For Jon and Libby Baranko, co-chairs of the 2012 Catholic Stewardship Appeal, the practice of their Catholic faith is not something reserved for Sundays and holy days.
“We feel that we need to live and breathe our faith,” said Libby, mother of the couple’s three sons, Ryan, 13; Robby, 12; and Drew, 8. “What our goal is for our boys is to make sure they understand that. It’s not just ‘Oh, it’s church again.’ It’s life.”
For Jon, the Catholic faith is ground zero for good parenting.
“It’s the core of everything. It’s what everything else revolves around. We think it’s really important to emphasize your personal faith with prayer life and consistent engagement – not only with your parish community but also with the archdiocese in general.”
That’s why the couple was “pleasantly surprised” to be asked by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki to co-chair the 2012 Catholic Stewardship Appeal.
“We have three young boys that are going to be coming of age in 10, 15 years and the question all of us should be asking is what shape is the church going to be in when they have their own children?” said Jon.
The mission of spearheading a $7.6 million fundraising effort was “maybe a little overwhelming” but came down to a question of duty.
“Every generation has a responsibility to be good stewards of the faith and to perpetuate that for future generations,” Jon said. “The archdiocese needs us in times of adversity, not necessarily when things are going well. The church has survived 2,000 years because the church is the vessel for the truth of Christ. Now is the time for us to be rallying around the church and supporting her.”
Bishop Donald J. Hying is grateful for the couple’s willingness to support the archdiocese.
“What strikes you initially about them is just their remarkable goodness and sincerity,” he said. “But they’re also creative in terms of wanting to develop new ways to grow the appeal and are really willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work that’s involved.”
The couple met as counselors at Camp Manito-wish in Boulder Junction in 1987. Jon proposed while cross-country skiing in 1993 and they married that December. Prior to their marriage, Libby was a first-grade teacher. Jon works at Wells Capital Management in Menomonee Falls.
Their practice of the faith as a married couple and eventually as parents was always a priority for them. Libby was born Episcopalian but “we decided a long time ago to raise the boys Catholic and I’ve been part of that experience and journey,” she said. In December 2010 she was welcomed fully into the Catholic Church and was confirmed by Bishop Hying.
“I reached a point where I wanted to do it for myself. Not for the family, not for the boys, not for Jon, but for myself. I wanted to continue my relationship with God and strengthen it, so I would meet with Bishop Hying (then Fr. Hying, during his tenure as dean of formation at Saint Francis Seminary) and he was very instrumental in my faith,” she said.
Bishop Hying says that what stands out to him about the Barankos is “their deep personal faith, their remarkable love for the church, and their generosity in terms of their time, talent and treasure.”
Generosity of time, talent and treasure is an important part of faith in action for the Barankos. Libby is on the board of directors for First Stage Children’s Theater and is heavily involved in fundraising efforts for that organization. She also volunteers at her sons’ school and teaches second grade religious eduction at Lumen Christi Parish in Mequon. Jon serves on the board of directors for Saint Francis Seminary as well as the boards of the Catholic Community Foundation and YMCA’s Camp Manito-wish.
“For the boys, it’s just normal to see mom and dad volunteering, but it’s not that we give up time with them,” said Libby. “We find that balance.”
Their sense of community involvement is why the Catholic Stewardship Appeal strikes a chord with the Barankos. As co-chairs, they see firsthand the effect of the funds raised in the 10-county archdiocese, and they want to share that message with potential donors.
“I think there’s an element of the Catholic population in Milwaukee that doesn’t fully understand where the money goes or they think it’s being wrapped up in the bankruptcy, so they’re choosing not to give right now,” said Jon. “One of the key things that’s really important to articulate is where the money goes and the good that it’s doing.”
Money raised by the CSA is kept separate from the other financial assets of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and all contributions will be used solely for the restricted purposes of the appeal: serving families, strengthening parishes, supporting schools, and forming priests and parish leaders.
The vast majority of the money is allotted for maintaining spiritual formation and charitable endeavors. Just a few examples of the initiatives that rely on the appeal are the archdiocesan ecumenical and interfaith ministry, the Nazareth Project, prison ministries and Catholic Charities.
“There are some amazing things going on,” said Jon. “Some of the things that Catholic Charities is doing right now are just incredible.”
Catholic Charities is a social outreach and human services agency that affects more than 22,000 people every year through its adult care ministries, family and children’s ministries, and social justice ministries to promote Catholic social teaching. The agency receives more than $1 million from the CSA annually.
The Barankos emphasize the importance of unity and participation within the archdiocese.
“It’s not that we’re asking people to write a $500 or $1,000 check. It’s asking everyone to participate in a way that’s appropriate for them,” Jon said.
As co-chairs, the Barankos share the daunting task of getting the archbishop’s message out to the Catholic population. They will participate in nearly 20 events throughout the archdiocese to raise awareness for the appeal – including corporate events, gatherings in private homes, and appearances in coordination with Archbishop Listecki and Bishop Hying.
“What we’re trying to do is personalize the donations,” said Libby. “We’re asking people to donate but then we’re inviting them to spend some time to understand where the money is going and really feel like they can make a difference.”
Their fundraising efforts have already had an impact on their sons.
“We asked the older two what they’d like to do as a thank-you for their Sunday school teachers and Robby said, ‘We’ll donate to the Catholic Stewardship Appeal,’” Libby laughed. “It was like, ‘Of course!’ It’s so natural. They’re very aware. They don’t understand the big picture but they understand we’re trying to make a difference for the churches in Milwaukee.”
“We want people to take the time to really understand what the church is doing here,” said Jon. “The Catholic Stewardship Appeal is incredibly important to Milwaukee as a city, even beyond the Catholic community.”