||Kathleen Butler, right, wheels an Apostolate to the Handicapped Christmas party attendee into the gymnasium at Monroe High School. (Catholic Herald photo/Joe Ptak)
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MONROE -- Reaching out to one another with a spirit of camaraderie and joy, hundreds of guests and dozens of volunteers participated in the annual Apostolate to the Handicapped Advent/Christmas Party at Monroe High School (MHS).
Though the first day of December was cloudy and cool, warmth and happiness marked the special day, a Christmas tradition for persons with disabilities. They traveled from throughout the Diocese of Madison to attend.
Featured were a joyous celebration of the Mass, music, and the traditional turkey dinner. Well-known entertainers Hugo and Heidi sang and played lively holiday and other popular songs prior to and after the Mass.
Green and red poinsettias and a lighted Christmas tree surrounded the altar set up at one end of the school gym. The background was adorned with wreaths and greens.
Presider for the Mass was Msgr. James Bartylla, vicar general of the diocese. Concelebrants were several priests of the diocese including Fr. Larry Bakke, diocesan director of the Apostolate to the Handicapped and pastor of St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Monroe.
Impressive music for the Mass was provided by the Diocesan Choir directed by Dr. Patrick Gorman along with musicians from Monroe High School. Cantor was Shannon Kaszuba of Monroe. Presenting gifts during the Mass were Marie Kaderly, Jean Keefer, Larry Haniwalt, Kim Cox, and Brad Ammon.
A special tradition
MHS band director, Dan Henkel, shared his enthusiasm for the special party. “This (performing music at the Mass) is a special tradition for us. It’s something the kids really enjoy, and they take pleasure being involved, as a way of giving to others. I never have a problem getting kids to participate,” he said.
Volunteers are the heart of the day, ever smiling as they extend a warm welcome to everyone attending the day’s events and give assistance for many needs. Among the greeters standing outside the school was Michael Wanta, Oregon. “We need a wheel chair here,” he called as a car pulled up to the curb. It’s part of the extended, caring help given to the disabled guests who arrive by car, bus, and van.
While holding a door open for visitors, Sam Galvin, a seventh grader at St. Ambrose Academy in Madison, said he enjoyed helping people and likes to participate in service projects. “It’s fun,” he said.
For 41 years, Shirley Wiegel has been in charge of nurses and helpers for the day. Mary Quinn-Berget said, “I love to see people smile and show us appreciation,” as she assisted a person.
Assuring that the traditional turkey and trimmings dinner is prepared and served to the many guests in less than 30 minutes was Mike Doyle of Monroe. He oversees about 40 volunteers. Twenty-eight people were lined up at two long tables, ready to serve the meal.
“I appreciate all that is done here for the people,” said Doyle, “I started to help 40 years ago because of Father Campion. Now I want to help keep his memory alive,” he added.
For many guests of the Apostolate, the main feature of the day is the outing itself -- coming to the party and being welcomed.
From Lake Mills, about 26 people, smiling and visiting, were anticipating the day’s events. Several from the group participate in Special Olympics of Lake Mills, said Jennifer Hansen, their coach. As he nibbled on a brightly decorated Christmas cookie, Craig Kunkel said bowling is his favorite sport.
Eloise Hinderman, Kieler, shared her happiness. “The friendly, welcoming feeling here has made it good for me to come for many years,” she said.
Their animated conversation and laughs of delight marked the “Belles of St. Mary’s,” eight ladies from Milton dressed alike in bright blue tee shirts. Mary Margaret Hosler said the group “has evolved to have fun, but also participates in service projects.”
A driver for the group, Jerome La Brie from Janesville, shared his light-hearted humor by saying, “I’m a driver for the group; I’m not a belle. You can call me a ‘ding dong’.”
Fellowship in a spiritual family
Four generations were represented by the family of Ron Champion, 71, from Shullsburg, who beamed with happiness and pride. His daughter, Susan Hicks, Monroe, cuddled her 16-month-old granddaughter as she said the family has been attending the Christmas event for more than four years. She said her father was a longtime “Campion’s Champion” volunteer. He began attending the event several years ago with his disabled son.
Smiling and greeting friends, Marlene and Aureliano Salas had traveled from the historic community of Portage. In a vivacious manner, Marlene Salas said, “This is tradition for us and it’s our Christmas party. It’s a special time for people who are disabled. Nobody looks at anyone else as (being) disabled or different. We’re all friends,” she emphasized, and continued, “Here, we’re not alone anymore. It’s my one day of vacation and I save to come here.”
She said the couple treasure the fellowship of “this spiritual family. We love Father Bakke as much as we did Father Campion,” she said.
“I’m not alone anymore when I attend the Apostolate party,” said Christine Bryant, Argyle.
Likewise, it was a meaningful outing for Marilyn McWilliams, Madison, and her husband, Michael McWilliams of Oregon Manor Nursing Home, who delighted in the spirit of the season by wearing his Santa cap with twinkling lights. Marilyn McWilliams shared her feelings. “We’ve come for 10 years. We see so many people less fortunate than we are. We’re all taught to love one another no matter what capacity he or she is in.”
Another guest for several years, Brian De Soto of Clinton, said, “It’s good to get out with people for the fellowship.”
Several members from the Special Olympics group in Beloit, who also work at Kandu Industries in Janesville, expressed appreciation for the goodwill and acceptance offered by the special day. Cheerfully, Michelle Stults said, “Good friendship and the reality of the good people and the nurses here make it wonderful.”
The spirit we share
During his homily, Monsignor Bartylla referred to the Gospel of the day and to disabled people as he discussed a comparison to the well-known movie To Kill A Mockingbird. He pointed out that the movie theme “shows the spirit the disabled share.”
He said, “The Holy Spirit mysteriously gives us gifts in so many ways. In our disabled brothers and sisters we see the dignity of the human person.” Asking, “Who is disabled in that movie?” he stressed, “The real disability for us is sin. It hurts us in the long run.”
He concluded, “Today as we celebrate the Eucharist, we ask the Lord (that we) grow in love for the disabled through the work and gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, Father Bakke extended his welcome to the annual party and wished each person “great joy.” Smiling, he added, “After celebrating the Masses on television, now I get to see you live.” He recognized the many contributions of Msgr. Thomas Campion, who created and established the Apostolate to the Handicapped.
In his genial manner, Father Bakke shared his wish, “I want you to enjoy the love and abundance as you celebrate this great day.”
As the event ended, longtime volunteer George Schutte, Monroe, stood at the door to the gym, greeting everyone. He adamantly praised the many gifts the special day offers to everyone. “I’ve got so much to be thankful for,” he said while pointing out that the Monroe community is involved in this day. “We are so blessed that so many local people come here to help,” he said.
Each guest received a gift -- a picture titled “Christ of the Handicapped.” It is a copy of the stained glass window at the Bishop O’Donnell Chapel at the Bishop O’Connor Center in Madison that honors the Apostolate to the Handicapped.