Catholic Herald Staff
Family healing, human trafficking and the wisdom of Pope Francis were key talking points at the 64th annual Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women convention.
More than 110 women, priests and religious met in Cumberland for the two-day event, which opened June 16 with a banquet with Bishop Peter Christensen at Das Lach Haus, Cumberland, and continued June 17 with the celebration of Mass at St. Anthony Abbot Catholic Church.
Servite Sr. Cecilia Fandel, keynote speaker, discussed human trafficking and the sex trade. Jean Kelly, director of the province of Milwaukee CCW, shared her journey to the organization and mission to revitalize the archdiocesan council. Another scheduled presenter, Janie Grunwald, was unable to attend.
Fr. Gerard Willger, spiritual advisor for the SDCCW and pastor of parishes in Medford and Whittlesey, concelebrated Mass with Fr. Thomas Thompson, Fr. Pat Hardy and Fr. Domenic Roscioli, with assistance from Deacon Steve Linton.
In the day’s reading from the First Book of Kings, God promised to bring disaster on Ahab’s family to punish him for his sins. A couple of weeks earlier, when Fr. Willger was preparing the liturgy for June 17, he was tempted to change the readings.
“In some ways, they’re kind of harsh,” he said.
Instead, the priest took the opportunity to talk about family healing. In the Bible, God promises to punish the third and fourth generations for a family member’s sin, he said, but mercy is also promised all the way to the thousandth generation.
“The reality is, none of us have perfect families,” he added.
God’s mercy “is good news,” Fr. Willger continued, “because the fact remains, whatever negative thing has happened in our families, it does not have to remain.”
He offered a prayer for healing the family tree. Reconciliation is a powerful sacrament of healing, and “Mass is also a time of great, great healing,” he said.
Following Mass, Fr. Willger installed new officers for the coming year. They are: Yvonne Glonchak, director at large; Gayle Johnson, president; Barbara Gagliardi, president-elect; Michelle Rochel, recording secretary; and Sharon Thomas, treasurer.
The winners of the $500 Mary Jane Morancyk Hennessy scholarships were also announced. They are Frances Biver, Rice Lake, a student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, and Sierra Solm, Rice Lake, a student at UW-River Falls.
Finalists for the Pax Christi award were Sara Schultz, Most Holy Rosary, Mellen; Mary Zappa, St. Anthony Abbot, Cumberland; winner Patricia Stine, St. Mary, Bruce; and Barbara Ailport, St. Joseph, Shell Lake. Each of the four will be featured in a future issue of the Catholic Herald.
Fr. Willger addressed the SDCCW one final time before the convention’s conclusion. He shared his admiration for Pope Francis and his vision for the evangelization of the church.
“Hasn’t it been something?” he said of Pope Francis’ first year and three months as pope. During the inauguration, his first words were, “‘Please pray for me, your brother, before I bless you.’”
“Wow. Wasn’t that absolutely incredible?” the priest added.
Fr. Willger admitted he gets nervous when the pope gives interviews off the cuff, because his words are sometimes twisted in the secular media. However, the priest is encouraged by the pontiff’s humility — his message to priests to get out of the sacristy and be “shepherds living with the odor of the sheep.”
Asked to describe himself, Pope Francis said, “‘I’m a sinner, and I need God’s mercy.’”
“If the pope’s a sinner, there’s hope for me,” Fr. Willger joked.
Fr. Willger also applied the pope’s messages to parish life — his advice to the ambitious to climb mountains rather than be social climbers; his entreating cardinals to avoid gossip and intrigue; his counseling religious to not be afraid of failure, or even of committing sins.
“He’s realizing we’re not perfect,” Fr. Willger said. “Life is complicated. Life is messy sometimes. That’s why you need the church.”
The priest commended the SDCCW for their parish work, their support of pro-life causes and their service to the poor.
“‘God will judge us on our love, on how we have loved our brethren, especially the weakest and the neediest,’” the pope said. “That’s what you do so beautifully,” Fr. Willger told SDCCW members.
He acknowledged that fewer people are going to church; he remembers when 400 or 500 women attended the annual convention. He spoke of evangelization as a calling for all Catholics.
“If we’re going to make religion — the Catholic faith — attractive, it’s got to be real,” he added. “Let’s get real.”