The Vatican II Awards were established in 1991 to honor men, women and young adults who exemplify the Catholic Church’s vision set forth in the Second Vatican Council. These individuals have been selected by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki to be recognized for their service to the Body of Christ in southeastern Wisconsin. While an awards ceremony is typically held annually in October, this year’s festivities are postponed until such a time as it is safe to gather such a large group.
Service to Families — James Pankratz
All the kids in Jim Pankratz’s childhood neighborhood in Waukesha knew they only had to ring the back doorbell at Eugene and Loretta Pankratz’s house to be greeted with a cookie or a word of encouragement. His parents’ reputation for kindness and generosity was known even to their youngest neighbors.
“Their personalities shone,” said Pankratz. “From them, I learned to think of God not as a judge or accountant in the sky, but as an incarnate, compassionate, loving presence in the world.”
From his parents, too, Pankratz learned how to be a living witness to that compassionate, loving presence. A social worker who helped troubled youth, Eugene Pankratz was a dedicated Knight of Columbus, while Loretta routinely visited patients at Waukesha Memorial Hospital to pray with them and to offer emotional support.
So it is no surprise that their son’s early ambition was to become a priest. A 1967 graduate of Saint Francis de Sales Preparatory Seminary, Pankratz earned his bachelor’s degree from Saint Francis de Sales College in 1971. In 1975, he obtained his master of theology degree from Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.
It was while completing his Clinical Pastoral Education at Spring Grove Hospital Center, a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore, that Pankratz was first introduced to psychology. When he left the seminary, he immediately began studies for a masters in social work with the goal of becoming a therapist.
After achieving his masters in 1976, Pankratz was hired at Catholic Social Services (now Catholic Charities) in 1977 and has worked for the organization ever since. He also worked as a part-time PRN on-call chaplain at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin from 2007-13.
Parishioners of St. Therese Parish, Pankratz and his wife Anne Bingham have been married for 42 years. The couple have two grown sons.
Therapy, he said, is an “amazing, challenging, interesting, exhausting, and exhilarating profession” that allows him to “see and be touched by the complexity and depth of the human heart.” In many ways, it is a fulfillment of the vocation Pankratz contemplated at seminary so many years ago.
His time with Catholic Charities, said Pankratz, has yielded “three great advantages.”
“First of all, there has been a freedom and openness to clients’ exploration of spiritual and ethical questions in the context of their therapy,” he explained. “Secondly, Catholic Charities has a mission to provide therapy to the poor and others with limited financial resources. At Catholic Charities, service is extended to those with limited financial resources and to people of all faiths, and even to those with no faith.”
Third, he said, “the social work ethos at Catholic Charities makes an essential connection between personal psychological health and the health of the larger social system.”
“Social work training emphasizes understanding people’s functioning within the context of the family and societal systems of which they are a part,” said Pankratz. “The Christian and social work ethic calls people of goodwill to challenge policies of economic, racial and gender inequality which permeate our society.”
His Vatican II Award for Service to Families is one he said he shares with his colleagues at Catholic Charities.
“Throughout my many years at Catholic Charities, I have been continuously inspired by the incredible compassion and dedication of my work colleagues, truly some of the finest human beings that it has been my privilege to know. I would like to share this award with them.”