Elizabeth and Stu Sigmund couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate their anniversary weekend than by attending Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s Mass of Thanksgiving at the Basilica of Holy Hill on Saturday, April 28.ERNIE22Will Heinz, 3, in Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s arms, wears the cardinal’s biretta prior to the Mass of Thanksgiving at Holy Hill on Saturday, April 28. Will came to the Mass with his parents, Brock and Cathy Heinz of Grafton. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)

“When we found out that he was going to be here, we’re like, we have to try to get there … we decided pretty much as soon as we found out that we were going to come and we barely got into this church,” said Elizabeth from her seat next to her husband along the wall near the back of the upper church.

The young couple, who married April 30, 2011, and are expecting a child, said the cardinal made an impression on them from the times he celebrated Mass at the Newman Center when they were students at UW-Milwaukee. Elizabeth said those Masses were “neat to experience.”

“The nice thing is that he was extremely personable,” Elizabeth said. “That, and he was comfortable around college kids.”

Then-Archbishop Dolan also turned the center into what Elizabeth called “vocations headquarters” which produced at least one nun, some seminarians and a few marriages between young men and women who met there – including the Sigmunds, members of St. Jerome Parish, Oconomowoc.

Stu explained in a follow-up email that then-Archbishop Dolan brought the sacraments back to the secular campus, which caused vocations to “naturally follow.” “It was the new team which created the environment, but it would not have been possible without (Archbishop) Dolan giving a strong commitment of time, money, resources and a full-time priest on staff to return the center to daily Mass/confession/spiritual direction/regular adoration hours, and prayer times, all of which should be no-brainers in any ministry, but were sadly missing previously.”

“He definitely did a lot of good when he was here,” Elizabeth said, “And it’s amazing to see what he’s done so far as cardinal already, and what he’s going to do.”

Schoenstatt Sisters grateful for his support

Ten members from the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary attended the Saturday celebration to show their gratitude to Cardinal Dolan for his support of the Waukesha-based community.

“He’s been a tremendous support for our community and our movement and we’re just really grateful for all he’s done for our archdiocese and also for our country at this time,” said Schoenstatt Sister of Mary Joanna Buckley, noting that then-Archbishop Dolan attended activities held by the movement and officiated at receptions in 2004 and 2007 when two groups of novices were received into the community.

“I was impressed with his message of joy and whenever he sees any of us, or anything related to our movement, he always says really loud, ‘I love Schoenstatt,’ very enthusiastically,” she said.

Trisha Flasch, who came with three other members of SPIRITUS – teams comprised of six to 10 young adults who give nine months of service to lead retreats, spiritual programs and Bible studies for grades three through 12 – also said Cardinal Dolan was enthusiastic when he visited the Newman Center on the campus of UW-Stevens Point and learned that there were Milwaukeeans there.04-28-AL--Holy-Hill-099Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan reaches out to greet worshippers following a Mass of Thanksgiving at Holy Hill last Saturday. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

“He kept asking, ‘Wait, are you from the Milwaukee Diocese?’ and if someone was, he would get really excited and he would become super joyful and he kept going and hugging everyone from the Milwaukee Diocese. …” Flasch said. “He enjoyed meeting everyone, but he – like he made sure to get his picture with just those of us in the Milwaukee Diocese and like it was kind of a big deal.”

She wasn’t going to miss a chance to attend Mass celebrated by the man she calls “an inspiration.”

“I came here today because with Cardinal Dolan having been in the Milwaukee Diocese for so long, it sort of feels like you’re kind of like a part of his journey,” Flasch said. “We saw him here for so many years and got to be a part of his journey here as archbishop with us and so I just think it’s a beautiful thing that he’s made cardinal because I think that his relationship with God is beautiful and then the way that he expresses it I think is an inspiration.”

Carpooling strangers become friends

Cheri Kusch, who attends Mass at churches on Milwaukee’s south side, was lucky to get in the upper church, even if it was along the back wall. She called around to the parishes looking for someone with whom she could carpool to Holy Hill. The parish secretary at Immaculate Conception Parish, Milwaukee, gave Kusch the phone number of parish member, Diane Glisczinski, who planned to travel there for Mass with fellow parishioner, Lorraine Golla, both from Bay View.

Together, the strangers began an adventure that led them to meeting each other and Cardinal Dolan.

Though their 11:30 a.m. arrival time earned them spots in the chairs lining the back wall of the upper church, the women got a special treat when they bumped into Cardinal Dolan in the parking lot.

“He greeted us each individually, a handshake and a hug, I think,” said Glisczinski, noting that one of them also got a picture with the cardinal who she’s predicting “might be pope one day.” 

Golla laughed as she remembered what the cardinal said to her during that chance meeting in the parking lot.

“I told him we sent him a gift box from Usinger’s, and he said the only thing wrong with it – there was no Budweiser beer in it,” she said.

“It’s just that he’s very human,” Kusch said of the cardinal. “I mean he’s like the guy next door. … He would be like the guy to go to a fish fry with or to go to the ballpark and have a grill out with.”

“It’s been kind of a magical journey,” she said. “Beautiful trees, magical meetings and then running into the (cardinal) when we went for food.”

Student thanks cardinal for stance

Jaymie Winter, an eighth grade student at Trinity Academy, Milwaukee, worked on her French homework in a chair along the wall of the upper church as she waited for Mass to begin. There, with her mother, grandmother and brother, Winter said she loved Cardinal Dolan from the times he visited and gave talks at her school when he was Milwaukee’s archbishop.

“I also want to really show support for the stand he’s taking against Obama with the contraception controversy, so I really want to, if I get a chance, thank him for the stand he’s taking because the bishops haven’t been this united in so many years – in 20 years,” said Winter, a member of St. Mary Parish, Menomonee Falls. “He’s a young bishop and now he’s a cardinal … that could technically become, pope, and I really want to be here to show that I’m thankful for what he’s doing and that he’s really bringing America alive again with our faith.”

One family from Chicago, though, didn’t know about Cardinal Dolan, or that his Mass of Thanksgiving was taking place on the day they decided to make a routine visit they make to the minor basilica every three to four months.

The large crowd on the church grounds when they arrived at noon surprised Remington James Deguzman, who was with his wife, Mena Rose, their 3-month-old son Leon Hart, and his mother-in-law, Mely Piliin. Once they found out that a cardinal was visiting for Mass, they fell in line.

“It’s not every day that we get to see a cardinal, so we ended up just tagging along,” Deguzman said, from his spot along the back wall of the upper church.

For Cardinal Dolan, the visit was about catching up with friends. When he spotted Susan Kreuzpaintner, seated in her wheelchair in the front row of the upper church, he immediately recognized her.

“He came up to me and he said, ‘I remember you, Suzy,’ he said, ‘You’re hard to forget,’ and … he blessed me and gave me a hug,” Kreuzpaintner said, beaming.

‘Beautiful day’ despite the weather

Michael Reger and his children, Alexander, 9, and Isabelle, 6, secured seats in the lower church upon their 4 p.m. arrival. While Reger said the music wasn’t always piped down to them and they didn’t see the cardinal until after Mass, his voice came through loud and clear, giving Reger a taste of the cardinal’s “excellent sense of humor.”

“I hadn’t seen him in action like that so it was refreshing, and he had some nice comments and he just seemed genuine and sincere and he spent a lot of time dedicating his cardinal cap for everybody else that helped him become cardinal,” Reger said. “So I think that’s a great mark of a servant leader and I think that’s wonderful.”

Though Reger enjoys attending Masses of Thanksgiving for ordinations, he said this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate a cardinal’s Mass of Thanksgiving that took the celebration a step further.

“Despite the weather, it’s a beautiful day – this is great,” Reger said before returning to share one more important detail from the day: “When the cardinal came by us downstairs, Isabelle’s tooth fell out!”