Throughout the year, the Catholic Herald staff enjoys telling the inspirational stories of people of faith. Several from last year were especially touching and inspirational. Following, in chronological order, are our 10 most inspiring stories of 2016.
A patch of black ice on a cold, winter evening in 2004 changed everything for Ken Theys, a member of St. Martin of Tours Parish, Franklin. His wife, Pat, a passenger in the car driven by Ken, died at the scene of the accident caused after their car hydroplaned.
Looking to direct his grief into something positive, Ken, who had been captivated by the story of St. Bernadette, connected with a Lourdes volunteer ministry.
As of last February, he had made seven trips to Lourdes, France, as a volunteer, greeting pilgrims at the train station or airport, transporting pilgrims with special needs or assisting in the men’s baths.
“I love everything about this ministry and it is amazing to see the people coming off the trains to Lourdes with stress and pain on their faces and then when they leave the baths, they have smiles and their faces radiate peace and joy,” he said. (Catholic Herald, Feb. 11)
Capuchin Fr. Michael Crosby is active in the stock market and considers himself a capitalist. Yet, he also believes there are moral implications to the ways companies do business and as an investor, he wants to help change businesses from within. In 1973, he was one of the first Catholics to join the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), an organization created by Protestants to create a social ministry focused on investments.
Since 1997, he’s dialogued with ExxonMobil Corp on climate change and along with ICCR, interacts with Wisconsin-based Kohl’s Corp. on environmental issues (something Kohl’s does well, noted Fr. Crosby) and closing the wage gap (an issue about which he wishes Kohl’s would be more open.)
“We’re not a bunch of Marxists trying to take the company down,” said Fr. Crosby. “We’re just faith-based people saying we’ve got to balance our fiscal responsibility with our social responsibility. We just can’t be in the market on its terms. We’re not in the market on the terms of Wall Street; we’re on the terms of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Catholic Herald, March 3 and 10)
The excitement of the impending birth of the Cascio’s fifth child, Ciara, last spring was overshadowed by mom, Michelle Cascio’s aggressive pancreatic cancer diagnosis during her pregnancy.
Although Michelle was encouraged to underdo chemotherapy, she and her husband, Tim, members of St. Stanislaus Parish, Milwaukee, rejected that decision until after the baby was born. Doctors also suggested she have her baby early, but again, Michelle didn’t take their advice and waited until Ciara was full term. A healthy Ciara was born on Palm Sunday.
Throughout the ordeal, Michelle and her family leaned on their faith, attending adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every Wednesday as she had done for years, and developing a deep devotion to Our Lady of Good Success. She also turned to Dr. Kevin Connors of the Connors Clinic in Minnesota.
Last August, Michelle, who had been suffering abdominal pain and chronic constipation, had a CT scan that positively diagnosed constipation, but something was missing – the cancer was gone. Her two cancerous tumors were no longer there.
According to her husband, Tim, “Michelle is a walking example that prayer does work.” (Catholic Herald, May 5 and November Catholic Herald Family)
Much has changed at Pius XI High School, Milwaukee, since 1950, but there’s been at least one constant: Ed Drexler, a member of Gesu Parish, Milwaukee, has been on the staff. A 1944 graduate of Pius XI himself, Drexler celebrated his 90th birthday last year and marked his 66th year as a science teacher at the school.
Described by a colleague, Anne Haines, as having “a humble and gentle spirit,” Drexler is part of a small group of faculty and staff who meet daily to share the day’s Scripture readings, prayers and petitions. He is a “blessing beyond measure,” said Haines.
Drexler, who begins every class with prayer, is the author of Pius’ textbook on biology and also helped create the school’s TAC (teacher advisor contact) room system which integrates freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors into individualized homerooms.
“His compassion is evidence of him living the Gospel message to his colleagues and all in his care,” said Pius counselor Suzanne Lovinus. (Catholic Herald, May 12)
It’s been a whirlwind year for Carol Abraham, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Twin Lakes, and Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin 2016.
Abraham, 55, has Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, a rare congenital neuromuscular disease. LGMD causes muscle weakness and Abraham has used an electric wheelchair since her 30s.
Even though her daily struggles are great, and she knows that one day it will leave her bedridden, Abraham looks upon it as a “gift,” one that God has used for the good of others.
“Living with a disability has shown me that, oftentimes, life’s struggles can truly be blessings in disguise,” she said, explaining that her disability gave her reason to draw closer to God and to rely on him for comfort through prayer.
Her state title, which she assumed last February, has allowed her to travel throughout Wisconsin, promoting self-advocacy, awareness and to work toward removing barriers for those with disabilities. (Catholic Herald, Aug. 4)
As he lay in the street bleeding from gunshot wounds to his stomach, groin and left leg in November 2014, Simon
Muema’s dreams of being ordained a priest seemed to have blown up with the gun blasts. Muema, 40, a native of Kenya, had joined the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians) and arrived in Milwaukee about four months earlier. After volunteering at St. Ben’s meal program, he was shot by a man he was driving home.
Following months of rehabilitation, Muema made his first profession as a Salvatorian on Aug. 14 at St. Pius X Church, Wauwatosa.
Looking back on his experience, Muema said, “I know God has a purpose for me. He said, ‘Simon, it’s not over yet.’ I know he has a special mission for me.” (Catholic Herald, Aug. 18)
The McKeown family’s life changed dramatically last year through not just one, but two medical crises. Patrick and Keegan, members of St. Eugene Parish, Fox Point, were expecting their third child in spring 2016, but Max arrived early — more than three months early at 26 weeks. Only 2.3 pounds at birth, Max spent the first 97 days of his life at Aurora West Allis Medical Center where his mom is a labor and delivery nurse. In spite of the oxygen machine that helped Max breathe, life returned to normal for the McKeowns — for about a week.
Patrick, a teacher at St. Sebastian School, Milwaukee, saw a doctor in order to have a wart removed from the top of his head. Tests showed, however, that he had melanoma, a skin cancer.
The tumor was removed, but treatments took a toll on Patrick who described his approach to the disease as being in a defensive posture.
“The tumor that was removed had many high risk factors and one can never really know if it will return. With proper monitoring and prayers, I am very hopeful.”
A Christmas Day post on the McKeowns’ GoFundMe page read, “The scan last month said NED, no evidence of disease! Max is doing fantastic and fat and happy…. We are today in such a different and more healthy place than last year and we have hundreds of people to thank for helping bring that about.” (Catholic Herald, Sept. 1)
A junior at Cedarburg High School, Chad Vandenhouten, 17, participates in the drama program, was the manager for the girls basketball team, plays third base for a community baseball team, center in flag football and basketball and is an
usher and cross bearer during Masses at his parish, St. Francis Borgia, Cedarburg. It should come as no surprise, then, that Chad and his classmate that he describes as his “sweet cucumber and queen,” Angela Rehfeldt, were elected to Cedarburg’s homecoming court by a landslide last October.
Chad, described as “everybody’s friend” by Joy Conway, special education teacher at Cedarburg High School, has Down syndrome.
“You realize the world needs a lot more of what Chad has; he supports and really cares for others,” said his father, Randy Vandenhouten. “It’s probably God’s way of telling us not to take ourselves too seriously, because we can all learn from Chad.” (Catholic Herald, Oct. 6)
A rift in 2013 with the board of directors at the daytime homeless shelter that she founded 21 years earlier left MacCanon Brown, 71, on the outside looking in. She was no longer welcome at Repairers of the Breach, the ministry
she described as her life’s work. Admitting she was devastated and dying a thousand deaths, Brown, a member of SS. Peter and Paul and St. Benedict parishes, Milwaukee, did not despair. Instead, she refocused her efforts and found another part of Milwaukee that could use her efforts. In spring 2014, she and her supporters announced the founding of the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary to serve the city’s Amani neighborhood, specifically the 53206 zip code.
“This place will be a mecca of solidarity — just as in my previous work, where we brought many, many faith-based groups to be in solidarity with the people who are homeless and impoverished,” she said. “We believe this will be a place where miracles will happen.” (Catholic Herald, Oct. 27)
Like the biblical figure Job, Ron Rowe has experienced his share of hardships. While on a business trip in 2012, Ron was hit by a car and suffered broken ribs, shoulder blade and clavicle, leaving his face initially unrecognizable. Eighteen months of rehabilitation followed and he eventually recovered, but during that time, his wife of more than 40 years was diagnosed with Peripheral Artery Disease. The illness, which blocks blood flow to the arteries, forced the removal of her toes, then legs, and eventually claimed her life last Dec. 7. While she was hospitalized and Ron was returning home after visiting her, he was involved in a 35-car pileup on an icy highway.
It seemed as if one thing after another was testing the couple, members of Shepherd of the Hills Parish, Eden.
In spite of the challenges, however, they leaned on their faith and it was their parish, that planned a day of renovations at their home and a fundraiser to help them deal with rising medical costs.
Rallying around the Rowes has brought the community closer, according to their niece, Kathy Teofilo.
And the way they have dealt with the challenges is an inspiration to others, she said.
“You have passed on to everyone who has witnessed you, little things. The selfless acts, the unconditional love that you two have speaks volumes and people are watching that.” (Catholic Herald, Nov. 10)