Fr. Dennis Mullen smiles with riders and support crew during a presentation coordinated with the Knights of Columbus Council in Menomonie. (Submitted photo)
Catholic Herald Staff
Anyone who knows Fr. Dennis Mullen, Rice Lake area native and diocesan priest of the Diocese of Superior, knows he is not one to draw attention to himself. However, when it comes to something he believes in, he doesn’t let much get in the way of his momentum.
On Friday, Sept. 15, feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Fr. Mullen and about 75 others celebrated the completion of a 460-mile bike ride to increase awareness for the Father Dennis Mullen Adoption Initiative. The event, besides getting the word out to Knights of Columbus councils around central Wisconsin, made waves in the secular news from Rice Lake to Wausau, Eau Claire and La Crosse.
“He never wanted the initiative being named after him,” said Jeff Pierce, chief organizer of the bike ride and treasurer. The idea of an awareness event took some time to get started and gain momentum, but the seeds had been providentially planted many months beforehand.
In May 2022, Fr. Mullen spoke about adoption at the Wisconsin State Knights of Columbus dinner. He shared that the issue has been close to his heart for many years. The priest, retired from assigned ministry, recognized the work done by the Wisconsin councils and how it stands out among those active in pro-life causes in the nation.
During his presentation, Fr. Mullen said that adoption is a matter of social justice and encouraged, “Let’s make adoption a standard part of a regular family, even if there are biological children.”
He urged asking others, who are of young enough age with stable families and the means to care for children, to ask themselves when gathered for a family meal, “Is there room at this table for one more child?
“I am willing to say that with the size of families these days, for the most part, the answer is yes!” he answered.
He spoke about the need to change attitudes and outlooks – in particular just weeks before the overturning of the nation’s abortion law – and to put into action the belief that every child deserves a good family, whatever race, creed or color.
“Adoption should be the church’s response to the almost certain reversal of Roe v. Wade,” Fr. Mullen stated. “If we say we treasure the lives of these unborn children, then we darn well better be able to take care of them.”
Among the crowd who gave Fr. Mullen a standing ovation was Mark Scotch of Plover. The priest’s speech resonated with him as an organ donor and someone who has worked to raise awareness of the solvable need for donors for the 100,000 persons on average waiting for a kidney.
In 2020, at 64 years old, Scotch met a man in a bar while on vacation in Louisiana with his wife. When he heard the man mentioned he was on dialysis, Scotch offered one of his on the spot. Although they were only at 30-percent match, Scotch’s kidney went to someone else and his new friend in Louisiana received one as well.
To tell the story and raise awareness, fewer than three months after the transplant, Scotch rode his bike all the way from Wisconsin to Louisiana as an example that kidney donors can return to active lives and good health with only one kidney.
On his website, The Organ Trail at markscotch.com, the impact of Scotch’s efforts are apparent. He won a Best of Humankind Award in 2020 from USA Today and made an appearance on NBC’s Today Show in 2023.
In late December 2022, Scotch again encountered the Fr. Mullen Adoption Initiative during the Tuscobia Winter Ultra fat bike race while there with his son and daughter-in-law. The race ends at the Rice Lake Council 2137 Knights of Columbus hall. When Scotch mentioned to his daughter that he’d heard about the initiative at the state convention, she directed him to Pierce, who was helping to distribute food to racers. The two men talked and Scotch offered his business card.
After a lackluster response to the idea of an adoption awareness bike ride, Scotch came to Rice Lake and met with the local KCs. Pierce had known that the adoption initiative needed something more to get the word out, and a 460-mile, weeklong bike trip was settled on.
On Friday, Sept. 8, Scotch left St. Joseph Church in Rice Lake with a support van and rider arranged for by the Rice Lake KC Council and alongside friend and fellow biker, Dave Pramann of Minnesota, in their Adoption Initiative biking shirts.
Pramann and his wife have been foster parents for two decades and in their early 60s adopted twin boys and then their sister a few years later.
With stops for prayer and fellowship, coordinated by Pierce and the local councils in Ladysmith, Medford, Colby, Tomah, La Crosse, Durand and Menomonie, word spread and stories were shared.
There had already been some local buzz thanks to an article by Michelle Jensen in the Aug. 12 Rice Lake Chronotype.
Jensen reported, “The project started small, but has grown and is now taking the show on the road – so to speak.”
She interviewed Pierce, who shared that the organization had been founded in 2020 “on the belief that all children deserve good forever homes.” Funds raised by the program help with expenses related to adoption legal fees, transportation, safety improvements to the home of an adoptive family and personal or family support.
Speaking about the event with the Catholic Herald, Pierce shared that his son and daughter-in-law are now considering adoption. He said that a lot of people have asked if he feels funny talking about adoption.
“I say, why? Why would I? If you made me talk about abortion, that would make me feel funny,” he affirmed. He said just how important it is to talk about it, “We need to talk about it… there’s a stigma and we need to lose it.”
He continued, “People don’t realize that the real heroes are the parents” who place their kids in adoptive families.
Pierce shared the names of Adam and Jamie Schnabel, adoptive parents of four, from Medford. The couple are former recipients of the Governor’s Outstanding Adoptive Parent Award and spoke at the presentation in Medford. He has read and highly recommends their book, “Losing Hope and Finding Faith, an Adoption Memoir.”
For the Sept. 12 arrival of the riders to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a bus trip from Rice Lake had been organized to bring persons to participate for the day to attend Mass, and Fr. Mullen spoke briefly to everyone who came – a full bus and others who drove by car.
Pramann’s adopted sons joined the ride on the second day for 8 miles and again with their sister to cross the finish line on the last day, returning to Rice Lake. At the Knights of Columbus hall, the riders were greeted by 75 people. Fr. Mullen gave one last program and dinner was offered. Local and regional television stations covered the event.
Pierce acknowledged the work of the Holy Spirit through all the coordination with Knights of Columbus councils along the route as well as Scotch and his publicist Jennie Hinz. He shared his gratitude for the many volunteers, those who opened their homes and parishes for overnight stays and the support drivers.
For his part, Scotch shared posts daily via his personal Facebook page. He shared the impact Fr. Mullen’s speech had made at the 2022 State Knights Convention: “If we don’t want abortion, we need to help those that are considering adoption. It’s that simple.”
In his final post, he concluded, “The biggest thing I learned over this 8-day ride, after listening to so many people involved in the many angles of adoption, is that we need to remove the stigma of giving up a child for adoption.
“The mothers and fathers that give up their children for adoption are real heroes. We need to bring adoption out of the shadows and talk about adoption as a positive option to abortion with no guilt or shame associated with it.”
He added a “stay tuned!” in response to whether there will be another ride next year.
Fr. Mullen, speaking with the Catholic Herald, highlighted the need to bring adoption out of the shadows. “When you scratch the surface, you find out how many stories there are.”
Hi final comment was to express amazement at “how this thing has ignited the imaginations and attention of people.”
For more information or to donate, visit Adoptioninitiativefdm.org, or get connected to the Initiative’s updates at the Knights of Columbus 2137 – Rice Lake Facebook page.
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