Throughout the year, the Catholic Herald staff enjoys telling the inspirational stories of people of faith. Several from the last year were especially touching and inspirational. Following are our 10 most inspiring individuals of 2011.

POF-gilliandTen years ago, when her vision blurred, nighttime driving became difficult and her eyes grew sensitive to light, a diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa confirmed 49-year-old Terri Gilliland’s worst fears: Her eyesight was slowly disintegrating. Dealing with the vision loss was just the beginning for Gilliland, member of St. Peter Parish, Kenosha; her husband, Tracy, had a near-fatal motorcycle accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury that altered his personality, and her 16-year-old son was diagnosed with brain cancer. With faith, family, friends and a sense of humor, Gilliland, a rehabilitation specialist associate for the blind and visually impaired, made her way through these trials, remained active in her church and published a book, “In a Moment,” describing her struggles, challenges in her marriage and the effects of cancer on her son and her other two children, with the goal of giving hope to others encountering life’s challenges. (Jan. 13)

arenasfamilyNo one knows Tony Arenas, 26, struggles with cystic fibrosis, because he’s too busy coaching the St. Charles, Hartland, basketball team – he led his most recent team to the CYM championship in March. Tony, who graduated from Marquette University with a double major in marketing and finance and works for the family restaurant, has volunteered as a coach for six years – first at St. Veronica, then St. Charles – despite his regime to keep cystic fibrosis at bay: He spends four hours daily wearing a vest-like apparatus to shake his lungs to loosen the mucus that forms, takes 14,000 pills annually, and visits the doctor regularly. He recently began talking publicly about the disease, hoping to raise awareness for a cure. Since his birth, the Arenas family, members of St. Charles Parish, raised $1.3 million for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation through fundraisers held at their restaurants – the Porterhouse restaurant near General Mitchell International Airport and Palmer’s Steakhouse in Hartland. (Sept. 1)

p.16torresCROPPEDKnown as the “cricket” at Messmer High School in Milwaukee, Juan Torres was a positive role model for students and staff as he battled terminal bone cancer. Known for his signature cricket chirps, the 17-year-old, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico about four years earlier and struggled to learn English as a second language, took advantage of extra study time at school on Saturdays and continued school work, whether in class or at the hospital. Juan changed from a shy, quiet and unsure freshman to the more confident, outgoing teen that continued to inspire people with his smile and trust in God until he died in April. (March 10, March 31, April 21)

p16IMG_2100When 12-year-old Wyatt Wilderman’s neighbor Sarah Schultz, 29, was diagnosed with cancer and lost all of her hair, he decided to grow out his own to donate to “Locks of Love,” a public, non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the U.S. and Canada under age 21 who suffer from long-term medical hair loss. Wyatt spent two and half years growing out the required 10 inches to donate. He went through with the venture, understanding the impact he could have upon the life of others suffering from cancer. (April 28)

p.3Torres-Family-mh-002In 2009, Maria Torres, 40, drove to the hospital every morning for three months with Alexander, 2, while her 5-year-old daughter Litzy was in school, to pray for a miracle next to her husband, Heraclio (José), 42, who was nearly beaten to death. Shortly after José returned home from the hospital, Litzy was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma and Maria had to quit her part-time job to care for her family. With donations of meals, funds for medical supplies and rent, and money from the many volunteers at St. Patrick, St. Edward and Cristo Rey parishes in Racine, the Racine Knights of Columbus, Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Institute, Milwaukee, and others, Maria has returned to work, Litzy completed chemotherapy and José’s health leveled. However, because José isn’t a resident of the U.S. and they had no insurance, the family was still trying to get him physical therapy. Maria may be tired sometimes, but she’s thankful because God gave her family angels and made her stronger. (Nov. 24)

LisaC.PaulLisa C. Paul’s interest in what was at the time the Soviet Union stemmed from a class she took as a student at the University of Minnesota followed by a trimester of study in the country in 1982, but it didn’t stop there. On a subsequent trip to the country, she became friends with Inna Kitrosskaya Meiman, whom the government denied a visa when she was in need of additional medical care after having a cancerous tumor removed from her neck in 1983. Upon returning to the U.S. Paul prayed for, and called national media and politicians’ attention to, Inna’s plight with a 25-day hunger strike that resulted in Soviet officials approving Inna’s request to leave the country. Inna died shortly after beginning treatment in the U.S., but Paul honored her friend’s life by writing “Swimming in the Daylight: An American Student, A Soviet-Jewish Dissident, and the Gift of Hope.” (March 17)

_MG_7770Folding origami cranes was a way for Rimiko Seligmiller, a Japanese immigrant, to entertain her young grandson until his mother came home from work each day. As he grew, Jacob Seligmiller continued folding cranes as a hobby. After an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March, Jacob used his hobby to help and began folding 20 cranes a day to accomplish a 500-crane goal by the time his parish, St. Matthias, Milwaukee, had its Palm Sunday Masses and would collect donations to Catholic Relief Services for victims. Jacob honored his late grandma by selling 350 of his handmade paper cranes and raising $1,200 for those suffering the effects of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. “It’s overwhelming to see what God did,” he said in the article. (April 21)

P.6-7CLAIRE4Claire Bevec, a fourth-grade student at St. Mary Grade School, Kenosha, wants to be a photographer for National Geogra-phic Magazine when she grows up. Thanks to life-saving kidney donor Jeff Albrecht of Lafayette, Ind., the 10-year-old, who was born with a cleft lip and palate, and diagnosed with auto recessive polycystic kidney disease and congenital hepatic fibrosis shortly after birth, can continue to dream. Claire’s parents said that Claire, who wasn’t expected to live more than a few days or weeks, has exuded confidence and joy through the numerous surgeries, speech therapy and setbacks. Beyond Claire’s suffering, joy, trial, pain and disappointment, the Bevec family, members of St. Anne Parish, Pleasant Prairie, relied heavily on faith and the love, friendship and financial support of its prayer community for Claire, “a perfect gift from God.” (May Parenting)

SeminarianKlusman03Fr. Christopher Klusman, 34, didn’t let growing up deaf stop him from following his heart. His mother, Elaine, and late father, Elmer, raised him as though he could hear and treated him no differently than his other siblings. With his ordination in May, Fr. Klusman, associate pastor of St. Roman Parish, Milwaukee, joined a small group of ordained deaf priests in the U.S. With his highly developed lip-reading and vocal skills, as well as his knowledge of American Sign Language, Fr. Klusman hopes to use his experiences to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing of the Catholic Church in southeastern Wisconsin. (May 5)

p.6paigesiehrFaith has helped 17-year-old Paige Siehr – a lot. Seven years ago, she lost her father when he suffered a blood clot following a work injury, and Siehr now suffers from Autoimmune Hepatitis as the result of taking prescription Accutane for acne coupled with a genetic predisposition for the disease. While Siehr will need to be supervised for the rest of her life because the disease can be fatal if not treated, she doesn’t wallow in self-pity. The Girl Scout Gold Award recipient, National Honor Society president and winner of the Molly Burke Courage Award – given annually to a senior who survives a battle with cancer or serious illness while demonstrating success in academic achievement, community service, extracurricular activities and faith – remained a positive, cheerful student at Catholic Memorial High School where she graduated earlier this year with a 4.1 GPA, with plans of becoming a nurse practitioner. (May 28)

07-18-11-CHN-01School Sister of Notre Dame Josephe Marie Flynn struggled to save her friend, Regina Bakala, from deportation and death in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, succeeding in 2005. Sr. Josephe Marie met the Bakalas – Regina, her husband David and their infant Lydia – when they arrived on the doorstep of St. Mary, Hales Corners, where Sr. Josephe Marie was Adult and Family Christian Formation Director. The Bakalas fled home after attempting to bring democracy to the Congo, but even in the U.S., Regina faced deportation until Sr. Josephe Marie took the lead in helping the family receive joint application for asylum. Today, the Bakalas’ two children continue their education at St. Mary, and together Sr. Josephe Marie and Regina finally shared the family’s story, exposing the U.S. immigration system, in “Rescuing Regina: The Battle to Save a Friend from Deportation and Death.” (Sept. 1)