Anyone who doubts the magic of Santa Claus might want to spend a few minutes with Ken and Patricia Tushaus, a St. Cloud couple who share the spirit of Christmas with children and others year round.
The Tushauses, St. Isidore, Mount Calvary parishioners, are long-time members of Catholic Financial Life Branch 318, and believe in giving back whenever possible. For the past seven years, they have spearheaded efforts to share an early Christmas in Milwaukee at St. Rose and St. Leo Catholic School and Messmer Preparatory Catholic School to worship and bring holiday joy to Messmer’s urban students. This year, 940 students, most who come from low-income homes, received gifts, cookies and milk.
“We became involved with Messmer because we have been so impressed with the way (Capuchin) Br. Bob Smith has led the schools,” said Pat. “He does such a great job with the kids. We kind of adopted Br. Bob when he attended St. Lawrence Seminary High School with our oldest son. He has really become part of our family.”
Married 55 years, Pat, 76, and Ken, 78, have four sons, all of whom attended St. Lawrence High School Seminary, and nine grandchildren. Pat began helping out on her own at Messmer when Br. Bob took over as principal and CEO because she wanted to help the children feel important and have a good start in life.
“I started reading to the children at both schools quite a while ago and really enjoy it,” Pat said. “Since we have moved near Fond du Lac, I am only able to come up about once or twice a month to help them learn to read, but it’s really neat because they all get so excited when they see me. I always get a hug, even from the big boys and girls!”
According to Jeffrey Robb, development director of Messmer Catholic Schools, Pat’s reading efforts have made a substantial difference in the lives of the students.
“She does so much for Messmer; in addition to the Christmas celebration, she volunteers. Every month, ‘Mrs. Pat,’ as the students call her, is right here reading, spending time with the kids, helping them to know and understand that God loves them and has a place for them.”
Bringing the backing of Catholic Financial Life to the school was another way the couple could reach out to ensure that students had a memorable Christmas.
“About eight years ago, the branch wanted to help out in other communities and not just where the branch was located,” said Ken. “Pat and I suggested Messmer because Br. Bob does so much for the community, and he gives the kids a fabulous opportunity by helping them with their schooling. Attendance is in the high 90s (percent) each day, and they get discipline and a lot of love and attention. He looks at the students as a whole person and not just the academics.”
Pat agreed, and added that the schools help students in all aspects of their life.
“They are growing spiritually, nutritionally and forming a great personality,” she said. “They also learn charity and to respect each other and themselves. It shows in the enrollment, too, as there is a waiting list to get in.”
Each year, in early December, the Tushauses and members of Catholic Financial Life Branch 318 visit the schools and offer a themed spiritual reflection. This year the reflection was on St. Benedict the Moor.
“We wanted to do St. Benedict the Moor because he was a black saint who was persecuted because he was black,” said Ken, adding they wanted the students, many of whom are black, to know they can make a difference like St. Benedict the Moor did.
Following the reflection, students received cookies in the cafeteria, as well as rosaries, ornaments and the opportunity to visit with Catholic Financial Life volunteers.
“Our volunteers really enjoyed talking to the kids, listening to them and finding out what they do in school,” said Ken. “We wanted them to feel that they are special and important, so we try to make sure we communicate with them and help them to have a really nice day.”
Their continued presence in the school has inspired and touched the heart of Br. Bob, who considers the Tushauses to be “parents” in many ways.
“For as long as I have known them, they have truly lived their faith and set a positive example as good parents do,” he said. “For eight years, both Pat and Ken have sacrificed, volunteered and taken it upon themselves to recruit, organize and staff the Catholic Financial Life Christmas event. Months ahead of time, students, staff and community members eagerly await the Christmas prayer service. Students experience first hand what it means to give, not only financially, but of one’s time, to serve and truly demonstrate commitment.”
Almost as much as the students do, Robb enjoys the annual Christmas event and the devotion of the entire day to celebrating the faith lived.
“In working with Pat and Ken, I can see that sharing our faith and helping students to understand what it means to be Catholic is a critical part of the celebration,” said Robb. “What I love is that sharing and understanding (doesn’t) stop with explaining theories or concepts to students. It continues and includes actually providing an example of serving, literally. Pat and Ken and the many volunteers from Catholic Financial Life literally serve every student at both elementary schools, stopping into individual class rooms to provide cookies, milk and good cheer.”
Irma Esparaza, director of administration, believes that Ken and Pat are setting an example to students on stewardship and living the Catholic faith.
“Everyone gets so excited as soon as December starts approaching; the students all know what they have to look forward to during the Catholic Financial Life prayer service,” she said. “The Tushaus family understands what it means to live your faith. Not only do Mrs. Pat and Ken volunteer, the next generation is also preparing to serve. Lauren, Pat and Ken’s granddaughter, joined in the celebration this year as a helper elf.”
Giving back to others is part of the life of Ken and Pat, and in addition to the Christmas program, both help with Messmer’s book fairs. Ken also volunteers at a Fond du Lac hospice program and Pat works with a historical site organization.
“We just enjoy helping out, especially with the children,” said Pat.
“We get a lot of satisfaction too,” added Ken. “And just seeing them have a good time and talking to them is very beneficial and makes us feel good on the inside.”