Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities holds annual Advent/Christmas Party Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

apostolate christmas party

Merry Sommers and Lillian Rood from Monroe enjoy their time at the Advent/Christmas Party held by the Diocese of Madison Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities. The annual event took place at Monroe High School on December 2, celebrating 50 years of the Apostolate. To view or purchase photos, go to
(Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MONROE -- On December 3, 1967, station WISC-TV in Madison aired the first-ever Sunday Mass for the Apostolate to the Handicapped.

It was celebrated by Fr. (later Msgr.) Thomas “T.C.” Campion, who, along with then Diocese of Madison Bishop Cletus F. O’Donnell, founded the apostolate more than a month prior.

On December 2, 2017, the Apostolate, now known as the Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities, celebrated the past 50 years of ministry at its annual Advent/Christmas Party now held at Monroe High School.

The yearly tradition was first held on January 6, 1968, at Holy Name Seminary in Madison when it was called “Little Christmas with the Bishop” and soon grew from there to the Mass, lunch, and holiday party it st today, welcoming more than 500 guests this year.

A yearly tradition

Many of the guests were repeat visitors, coming back year after a year for many reasons.

“We like the people,” said Lillian Rood from Monroe. “There’s a feeling I have here.”

“We enjoy it,” said Martha Sillman from Waterloo.

“It’s an outing,” said her husband, Paul, adding with a smile, “It doesn’t take much to amuse old people.”

As the guests began to arrive on a warmer than average day for the party, they were immediately greeted at the door by volunteers and welcomed into the school gym, that was transformed into a party hall from a basketball venue in a matter of an hour the night before.

As familiar faces sat next to each other and said hello, the holiday atmosphere appealed to another sense as “Hugo” -- the dressed in festive red, guitar playing, musician -- serenaded the guests with their favorite Christmas songs.

Celebrating Mass and giving thanks

As more buses and other modes of transport arrived at the high school with more eager visitors, the time for Mass was nearing.

Msgr. Larry Bakke, director of the Apostolate and also pastor of St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Monroe and Brodhead, celebrated the Mass.

Half a dozen priests from the Diocese of Madison concelebrated the Mass and assisted with distributing Communion, along with Deacon Jim Hoegemeier, who is associate director of the Apostolate and also read the Gospel.

The Madison Diocesan Choir, under the direction of Dr. Patrick Gorman, provided vocal music, along with students from Monroe High School who provided the instrumental accompaniment.

At the start of the Mass, Monsignor Bakke welcomed everyone, saying it was a “wonderful day to gather in this grand celebration, celebrating in a very special way the 50th anniversary of the Apostolate to the Handicapped.”

Later, in his homily, Monsignor Bakke remembered Monsignor Campion, who died in 2010, as a “wonderful” man who “brought great love and great goodness to so many people.”

He thanked everyone for coming and shared his joy to “be able to see all of you face to face instead of through a television camera on Sunday mornings.”

Being the Saturday before the start of Advent, he reflected on the Blessed Virgin Mary, who can serve as an example of how to be close to Christ as Christmas nears.

He said that closeness “doesn’t take away our disabilities or our life challenges, but know that as Jesus said in the Gospel, God is with us and supports us in so many ways.”

Later in the Mass, when priests assisted with distributing Communion, volunteer nurses were on hand to help the guests with water ready if they needed it.

The nurses were also on standby for the whole event, along with Green County EMS.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Monsignor Bakke thanked his brother priests, the choir, high school students, and other volunteers who helped make the event run smoothly.

He also thanked his staff members, including project manager Kellie O’Brien, who helped with the planning.

Lunch and party

After the Mass concluded, volunteers, including members of the high school’s FFA, personally brought lunch -- turkey and all the fixings -- to the guests as they waited at their tables.

As the guests began digging in, Hugo returned with his guitar and more Christmas songs. Scotty Boss, from the Monroe Fire Department, joined Hugo as he played along on the piano.

There was a noticeable anticipation in the air, only magnified once Hugo started playing and singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

St. Nick did, indeed, come to town, as he entered the gym to the smiles and greetings of many happy guests who ran to him as fast as they could, along with their phones and cameras, to take their pictures with him.

Many asked the jolly old man in red if he’d come to their houses on Christmas.

One by one, by carload, vanload, and busload, the guests departed the event to go home to the more than 30 municipalities they hailed from.

As the guests left, volunteers wished them Merry Christmas and gave them all a gift -- a 50th anniversary Apostolate golden Christmas ornament featuring the ministry’s new logo.

Many of them will continue to reap the good works of the Apostolate through viewing the TV Mass, which had a recent time change to 6 a.m. on WISC Channel 3, and 7 a.m. on TVW Channel 3.2

For more information on the Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities, including upcoming events, resources, information on applying for grants, and more, go to or contact the Apostolate at 608-821-3050 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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