Author Archives: Danelle Bjornson

Experience Lent like Father Walijewski

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As Lent quickly approaches, many of us find ourselves weighing the options of what we will give up during Lent, a season to fast and sacrifice.  Will it be chocolate, Starbucks or screen time?  With those choices, one might wonder if that is really what Lent is all about.  Are we really sacrificing anything if we are fortunate enough to be able to decide between three, or ten, indulgences?  Perhaps the first thing we should do is go to prayer and ask God what He wants of us during this Lenten season.

Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebration of Easter.  And while it certainly points you in the right direction when you remove something that you enjoy from your life; it is more important to take the 40 days of Lent to replicate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in your life.

Father Joe Walijewski was an example of a man who worked to replicate Jesus’ sacrifice not only during Lent, but every day.  His selfless sacrifice was evident in Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Villa el Salvador (Peru) and at Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II orphanage.  For Father Joe, it was not enough to give up something he fancied, he gave up his personal needs for the sake of a brother, a sister, or a child.  For Father Joe there wasn’t a cost he calculated or measured to see when he had done enough, he just kept doing, and doing, and doing.  Father Joe saw Christ crucified in the poor, in the men and women, and most desperately, in the children.  He recognized Him, do you?  Are you willing to do, and do, and do, just as he did?

During this Lent, let’s all challenge ourselves to go further into the fasting of Lent.  Prayerfully walk with Christ on the road to Calvary, grow in your relationship with Him, see Him in others and consider what you can do to replicate Jesus Christ.  How can you fast? In what way can you withdraw into the desert for 40 days?

 “Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” -Matthew 25:37-40

Father  Joseph Walijewski founded Casa Hogar 35 years ago.

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His legacy, impact and mission spirit live on today. His Cause for Canonization is open in Rome and The Father Joseph Walijewski Legacy Guild works to continue to build missionary works around the world in his honor,  increase awareness, prayer and work in parish life, evangelization and catholic education. Learn about Padre Jose and how he lives among us today!

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Father Joe’s Call to Serve amidst a Global Pandemic

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Tahira Cummings

My first introduction to Father Joseph Walijewski came in middle school religion class at Sacred Heart School in Cashton, WI. We watched the inaugural Mass for the opening of his Cause for Beatification and Canonization. Little did I know that at that time, the more I learned about Father Joe, the more I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

I shared his fascination for new cultures and the desire to serve from a young age. Along with many other dreams of missionary service, I dreamed that one day, I too could serve at Father Joe’s Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II.  I began learning the Spanish language in elementary school and enjoyed my studies throughout the years solely as an academic endeavor. However, after learning of Father Joe’s legacy, the possibility of using my abilities to serve others fueled my desire to learn. There was a tangible shift in my mindset after one of my high school Spanish teachers recommended that I research Casa Hogar for a writing assignment. I scoured the Guild and Casa Hogar websites with a longing anticipation. The prospect of serving at Casa Hogar no longer seemed like a dream, but it became a goal.

I was inspired that, if Father Joe, who had more humble beginnings than I, could make a difference in the world, then I could too. I kept an eye out for Diocesan trips to Peru – even having reserved a spot for one trip – but the timing was never right. Being diagnosed with chronic illness my freshman year of high school complicated matters. My symptoms worsened over the years so that my senior year was filled with frequent medical appointments amidst preparing for college.


At that time, I began asking for Fr. Joe’s intercession in my life. One night when faced with unmanageable symptoms and a college application due the next day, I remembered his wager with God that if he could finish his priestly education, he would serve in South America. I made that similar wager, invoking the intercession of Fr. Joe Walijewski to serve at Casa Hogar for at least six months. Realizing the boldness of my statement, I retracted my prayer to at least two months.

As a Spanish Major at Benedictine College, I have an academic requirement for a study abroad immersion experience. Rather than the traditional study abroad program, I arranged to spend the Spring 2020 semester at Casa for three months and travel in Peru. However, as much of our world today has changed due to the global pandemic, my journey would change once again.

As I reflected in a personal blog post in May:

Quarantine wasn’t in my job description. A national state of emergency, including travel bans and quarantine, took effect in Peru on March 15. Last weekend the government announced an extension of its restrictions until June 30th. I never could have anticipated that I would live through a global pandemic during my service-learning semester as a volunteer at Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II. When the state of emergency was announced in March, many American citizens sought out the US embassy for assistance with their return home. I chose to stay. I felt that there was still more that God was calling me to at Casa Hogar: giving more comforting hugs, more afternoons playing on the playground, more laughs, more smiles, and more prayers. I knew that I was right where God wanted me to be.

Now my nerves are starting to set in. I don’t know exactly when I’ll be able to fly home. I’m registered to return to school at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS this August. I have housing plans and academic goals. I miss my community, my friends, and my family. I miss various comforts of living in the US as well, though they now seem like luxuries. I’m nervous that I won’t find a flight and meet my scheduled plans.

Despite this, I feel the gentle tug of Jesus calling me to surrender my schedule, my plans, my goals, and my desires to his love. I can only describe it as grace — that which transforms burnout into a growing heart and anxiety to peace, that which elevates each act of service into an act of love.  I’m surrendering all to God who is Love, for love of his children. I’m still right where God wants me to be.

Casa Hogar founder Fr. Joseph Walijewski’s prayer had become my own:

“I do not know how long I will live [in Peru], but while I live [here], Lord, let me give some comfort to someone in need by smile or nod, kind word or deed.”

Thankfully, I was able to fly home in July and begin school for the semester. I’ve realized now that I completed the original 6 months at Casa that I initially prayed for. Pandemic or not, I wouldn’t trade that time for anything, knowing that Fr. Joe was praying with me through it all.

Bienvenida Familia San Pablo

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It is February 20th and the days of summer are winding down at Casa Hogar. Uniform sizes and school shoes are being measured, the almacen warehouse is stocking up with backpacks, pencils, notebooks and colored paper for the school year and the last summer field trip to the local pool is coming up. Things are hustling and bustling per usual with our 8 families.

But today, as morning Mass begins, there are some new faces filing in. 18 new faces to be exact. Some are nervous and look timid while others are beaming with missing tooth smiles. It is their first day at Casa Hogar, their new home.

Casa Hogar serves as the lead organization in an association of 19 other children’s homes or service organizations. The Association meets regularly to discuss shared resources, ideas, needs and government relations. This past winter, when one of the homes was forced to shut their doors, the Association jumped into action to ensure the children had a safe and secure place to go. With limited remaining resources and the places of the outgoing graduates already filled, Casa Hogar decided to create a ninth family—knowing that it would bring a great deal of “joyful challenges” and a strain on resources but it was what Fr. Joe Walijewski would have done. We welcomed the San Pablo Family and placed 8 new children together with two rotating family teachers and one volunteer assistant.

Fast forward to the covid-19 restrictions and those family teachers were quarantined in their homes, not permitted to work. The 21-year-old volunteer assistant Pedro, stepped right up. What is even more special about Pedro is he was raised at Casa Hogar himself. He graduated in 2014 and had been working while studying business administration and languages. Pedro had experienced some personal challenges and returned home to Casa to volunteer and spend some time with our community. The timing could not have been better.

“Now I am here at Casa as a family teacher instead of a kid. They gave me the opportunity to work as a family teacher in the new family San Pablo. I am in charge of monitoring the boys and keeping them responsible for their chores and schoolwork. They are really good boys and I enjoy being with them.”

Pedro has been an incredible role model for these new children, helping them adjust to life at Casa Hogar and feel comfortable, safe and secure in their new home. “They are learning to pray and are doing well. They have to learn that with God, all things are possible, and without him, nothing is possible.”

We are not sure what the future holds or how long these changes will continue, but what we do know is each of the little joyful challenges and Pedro are a Blessing to our Casa Hogar Community. “Lastly, I would like to say goodbye with a big hug and thank you for your support.”- Pedro Salcedo

Student By Day, Baker By Night – All In A Days Work

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It’s 6:15am and the smell of freshly baked bread wafts outside the kitchen and floats into the chapel. The morning is beginning at Casa Hogar, the 72 children waking up to their daily routines and everyone preparing for Mass, breakfast, and then off to school. Though these days, school uniforms are tucked away in storage and there are some changes around the house with everyone working to stay healthy and safe during Covid-19 quarantine.

A peak inside the panaderia, Casa Hogar’s very own baking workshop funded by generous donors in 2017, reveals some younger familiar faces and a few chuckles. It is the children of Casa Hoga, led by one of their own rather than the baker.

Abraham came to live at Casa Hogar over 9 years ago. He turned 17 in July and is in his last year at Casa. A well-known staple in the Casa Choir and “music scene” he is often seen playing guitar in our videos or can be found practicing when groups come to visit. But what many do not know, is he is also a master baker and these days, it has become essential at Casa.

Several years ago, Abraham started learning how to bake bread with one of our staff members. He along with about 10 other children would work on a rotating schedule to help prepare the dough at night, bake in the morning and deliver over 250 pieces of bread to the families to eat with their milk from Project Milk and the Rural Life Committee of Wisconsin.

Today, with the country on complete lockdown and a more limited access to outside food, Abraham and the children have stepped in to help ensure everyone is well fed in the morning. With the baker absent, Abraham sets the weekly schedule, oversees the production process, tracks inventory and manages distribution to confirm each family receives an accurate count. At the end of each shift, he heads off to his virtual classes and schoolwork. As he prepares to graduate from Casa in December, he certainly did not anticipate his last few months would look like this: “I like being able to demonstrate things that I’ve learned here at Casa Hogar. It makes me happy to be able to use these skills to give back during this time of emergency.”

While we all continue to take precautions during this time of unknown, we are certainly grateful for Abraham’s leadership and proud of our kids who are giving back, growing and developing skills in more ways than one for their future!

Because of Padre Jose

Category : News

Father Joseph Walijewski’s heroic and priestly zeal impacted all he encountered. As a missionary within the Diocese of La Crosse, Bolivia and Peru, he established parish churches, soup kitchens and the Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II Orphanage. Today, his spirit lives on in the children who call Casa Hogar home, inspires missionary acts near and far and calls us all into action as lay faithful mission trip volunteers, benefactors, and prayerful warriors. As Padre Jose’s cause continues to be investigated by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, members of the Church find inspiration in his work and prayer. Here, in our own diocese, 12 priests are enrolled in the inaugural Pastoral Leadership Development Program. This program, a partnership with Viterbo University, aims to prepare our priests to become more effective leaders and administrators, calling on Father Joe’s entrepreneurial spirit to better serve the people of God. Across the diocese and around the world, we are called to be missionaries of Father Joseph Walijewski:

Theresa – Family Teacher Assistant at Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II

Theresa has worked at Casa Hogar for almost 30 years as a family teacher assistant, serving the children and families in Peru. She counts each day and person she meets as a blessing and loves to share her history of Father Joe with all visitors to Casa Hogar. “Father Joe had so much energy, life and passion for his work that it was hard to not be inspired by him. Even on my hardest days, he was there to uplift and remind me that we are all in the presence of God. Just look at what he did here at Casa!”

Consuela – Manager of a soup kitchen at Iglesia San Jose, opened by Padre Jose in Villa El Salvador

Consuela first met Padre Jose in the early 1980s when he was serving the Villa El Salvador community. Many years later, Consuela became ill and her future looked to be bedridden for the remainder of her life. She prayed to Father Joe and his Intercession, which led to her ability to overcome and pursue. She now runs and manages a soup kitchen at Iglesia San Jose, opened by Padre Jose—purchasing, preparing and serving food to more than 50 people each day as a volunteer. “I feel so blessed each and every day to work. It is this mission that keeps me moving and alive. If I was not serving others, I would be wasting away in my bed. Instead, because I believe in Padre Jose’s strength, my family and the family of God has become so much larger with those who we provide meals every day.”

Hannah – Volunteer from Casa Hogar and now a teacher at Hosea’s Heart in Swaziland

A student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Hannah had always felt a calling to serve. She took a leap of faith on her first flight, traveling to Casa Hogar as a long-term volunteer in the summer of 2018. Learning more about Father Joe changed her life. After teaching math in the United States for one school year, it brought her back to Casa again in 2019 and now has her placed for two years at Hosea’s Heart in Eswatini, Africa. Hosea’s Heart is a home for young women founded by Mary-Kate Martin, a UW-La Crosse graduate and Wisconsin native. “God is working in our lives and guiding us even when we don’t see it. We all have a calling to serve as missionaries in one way or another. I never imagined that my mission journey would lead me down the path it has.” Story by Sarah Sceery – Published in the April issue of Catholic Life

Touched to the Tomb Prayer Cards and info

For more information on The Father Joseph Walijewski Legacy Guild, upcoming events and supporting our efforts, please visit

Casa Hogar Graduates—What’s Next?

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Since she was just 6 years old, Ena has called Casa Hogar home. Born in the jungle and moved to the Villa El Salvador Slum at 2 ½ to live with her Grandma, she came to live in a place where she could walk to school every day, a home with a playground outside, a safe and clean space to sleep at night and most importantly a house her older brother and sister also called home. Fast forward 11 years and Ena is preparing to Graduate from Casa Hogar in December as a leader of our house. She will finish her last year of high school at the top of her class, with a strong proficiency in English and 75% of a cosmetology certificate completed.

Ena’s story is not unlike her fellow Egresadas and hermanas, Flor and Marilyn. Each of the girls come from families of extreme poverty and lived in situations of high risk before coming to Casa Hogar.  For Marilyn who witnessed domestic abuse and alcoholism growing up, Casa Hogar has become her second Family, “I am thankful to all the benefactors for the help they’ve given me. To allow me to study and finish high school. My Casa Hogar Family has changed my life completely…” She and her younger sister Ely visit their mom whenever Msgr. Hirsch says Mass in her community. Their mom runs a stand in a local market making the equivalent of $3.00 per day.

Flor has big dreams for her future and hopes to one day become a lawyer. “For me, Casa Hogar has meant everything in my life. At first when my Grandma told me I had to come live here because we had no money and I could not go to school, I cried every night. I did not want to leave and begged not to go. But now, after the years of being at Casa Hogar I have finished school, have a chance at completing a professional degree and can do things in my future…I know I am going to cry when I have to leave the Casa Hogar Family…”

Each of the young women have matured, developed and overcome their own challenges during their adolescent years with the love, strength and support of the Family Model at Casa Hogar. The little girls in the house look up to Ena, Flor and Marilyn and the staff depend on upon them. When they take they fly the nest, they will truly be missed by our community.

Although sad to see them go, we are excited about what their futures will hold. All three girls have been accepted into a program through Buckner Peru, a home for young women enrolled in academic or vocational programs to transition to independent living. Facilities will include room and board, job training, tutoring and mentoring. This year will the first for our partnership with Buckner and we are excited for the girls to pave the way for their future!

Going The Distance for Casa Hogar

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For Laura Pavela Castillo, Casa Hogar has held a special place in her heart since 1996. The third of six girls, Laura and four of her sisters have all taken impactful trips to Lurin, Peru. Her older sisters, Sarah and Jennifer were on the first Mission Trip led by Msgr. Hirsch followed by Laura and Amy in 1998 and Mary Beth in 2001. Growing up the Pavela girls have fond memories of Father Joe Walijewski at the orphanage and returning to La Crosse, exemplifying the simplicity, cheerfulness, and selflessness.

Now a mother of 7, Laura and her husband Sam live in greater Chicago and recounts her trip to Casa daily. “I am very thankful to my parents who gave me the opportunity to go on a Mission Trip, the impression the orphanage left on my heart has helped me in life as I am now a mother of many children of my own.  Raising a young Catholic family in the U.S. is not easy with the pressures of society.  I look back on my lessons learned from my Mission trip to Casa in 1998 to help me redirect what my focus is in raising my children now, teaching them to give their time in helping others brings true happiness.”

For the last 8 years the Castillo’s have sponsored Sara, a 13-year-old girl who lives at Casa Hogar. The children have written countless letters, exchanged holiday and birthday greetings and hold Sara in their evening prayers every night. This summer, Laura will travel back to Peru for the first time in over 20 years. This time bringing her husband and their three oldest children to meet Sara in person and experience what it means to serve at Casa Hogar, especially for her oldest daughter Lucia who shares some of the same family responsibilities as Sara.

This past October, Laura and her children experienced a piece of Casa Hogar in their hometown while providing support of a different kind. Director of Development, Sarah Sceery was running Chicago Marathon and it was the Casa Hogar Community that brought her to the finish line.

Up for the challenge but not ready to do it alone, during the five-month international training plan Sarah recruited children and Maestros at Casa as training partners. Instilling healthy habits of exercise and wellness, Sarah has taken the athletic abilities to new lengths at Casa. She has brought out the confidence of physical ability (and healthy stress reprieve!) in her running buddies.

On Race day, with 18 miles down and still 8 to go, exhaustion was starting to set in. Remembering who and what she was running for—the challenging backgrounds the children at Casa overcome, the countless smiles she’d encountered during training and encouragement from the Casa Community in Peru—she pushed on. Though they had never met, during their many conversations over the phone and email, Sarah knew that Laura was considering going out to watch the marathon for the first time. Working her way through the neighborhoods of Chicago with 40,000 of her closest friends and fellow runners it was a long shot that she’d spot Laura on the sidelines.

But, one of the biggest lessons we teach children at Casa Hogar is about not giving up and not losing faith. Laura who had been tracking Sarah during the race realized quickly that she had already passed. Rather than give up and cheer on the plenty of remaining runners who needed it, she packed up her things and started out up the sideline on a race of her own. Just as Sarah was about to turn a corner, she heard her name loud and clear. She turned to see Laura and her daughter jumping up and down with excitement, encouragement and joy. Filled with pride to be a part of the Casa Hogar Family, it was in that moment Sarah knew the finish line was easily in sight.

For Laura and her family, a trip to Casa Hogar means leaving a lasting impression. “I believe that the children who grew up in this orphanage, taught by Fr. Walijeski’s mission, that Casa Hogar is where the true, “rich” lessons of daily life are learned.”

Celebrating the Feast day of St. Joseph and Father Joseph Walijewski’s legacy

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A religious education class in Chesterton, IN decorated an Altar with a crucifix from the holy land, a photo of Fr. Joe and an icon painted by a priest from the Diocese of LaCrosse. With handmade rosaries in Peru, they offered prayers to Fr. Joe and learned more about his mission.

On March 19th, friends and family from the Diocese of La Crosse gathered around the world to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph and Father Joseph Walijewski’s legacy. Twelve public St. Joseph’s Table’s events were held as various others came together in their homes to pay tribute to St. Joseph and honor Padre Jose’s life with inspirational stories and prayer.

Blessed Sacrament Parish celebrated the legacy and mission of Fr. Joe Walijewski with a feast given in thanksgiving for the many blessings that God has bestowed. It was a joyful occasion in which parishioners from Blessed Sacrament as well as other parishes gathered together reminiscing about different encounters with Father Joe and shared stories of his incredibly life.

St. Joseph’s Table is a long-standing Italian tradition ritual meal held on or close to March 19th during the Feast of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. During this celebration, families and friends come together for hospitality and nurturing in the making of fulfilling promise.

The day has a special significance to Fr. Joe and his family. Father Joe’s Mother once had a dream where she spoke with God that led to a special devotion for St. Joseph. In that dream she hoped for four things: 1. To have a son, 2. That he would be named Joseph, 3. That he would become a priest and 4. That he would open a Parish in honor of St. Joseph. She passed away on March 19th, the Feast of St. Joseph, fulfilling the prophecy.

Thank you to all those who participated this year, we look forward to establishing this tradition for many years to come in Fr. Joe’s honor!

Please help us spread the word and mission of Father Joe Walijewski through your prayers.

To view more photos or receive updates about Father Joe’s Legacy Guild, please visit: or check out our Facebook Page:

St Joseph Table Feast Day
The children of Casa Hogar and friends whose lives were directly impacted by Padre Jose celebrated this special meal with a community dinner in Lurin, Peru. The evening commenced with a visit to Padre Jose’s tomb.
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Father Joseph Walijewski’s 6th Anniversary Mass

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Join us for Mass marking the 6th anniversary of the opening of the Cause for Beatification and Canonization of Father Joseph Walijewski. Mass will be celebrated from 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m on Sunday, March 17 at St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral. If you are unable to attend the Mass, it will be available to watch LIVE at