St. Paul University Catholic Center holds annual Spring Wine Fest Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Joan Carey, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, May. 15, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

MADISON -- A light spring rain could not dampen the spirits of hundreds who flocked to the Madison Concourse Hotel recently to celebrate what has become the premiere event of the spring season: the St. Paul Spring Wine Fest.

University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison students welcomed guests at the door with smiles and tasting cards for recording impressions of a wide variety of wines and local brews.

St. Paul's Wine Fest 2014
Two dozen students involved at St. Paul’s served guests throughout the Wine Fest and were witnesses to the joy and the impact of St. Paul University Catholic Center's ministry on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. (Photo/Karly Jo Photography)

MADISON -- A light spring rain could not dampen the spirits of hundreds who flocked to the Madison Concourse Hotel recently to celebrate what has become the premiere event of the spring season: the St. Paul Spring Wine Fest.

University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison students welcomed guests at the door with smiles and tasting cards for recording impressions of a wide variety of wines and local brews.

Now in its fifth year, the Spring Wine Fest brings together students (at least those over 21!), alumni, and many benefactors of St. Paul Catholic Center to raise awareness of the great need for a vibrant Catholic campus ministry at the UW.

New springtime of evangelization

After a delicious dinner, host Fr. Eric Nielsen, pastor of St. Paul's, kicked off a short program with a warm welcome to Bishop Robert C. Morlino, who repeatedly expressed his joy at being with the young people of St. Paul's.

“Seeing so many young faces here tonight really fills me with hope for the future that the springtime of evangelization St. John Paul II spoke of certainly will be,” said the bishop.

Students share conversion stories

St. Paul University Catholic Center exists to bring young people into a living and lasting relationship with Jesus Christ. During the most inspiring part of the evening, two student speakers stole every heart as they related how St. Paul's had brought them into life-changing encounters with God.

Andrea Nealon, a junior nursing student, confessed that in her late teens she was "completely lost," with no meaning or joy in her life. She admitted to choosing the UW for the party scene, but thanks to a friend who invited her to a St. Paul's undergraduate event and then a Bible study, Nealon said, "I traded my old life for a life of truth led by the Holy Spirit. The joy of St. Paul's is contagious."

Through St. Paul's, she began to truly understand who Christ is and what the Catholic Church believes. The young women in her small group Bible study became a source of true friendship and support as she put into practice these new habits of prayer and discipleship.

With so many thousands of students struggling to find joy in their lives, she expressed that she cannot imagine what her life would be like without Christ.

Steven Cybulski then took the podium to relate how he left the Church at age 15 and then spent 12 years in a "spiritual wilderness" until finding St. Paul's. "If you're determined to stay a lapsed Catholic, meeting Father Eric is a huge tactical blunder," he said to general laughter.

After reading a book suggested by Fr. Eric Nielsen and talking with him, Cybulski realized that the forgiveness God offers us in the Sacrament of Confession was something he needed after 12 years of separating himself from God.

In encountering Jesus in the confessional at St. Paul's, he described how "my soul was white as snow, and that feeling is something I'll never forget."

Cybulski also learned to pray at St. Paul's, "Though forgiven, I knew that life would present many challenges to living a Catholic life. I realized I needed to pray to keep myself in the life of Christ."

He described that before, he used to get up at "the crack of noon" but found that at St. Paul's, dozens of students rise early to pray "Morning Prayer" with the priests in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

The stunning realization that his soul could be cleaned in confession and refreshed by prayer moved him to declare, "I intend to make the rest of my life a prayer of thanksgiving for this holy and loving community."

Missionary disciples: What are we waiting for?

Meeting students like Nealon and Cybulski and proposing the Christian life to them is the whole point of St. Paul's. Father Nielsen explained how he intends to renew the work of evangelization of the UW campus: in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us that by virtue of our baptism, we all become "missionary disciples" who cannot leave evangelization to the "professionals."

Instead, we must all become personally engaged with sharing the Good News. Father Nielsen said, "Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are 'disciples' and 'missionaries,' but rather that we are always 'missionary disciples.' . . . So what are we waiting for?”

Embracing this phrase, Father Nielsen announced a new Missionary Discipleship Program at St. Paul's with the tagline "Get Your M.D." This five-semester program aims at enhancing the existing work in training and equipping students to be actively engaged in evangelization at UW and beyond.

In this program, students will develop a deepening love for Christ and be a clearer witness to the Gospel through courses on prayer/evangelization, salvation history, the Creed/doctrine of God, character development, and moral theology.

Courses on other topics may be added in the future as well. Father Nielsen assured the crowd that it is their support and that of many others that make this ministry possible.

Distinguished Service Awards to Lindsay Becher and Tim Kruse

Father Nielsen also awarded the Harrington and Melvin Awards in recognition of those who have taken the St. Paul's spirit out to the wider community and performed distinguished service to St. Paul’s.

Lindsay Becher, a past St. Paul’s student leader and UW-Madison class of 2008, received the Harrington Award for the ways she has carried St. Paul’s mission into the world, including founding Love Begins Here, an apostolate that provides high school students the opportunity to serve the community through weeklong local mission trips, putting love into service.

Tim Kruse received the Melvin Award for laying a foundation for the development work that supports St. Paul's operations and the early work to build a new St. Paul's chapel and student center.

Kruse and his wife Sandy were also instrumental in starting several of the St. Paul’s student ministries that have since grown and blossomed.

St. John Paul II's message to youth: Faith is YOURS!

St. Paul's Senior Director of Advancement Scott Hackl brought the evening to a powerful, mirthful close by calling a "paddle raise," a special appeal targeted to bringing more campus missionaries to St. Paul's to do the legwork of spreading the Good News on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in the 2014-2015 academic year.

In just a few minutes, through a raise of hands and escalating cheers as goals were set, met, exceeded, and set again, $50,000 was pledged to underwrite the expenses of four of the 15 full-time missionaries and interns who lead many of the evangelical programs and bring the Catholic faith as a living witness to all parts of campus life.

Hackl recalled St. John Paul II's powerful message to youth: "The faith is YOURS!" Hackl proclaimed, "The Faith is OURS! St. Paul's is about forming those who will form the future of the Church.

"We show young people that they can know God through love, and there’s nothing we can't do when giving to others in love. What we offer is so much greater than any building, any major, any course of study: we are a rock embedded in the University that is committed to holiness and forming agents of evangelization!"

Concluding a night of joy and merriment, Hackl exulted that, thanks to the growing support of many people, "This mission impacts a complete range of people here today, spanning over 60 years from those in their 20s through those much older.

"St. Paul's impacts all generations as it continues to reach out and invite young men and women to live their life with courageous faith in God and to embrace their vocation.

"Thanks to you, the Church is alive and open for college students all across this campus. Jesus Christ will be proclaimed at the University of Wisconsin!"

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