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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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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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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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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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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Bishop Martin Amos’ schedule for January 2011

4-11 OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Region IX Bishop’s Retreat, Prince of Peace Abbey

19 BETTENDORF — All-school Mass, Our Lady of Lourdes, 8:30 a.m.

19 DAVENPORT — Priests’ Personnel Board, St. Vincent Center

20 DAVENPORT — Humility of Mary Convent, Mass

20 DAVENPORT — St. Ambrose University Board of Directors reception

21 DAVENPORT — St. Ambrose University, Board of Directors

25 DAVENPORT — Humility of Mary Convent, Mass

25 DAVENPORT — Presbyteral Council, St. Vincent Center

26 DAVENPORT — All-school Mass, All Saints, Holy Family, 8:15 a.m.

26 DAVENPORT — Propagation of Faith, St. Vincent Center

26 DAVENPORT — Legatus

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Muscatine school promotes leadership skills

Kindergarten students at Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School in Muscatine color an image of a character from the storybook “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids” by Sean Covey.

By Celine Klosterman

MUSCATINE – Beginning this year, Saints Mary & Mathias Catholic School is trying to get students to “think win-win,” “be proactive” and “synergize.” 

Those suggestions, along with others listed in Stephen R. Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” are working their way into child-friendly lessons for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The effort is part of “The Leader in Me” program offered through Muscatine Connected, an organization that works to improve the community through education and information.

Principal Ann Gomez and Jessica Ingstad, enrichment and resources teacher, hope the program will help students develop leadership skills and unite students in different grades through a common curriculum.

Ingstad is introducing one of the seven habits each month by using the storybook “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids” by Sean Covey.  In the book’s seven stories, characters learn lessons illustrating each of the seven habits: be proactive; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; and sharpen the saw. The first tale follows a bored squirrel who initially looks to his friends to entertain him, but eventually realizes he must be proactive and create his own fun. Other characters show how people must work together — “synergize” —  or keep themselves healthy and their lives in balance —“sharpen the saw.”

After introducing the program throughout this school year, Ingstad and Gomez hope teachers will work the seven concepts into lesson plans. For example, teachers overseeing group projects could stress the idea of “synergy” and the need for all students’ creativity and talents. Or, “if two students are having an issue, I could ask, ‘What can you do to be proactive?’” Ingstad said. “They’d know what that means.”

Gomez also envisions holding weekly assemblies focusing on one of the seven habits and promoting the habits through posters.

Gomez heard about “The Leader in Me” last year from a parent. “We thought this would go really well with our curriculum and enrichment program,” the principal said.  Saints Mary and Mathias teachers already have promoted qualities such as responsibility, planning, teamwork and respect. But the new program takes the efforts of faculty and administrators school-wide and offers all grades a common vocabulary, she added.

Around the same time Gomez received the parent’s suggestion, Muscatine Connected happened to be applying for a grant to implement the program in local schools. So this summer, she and Ingstad attended training workshops on the program.

“The Leader in Me” originated in Raleigh, N.C., at A.B. Combs Elementary, a magnet school that in 1999 was suffering from low student performance and enrollment. So Principal Muriel Summers suggested using the seven habits to create a leadership development model that would increase individual students’ accountability. With help from FranklinCovey, which offers management training, the school began providing annual leadership training for faculty.

Because of the program, the percentage of students at A.B. Combs who perform at or above grade level went from 67 percent to 97 percent in six years, according to Summers. Children also have more stake in the school’s operation; they’ve taken on duties such as giving visitors tours and notifying a staffer of maintenance needs.

Ingstad hopes the program inspires a similar sense of responsibility among children at Saints Mary and Mathias. “Students will know they can change things for the betterment of their whole school.”

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