To my dear sister, Anne Louise,
I am writing you this letter to express my sincere congratulations to you regarding your reception of the Woman of Faith Award presented by the Sisters of the Divine Savior. How gracious of the Salvatorian community of religious women to bestow this honor for your commitment to provide survivors of sex trafficking with a loving and hospitable community at the St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House. I know the purpose of the award, to shine a light on faith-inspired service that will improve the lives of vulnerable individuals, most certainly will be fulfilled in your new mission.
Unfortunately, my duties as an auxiliary bishop will keep me from joining you at the celebration taking place at the SDS Community House on Sept. 22, but hopefully this letter will be able to convey the depth of my affection and affirmation for your passion and dedication, which have led to the presentation of this commendation. In fact, the occasion of the bestowal of this award has brought to my mind so many memories of how the grace of God planted the seeds of holiness in you from your earliest days. I have been privileged to see the blessing of how a young girl matured into a woman of faith.
I remember well the days before you were old enough to attend classes and how you always would accompany mom in her volunteer work at Holy Apostles School. Mom often was on campus doing playground duty, chaperoning events, helping with art projects and acting as a Scout den mother, and you ever were at her side. How special it was to note, though, how you continuously asked mom to take you into the church to pray and spend time with Jesus. You regularly would light a votive candle to accompany your special intentions. Moreover, you and mom were well-known for suddenly bursting into song in your church visits, lifting up your voices in your favorite hymns like “Immaculate Mary,” “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” and the “Thank You Song.”
I also remember the beginnings of your Franciscan spirit as you developed the same love of St. Francis of Assisi for God’s creatures. However, because mom and dad were not big fans of pets, you had to settle for building your large collection of stuffed animals. Their presence in your bedroom led you to remember these “brothers and sisters” in your daily prayers. Of course, I must add an interjection here, once again asking for your forgiveness for harming your stuffed Smokey the Teddy Bear. Just because his size and shape resembled a football did not give our brother Rick and I permission to throw him in passes or kick him for field goals.
I certainly want to thank you for attending my “Masses,” as I played priest in my parish in our home, Our Lady of the Basement. Granted, our brothers Rick and John often came to my “Masses” as well, but that was because mom and dad made them attend. You participated of your own free will.
Also memorable was the depth of sincerity in your prayer life. You never missed your daily offerings. At quite a young age, you memorized the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary and Glory Be. I recall Grandma Haines giving you a special book of devotions, too, and you cherished that gift. The pages were well worn. Yet, more than anything, I think back to the days when you were unfaltering in your “Religious Aspirations,” or your short prayers directed toward emergencies. You learned a number of those brief sacred exclamations, and you repeated them again and again and again. I always had a feeling that you were consistent in those prayers because you were worried about the salvation of your mean older brothers, and you were kind enough to create a savings deposit of intercessions to get us out of purgatory someday.
Your immensely sensitive, caring and compassionate heart came alive the time mom and dad purposely drove us to downtown Milwaukee on a bitter cold winter night to see the suffering of the poor and needy. Dad drove us to the Rescue Mission to see the long lines of homeless people just hoping to get a cot to sleep in. And, when we asked him why there were mounds of rags piled upon the vents through which some of the warm air from the steam pipes escaped, he responded with great seriousness and emotion, “Those are not piles of rags. Those are people who cover themselves with any scrap of cloth or blanket to try to capture some of the warm steam. They do that hoping that they won’t freeze to death.” I will never, ever forget how the next morning I came down to the kitchen table and saw your envelope. It was addressed to mom and dad, and it was stuffed with all of the money taken from your piggy bank. And you wrote, “Please give this money to the poor people on the steam vents … so they won’t freeze to death.”
Sometime in the latter part of your tween years, God granted us a miracle. It all began when you developed an attraction to the popular singer Donny Osmond. As you know, we, your older brothers, were not pleased about this. We did not like the repeated listening to the songs “Puppy Love,” “Too Young,” “Go Away Little Girl” and “One Bad Apple.” Nor were we excited to see Donny’s face incessantly featured on the pages of your copies of TiGER Beat magazine. The goodness of the Lord intervened, however, when your excitement for Donny suddenly seemed to wane, and you stopped reading copies of TiGER Beat magazine. In fact, thanks be to God, instead, you started “borrowing” mom’s copies of the Redemptorist magazine, The Liguorian. I remember how you enjoyed its positive and pastoral approach to the spiritual life and how the articles seemed to address topics related to real-life issues. Of course, this ultimately led to your tendency to “borrow” my textbooks and reading materials when I began to study theology at Marquette University. Even then, you were most attracted to the books related to Catholic Social Teaching and the issues of respect for life. Though I sometimes had to search around the house to find my theology books, I secretly was very proud of you. Back then, not many high school students your age — or even adults — were reading encyclicals, pastoral letters and other Church documents.
I also admired the time that you dedicated to working at the camp for children with special needs. You easily could have chosen a job that paid more money, but you clearly wanted to dedicate your efforts to a more meaningful cause. You did not want just a paycheck. You wanted to make a difference. Moreover, even though you often were assigned to care for some of the more challenging boys in the camp — perhaps the adult supervisors felt that dealing with three older brothers at home helped prepare you for this task — you never complained or bemoaned the extra fatigue this brought. Rather, you always delighted in the special friends you met and discovered the presence of God in their innocence, honesty and genuine spirit. You always said the camp was a blessing to you.
So, please know my most heart-felt praise on your reception of the honor from the Sisters of the Divine Savior. As this letter attests, you have been an inspiration to me from the day that you were born. I often have told you God only gave me one sister, but he gave me the very best.