In anticipation of the Nov. 2 Soles for Catholic Education walk to celebrate Catholic education, your Catholic Herald is running a series of articles on Catholic education in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

The only boy in his eighth-grade class at St. Anthony Parish School, Menomonee Falls, to sport long hair last year, Noah Nordness, 14, nonetheless had a fondness for his coiffure.

“It was kind of Justin Bieber-ish,” Noah said with a laugh. “It was actually important to me … my little trademark.”

But the hair became a topic of conversation among Noah’s friends. Someone offered him $50 if he cut it before starting high school. Then Noah’s mentor, Fr. Dennis Wieland, former pastor of St. Anthony Parish, recently assigned to St. Stephen Parish, Oak Creek, weighed in with a deal of his own.

“I told him I would give him $100 if he had it cut for graduation so that we would know as to whether or not he truly did have ears,” Fr. Wieland said.

Special relationship

Noah’s father, Mark Nordness, a pediatric allergist, said Fr. Wieland was the fundraiser’s true inspiration.

“Father has been a big influence to think of others, to be Christ-like. He’s had a great impact on Noah and all the kids,” he said.

St. Anthony School principal Anne Schramka agreed the seeds of the fundraiser began with Fr. Wieland, asserting the priest’s influence is best illustrated by his oft-repeated phrase, “You will never be outdone in generosity by God.”

The priest’s and the boy’s collaboration on such an event was not surprising to the Nordness family, due to the duo’s compatible personalities, and the special relationship they share, Mark explained.

For information on the Soles for Catholic Education walk on Saturday, Nov. 2 at Mount Mary University, Milwaukee, visit or call (414) 769-3507

Describing the boy as a “gentle, compassionate and giving person,” always taking his younger sister, Nicole, age 7, by the hand and walking with her to the school bus at day’s end, Fr. Wieland said Noah, now a freshman at Marquette University High School, Milwaukee, regularly volunteered to help him in the classroom or during school Mass homilies.

As a result of Noah’s “delightful sense of humor,” his hair eventually “became a joke between the two of us,” Fr. Wieland said.   

Appeal goes parish-wide

Noah and Fr. Wieland conferred with Schramka, and the ear-revealing plan soon blossomed into a fundraising mission with a goal of $3,000 to be divided among three Milwaukee-based charities: St. Ben’s Meal Program, the House of Peace, and the Milwaukee Rescue Mission.

“We don’t have the biggest school. So this was a big deal, raising $3,000,” Mark said.

Initially a school challenge, the appeal quickly went parish-wide. An announcement was placed in the bulletin, and Noah spoke at weekend Masses. After one Sunday Mass, he stood with a basket and collected nearly $1,000, he said.

Ultimately netting more than $4,600, the haircut took place on May 17 during a school Mass, where students, faculty and parishioners came to witness the event. Fr. Wieland and Schramka took turns with the razor, giving Noah a closely cropped “buzz” cut.

“The kids went crazy,” Mark said.

Though “really worried” about what he would look like after the cut, Noah was pleased with the result.

“It’s cooler temperature-wise, and makes me look older,” he said.

Nicole offered her own appraisal of her brother’s new do.

“It feels fuzzy,” she said.

After the shearing, Fr. Wieland handed Noah $100 as promised. Noah quickly told the priest he wanted to donate it to the charity pot.

“That is the type of person Noah is,” Fr. Wieland said.

Proud of his son, Mark noted, “When he had a chance to help others, to help make a difference,” he did not hesitate.

Remarkable family

Fr. Wieland credits Mark and Noah’s mother, Angie, high school sweethearts married nearly 25 years, with raising their children to be good stewards of their Catholic faith. Noah is the middle of seven children, ranging in age from 7 to 22.

“Mark and Angie are excellent parents and have done a tremendous job in being faithful to the promises they made … to raise them in the practice of the faith. It is evident that the faith is lived in the home,” Fr. Wieland said.

Angie, a homemaker, finds it difficult to accept such praise.

“It’s hard to take a compliment. I think, if you could have heard what was going on this morning (in her busy household), you wouldn’t be saying that,” she said with a laugh. Turning somber, she reflected on what she and Mark have done to encourage their children’s faith lives.

“When the kids are doing something good, we feel like they are getting the message,” she said. “But I always feel like it’s not enough. We could be doing more.”

The couple strives to teach their children “to make it second nature to do the right thing,” Mark said.

Noah is accustomed to thinking of and doing for others due to his family’s regular volunteer efforts since the children were young. They regularly host Christmas parties and assemble Easter baskets for a women’s shelter.

“We volunteer as a family,” he said.

The family’s example has resonated loudly and clearly with Noah, especially concerning his faith in God. With his parents’ influence, “you just get comfortable talking about God and your relationship with him,” Noah said. “And praying. It’s not difficult for me.”

The support Noah receives from his family has also been made clear to Schramka. “He’s quite a remarkable young man. But his family says it all,” she said.