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, in random order, are our 10 most inspiring stories of 2014.

Kate NovotnyKate Novotny is only 26, but her résumé includes a three-year stint as CEO and founder of a Buena Vida Coffee, a socially conscious company with international ties. She’s quick to note the company is a team effort, but there’s no doubt Novotny, who earned an undergraduate degree in Latin American studies, Spanish and economics from Marquette University in 2010, and a master’s in entrepreneurship in 2012, played a key role in its startup. Novotny turned over the reins as CEO of Buena Vida in 2013, knowing that in four years it had grown, and provided nearly 11,000 meals to children at the Honduran orphanage it supports. Buena Vida Coffee made about $5,000 in revenue the first year, and more than $71,000 in 2013. The company sent its first check for $2,000 to the orphanage founded by a Honduran-born nun, in 2011; they sent $7,861 in 2013. “At the core of my faith and belief is a passion for social justice,” said Novotny, a graduate of St. Mary’s Visitation School in Elm Grove and Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee. (myFaith, Jan. 23)

Fr. Benjamin Reese, 55, in residence at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Kenosha, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateralFr. Benjamin Reese sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2013. But Fr. Reese didn’t let his diagnosis and rapidly decreasing health prevent him from ministry. Even when his bulbar onset type of ALS took away his speech and he could no longer celebrate Mass alone, he communicated using an iPad, concelebrated Mass and performs other priestly duties. He needed surgeries to insert a feeding tube and tracheotomy over the summer. No longer qualifying for free U.S. trials, he went to Pune, India, at the end of the year for an experimental treatment that uses his own harvested stem cells. Parish organist Rita Gentile said that Fr. Reese never asked “Why me?” “Instead, he says, ‘This is God’s plan for me,’ …” she said. (April 3 and Nov. 19)

Giovanna MosesGiovanna Moses, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Delavan, celebrated her 30th birthday with a trip to the Great Wall of China, and she planned to top that by visiting another of the world’s wonders for her 40th. Instead, she gave back to her community, which rallied behind her and her husband Cevin when their youngest child, then-2-year-old Katherine Mary Grace, who has Down syndrome, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in summer 2013. Katherine Mary Grace began two years of treatment, and received life-saving blood and platelets and would need more, so Giovanna celebrated her special day by thanking the community with a “40 Bags for 40 Years” blood drive benefitting the BloodCenter of Wisconsin. Giovanna and Cevin look at their family’s situation positively rather than ask why it was happening. “She’s a tool that God is using to bring joy to others but also to bring people to him, “she said,” and if I can be a part of that, I feel a calling to do so.” (May 29)

Dan and Deb Brezgel of Oconomowoc have experienced their share of complications – Maddie, 4, was born at 35 weeks, Dan and Deb Brezgelspent a month at Children’s Hospital, is legally blind and has slower development due to a premature birth, and Samantha, 6, was born with severe club feet. Their third child, Calvin Clark was born with a rare genetic defect called SOX2 Anopthalmia Syndrome, one of only 40 cases worldwide. Including not having eyeballs and being 100 percent deaf – though hearing aids have helped – Calvin has a very thin corpus callosum (the bridge between the left and right brain), is prone to seizures, has aspiration and needs a feeding tube, has digestive issues and difficulties with bowel movements, needs testosterone shots and has cognitive development concerns. The Brezgels, who attend St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Oconomowoc, and St. Joan of Arc Parish, Nashotah, face each day with humor, positive attitudes and help from volunteers from their faith community who spent time with Calvin and helped raise money to defray six-figure medical bills. Some people question God when they see their children, but not the Brezgels – they see gifts who have taught them about life. (November Family, Page 6)

Leona KatorskiLeona Katorski, 92, might be under 5 feet tall, but she’s St. Vincent de Paul’s leading fundraiser for the society’s annual Friends of the Poor Walk. The member of St. John Paul II Parish, Milwaukee, and a member of Catholic Financial Life, singlehandedly brought in $4,260 last fall and nearly $3,000 each year since the event began in 2009, raising almost $18,000. Katorski, who makes saying “no” tough, does it by collecting mostly small donations, of $10 to $20, from neighbors, parishioners and workers in her neighborhood. “My motto is, ‘I’m here to serve not to be served. I feel God has blessed me in so many ways, I have to share with others,” she said. (Dec. 10)

Despite being born with cerebral palsy, leaving him in a wheelchair with no control of his limbs and unable to speak, Nick Salerno18-year-old Nick Salerno starred as Jesus in the St. Anne Parish, Pleasant Prairie, youth group’s performance of the Living Stations, April 11. Nick sustains a 4.0 GPA at Central High School in Salem through the use of eye movements that operate a computer system and he plans to attend college to become a veterinary radiologist. “He really wanted to do this and was so excited – we are very proud of him,” his father, Mark Salerno said. “When Nick was first born, we worried and thought we would be teaching him, but he is always teaching us.” (April 17)

Tom LudorfTom Ludorf, building and grounds supervisor at Messmer High School, Milwaukee, for 13 years, and a 1974 graduate, may not be part of the teaching staff, but the impact he has had on students paints a different picture. He was one of the most prominent influences on Ever Clinton’s years at Messmer. Grateful for his friendship and support, the 2013 graduate wrote him a letter and hand-drawn portrait expressing how much he meant to her, explaining that he taught her to be a “good, kind person with a slamming personality.” Ludorf – whose parents and all seven of his brothers and sisters graduated from Messmer, where his mother ran the cafeteria for six years, values the interactions he has with the kids and is proud to be a positive, safe male presence in their lives. (April 3)

Cindy LiebWhile Cindy Lieb, 60, director of Christian Formation at St. Catherine Parish, Milwaukee, died suddenly July 30, her life continues to be a testimony to indestructible faith and quiet, abiding strength. Cindy, who is survived by her husband of 40 years, Roger, 11 children and 24 grandchildren, endured more tragedy in 20 years than most endure in a lifetime: In February 1996, her 20-month-old son Anthony died; and on March 5, 1996, a house fire took the lives of three sons, Joseph, 5, Zachary, 7, and Jonathan, 9. The Lieb family also suffered the loss of two grandchildren, Lola Jane Zalewski, 3 months old, died October 2008, and Zachary Lieb died from complications at birth in August 2013. Cindy served at St. Catherine as a volunteer and lay minister and helped the parish and school navigate its path during a difficult period when the parish went from 1,500 families in the 50s and 60s to its current size of 350 families. Vicki Thorn, a family friend, said the Liebs were always there for people and that Cindy lived her faith. “She wasn’t somebody who beat you over the head with her faith,” she said. “She lived it.” (Aug. 7)

Pat and Jim Parks were like any other young couple in 1967, juggling careers as a teacher and attorney, and their family of Pat and Jim Parks four small children. But Pat couldn’t stop thinking about the suffering children in Quito, Ecuador. Her sister, Mary Miguel Conway, “Madre Miguel,” a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, wrote about them in her letters from Quito, where she was helping Jesuit Fr. John Halligan found a center for the “shoeshine boys,” young men from poverty-stricken families who took to the streets to earn money. “I decided I needed to help them. I just needed to figure out how,” Pat said. That was the beginning of the Parks’ “family business,” and nearly 50 years of volunteering and fundraising by Pat and Jim, their 10 children and 33 grandchildren. Madre Miguel and Fr. Halligan also founded the Working Boys Center (WBC) in Quito that has helped lift more than 6,000 Ecuadorian families out of financial desperation. The stateside fundraising arm for the WBC has grown from a self-described “ma-and-pa charity” operated out of the Parkses’ home in Elm Grove, to become the Center for Working Families, a bona fide force in the nonprofit world that each year sends hundreds of volunteers to the WBC on mission trips. (Aug. 7)

Suzanne KabembaSuzanne Kabemba attended daily Mass with her four children in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, sent her children to Catholic school and had catechetical preparation for their baptism and first Communions. When their emigration to the U.S. in February interrupted their plans, Suzanne found a new spiritual home at St. Joseph Parish, Waukesha, but getting to Mass was a different story – St. Joseph’s only English Mass is at 9 a.m. Sunday, the same time the bus routes start far from their home. Fr. Bill Key, pastor of St. Joseph, began driving them and arranging rides to Mass, even though they didn’t fully grasp the language, and arranged for a French-speaking priest to work with them: Jean Paul and Jean Pierre, 13-year-old twins, were baptized and received first Communion, along with their sister, Anastasia, 11; Arnold, 7, was also baptized, Oct. 5. Suzanne, a teacher for 20 years, arrived on the green card lottery system. She works part-time cleaning houses while attending Waukesha County Technical College, as she waits for her husband to join the family when he obtains a visa. She said life and the language are different in the U.S., but the church is the same. “My problem is not to understand,” she said. “I go to church to pray. The Father is speaking – I know the Mass in French – and if he say anything, I know he say (good things).”

– Compiled by Tracy Rusch