All we have is a gift

It may be more blessed to give than receive, but receiving is a heck of a lot harder.

We have been on the receiving end of so much goodness since my accident on Memorial Day. That’s when I tripped, shattering my right elbow, injuring nerves and rendering my hand fairly useless. I have been humbled by all who have been kind to me.

From the get-well cards that kept coming, many from people that I never would have expected to send one, to a fund-raiser from Johnny’s cousins — the gifts have been plentiful and appreciated. Bringing food to the house must be an inbred instinct. So many people fed us that I’ve lost count and am afraid I’ll never be able to say thank you properly. Friends got me out of the house for a break for me; family came so Johnny could leave for awhile, in those early days when I needed someone there. I have gotten to know my sisters in a deeper way through this. My physical therapist and the clinic staff have been gentle and kind far beyond what any insurance company requires. Our kids have been wonderful. Mary even cleaned out our refrigerator.

Needing someone is a human trait. Why has it been so hard to accept that? Our American culture prizes strength and independence so much, but our faith is all about community. We need to remember that community matters more than being a cultural success, but alone.

Our grandson Sam, visiting shortly after  I came home from the hospital, said, “Now in no way do I want you to think that I’m glad you got hurt, Grandma, but something good came out of this.” And what would that be, Sam? “You get to stay home!” Yes, and it’s a good thing that I love to be home. It would be hard for people who don’t like it so much. And Sam, modern on-the-go child, said, “Oh, Grandma, everybody wants to stay home.”

Not being on the run has been a true blessing. For the first couple months, as I sat with my arm elevated, I was able to settle into this unexpected time. The monastics have long said “go to your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” I had long considered my marriage and this house my cell. Now it was down to a chair. What a gift to have this time out of time when I really could pray and contemplate and not feel guilty for stopping to do so.

When I finally was able to venture out to attend the Eucharist, I discovered anew how much that means to me. There was a renewed sense of community as I watch those people go up to Communion. I am not alone in my cell, in my chair. In truth, God, above all, has been with me every faltering inch of the way, in the guise of the people in my life, as well as in the silence of prayer.

I was trying to wrap my head around allowing a fund-raiser to be held for me. After listening to me grumble over all this, a friend told me “Be gracious for once. Just say, ‘Thank you.’”

I try, but it is so hard to admit that I can’t do it all alone.

In an extraordinary turn of events, I was able to spend a few days at St. Mary’s, the Benedictine monastery in Rock Island, where I am an oblate, a lay associate. The word oblate comes from the word for gift.  I spoke to Sister Ruth about my confused feelings regarding the fundraiser. How do I let myself accept this gift from others?

She reminded me that it is all gift. Life itself is gift, as is all that is given to us.  Let others gift you, Martha, she said.  By doing that, they receive the gift of having given. We are all in community together.

Deo Gratis.

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Christmas card contest winners chosen

Artwork of the three wise men by Mitchell Paca, 11, a fifth-grader at Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School and member of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine.

On his 11th birthday Dec. 1, Mitchell Paca received a phone call that made his day especially memorable. He’d been selected winner of this year’s Catholic Messenger Christmas card contest.

“Really?! That’s awesome,” responded the fifth-grader at Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School in Muscatine.

His entry, done in colored pencil, features the three Magi carrying gifts for the baby Jesus. The artwork was one of 957 entries The Catholic Messenger received for this year’s contest. Besides being featured on the front page of the newspaper, Mitchell’s artwork appears on Christmas cards sent to priests and religious communities and others in the Davenport Diocese.

“I’ve never done the three kings. This is just a new experience for me,” explained Mitchell, who “wanted to do something no one else was doing.”

As he sketched and colored, Mitchell said he thought about the gifts the Magi were carrying — gold, frankincense and myrrh — and the clothes they would have been wearing, the “holy colors back then,” he said. “I wanted to draw each of them different because they weren’t from one place, they were from all over.”

 Mitchell loves to draw and completed his artwork during free time at school. When he grows up, he’d like to be an author or an illustrator. Last year, he placed third in another art contest at school.

Contests aside, his thoughts are focused on Christmas and what it means to believers like him. “I’ve never thought of anything else but Jesus being born,” said Mitchell, who also is an altar server.

“The thing about Mitchell is that he has an amazing sense of faith,” said his mom, Chris Paca, a third-grade teacher at Saints Mary and Mathias. “He is very faith-filled and talks about his religion and what he believes in. That makes a bigger impression on me than his art.”

She and her husband, Dan, and their other three children are thrilled that Mitchell won the Christmas card contest. His artwork, coupled with the Scripture passage printed inside the card (Isaiah 52:7) “put it together nicely,” Chris Paca said.

The family will celebrate the birth of Jesus with Mass on Christmas Day and with a tradition at home of placing a figure of baby Jesus in the manger and singing “Happy Birthday” to him.

Other winners in The Catholic Messenger Christmas card contest were:

Grades K-2

First place: Abigail White, 8, second grade, Central Ward Elementary School, St. Mary Parish, Centerville.

Runners up: Tony Schmitz, 7, second grade, Madison Elementary School, St. Mary Parish, Pella; Regan Lamb, 7, first grade, Regina Elementary School, St. Patrick Parish, Iowa City; Kate McAleer, 7, first grade, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School and parish, Davenport.

Grades 3-4

First place: Chace Steinbach, 10, fourth grade, Aurora Heights School, Sacred Heart Parish, Newton.

Runners up: Stephanie Nuno, 9, third grade, Seton Catholic School, St. Mary of the Visitation Parish, Ottumwa; Elizabeth Delaney, 8, third grade, Seton Catholic School, St. Patrick Parish, Ottumwa; Kassidy Rashid, 9, fourth grade, Notre Dame Elementary School, Ss. John & Paul Parish, Burlington.

Grades 5-6

First place: Aden Alfred, 10, fifth grade, Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary School, St. Mary Parish, West Point.

Runners up: Maggie Monroe, 12, sixth grade, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School and parish, Davenport; Leo Galoso, 10, fifth grade, Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School and Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish, Muscatine; Julia Lee, 12, fifth grade, Regina Elementary School, Iowa City.

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Christmas fills hearts

Sr. Loebig

By Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.

Christmas!  That very word moves our hearts, and our memories.  It gives us that special feeling within, telling us that all will be well.  For a brief time, we forget about the bumps in the road, secretly believing that they, too, may be blessings in disguise.

We are reminded that each new Christmas brings to light again what once was given to us as a particular gift before. This means that every joy from the past is able to touch us again, no matter how forgotten it may seem. Indeed, joys get better with age.

Several times a day, when we light candles preparing for prayer in our chapel, we find ourselves praying for our friends, asking God to visit them with love and tenderness. This is something that one can do at home preparing for Christmas. Helen Keller reminds us that some of the most beautiful things in life cannot be seen or even touched.  They must be felt with the heart.

We may ask ourselves, “What gift do I really want from God this Christmas? Furthermore, what gift does God want from me?” Perhaps, the gift God most wants from each of us is simply to accept in full the deep love God is holding out to each one of us. This may be the best Christmas ever!

(Sr. Loebig resides at the Carmelite Monastery in Eldridge.)

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With book, parishes hope to help Catholics rediscover religion


By Celine Klosterman

This Christmas season, more than a dozen parishes in the Davenport Diocese aim to give Catholics the gift of renewed faith. 

Parishes in the Iowa City area, Muscatine, Davenport, Fort Madison, Sigourney and Keota are working to give every family in their parish a free copy of the book “Rediscovering Catholicism,” by internationally known speaker and author Matthew Kelly. Parish leaders hope the book, which they describe as an easy-to-read, inspirational overview of Catholicism, will touch everyone from Catholics who attend Mass only on holidays to daily churchgoers.

Many people who participate in Christmas Mass won’t visit a Catholic church again until the following Christmas, observed Joe Flanders. “This is a good time to reach out to them.”

A member of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, Flanders led the movement to distribute Kelly’s 313-page paperback. Flanders’ effort is a project of New Evangelization Ministries, an organization he founded to promote engaging, faithfully Catholic programs throughout the diocese.

He first worked on the “Rediscovering Catholicism” effort with Julie Agne, director of religious education at St. Mary Parish in Solon, which distributed the book to parish families about a year ago. Now, he said, parishes have ordered a total of 10,500 books — enough for about 10 percent of the diocese’s Catholics.

“I hope this helps people realize what it means to be Catholic,” said Father Rich Adam, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. “I think there’s a lack of knowledge of our faith, but when people understand what our Church has done for the world, they’ll better appreciate our religion.”

He anticipates that distributing “Rediscovering Catholicism” to more than 600 families in his three parishes also may encourage the parishioners to evangelize to non-Catholics. “Hopefully, this will be a discussion starter.”

Most parishes are paying for the volumes thanks to donations, parish funds, parish organization funds or a combination of the three.

Bob Squires, director of the office of Evangelization and Stewardship for the Iowa City Catholic Community, said the ministry is paying for 2,600 copies to distribute at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City and St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City.  For St. Mary’s in Iowa City and several other parishes, anonymous donors offered to cover the $2 cost per book — a discounted price available for groups buying more than 250 copies.

The expense is a good investment, said Father Bill Kneemiller, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Hills and St. Mary parishes in Nichols and Lone Tree. He said Kelly’s engaging style can offer the 225 families in the three parishes a little “back door catechesis.”

Some parishes plan to continue that catechesis after the Christmas season. St. James Parish in Washington is among those that will offer a small-group study based on Kelly’s book. “We hope these groups will remain together after the study is over and nourish each other’s faith,” said Father Troy Richmond, pastor. “Something we Catholics have not always been good at is forming relationships among parishioners. At Mass, we might sit in the pews next to people we don’t really know.” The study will be an opportunity for the parish of 800 families to capture the sense of a smaller faith community, Fr. Richmond said. “It has the potential to re-energize the parish.”

St. James will distribute “Rediscovering Catholicism” during Masses the upcoming three weekends. Copies will be taken to the homes of registered parishioners who didn’t receive one during a Saturday or Sunday Mass. The parish’s efforts ideally will serve as community building and evangelization tools, said Janis Vittetoe, director of religious education.

Flanders hopes distributing Kelly’s book also will promote the speaker’s upcoming “Passion and Purpose” retreat Feb. 19 at St. Patrick Church in Iowa City. St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport is among parishes that are publicizing and will be selling tickets to the daylong event.

The 1,100-family Davenport parish already has given out copies of “Rediscovering Catholicism” at Masses and plans to visit families who didn’t receive a book, said John Muenster. He’s among Catholics coordinating St. Paul the Apostle’s effort.

People he gave the book to in the past six months have told him it impacted their lives, he said. “That’s so refreshing to hear.”

Matthew Kelly to speak in Iowa City

Matthew Kelly’s “Passion and Purpose” event will take place Saturday, Feb. 19, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Patrick Church in Iowa City. The event aims to inspire Catholics and explore Catholicism’s application in various aspects of life, including prayer and spirituality, work, dating and marriage, personal finances, health and well-being, and parenting. For a registration form and details about the day, visit Tickets are $50 and also can be purchased in the Iowa City area from Cheryl Schropp at (319) 337-2856 or Dan Teets at (319) 337-4314, in the Quad-Cities area from John Muenster at (563) 343-1355 or Rosie Megraw at (563) 322-3768, or in Muscatine from Kay Flanders at (563) 299-9526.

Spanish-speaking parishioners to get CD

Matthew Kelly’s book “Rediscovering Catholicism” isn’t yet available in Spanish, so parishes with Hispanic populations also are distributing the Lighthouse Catholic Media CD “Por Qué Soy Católico?” or “Why Am I Catholic?” The CD contrasts Catholicism with Protestant denominations and aims to motivate Catholics to practice their faith. Giving out copies of the CD are St. James Parish in Washington, St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction and Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine.

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Upcoming events


Clinton — Christian Experience Weekends (CEWs) will take place at Prince of Peace School in February and March. The women’s weekend is Feb. 18-20, and the men’s weekend is March 4-6. The retreat begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday and ends at 5 p.m. Sunday. The weekend includes talks, discussion, special services and Masses, and time for reflection, food and fun. Religious and lay people conduct the weekend. Fee is $35, which includes meals. People unable to pay are not turned away. For more information, call Madonna Berry at (563) 249-4281 or (563) 242-2414 or Danny McGrath at (563) 242-0593.

DeWitt — Christian Experience Weekends (CEWs) will take place at St. Joseph School this winter. The women’s weekend is slated for Jan. 28-30, and the men’s weekend is Feb. 11-13. The CEW begins on Friday night at 8 p.m. and ends at about 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. It includes talks, discussions and activities conducted by religious and lay people. Cost is $35. No one is turned away for financial reasons. To register for the women’s weekend, contact Sue Thole at (563) 659-8686 or To sign up for the men’s weekend, contact Jason Fuglsang at (563) 659-2444 or


Davenport — Christmas decorations, holiday gift items and holiday clothing for the family are available at Cinderella Cellar, 230 W. 35th St. The store is open Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Proceeds benefit the Kahl Home for the Aged and Infirm. Cinderella Cellar is operated by volunteers from the Catholic Service Board.

Muscatine — Theology on Tap events for young adults will take place at Wine Nutz, upstairs in the Pearl Plaza, from 7-8:30 p.m. on Jan. 13, 18 and 27 and Feb 1. Topics include “Bible: Fact or Fiction?,” “Scripture AND Tradition,” “Where’s the Bible: Liturgy and the Lectionary,” and “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: Do they All Agree?”

Newton – An intergenerational faith festival, “Becoming a Disciple,” will take place at Sacred Heart Parish. Parishioners may attend Jan. 9 from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. or Jan. 12 from 6-8:30 p.m. Both dates include a meal. No pre-registration is needed. Households will receive a take-home kit with ideas and suggestions for living out discipleship. Participants will explore the dynamics of discipleship through study of Jesus and the New Testament disciples. People of all ages are welcome.

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Notre Dame chapel provides place for prayer, peace

Seniors Kaitlyn Dirth and Avalon Sorensen lead a prayer service in the Notre Dame chapel.

“Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married…” The song by the Dixie Cups echoed in the hallway outside the chapel at Notre Dame High School on May 28, 2005. Inside Mary Jo Deuscher (class of ‘69) was being united in marriage to Mike Miller.

“Notre Dame had been a big part of my life, so it seemed only appropriate that I move on to this new chapter by celebrating this sacrament there,” Mary Jo recalls. She had been teaching there since 1974.

The beautiful chapel was built in 1956. Students have gathered there for silent reflection. Sports teams have gathered there for team Masses and send-offs. Faculty members have experienced solace and peace in its pews. It proved to be a vital part of the religion program at the high school for many years.

However, the use took its toll, and the chapel got a little run-down as the years passed. In 2002, friends and families of Notre Dame came through with a “chapel campaign.”

With Judy Schroeder at the helm, renovation began. The ceiling was changed to a vaulted ceiling, and the gray cinder-block walls were painted. New lights were installed. The altar and the pews were refurbished as well. Cushions were even made for the wooden pews. The chapel was beautiful once again.

Today students still use the chapel often. Classes gather to pray the rosary, reflect on the Stations of the Cross or have prayer services. Seniors in Nita Carlson’s religion class are responsible for their own prayer service once a month. With a partner, students decide on a theme, choose songs, select readings and write prayers. Tyler Waggener says, “It’s a reverent place where we show respect for God and pray.”

Rachel Hackenmiller agrees. “It’s a nice change of environment where our prayers seem more valuable.”

The chapel will continue to play an important role in Catholic education at Notre Dame. Paulina Coursey sums it up by saying, “The chapel completes the religious atmosphere at school!”

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With N.Y. trip, students take learning on the road

Once again this fall, Notre Dame students experienced education beyond the classroom. For a third year in a row, a group journeyed to New York during the first week in November to see the sights and sounds of the big city — and learn something about history and culture while doing so.

Thanks to the organizational efforts of “tour guide” Mark Mayfield, the 28 young people were able to see almost everything there is to see in “The Big Apple” in just three days. The experience was intense, inspirational, invigorating and definitely “a wonderful opportunity for our Notre Dame students,” according to Principal Ron Glasgow.    

The tradition began in fall 2008, when Mayfield offered to organize and chaperone an educational trip for the seniors. At the time, Mayfield’s son Craig was a senior at Notre Dame. A world traveler himself, Mayfield created an itinerary that provided a view of the major points of interest in the New York area in a short amount of time.      

However, since the trip meant that the students would miss three days of school, Mayfield decided to hold them accountable for the educational part of the tour. He assigned various landmarks and locations about which students had to give a speech, and he recorded the presentations on-site. 

Part of the tour was focused on immigration. “We all have ancestors of foreign descent, mostly European,” Mayfield said. The story of their coming to America was enhanced with a visit to Ellis Island as well as a tour of the Statue of Liberty. 

Other highlights included the visits to the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, the United Nations headquarters, Times Square, The New York Stock Exchange, Columbia University, Central Park, Grand Central Terminal, Chinatown, Ground Zero, and much more. Students also saw two Broadway musicals and visited with 2002 Notre Dame graduate Sajni Patel, who lives and works in the city.

The students returned from the journey with understanding of their heritage and an appreciation of our nation’s history.  Mayfield stated, “They saw a broader spectrum of society than would be possible in Burlington, from the homeless to foreign-language-speaking immigrants to a place where people are gone but not forgotten —the World Trade Center site.”

Along with Mayfield, Notre Dame teachers Nita Carlson, Mary Jo Miller and Ryan Rump served as chaperones.

Next year there will be a break in the trip tradition. That’s because the Notre Dame choir is planning to go to Rome, just as the singers did in spring 2007. So that the juniors could still take part in the New York experience, they joined the seniors on the journey east this year.

No doubt Mayfield will continue to plan future trips for Notre Dame classes. “Mark Mayfield is a master at providing an educational experience at a very reasonable price,” Glasgow said. “We are very grateful to him for doing so.”

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