NEW HOLSTEIN — Imagine the number of people who have received food, medicine, clothing and hospitalequipment from the Salvatorian Mission Warehouse over the past four decades. Containers ranging from 15,000 to 40,000 pounds each are shipped from the 25,000-square-foot warehouse to missionaries around the world — from Central and South America to Africa — every week. It’s done so since 1963, with the help of at least 200 regular volunteers, some of whom are in their second and even third generation.
Volunteers take donated supplies, break open boxes and remove unnecessary packaging that takes up valuable shipping space. Repackaging is handled with scientific precision. Paper products, which weigh less, fill up excess room in large shipments and provide cushioning. Chocolate goes toward the middle of containers, surrounded by items like crackers to provide insulation and prevent melting in hot climates. Everything is tightly packed into shipping containers and onto semitrailers for shipment to more than 100 missions in 25 countries.
This is what Salvatorian Br. Regis Fust leaves as he retires and moves to the Society of the Divine Savior’s Alexian Village in Milwaukee this month. At age 83, and with health issues, Br. Regis has turned the work of the warehouse over to new director, Dave Holton who promises that the work of the warehouse will continue.
“A lot of people thought the warehouse was ending because Regis was retiring,” admitted Holton in a telephone interview with the Catholic Herald. “People thought the warehouse was going to stop working but it’s doing very well. This is a very strong ministry, not only with the folks that come in here and help – that’s extremely powerful and strong, – but our donations from vendors for goods and services that’s really strong and the need out there, that’s very strong.”
Before taking the reins at the warehouse, Holton, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish, Plymouth, spent the last five years as associate director of vocations for the Salvatorians.
A graduate of Marquette University High School, he earned a degree in comparative studies in religion from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire and is completing a master’s degree in theology from Cardinal Stritch University.
From 2001 to 2005, he taught theology at Messmer High School, Milwaukee, and from 2005 to 2009, he taught theology and served as campus minister at St. Thomas More High School, Milwaukee.
Holton and his wife, Heather, are parents to Joseph, 9; Samuel, 7; Clare, 5; and Nicholas, 3.
As he steps into the footsteps of the warehouse founder, Br. Regis, Holton said he wants people to know, “This is a really good ministry that is still going on. Regis started something that is tremendous and it’s going to continue. It’s not ending by any means.”
Br. Regis and Salvatorian Sr. Dora Zapf, who was born in Germany and served as a missionary in Tanzania from 1961 to 1971, oversaw distribution of aid in circumstances that read like a series of disaster novels. A sample includes:
- Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Dennis in the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Central America and the Caribbean in 2005;
- Earthquakes in Honduras in 2009;
- Floods in Mozambique in 2000;
- The earthquake in Haiti in 2012;
- Hurricane Mitch in 1998 that devastated Honduras and Nicaragua;
- Turmoil after the overthrow of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 1979.
“In 1980, in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya — right after Idi Amin,” Br. Regis recalled. “We shipped there … but Uganda wouldn’t let any medicines in.”
What happened, he recalled, was “we visited, came home and got 100,000 medicines packed in a drum and airlifted it in two weeks. Then we started a shipping container — it took two months to get it shipped through Kenya. Then we did one every three weeks, 20,000 pounds each.”
Sr. Dora noted the people of Uganda later told her that, while they had had many visitors and offers of help in 1980, “they were surprised that we did (get aid to them) — they sent a letter that we were the only ones. I was so proud of that letter — that said we were different from all the other visitors.”
What makes them different, both agree, also reveals the Salvatorian mission: “From Day One,” Br. Regis said of his community, founded in 1881, “(the mission) was to reach all people, in all parts of the world. Wherever.”
In much the same way, the mission warehouse fell into place. Br. Regis joined the Salvatorian community after graduating from high school in his native Wausau 63 years ago. His sister, a nurse, joined the community after him, though she left 12 years later.
“My sister was at a hospital in Columbus,” Br. Regis said of the warehouse’s beginnings. “They had things they didn’t need. She told me to see if we had a use for them.”
His community leader agreed and that started everything. He began working with salesmen at St. Mary’s Hospital in Wausau (closed in 1980) and religious sisters staffing (Ministry) St. Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield.
“Their sisters were (also) in Brazil, so it just mushroomed,” Br. Regis said. “I was still working at the Salvatorian Center then – in the early 1960s – and that’s where the collection was. So it expanded from that.”
The center, now closed, was located in New Holstein.
Soon missionaries home on leave visited parishes in St. Anna and Neenah to speak about the warehouse and raise collections for it. Packing volunteers soon followed. Today, volunteers from St. Ann Parish and Sr. Margaret Mary Parish still help at the warehouse.
The first missionaries the warehouse served were, naturally, Salvatorians. But soon after came Benedictines, Sisters of Mercy, Medical Missionaries of Mary and even Anglican missionaries. And the list kept growing.
“It expanded to those we had contact with,” Br. Regis explained. “So we got much farther around the world … We always made sure that we were shipping to somebody who was capable of receiving the supplies.”
When he looks back over more than four decades of service, Br. Regis said that what he is most proud of accomplishing is “that we’ve been able to do so much for so many missionaries. When I would give the mission talk, I would say that the missionaries are sent over, that they bring the Word of God to people. But if the people have no food, no clothing, it’s hard to preach to them. By getting supplies there, the missionaries can show a Christ-like love and concern for the people and bring them closer to God.”
That work continues as Br. Regis leaves. Holton has many plans and he has already reorganized the warehouse and added three missions: two in Ghana and one in Tanzania. He said one of those missions is requesting bicycles. And there is always a need for money to ship containers and for supplies donated by both individuals and large companies like Land’s End, Hershey, Georgia Pacific, Fleet Farm, Figi’s and Sargento.
“The doors are open to the public,” said Holton, who stressed that his salary is not funded through the warehouse, located at 303 Milwaukee Drive, New Holstein in the Green Bay Diocese, or donations made to it.
“People can come and visit and see where the money is going,” he said. “It’s thriving and it’s a huge ministry and it’s continuing.”
Between them, Br. Regis and Sr. Dora have given 122 years to consecrated life, over 100 of them to the mission warehouse.
“It says in the Gospel, the Scriptures, if you are single, your means are more undivided toward God, whereas a married person is divided between work and your family. So there’s a big difference, right there. You can see it. There is a responsibility towards the family, whereas we don’t have that,” said Sr. Dora.
Consecrated life has given Br. Regis and Sr. Dora time and ability to do what lay volunteers cannot: give their lives to supporting the work of the missions, so that “they may know the Savior,” said Sr. Dora, quoting the first point in the Salvatorian charism.
What lies ahead for Br. Regis is up to his Salvatorian superiors and his own interests. Holton believes that Br. Regis is a valuable resource.
“Fr. Joe Rodrigues (the Salvatorian provincial) recognizes that Br. Regis has a lot of skills and abilities still,” Holton said. “I wonder if he won’t tap into Br. Regis’ ability to be connected to people and create awareness of the Salvatorian community itself. I don’t think they’ll let him idly retire down there.”
Sr. Dora agreed. After all, she said, “gardening is not his strong thing.”
(Maryangela Layman Román contributed to this story.)