Service in Administration – Dcn. Stan Lowe
For most of the past year, Dcn. Stan Lowe has been a temporary parish director at St. Matthias Parish on Milwaukee’s southwest side.
It was a role he was more than prepared for.
He had been the parish director at a two-parish cluster (St. Alphonsus in New Munster and St. John the Evangelist in Twin Lakes) for three years. He had also been a parish director for a few months when the pastor at St. Charles Borromeo, where Dcn. Lowe had served the first 12 years he was a deacon, fell ill.
Dcn. Lowe had also attended grade school at St. Matthias, was confirmed there and was a parishioner for 12 years.
“I was very comfortable and when Fr. Jerry Herda and Rick Tank called me in and asked me about it, when I heard it was St. Matthias, I was especially happy because it was going to be a one-year assignment, where some of the other parishes would be four years,” Dcn. Lowe said.
Dcn. Lowe’s assignment officially ran from July 1, 2021, until July 31 of this year, when Fr. Herda became St. Matthias’ new pastor. With Fr. Herda wrapping up his duties as vicar for clergy between now and the end of 2022, Dcn. Lowe has stayed on as a pastoral coordinator.
On his first day at his new assignment, Dcn. Lowe was welcoming a new school principal and a new director of lifelong faith formation who both also started the same day. Two administrative assistants had been with the parish for less than three months.
“There was change going on,” Dcn. Lowe said. “We got up to speed with each other very quickly. I just tried to navigate the parish through another year of COVID with the school.”
Dcn. Lowe, who is a member at St. Stephen in Oak Creek and has a covenant there, was a lawyer before retiring from that profession in 2019. He and wife Sandy have a daughter, Emily, who is married with a 7-year-old son, and son, Stan Jr., who is engaged to be married in February.
Service to the Church – Terri Balash
Terri Balash keeps a relic of St. Therese of Lisieux on her desk to remind her that when ministering to others, it’s the simplest ways of connecting that are often the most profound.
“Her ‘little way’ keeps me grounded on how I want to serve in ministry,” said Balash, who has been working for the Catholic Church for 22 years, spending 19 of those years serving the Family of Four Parishes in Milwaukee. “St. Therese taught me we encounter Jesus in meeting others in the ordinary.”
In her work as director of pastoral care for the Family of Four Parishes (including Old St. Mary, Our Lady of Divine Providence, Ss. Peter and Paul and Three Holy Women), Balash does precisely that — reaching out in ordinary ways to those in need of God’s extraordinary love. Her duties include visiting the sick, comforting the bereaved, supporting caregivers, holding the hands of the dying, offering spiritual direction and caring for those who feel alone and forgotten.
“I love listening to another person’s sacred story,” said Balash, who spent 16 years as a hairstylist before working in Church ministry. “I love holding people’s needs in my prayer and following the movement of the Holy Spirit to offer hope, encouragement and his great love. I believe God’s deepest desire is to stay with us and transform our broken hearts.”
Balash received her certificate for pastoral services from Saint Francis de Sales Seminary and studied at Alverno College, pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in community leadership/development and theology. In addition to her work at the Family of Four Parishes, she has been involved with the John Paul II Healing Center and has volunteered as a Core Team Member for its Healing the Whole Person: Into the Deep weekend retreat.
Balash lives in Milwaukee with her husband of 36 years, Keith, with whom she shares two children and four grandchildren.
Service in Communication – Pastor and Staff, Catholic Community of Waukesha
In the days following the horrific attack on the Waukesha Christmas Parade last November, the communications team serving the Catholic Community of Waukesha faced a series of seemingly impossible tasks.
Disseminate information without violating privacy or perpetuating rumor. Create unity in a time of chaos and confusion. Promote healing and Christian forgiveness while respecting the traumatic impact felt by the community when the driver of an SUV ran down participants and attendees of the parade, including priests, staff members and parishioners.
“We had 60 people walking in the parade and God knows how many on the sidelines,” said Fr. Pat Heppe, pastor emeritus for the Catholic Community of Waukesha, who was among the injured that day. “We had a number of our parishioners (who) were hurt. We wanted to make sure everybody knew what was going on and, as much as we could, how people were doing.”
The days immediately following the attack saw a flurry of meetings between staff members of the community, which includes four parishes (St. John Neumann, St. Mary, St. William and St. Joseph) and two schools (Catholic Memorial High School and Waukesha Catholic School System). Communications Coordinator Cassie Duck became the point person for incoming and outgoing information and resources, while the priest team ministered to the spiritual needs of the wounded community and WCSS Principal Lori Kovaleski engaged with the challenges facing the school students and parents.
Over the months, the manner of communication has been diverse — from a dedicated webpage and regular social media updates to ongoing opportunities for emotional and material support for survivors. But the message has always been singular and clear: Christ defines this community. Tragedy does not.
“Because of our faith, we will come out of this intact and stronger,” said Monica Cardenas, director of communications and stewardship for the community. “God is good, and through him and with him, we will face this together, and we will be a model for everyone of true Christian spirit and true Christian love.”
Service in the Diaconate – Dcn. Steve Przedpelski
The mission of Franciscan Peacemakers has held a special place in the life of Dcn. Steve Przedpelski for nearly 30 years. It was 1995 when Przedpelski, newly ordained to the permanent diaconate, first began volunteering with the organization, and just four years later, he was named as its executive director.
Franciscan Peacemakers provides support for women seeking recovery from lives impacted by prostitution due to trauma, human sex trafficking or drug addiction. “We do this by responding to the needs of exploited women in the community, providing resident-based trauma care, creating awareness and emphasizing the human dignity of every person in all that we do,” said Przedpelski. “I love that I have the privilege of being involved in all of the ministry of Franciscan Peacemakers, whether it is on the streets, at our drop-in center, our social enterprise or our residential program, Clare Community at the Bakhita Catholic Worker House.”
In addition to his work with Franciscan Peacemakers, Przedpelski travels throughout the archdiocese preaching on the issues facing individuals who are impacted by sex trafficking, and spreading education and awareness surrounding the issue. When not preaching, he attends Holy Angels Parish in West Bend, where he lives with his wife of 45 years, Debbie. They are the parents of two adult sons, Josh and Chris.
It is his marriage to Debbie, said Przedpelski, that most inspires him to live the values of the Gospel, and the love they share represents the goodness and joy he hopes to encourage in the lives of those he encounters.
“Our love has grown from being about each other and then our sons and now their families — it has grown in great abundance. Debbie shares it with her hospice patients and their families, and I get to bring it to wherever I encounter the women that Franciscan Peacemakers serves,” he said. “We love beyond ourselves.”
Service in Ecumenism – Dcn. Steve Kramer
In addition to serving his parish, St. Matthew, Dcn. Steve Kramer serves as the director of homiletics and director of recruitment at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.
Incardinated for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, he holds a master’s in theology from Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York, and a Doctor of Ministry in preaching and communication from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. He also contributes articles and a quarterly column for The Deacon magazine. For the past eight years, he’s served the Lux Center for Jewish-Christian Relations as a member of the advisory and governing boards.
Dcn. Kramer has a heart for reaching out to Catholics and non-Catholics.
“I have spent more than 30 years engaging in ecumenical and interfaith ministry. The day after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 (when I lived in New York), several Protestant ministers and I organized gatherings to pray for the first responders, survivors and the dead,” he said. “Although we had prayed together often as Christians prior to that time, this event solidified our solidarity as a community of believers. We helped each other’s people in this unprecedented time of grief and fear.”
A favorite Gospel passage is Mark 9:38-40: “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.’”
A deacon for the past 28 years, Dcn. Kramer credits his colleagues, and especially his wife of 43 years, Geri, as inspiration for him.
“She’s spent many years in the ministry of human concerns, helping people of all faiths to find shelter, food, medical care and counseling,” he said. “Her life of being a ‘Matthew 25 person’ has kept me grounded in the reality of caring for those on the fringe of society.”
Service in Education – Lauren Beckmann
When she retired from her role as principal of St. Robert School this year, Lauren Beckmann left behind a legacy defined by innovation, accessibility and love.
The experience, said Beckmann, “has not only made me whole but has yielded an abundant harvest of goodness and joy.”
Beckmann’s love of service dates to her childhood in Glendale, when her parents and grandparents set an example for devout faith and servant leadership. Beckmann went on to receive a bachelor’s in psychology and education from Cardinal Stritch College in 1978 and began her professional career in Birth to Three Intervention at St. Francis Children’s Center. She married husband Mark in 1979 and became a mom to daughter Emily and son Eric, while remaining active in a variety of volunteer positions at St. Robert Parish in Shorewood. In 1998, she was hired as St. Robert School’s first learning resources teacher, and she was invited to become acting principal in 2004. The role became permanent in 2006.
“Though I never felt naturally suited to the role, I came to love the privilege of leading and caring for God’s children as well as the creative challenges of faithfully navigating a transformative time in education and history,” said Beckmann.
Her tenure as principal saw Beckmann serve on the Superintendent’s Advisory Council, the Learning Support Steering Committee and several curriculum initiatives. She was recognized by the Marquette University College of Education in 2013 with the Living the Mission Award for impactful work in elementary education. In 2020, she received the Archdiocese’s Elizabeth Ann Seton Award for designing structures to support the full inclusion of learners with intellectual disabilities and other complex learning needs in an archdiocesan elementary school, and for assisting with the launch of the first Catholic high school special education program in the state of Wisconsin.
“Caring for others in God’s name has brought the deep satisfaction of participating in a truly noble, holy mission,” said Beckmann.
Service to Families – Eloy Contreras
It could be said that Eloy Contreras was born for service to the Church. As a newborn during the Christmas season, Contreras portrayed the Baby Jesus at his parish’s Posadas celebration (a traditional reenactment of the Holy Family’s journey to find shelter in Bethlehem).
Years later, Contreras is still helping Catholics to see the image of their creator in themselves as the ACTS youth ministry director for the Catholic Community in Central Racine, serving the parishes of St. Patrick, St. Edward and St. Richard.
His mission, he said, is to establish programs that “allow youth to expand their catechetical knowledge into their social lives — a way to live their Gospel values with their family and friends.”
“I am merely an unworthy servant trying to live the Gospel values like everyone else,” said Contreras, whose involvement in youth ministry dates to 2008, when his oldest daughter was preparing for her first holy Communion.
“These communities have played a big role in the faith growth of me and my family,” said Contreras. “We consider them our extended family.”
He is the father of three children with his wife of 26 years, Martha. It is his wife who has been the single greatest inspiration to Contreras, he said.
After the passing of the couple’s son, Miguel, “I entered into a deep depression and was angry with God, but she stood by me and helped me overcome my sadness, making me attend Mass every Sunday to give thanks to God for our blessings,” he said. “She is the real person deserving of this award, for it has been her who has stood by my side encouraging me and listening to me as I journeyed on this mission of working with youth and their families.”
Service in Liturgy – Theresa Setter
When Theresa Setter began serving as music director at St. Mary Parish in Kenosha in 1982, her job was to provide music for the eight Masses each weekend.
“I began with the task of recruiting pianists and cantors from within the parish congregation to encourage them to use their musical skills and God given gifts to serve in the music ministry,” Setter said. “That has always been my approach from the very start since I knew I was an organizer of getting people together to sing and pray with my guitar but now we needed pianists to help lead the music at each Mass.”
Throughout her tenure, she’s directed choirs, cantors and instrumentalists to sing and play for Channel 6 Mass for Shut-Ins, Heart of the Nation, a priest’s ordination Mass in Green Bay, weddings, funerals, high school reunion Masses and Masses of Remembrance.
“As pastoral musicians, we are blessed with special gifts that can enhance the worship and prayer life of our local churches,” Setter said. “I’ve enjoyed working with youth to sing at Mass, youth choir consisting of middle school to high school students, along with a youth instrumental ensemble that sang and played once a month during the school season.”
Setter credits Pope Francis for inspiring her to live a Christ-like life.
“I remember watching that moment when the Vatican made the announcement, and he came out on the balcony to greet all the hundreds of people waiting to see the new pope in St. Peter’s square. What touched me most was that he asked the crowd to pray for him at that moment,” she said.
Singing and playing for God has been Setter’s passion since grade school and through her recent retirement.
“It has been my vocation and calling in life,” she said. “It truly has been a blessing and honor to have served the people in the music ministry growing up and the last 40-plus years as the music director at St. Mary’s Parish.”
Service to the Missions – LeAnn Rogan
In 2008, LeAnn Rogan became involved with the Office of World Missions as she prepared for her first mission trip to the Dominican Republic with her daughter, McKenna. In all, she has gone on four missions to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s sister parish, La Sagrada Familia, and recently traveled to Ghana with Fr. James Arthur, pastor of All Saints Catholic Church in Milwaukee.
She and her husband, Mark, members of Sacred Heart in Racine, help fund the Prestea Catholic School there and the Community of St. Paul for projects in Bolivia, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
“The priests and lay people who serve the poor through the Community of St. Paul are some of the best humans I know,” Rogan said. “At present, I’m serving as the board chair for the board of directors of the Office of World Mission and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.”
Rogan tries to live by Matthew 14:21 and 15:38 on the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
“Jesus feeds many thousands of people, counting men, women and children,” Rogan said. “Jesus tells us there will be poor always, but they needn’t suffer alone. We are called to take notice, to live in solidarity, to help when and where we can, to learn to live with less so that others may have enough.”
A catechist for 40 years, Rogan, who has three children, said she is inspired by seeing people helping others and children being loved well.
“Loving the children is what I’m best at. It is not leadership roles and titles and philanthropy that best contribute to the life of the Church — it is our everyday living and loving and our genuine seeking which does so,” she said. “Any person who endeavors to live like Jesus must work when she is tired; love deeply the least, last, lost and lonely of the world, and of her own home and family; and ask good questions.”
Service to the Priesthood – Fr. Robert Fictum
It seems all roads have led Fr. Robert Fictum, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, to his current role as a part-time priest chaplain at Clement Manor.
After graduating college, Fr. Fictum spent two years working at Arizona State University Hospital in Phoenix before completing his theology work. From his ordination in 1978 until 1994, he served in roles of pastoral care and as a chaplain at hospitals in Oshkosh and Sheboygan.
He then moved into parish work — what he had originally hoped to do with his priesthood — and ended up spending more than 20 years at parishes in Ripon before retiring in 2019.
“It was real accidental,” Fr. Fictum said. “I would come see (Fr. Ed Eschweiler, who recently passed away and lived at Clement Manor). It just all fell in place.”
Following his retirement, he moved down to the Milwaukee area. He started helping out at Clement Manor during the COVID pandemic — he would celebrate Mass for TV and then leave because residents couldn’t come into the chapel — and has found a new home.
Often, Fr. Fictum will look out in the assembly for his Masses at Clement Manor and see several retired priests.
“In many ways, it’s like a little parish,” Fr. Fictum said. “There is a need for us but here it’s a community to come to five days a week.”
Fr. Fictum said he was in seventh grade when he decided to become a priest; at the time, Vatican II and its changes were creating excitement in the Church.
“I have really appreciated all of the assignments,” Fr. Fictum said. “I chose none of them. For me, all through my priesthood, the pastoral care — one-on-one — is the part that’s the most rewarding. Even when I got into the parish, I kind of looked at the parish through the prism of pastoral care. Morning Mass with the ‘Morning Crew’ was a wonderful way to start my day, even when I knew it was going to be a bad day. It somehow always brought me back to what’s really important.”
In his spare time, Fr. Fictum enjoys reading and traveling to Door County.
Service to the Priesthood – Fr. Dick Mirsberger
Fr. Dick Mirsberger has known he wanted to be a priest since he was in second grade.
So, it’s not surprising that even in his early 80s, Fr. Mirsberger is still celebrating Mass, presiding over funerals and hearing confession — and enjoying it.
“I’m not doing many Masses in churches because there’s steps and I’m having a hard time,” Fr. Mirsberger said from the living room of his tidy, third-floor apartment in Wauwatosa.
Recently, he has celebrated Masses at cemeteries and Trinity Woods at Mount Mary University.
Service to the Church ran deep in Fr. Mirsberger’s family — he had an aunt who was a nun, “many second cousins” who were nuns, two first cousins who were nuns and another priest in the family.
Of the 67 freshmen in his class at minor seminary, Fr. Mirsberger was one of only two who became ordained as priests — and the other one left shortly after ordination.
“I always wanted to be a priest,” said Fr. Mirsberger, who was ordained in 1966. “I always loved the priesthood, and I still do. I feel very fortunate because in every parish, I stayed as long as I could.”
He had just four main assignments before becoming an assisting priest at St. Catherine of Alexandria in Milwaukee following his retirement in 2010. Fr. Mirsberger was at St. Joseph in Fond du Lac from 1966-73, St. Margaret Mary in Milwaukee from 1973-81, St. Joseph in Wauwatosa from 1981-93 and St. Rita in West Allis from 1993-2008.
“I liked every parish I was at; I really did,” Fr. Mirsberger said. “It was really getting roots into every parish, I would say. I enjoyed that. You got to know people so well.”
Looking back at that second grader who always wanted to be a priest, Fr. Mirsberger said it has been all he thought it would be, and more.
“I love offering Mass,” Fr. Mirsberger said. “I really liked visiting the sick. Going to hospitals, nursing homes or the homebound, that’s been a real forte for me.”
Service in Society – Diane and Gary Hamilton
Diane and Gary Hamilton did nearly everything together and lived out their love for each other through service to others. They sent their three boys to their parish school, St. Peter the Apostle in East Troy, served on staff for the East Troy School District and served the parish on numerous committees. They helped with St. Vincent de Paul and St. Peter Clothing Center, and started Helping Hands in 2011; they also went on a mission trip to Haiti together.
“We worked in the orphanage and children’s clinic run by the Sisters of Charity,” Diane said. “I worked in a wound clinic run by them as well. Gary and another man from our parish worked on getting electricity restored at one of the schools there run by a Catholic organization called Hands Together.”
The couple was inspired to live Christ-like lives by Diane’s parents, who were active in St. Vincent de Paul and the St. Matthias Food Pantry in Milwaukee. Additionally, they credit fellow parishioners for inspiring them to be part of the active faith community.
“In particular, the members of Helping Hands of St. Peter’s have been instrumental in keeping our organization true to our mission, which is: ‘To recognize the face of Christ in each person who comes to us in need of help.’ We commit to assisting people who reach out to us for physical or spiritual help with love and kindness,” she said.
Both have modeled service to others through ministry, developing relationships with parishioners and reaching out through fish fries, bingo, rummage sales, fall festivals and more.
“Parish life is enriched by sharing the experience of working together for a common cause,” Diane said.
Gary succumbed to a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer and passed away in August.
“I will accept this award gratefully in both of our names,” Diane said.
John Paul II Youth Award – E. Me Na
A business administration student at Mount Mary University, E. Me Na, is of Karen descent, born and raised in a Thai refugee camp, and she arrived in the United States with her family in 2010. They moved to Milwaukee and are members of St. Michael Catholic Parish.
A catechist, Na taught faith formation for seven years, volunteered for summer bible school, serves as a Karen Community youth leader in Milwaukee and a Karen American Community Conference youth committee leader, where she works with other Karen youth leaders across the country to organize youth retreats.
Additionally, she’s an altar server, lector and member of the parish choir.
While Na enjoys volunteering, most important to her is faith formation.
“Early in my high school years, I began assisting K4-K5 children, and now I’m teaching eighth and ninth grades,” she said. “I’m pleased to have been giving my time to the community consistently for seven years. Working with my students over the past few years has contributed to me being the person I am today. Witnessing their spiritual growth and regular attendance at church fills me with joy.”
The story from Exodus where Moses parted the Red Sea demonstrates to Na that no one besides God can save us.
“God assured the Israelites that even when there seems to be no way, he’ll provide a way. It’s necessary that I maintain a strong sense of faith and take steps to be closer to God because he never leaves those who believe behind,” Na said. “My faith is strengthened and grown because of teaching faith formation and participating in other church volunteer activities.”
Na’s mother, Dee Lu, inspires her to follow Christ because she entrusted everything to God and gave her life to him.
“She was able to endure through hardships without anybody knowing. She demonstrates to me what it is to be a good Christian by attending church whenever she can, reciting the rosary every day, helping people in need and doing many other things,” Na said.
John Paul II Youth Award – Matthew Senn
When Matthew Senn was in middle school, he began playing the organ for school Masses. Later, he played for weekend Masses at Forest Ridge Assisted Living Catholic Community. Currently, the Dominican High School junior is the weekend organist at his parish, St. Gregory the Great.
“Being able to serve both the congregation of St. Gregory the Great and Forest Ridge has been foundational in my own faith journey,” Senn said. “I have developed so many connections and I have seen personally how music can provide a pathway to God. That alone is extremely special to see.”
In addition to parish work, Senn sings in the school choir, helps to plan school prayer services, Masses and retreats, and also preaches at school Masses with the Dominican Veritas team.
“For my first preaching as part of the team, I spoke on the passage in Matthew where Jesus says that he has not come to bring peace but the sword. When I first read this, I was shocked that this was in the Bible. It just did not make sense at first. As I understood more, this passage pointed to a deeper truth: even though serving others may be hard at times or may present challenges, it is still necessary,” Senn said. “I often struggle to find confidence to reach out and serve others, but this passage truly shows that Christ will.”
Dominican instills Catholic values in everything, and Senn said he’s grateful for the unique and supportive community.
“Service to others is ingrained in the school’s mission. At every point in the day, Christ’s love is obvious. Teachers and students alike want to help each person succeed,” Senn said.
While it can be challenging to hear God’s voice with life’s many distractions, Senn said music is a way to break through this.
“No matter (where in their) faith journey they are, music provides a pathway to God,” he said.