Category Archives: News

Pope Francis’ visit to Bolivia includes a stop at Santa Cruz

Category : News

Pope Francis visited Holy Cross Parish in Santa Cruz, Bolivia during the summer of 2016 and walked in the footsteps of Father Joe as he processed by Holy Cross Parish, a church built by Father Joe.

By Father Keith José Kitzhaber

A very eventful time, indeed. I never would have expected Pope Francis to come to MY parish, but that is just what happened. Bishop Callahan gave me permission to work at our Mission Parish in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It was founded 60 years ago by Father Joe Walijewski, and I spent the last two years working and ministering there. When we found out the pope was going to be coming, it was decided by the government and the diocese to have the Mass with the pope two blocks from the parish. We became the staging area for all the concelebrating priests, and visiting seminarians. We also were the distribution center for all the Consecrated Hosts that were to be offered during the Mass. If not for the work begun by Father Walijewski and the priest-missionaries that came after him, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to host Pope Francis.

Our parish in Santa Cruz was the best place to have the Mass. The parish was on the outskirts of town, where it was started in 1956, but now lies very close to the busiest intersection in the city. The church, completed under Bishop Robert Flock, is among the largest in Santa Cruz. The parish center was well equipped. That is where the pope met with all the bishops of the country. The parish school provided a place to house seminarians and other visitors.

At the end of the meeting with Pope Francis and the bishops, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to shake hands with the pope. Initially, it seemed unlikely to happen as I was not given proper credentials to be in my own parish. The Swiss Guard, dressed like the Secret Service, forced me to leave the parish, out the north gate, twice. Each time, I went around through the east entrance, through the rectory, and back to the corner of the building. The second time, I kept back, closer to the exit, and they left me alone. As I was talking to the volunteers who hosted the bishops, the chief of police shouted and waved for the volunteers to come forward to shake the pope’s hand. Then, he waved me over with them, since he knew me. So, I quickly walked passed the Swiss Guard, whom had kicked me out twice, to meet the pope.

During this time, I was marveling at the experience of the volunteers. Some were crying, some were speechless, others more composed. I said something like, “Welcome, Holy Father, I’m a priest at this parish.” He just nodded his head and continued. He looked pretty tired. He went from our parish to the airport, and continued on his journey.

We’re all just standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. We started with Father Joe Walijewski, and concluded our time with Father Ed Penchi and me. Father Penchi served the parish for over 52 years, and passed away last January. “Padre Eduardo” was the only “lifer” there. All other missionaries came and went, but he stayed. His life is another testimony of Christ in the world. His funeral was very well attended and most people at the parish had never known the parish without Padre Eduardo. The thousands of people that he baptized or married, are too many to count. The parish does 300 to 400 weddings each year. It’s hard for us in Wisconsin to imagine that many weddings.

I’m very grateful for these opportunities to develop relationships in Santa Cruz, to meet Pope Francis, and to serve the people as they have changed me. I look forward to going back there in July to witness the marriage of a couple friends, and to visit the rest of the folks at the parish. Perhaps I can take a group with me and continue the relationship with the community, and help others learn more about Father Walijewski and his legacy.


Father Joe’s Vision of Christmas

Category : News

By Bishop William Patrick Callahan

1971 could quite seriously be hailed as the start of the digital age with the invention of the microprocessor. The year also hailed the admission of China to the United Nations and the grand opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, along with other natural, political and social events of significance. For our particular consideration it is important that we remember 1971 for one particular event that made history in Lima, Peru: the arrival of Father Joseph Walijewski. Christmas in Peru, of course, has its own special kinds of cultural and religious expressions; but it shares a similar point of reference to all people of every race and every nation throughout all of creation: the birth of The Baby. Jesus is, of course, as much “the reason for the season” in Peru as He is in Western and North Central Wisconsin. Father Joe certainly knew how important the celebration of Christmas was for his friends in the Diocese of La Crosse and his family back in his home state of Michigan. He knew how important Christmas is for children; and, his love for Christmas and his love for children made his arrival in Peru in 1971 a match literally made in heaven!

While Christmas in Peru certainly has its own particular cultural style and expressions, it would be correct to note that Father Joe found a similarity in recognizing the presence of Jesus in each of the children he encountered in the cold and destitute streets of Lima. There was then, and there certainly is now, very little difference between the Child found in a manger in Bethlehem and the children Father Joe found covered with sheets of old newspaper trying to keep themselves warm.

These visions of Christmas help us to comprehend more deeply the kind of man Father Joe must have been in his sense of urgency for fulfilling the Mission of Jesus Christ; all the more reason for us to seek his heavenly guidance in our celebration of Christmas for years to come. Father Joe lived the Christmas reality with passion and energy born from a pure faith in the presence of Jesus among us right now! Father Joe continues to inspire us, by his life and ministry, with an awakening of the child of God within each of us. Father Joe rescued street children and Casa Hogar continues that essential and beautiful ministry. The Legacy of Father Joe still raises up a sense of innocence and childlike confidence in all of us—to care for children, yes, but to further allow God’s amazing grace to transform the child of God within each of us to be like Jesus and act like brothers and sisters in His sight. As we pray for Father Joe’s beatification and canonization, be aware that his energy allows us to support the children of Casa Hogar in Peru, but by his heavenly support to recognize the child within us and the children around us who struggle to see God’s love in their lives each day. Let’s keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year!


A Pencil in Our Lord’s Hand

Category : News

By Monica Organ
A Pencil in Our Lord’s Hand brings to life the love, humanity, and deep divinity that are at the core of Father Joe’s charism. The rich history, powerful imagery, and personal reflections from people who actually knew him, all enhance your belief in Fr. Joe’s cause for sainthood, and shows the immense impact that Fr. Joe had on every life he touched. Through what can only be described as Divine Providence, Father Joe overcame obstacles and was able to discern God’s call among constant difficulties. The line “Joe Walijewski may not be the most intelligent priest but he will be a holy priest,” stays with me because it reminds me that we are all blessed with talents, and even if they don’t fit the mold of what some call “success” you can still do great, and some may even say saintly, works.


Reading from the “pencil in our lord’s hand:”

Category : News

By Students from St. Joseph Academy in California

In San Marcos, California, a class of High School Juniors is busy delving into the life and work of Father Joseph Walijewski. They were introduced to the mission of the inspirational priest from the Diocese of La Crosse by their writing instructor, Helen Weir, who has been serving as a freelance correspondent for the diocese since the mid-2000s. What started out as a simple assignment has evolved into a journey of spiritual enrichment, original research, and active participation in Father’s Joe’s cause for canonization.

“I first heard of Father Walijewski during a class while viewing the documentary, ‘A Pencil in Our Lord’s Hand,’” said Saint Joseph Academy student, Angie A. “On top of his touching story, I recognized his saint-like qualities of selflessness, devotion, and virtue. Throughout the documentary and later research, I found him to be as lovable and relatable as a grandparent.” Angie is collecting stories of orphans whose lives have been changed by the loving environment of Father José’s Casa Hogar.

“Father Walijewski demonstrated, through the course of his life, his actions, and his works, the true meaning of what it takes to be a saint, a servant, and a pencil enclosed in God’s hand. I was particularly struck by Father’s willingness to cross between Bolivia and Brazil when building the church of the Holy Cross,” remarked Michael D. “The Amazon rainforest is no easy terrain to traverse,” he concluded. Michael’s research encapsulates Father José’s work in the South American continent, with particular regard to the priest’s effort to build the church of the Holy Cross in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

“In this modern age the saints have gained an almost ‘legendary status.’ We often view their lives as irrelevant to ours since they lived so long ago,” said Nicholas D. “Father Walijewski was different; he only died a few years ago. He gave us a story we can relate to.” Nick’s area of interest is learning about the experiences of those who were close to Father.

As a class, the students were impacted by Father Walijewski’s life in many ways. Alexa M. was drawn towards the way Father Walijewski brought the Faith to the Asháninka, while Anthony G. was fascinated by the way the people considered him the Mother Teresa of their area. John Paul M. remarked, during the Year of Mercy, on how Father Walijewski models the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Clare S. and Madison T. were intrigued by the influence he had on other people and the statement, “He’s not human,” quoted in the documentary. Several of the students expressed interest in how his mother’s wishes were granted due to his devotion to following God’s will, and particularly admired how Father Walijewski worked extensively to help other people whether they were old or young.
The Juniors of Saint Joseph Academy are in the process of composing research papers on the various facets of Father Walijewski’s charism. When the students complete their research, the papers will be shared on www.frjoesguild.org and Father Joe’s Guild Facebook page.


A Great Witness of Mercy

Category : News

By Bishop William Patrick Callahan

I am often reminded of what a tremendous mystery and gift the Roman Catholic priesthood is for the Church and for those of us so blessed to have been called by Jesus into this sacred fraternity. I think often of my dear departed priests whose ministry and life has deeply touched so many men and women, and whose legacy is quite alive.
While I did not know Fr. Joe personally, I came to know him through others and through his works of charity and kindness. Today, I think of him as an ideal model for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, a man who embodied the lived mystery of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy (Mt. 25).

I CAME TO KNOW HIM THROUGH OTHERS AND THROUGH HIS WORKS OF CHARITY AND KINDNESS.

The Fr. Joe Walijewski Guild, now in its third year of advancing the Cause of Fr. Joe for Beatification and Canonization, continues to garner support from various parts of our country. Fr. Joe is a person of interest for those who strive to find ways of validating the Catholic faith in today’s world. People have come to recognize in Fr. Joe’s Cause the reality of a man who did not use his extraordinary talents or attributes for the advancement of this world’s wealth. Rather, they are seeing and hearing more and more about a man—a priest—who lovingly fulfilled another facet of Christ’s teaching from the Gospel of Matthew: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:21). Fr. Joe’s treasure was found in the lives of children alone in the slums of Lima, Peru; his heart, being touched by the spirit of

Jesus, was moved to their care. His priestly action is a sign even today of the grace of Christ working in our world.
As the Guild gradually gathers new members, the message about Fr. Joe is resonating with new people interested in his life and in the Cause of his Beatification and Canonization. Testimony continues to be gathered in both North and South America from those who knew Fr. Joe personally. Testimony is documented (in triplicate) in order to be sent to Rome and reviewed by the Congregation for Saints and ultimately, the Pope.

Guild members have helped promote the Cause by allowing us to spread the news by sponsoring screenings of the video “A Pencil in Our Lord’s Hand” in Thorp, Stevens Point, Wausau, and La Crosse.

Donations have been used to sponsor a “Pencil Drop,” where we handed out pencils inscribed with the phrase: “I’m just a pencil in Our Lord’s hand” to all the children in our diocesan Catholic schools. This was done in celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints.

We receive requests for prayer cards every week. 10,000 cards were distributed in 2015 alone! Also in 2015, the Diocesan Pilgrimage tracing the footsteps of Fr. Joe was a remarkable experience for those involved. You can read more about the experience of one of the pilgrims, Dan Foor, in this newsletter.

I am often asked how I feel about recommending a priest of my Diocese for sainthood. I am blessed. What a gift Fr. Joe is for all of us! Let us continue to pray that his Cause will one day return him to us as a Saint of the Church!


My Father Joe Pilgrimage Reflection

Category : News

By Dan Foor

Providence. That was the word that Jack Felsheim used to describe the chance meeting we had that eventually led to me joining nine other diocesan members on a pilgrimage to Peru to follow in the footsteps of Father Joseph Walijewski. Providence. Not a word one hears every day. It is defined as “divine guidance or care.” I think Jack was right; here’s why.

In January of 2015, I was traveling to Phoenix for business. While waiting in the gate area of the La Crosse Airport, I noticed two men conversing about a book on Pope Francis. At that time, I was somewhat of a newly minted Catholic, having been confirmed, baptized and received my first Eucharist the Easter prior (joining my wife and three daughters in the faith). One of the gentlemen looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place the name with the face. With the help of my smart phone and Google, I determined that one of the gentlemen was none other than our Bishop, William Callahan. Excited for the opportunity to meet the Bishop, I introduced myself.

As it turns out, Bishop Callahan and Jack were traveling to Lima, Peru to conduct some work for the Cause of Father Joe. In our brief discussion, I shared that prior to moving to La Crosse in 2011, I had spent three years in Latin America as an ex-patriate worker for a large multi-national agricultural company. I offered to them that if I could be of service, given my fluency in Spanish and familiarity with Latin culture, that I would be happy to help. Jack texted me photos during their visit to the Casa Hogar orphanage and invited me to pray and reflect to understand God’s intentions for me to get involved.

I was somewhat familiar with Casa Hogar due to the connection between St. Patrick’s elementary and Jhon, one of the orphans there. Living in Bogota and Mexico City also gave me an appreciation for the poverty and challenges that the less fortunate deal with every day. And as I learned more about the good work that Father Joe had begun and that continues today under Monsignor Hirsch, I made the decision to participate in the pilgrimage in August of 2015.

To say the experience was life-changing would be a significant understatement. As mentioned earlier, living and working in Latin America had given me an awareness of the poverty there, but as an expat, neither my family nor I were ever fully immersed in that section of those societies. Casa Hogar receives 64 children from the area, who are divided among 8 families, each with their own parent-teacher couple who act as a surrogate family for the young children aged from babies to 17 years old. They have an organized development program, modeled after Boys Town, which greatly influenced Father Joe in his youth and became the basis of his desire to help the impoverished to have at least a chance of living a better life than their biological families could provide.

On the pilgrimage, we spent time at Father Joe’s tomb overlooking Casa Hogar, visited area churches and a soup kitchen founded by Father Joe, as well the tombs of Saints Martin de Porres and Rose of Lima. The most powerful experiences for me was the time spent with the families at Casa knowing that the spirit of Father Joe permeated the facility and the determination of his ambition visible all around. Another was an afternoon our group spent walking the beach nearby where Father Joe himself used to go when the weight of the circumstances became quite heavy. There he could seek solace and guidance on his mission.

The children at Casa are happy knowing that they are loved. Monsignor Hirsch is the rock of the orphanage and brings a zest for life while patiently cares for his flock both at Casa and around the area. I recall a question I asked him that went something like, “Father Hirsch, isn’t it frustrating knowing that while the work being done here is good, that the impact is so small relative the larger problem?” You see many of the kids that eventually leave Casa find themselves back in the unfortunate situation that they are so desperately trying to escape. He looked at me and said, “Our job is to prepare these kids for battle for the day they leave the safety of Casa Hogar. If we’re able to help just one kid have just one more day away from the terrible things that are out there, that makes all of this worth it.”

It was indeed Providence that led Father Joe to be ordained in the La Crosse Diocese, move to South America and to establish the safe places where the poor and desperate can find hope and faith. I believe that it also called me to Lurin, Peru last year. And by God’s continued Providence, and the support of our catholic family, the good work there will continue.


EWTN to feature the life of Father Joseph Walijewski

Category : News

Scene at one of the several soup kitchens established by Father Joseph Walijewski. People from the neighborhood are waiting for lunch. This kitchen is directly behind St. Joseph’s Chapel in Villa El Salvador, the church wished for as one of Father Joseph Walijewski’s mother’s three wishes.

Inscription at the site of Cristo Salvador Parish, the first church established by Father Joseph Walijewski in Villa El Salvador, Peru, which reads ‘Place where Mass was celebrated on December 24, 1971 by Cardinal Juan Landazun recognizing Padre Jose Walijewski as the first pastor. In attendance were: nine children, five women, two men, and 15 dogs.

Expected to air in spring 2015, this 60 minute tribute to Father Joseph Walijewski’s life and ministry, produced and hosted by Bob Dolan of Bob Dolan Productions, is filled with many testaments to his charism. Tracing his life of devotion and dedication, this feature explores how God’s providence guided, and Father Joe’s humble service provided the necessary means to minister to those most vulnerable.

Father Joe spent most of his life in South America, but brought with him the cleverness of a Midwestern farm boy. His simple upbringing and can-do attitude allowed him to respond to those in need with extraordinary success. Despite the setbacks he experienced throughout his life, his faith remained strong and his devotion unwavering.

His story of faith and service gives us courage to confront situations placed in our lives, and the resolution to do something about it. Using the model of his life, we will be inspired to see Christ crucified in everyone we meet.

Bob Dolan, and Monsignor Hirsch are interviewing a Peruvian resident who knew Father Joseph Walijewski while he was living in Villa El Salvador.


Early Family Memories

Category : News

Father Joe and his great niece Joan, dancing on her wedding day, October 22, 1977.

By: Joan Isenbarger
Great Niece of Father Joseph Walijewski

As a child in the late 1960s, I remember visiting my great Aunt Alice and Uncle Charlie (brother of Fr. Joe) Walijewski’s home in Grand Rapids, Mich. Many family members would gather due to the fact that their siblings, Fr. Joe and Sister Noel, both working as missionaries in foreign lands, were in the states for a visit. While most of the adults were inside socializing, I recall the two of them being outside playing baseball with us kids. This is one memory that has always stuck with me. I thought they were pretty cool and thinking they seemed like real people! Fr. Joe always made us feel comfortable and loved by his good-humored personality whenever we were fortunate enough to be around him. He always had a special gift with children.

As I grew into my early high school years, Fr. Joe’s journey continued to touch my heart. I believe he made an impression on me by his real life stories that he shared. It was always so apparent that he loved his mission in life. I would write to him every Easter and Christmas, just to keep in touch. I never really expected him to reply, knowing how busy he was taking care of the needs of others, but on occasion he would drop me a quick note. I once was told that he never liked to write letters so I felt quite blessed when I received mine. From that time on I continued to write to him throughout my adult life.

Father Joe, Mary Walijewski (Fr. Joe’s mother) and his sister, Sister Noel. Taken in Grand Rapids
Michigan in the early 1960s.

On October 22, 1977, Father Joe generously traveled from Peru to Michigan to perform my wedding ceremony in a Catholic church to a non-Catholic man who rarely attended church. Over the years Fr. Joe’s presence resonated with my husband and me as we raised our two daughters. Additionally, I believe Fr. Joe had an impact on my husband becoming Catholic after attending Mass with us for many years. Last but not least, on April 11, 2013, the seventh anniversary of Father Joe’s death, my first grandchild Isabella was born!

So as Father Joe continued to be a Servant of God in other parts of the country, his works were also bearing fruit in the United States, and in particular in our family.

I applaud everyone who is involved with the mission of the Father Joseph Walijewski Legacy Guild. You are doing wondrous deeds to preserve Fr. Joe’s legacy. However, I already know that in God’s eyes “Father Joseph Walijewski” has already been blessed into sainthood.

A few anecdotes from the family: A memory from Rosemary, a niece: During a visit to my home, I asked Fr. Joe what he preferred for breakfast; naming pancakes, sausage, eggs, toast and hash browns. He replied “YES” with his childlike grin followed by an explanation that his cook didn’t prepare these foods for him in Peru. Needless to say he enjoyed his wholesome breakfast!

Another memory shared by his deceased sister (relayed to Rosemary): When back in the U.S., Fr. Joe would sometimes forget that the rules of the road here were different than driving in the jungle. While traveling back to Wisconsin from Michigan, his car would be loaded to the brim with donated clothes to be shipped to Peru and his foot would be heavy. With these traveling traits, Fr. Joe was becoming quite a favorite subject of the State Police.


Father Joe – An Orphan No More

Category : News

At last I am an orphan no more.

As we ponder the life and works of the Servant of God, Father Joseph Walijewski, we may ask ourselves what would inspire someone to work so hard and for so long in a place so far from one’s homeland? What was it that fuelled his energy and gave him consolation for so
many years?

Clues to answer those questions are found in some of his early writings.

When Father Joe was finishing his first year of seminary in Michigan, it was determined that he didn’t fit their profile so he was told to pursue another calling. Perhaps his simple upbringing or his difficulty with some college level classes raised doubt in the minds of the Michigan seminary. For whatever reason, young Joseph
Walijewski needed to find out if God’s plan for his life was the priesthood, and if it was, it would have to be for another diocese.

Displaying early on his character of seeing a problem and determining to do something about it, he decided to send letters of application to the neighboring dioceses asking if they would take him as a seminarian. After several letters went unanswered, someone suggested he contact Bishop Alexander Joseph McGavick of the Diocese of La Crosse. Within two weeks, Bishop McGavick responded to young Joe with a letter asking him to come for an interview. It was that letter that opened the door for him to continue as a seminarian for the Diocese of La Crosse.

A few years later as Joseph was starting his third year at St. Joseph Seminary in Milwaukee, Bishop John Patrick Treacy was named the fifth Bishop of La Crosse. Here is what he wrote to his new bishop in February of 1949, “I owe my whole life’s work for the diocese of La Crosse. I wish I could express my gratitude, for all that your Excellency has done for me. I was on the verge of despair in my attempts in seeking a diocese that would adopt me as one of their sons. I was a seminarian without a diocese, no one would accept me. Then a friend of mine suggested the diocese of La Crosse. At last I am an orphan no more.”

Father Joe knew how it felt to be orphaned as he was looking for a diocese that would adopt him as one of their sons. In response to the kindness shown to him by the Diocese of La Crosse, he pledged his whole life’s work. Little did he know where that would take him or to what extent his service done in gratitude would enable the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be told. Many thanks for your years spent in service to the countless people who received the gift you passed on to them.


Sustaining his Legacy

Category : News

The Father Joseph Walijewski Legacy Guild was established to sustain the legacy and promote the cause of the Servant of God, Father Joseph Walijewski. Since its inception in 2013, over 1,800 people have become members. These members have taken the time to learn more about Father Joe’s life, prayed for his beatification and canonization, and helped sustain the legacy he left behind through their financial contributions.

“The chief task is to provide leadership and financial sustainability for the missions started by Father Joe.”

While the canonization process is important to the mission of the Father Joseph Walijewski Legacy Guild, the task of preparing the documents and testimony for delivery to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican typically takes about five years. The ongoing and chief task of the Father Joseph Walijewski Legacy Guild is to provide financial sustainability and leadership for the missions and organizations started by Father Joe that are still serving countless people today.

Thank you for your prayers and financial support. Please continue to pray for the advancement of his cause and help spread the word about his life and legacy. Take a few moments to learn more about his life and let his model of humble service guide you in your own pursuit of Christ-like service. If you are able, consider making a financial contribution to the Father Joseph Walijewski Legacy Guild. Your gift will mean so much.


Calendar

Tuesday, March 19, 2019Feast of St. Joseph and Celebration of St. Joseph’s Table. Help us create a new tradition! Host an event or join family and friends in your community. For a listing of events happening please visit frjoesguild.org/stjoestable

Televised Mass with Msgr. Hirsch
Monday, May 20, 2019 | 5:30 p.m.
Christ the King Chapel – Holy Cross Diocesan Center
3710 East Ave S, La Crosse, WI 54601
Please RSVP to Michael Haight at mhaight@diolc.org or by calling 608-791-2697 by Wednesday, May 15th

Friday, October 25, 2019Father Joseph Walijewski Legacy Guild Dinner Benefiting Casa Hogar – La Crosse, WI

"Then I will not have lived in vain, and I'll not care how long I'll live, if I can give and give and give."

— Fr. Walijewski