk/run sponsor.
“I kept getting these calls asking about a run/walk, and when the advertising promo chairperson came in, I asked if we were having a run/walk, because I wasn’t sure what to tell people,” she said. “I was told that the public relations firm had not been able to find anyone because they wanted someone to take it on, but they would have to do everything to get it going.”
Call surprises, intrigues Br. Dave
Without another thought, Schmitz volunteered to find a sponsor willing to do all of the work associated with the event, in exchange for all of the financial remuneration.
Quickly, she compiled a list of four charitable organizations that might be interested in hosting the event and picked up the phone.
“I decided not to call the first group on my list because I was upset with them because they refused to help a friend of mine when they were in need. So I went to my second choice and made a call to Br. Dave Schwab, who ran the St. Ben’s Community Meal,” she said, laughing, “I think I surprised him.”
The unexpected call piqued the interest of Br. Dave, a Capuchin Franciscan and former St. Lawrence Seminary High School cross country and track coach, who remembers little, other than his own naïveté about the conversation.
“Linda was honest about how much work it was and I was naïve; but after a quick meeting with my development office and human relations, I said, ‘Let’s just jump in here and do it,’” he explained. “We had 380 runners the first year, but we were so blitzed by all the detail work that I was really uptight when I went down to put up the finish line banner.”
With help, he strung the banner across North Harbor Drive from one tree to a post on the other side of the street. As soon as the banner was in place, a city bus made its way down the road, so Br. Dave and his assistants held the banner high enough to clear the bus, however, not high enough to clear the strobe light on the back.
“The bus caught the banner and we had to let go of the rope and the banner and just watched it go down the road,” he said. “At that moment, I said, ‘I don’t think I want to do this anymore.’”
Now features 2,400 participants
Perseverance won, and Br. Dave was determined to continue using this run/walk as the primary fundraiser for the St. Ben’s Community meal. The monumental
If you want to go
Thursday, July 26, 7 p.m.
The Capuchins’ Run Walk
Entry fee for a single runner
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effort by the Capuchin Franciscans feeds 2,000 homeless and mentally ill each week. Despite the extraordinary work, the Capuchins continued to host the 5K event, which doubled in participants the next year and the next until it leveled out to approximately 2,400 the past couple of years.
“The only change we made was this year, to change the event to include the House of Peace as well, as they serve 70,000 households a year from their food pantry,” said Br. Dave. “The event is a lot of work and it takes months to pull this off, but it is worth it as last year we cleared about $45,000 to help the hungry in our community. In addition, Usingers provided two pounds of product per participant last year, which amounted to about two tons of food that we shared with the House of Peace.”
Because of the busy schedule on race day, Br. Dave has never participated in the race with the other runners, but he makes sure to get down there before the event and runs the race solo.
“I just make sure to go down there and run it, so I have a sense what the other participants are going through,” he said. “I do participate in other 5K runs and try to keep in fairly good shape.”
‘Incredible invitation’ inspired by God
With only one disaster year, 2010, when torrential rain cancelled the event, Br. Dave knows that God inspired Schmitz’s call to him.
“She is a fine person and it was an incredible invitation,” he said. “I have to believe God is working because it has been such a win-win situation for us and for GermanFest. More people are coming into the grounds and participating in activities on Thursday night.”
Seven years ago, Schmitz ran in the run/walk, but since then has also been too involved in working at GermanFest to participate. However, while she realizes that God’s call to feed his children has positively affected the Milwaukee community, the call changed her life as well.
Logistically, St. Charles Borromeo, Hartland is closer to her, so, while she remains a member of St. Gabriel, she attends Mass there each week and contributes to the parish food pantry. Although the parish requests donations every third week, Schmitz gives every week, as she tries to remain faithful to God’s call upon her life.
“Those three words really changed me, and I trust him more and know that he is there. The answer to my selfish questions was never about me, but for the benefit of others,” she said. “I don’t do anything with the run/walk, that is all Br. Dave and everyone who helps him – they work like slaves down there. But, for me, I know that God inspired me to call, and it was God who got this Capuchin run/walk started. I still am unsure what God’s plans are for me, but I will continue to feed his children the best I can, help others in ways I never did before, and go to (Eucharistic) adoration every Monday night. It is what I am called to do right now.”