Care for the earth is central to our faith


In this contributed file photo, students at Immaculate Conception School in Clarion put into action Pope Francis’ message to care for the earth and all of its creatures. 

By Mary Solberg | FaithLife Editor’s Notes

Call it what you want—“deeply troubling” or “terrible”—President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris climate accord is disappointing to many of us.

Catholic leaders throughout the world decried the decision—using all of these adjectives and more.

Endorsed by Pope Francis, and signed by 195 nations, the Paris pact aims to cut global greenhouse gas emissions and protect our world for future generations.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said Trump’s decision “will harm the people of the United States and the world, especially the poorest, most vulnerable communities.”

This echoes the viewpoint of Pope Francis, who last June released Laudato Si’, his environment encyclical that challenges all of God’s people to protect “our common home” and stop the global warming crisis. What I like about Laudato Si’ is that everyone—even our smallest children—are asked to be a part of the effort.

Over the past year, FaithLife has shared many photos and stories of children in diocesan schools and adults in parishes discussing ways to protect the environment. Sister Marian Wehler, OSB, and Sister Tina Geiger, RSM, were among the many who promoted discussions with children at St. Stephen School in Oil City, and St. Patrick School in Franklin. They talked about ways to not waste food, to save water and electricity, and to recycle.

The Bethany Retreat Center in Frenchville and Mount Saint Benedict Monastery in Erie also have offered retreat programs on Laudato Si’.

The pope’s challenge has meant a great deal to people who live in our diocese and elsewhere. Short-sightedness won’t keep sea levels from rising or glaciers from melting. And it definitely won’t protect the most marginalized populations of our world who will be the first to suffer the ill effects of climate change, i.e., lack of food, forced evacuations from homelands, poor health, to name a few.

In 1970, when the first Earth Day was established, I was a student at Blessed Sacrament School in Erie. We made green and white ecology flags out of tissue paper and cardboard.

Our teachers challenged us to be mindful of the world around us. They asked us to notice the birds singing or to look at the color variations of the evergreens that lined our morning commute.

The sanctity of life in all of its forms is at the core of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

As Bishop Cantu said, “I can only hope that the president will propose concrete ways to address global climate change and promote environmental stewardship.”

Mary Solberg is the editor of FaithLife.

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Twitter: @ERIERCDsolberg



Mother Teresa Academy reaches out to inner-city students in Erie


Holy Family School graduates Johnny Drain, Dan Brigham and Courtney Kindle stand with the new logo of Mother Teresa Academy, which will replace Holy Family as an inner-city school in the Diocese of Erie. Drain and Brigham both are freshman at Cathedral Prep; Kindle is a freshman at Villa Maria Academy.

Story and photo by Mary Solberg | FAITHLIFE

Abby Williams cried tears of joy—tinged with sadness—when she learned last week that the Diocese of Erie was opening a new inner-city elementary school in Erie.

She was happy to learn that the new Mother Teresa Academy would provide a practically free Catholic education to her children, along with before- and after-school care. But she felt sad knowing that opening Mother Teresa meant closing another school, her alma mater Holy Family, located only four blocks from her home on Erie’s east side.

“I grew up at Holy Family and all my kids were baptized there,” Williams said, “but honestly, it made me cry that the diocese is being so generous offering to continue the education of my children and other city children.”

On June 1, Bishop Lawrence Persico announced that Mother Teresa Academy—a mission school for grades K-8—would open in January 2018 at the former St. Peter Cathedral School, W. 11th and Sassafras streets. It will replace Holy Family, located fewer than two miles away at 1153 E. 9th St.

For 33-year-old Williams and her husband, Gary, 41, sending most of their six children to Catholic schools has been a priority, despite the day-to-day struggle to make ends meet. They both work, but have depended on scholarships.

Mother Teresa Academy, modeled after Jubilee Catholic Schools in Memphis, Tenn., and other cities, offers an innovative tuition structure.

Although annual tuition will be set at $5,000, those who qualify for free lunch under the Federal Poverty Guidelines for Free and Reduced Lunch will only have to pay $250 per year, beginning in September 2017. Families who qualify for reduced lunches will pay $500 per year.

Another bonus for needy families is that Mother Teresa will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each school day. Before- and after-school care will be included in tuition costs.

“I love the name, Mother Teresa Academy,” Williams added. “Growing up at Holy Family, Mother Teresa was a big name and we learned a lot about her. I’m hoping the name will give out a good, positive vibe.”

Mother Teresa, who was canonized a saint last year, founded the Missionaries of Charity in the slums of India. According to Bishop Persico and others involved in the creation of Mother Teresa Academy, her mission spirit will pervade everything the school does.

“It was my sincere hope in restructuring our Catholic schools in the Erie area that we would be able to maintain our commitment to students in the inner-city,” Bishop Persico said. “Everyone recognizes this need in our community.”

He lauded the efforts of an exploratory committee under the leadership of Tina Donikowski, a retired senior executive and corporate officer at GE Transportation. The committee began work on the mission school concept in May 2016.

Last February, the Cathedral Prep and Villa Maria Academy board of directors approved a resolution to own and operate the new school.

There was an initial round of philanthropic community support and one “substantial” gift from an anonymous donor that provided the final green light to proceed, according to Chris Hagerty, director of strategic initiatives for Prep-Villa.

“We’re not done fundraising yet. The goal has always been to find funding now that will fund the next five years,” Hagerty said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re very close.”

Donikowski championed the effort with Sister Rosemary O’Brien, SSJ, who has worked for many years in inner-city parishes and with the migrant community; David Slomski, senior vice president of business banking at Marquette Savings Bank; and Attorney Jim Walczak, partner with MacDonald Illig Jones & Britton.

“I grew up on the lower east side; so did my husband. We’re benefactors of Catholic education. We think that it should be available to anyone, no matter what their economic situation is,” Donikowski said.

============================= THINGS TO KNOW=============================

  • All new applicants to Mother Teresa Academy must be residents of the City of Erie.
  • Priority will be given to new students who meet the Federal Poverty Guidelines and who are not currently enrolled at other Catholic schools in the area.
  • Families at Mother Teresa Academy will sign a contract in which they agree to be involved in their child’s education through volunteer work and by participation in parent-teacher conferences.
  • Renovations at the future school will be done between July and November.
  • For questions, contact Chris Hagerty at




Free dental clinic comes to Erie

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Erie’s Dr. Stephen Radack, center, volunteers at a free dental clinic in Allentown, Pa. (Photo courtesy of the Pennsylvania Dental Association)


As the saying goes, a dentist gets to the root of the problem.

Two Erie dentists who are parishioners of local Catholic churches are doing just that next month. Dr. Stephen Radack and Dr. Ronald Helminski will be among many dentists, hygienists and other medical personnel volunteering at a two-day, free dental clinic at Gannon University in Erie.

The problem they’re tackling is the great number of people who need—but cannot afford—regular dental care.

“When there is a choice between taking care of your teeth and putting food on your table, then some people have to put food on the table,” said Dr. Helminski, a lifelong member of Erie’s St. Hedwig Parish, now  merged into St. Stanislaus Parish. “If there is something I can do to make their life easier, then you’ve got to do it.”

Dr. Helminski and Dr. Radack, a parishioner of St. Luke in Erie, will join the non-profit MOM-n-PA dental mission on June 16-17 at Gannon’s Recreation and Wellness Center, 130 W. 4th St. Doors open at 6 a.m. each day, with patients treated on a first-come, first-served basis.

MOM-n-PA is the Pennsylvania division of Mission of Mercy, a non-profit, faith-based community organization that provides free healthcare, dental care and prescription medications to the uninsured and underinsured.

Because it receives no government funding, MOM can provide healthcare without any pre-qualifications. Patients attending the free dental clinic at Gannon do not need to prove their poverty or residency; they do not need to show an insurance card or identification.

Dr. Mary Jane Taylor, wellness director at Gannon, believes the MOM-n-PA dental clinic is in keeping with the social teaching of the Catholic Church and the mission of a Catholic university.

“It’s an incredible opportunity and people will be treated with kindness and respect,” Taylor said.

MOM-n-PA organizers expect the turnout at the Erie clinic to be similar to those held in other larger Pennsylvania cities the past four years. Volunteers treat up to 1,000 people per day.

Dr. Radack is co-leading the effort with Dr. Joseph Kohler, who attends St. Peter Cathedral, Erie. Radack started volunteering with MOM-n-PA when he was president of the Pennsylvania Dental Association.

A few years ago in Allentown, Pa., Dr. Radack saw people sleeping outside overnight waiting for the dental clinic to open. He treated one man who had large cavities in his upper front teeth.

“It screams out at you when you first look at that, but I was able to restore those teeth. It made a huge difference to him. He was able to go out and move on with confidence,” Dr. Radack said.


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Dr. Ronald Helminski at his Erie office. (Contributed photo)

Many dentists, nurses and practitioners from throughout the tri-state area already have signed up for the Erie clinic. Organizers are seeking more help, including non-medical people to serve as laboratory technicians, translators, patient ambassadors, and set-up and clean-up crews.

Dr. Helminski is volunteering at his first MOM-n-PA event. As a dentist in private practice the past 34 years, he believes that everyone deserves good dental care, even those who cannot afford to pay for it.

“People trust their bodies to us. That’s a pretty sacred trust,” Dr. Helminski said. “We have been given this privilege and we need to pay it forward.”



June 16-17—Gannon’s Recreation and Wellness Center, 130 W. 4th St., Erie. Doors open at 6 a.m.

Those interested in volunteering can visit or call the Gannon Recreation Center at 814-871-7770.


EXPRESSIVE THERAPY: HYS dedicates new arts center


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Harborcreek Youth Services resident Nick, foreground, plays a guitar riff for music therapist Sam Krahe and Catholic Charities Executive Director Ann Badach.

Story and Photos by Mary Solberg| FAITHLIFE

He’s only 17, but Nick Smith (not his real last name) says the past year has been the best of his life. He credits Harborcreek Youth Services (HYS), a psychiatric residential treatment center for young people.

“It saved my life,” says Nick, whose last name is withheld to protect his privacy.

Located in Harborcreek not far from the shores of Lake Erie in the Diocese of Erie, HYS is home to about 65 mostly young men who have been court-appointed or placed because of mental health issues or a history of personal trauma. It operates under the auspices of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Erie, offering not only residential care, but behavioral health services, foster care and specialized family therapy.

“This is home right now, I definitely think if I wasn’t here, I’d be in a lot more trouble,” Nick says. “I’ve been here for a year and two months and it’s been the best year and two months of my life.”

On May 11, Nick had even more reason to celebrate as HYS dedicated its new Father Jim Fahey Therapeutic Arts Center. More than 100 guests from the Erie community—including church, education and judicial representatives—were on-hand as Bishop Lawrence Persico blessed the site.

The Therapeutic Arts Center aims to reach troubled youth through various expressive therapies, including art, music and movement. Its goal is in keeping with the vision of the late Father Fahey, a diocesan priest who served as a past administrator at HYS.

Art, music and movement therapies are considered a vital treatment approach for those who have experienced both acute and chronic levels of trauma, severe emotional problems and other social skill development issues.

“This gives the boys a lot more opportunity for different kinds of activity and therapy,” says John Petulla, executive director of HYS and the main mover behind the three-year effort to build the Therapeutic Arts Center. “Talk therapy is good, but the expressive therapy is important, too.”

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John Petulla, executive director of HYS, shows Bishop Lawrence Persico the new art studio.

Sam Krahe, a music therapist at HYS, coordinates three groups of music classes three times a week. Although the center just opened, the buzz is positive among the boys, he says.

“It’s a lot easier to write something in a song than to talk about it,” Krahe explains. “If you can creatively put something in lyrics or arrange the music to get your emotions out, it’s easier than just talking. It’s a great starting point to jump into traditional talk therapy and discussion and counseling.”

For Nick, playing the guitar or banging on some drums have helped.

“In my opinion, it’s an outlet for emotions and trauma,” Nick says. “If you don’t want to sit there and explain it to a therapist, if you don’t want to sit there and tell your mom exactly how you feel, then put it in a song, record it and do something with it.”

Mercyhurst University President Michael Victor spoke at the dedication ceremony, expressing his appreciation for the longtime relationship Mercyhurst has had with HYS.

For many years, Mercyhurst’s criminology and criminal justice programs have offered students experiential learning opportunities at HYS.

In 2015, the Mercyhurst University-Harborcreek Youth Services Partnership was established to help build the Therapeutic Arts Initiative.

Mercyhurst students now assist HYS residents in exploring their treatment goals through music and art therapies. Another goal is to add dance and movement therapy.

“Through music, art and movement therapy combined with counseling, we are making great strides in helping these young people discover self-worth, emotional expression and social skills,” Victor told those gathered for the dedication ceremony. “What could be more motivating or more inspiring?”

To learn more about the Father Jim Fahey Therapeutic Arts Center or to donate to the Therapeutic Arts Initiative,
go to


Celebrating a Life: Renowned Christian musicians to honor parishioner with a combined concert

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Joyce Kulyk posed in this selfie with her late husband, Mark Kulyk, for whom the concert is dedicated. (Contributed photo)


   “We are many parts, we are all one body, and the gifts we have we are given to share. …”

   If you’ve been singing in church since the 1980s, you’ll most likely be able to finish this refrain from the popular liturgical song, “We Are Many Parts,” written by Marty Haugen.

   It ends: “May the spirit of love make us one indeed, one, the love that we share, one, our hope in despair, one, the cross that we bear.”

   Love, hope and the cross represent the Christian journey lived out by the late Mark Kulyk, a longtime musical leader and parishioner at Holy Cross Church in Fairview. His love of Haugen’s music, and that of two other renowned liturgical musicians—David Haas and Stephen Petrunak—will be shared at a concert featuring the three men May 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Holy Cross.

   Before his death to brain cancer last November, Kulyk, 60, had challenged Kathy Felong, the parish music director, to organize a concert featuring Haugen, Haas and Petrunak. He had long wanted to see the three men perform together, given their important contributions to liturgical music in Catholic churches over the past three decades.

   Felong knows Haugen, Haas and Petrunak through her involvement in the National Association for Pastoral Musicians (NPM) since the early 1990s. She has sung in concerts by Haas and Haugen and co-authored with Petrunak a series of method books for church guitarists. Petrunak is the newly named president of NPM.

   Surprisingly, all three were able to accommodate their schedules and commit to the upcoming concert. More than 300 tickets have been sold so far; tickets also are sale for a pre-concert reception with the musicians.

   “I think Mark would be thrilled to see the response of the people, knowing what a gift of faith the concert will be,” Felong says.

       Haas, Haugen and Petrunak did not know Mark Kulyk personally, but their music deeply touched him, says his wife, Joyce Kulyk. The couple worked for 25 years with Worldwide Marriage Encounter.

   “When their music came out, it was the new post-Vatican II sound,” Joyce Kulyk says. “The psalms they chose for their music were very singable and their words were more relatable to the liturgy and the Gospels. Mark had a positive feeling that it drew together the congregation. It was a unifying kind of feeling.”

   In a recent telephone conference call, Haugen, Haas and Petrunak told FaithLife that music ministry is about sharing gifts, believing that through their songs people in the pews are moved to action in their own faith. For Haas, it’s “humbling.”

   “We are servants. We trust that the Spirit will do its work,” says Haas, who has produced more than 50 collections of original music, including such songs as “We Have Been Told” and “Blest Are They.”

   For Haugen, music is a shared language that Mark Kulyk obviously spoke as well.

   “People still feel connected to our music,”  Haugen says. “Music comes at a time in our deepest moments.”

   Petrunak’s recordings are available through GIA Publications, including his most recent release, “With Hope and Healing.” He says music can enliven parishes, much like at Holy Cross.

   “We’re coming to honor a person’s life who sounds like an amazing man to his family and to his faith community,” Petrunak says.

   Before his death, Mark Kulyk knew the concert was going to happen. As Joyce Kulyk says, “He’ll be there.”


To reserve tickets, go to or call 814-474-2605. Cost is $15 per adult; free for children 12 and under. Tickets also at the door, unless sold out.

‘Woman Clothed With the Sun’: 100th Anniversary of Fatima

Pope Francis gestures toward crowd at beginning of  general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

CNS photo

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This is the first of a two-part series on the centenary of the Marian Apparitions at Fatima and celebrations in the Diocese of Erie.  

    This year marks the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Mary to three young shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal.

   The Blessed Mother appeared to Lucia dos Santos, 10, and her cousins Francisco, 9, and Jacinta Marto, 7, once each month from May 13 to Oct. 13, 1917. Her messages emphasized the importance of the Trinity, the Eucharist, penance, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the need to recite the rosary for peace and the conversion of souls.

   Although apparitions began in 1917, the children experienced their first supernatural encounters the year before. They saw an angel who encouraged them to pray and to make sacrifices for the reparation of sin.

   The angel’s appearance prepared them to see the coming vision of what Lucia described as “a lady clothed in white, brighter than the sun, radiating a light more clear and intense than a crystal cup filled with sparkling water lit by burning sunlight.”

   At least 4 million people a year visit Fatima, with more anticipated for the centenary.

 [Several events and special Masses are scheduled in parishes throughout the Diocese of Erie. See that list in the April 30 edition of FaithLife.]


Father David Poulson, spiritual director of the World Apostolate of Fatima, Erie Diocesan Division, discusses the impact of Fatima.

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Q: What does this 100th anniversary mean to you and the larger church?

Father Poulson: The thing that’s always attracted me about the message of Fatima is that over the course of my lifetime, I’ve seen the things Our Lady prophesied being fulfilled.

Our Lady had predicted the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II, the spread of Communism, wars and persecution of the church, and the church and the Holy Father would have much to suffer. Several entire nations would be annihilated.

But in the end, she said, “My Immaculate Heart will triumph and Russia will be converted and a period of peace would be granted to the world.”

That promise of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart and a period of peace being granted to the world was something that always inspired me to do what Our Lady had asked, which is mainly to offer up the sufferings involved in carrying out our daily duties and to offer those up to the conversion of sinners and to pray the rosary every day for peace in the world.

Q: The world’s not yet in that period of peace.

Father Poulson: No, it’s not. I don’t think anybody any more places their hope in human means to bring about world peace.

We really need Our Lady’s intercession and God’s intervention to bring it about.

Q: The secrets revealed at Fatima can be scary. Do you agree?

Father Poulson: Aspects of the messages are scary. They were scary to the children…the vision of hell, for example. But it’s all avoidable by people living a life that is faithful to the Gospel and to the teachings of Jesus, keeping the Commandments and living a life of faith and prayer.

Q: What would you say to people who are skeptical of the apparitions at Fatima?

Father Poulson: The children themselves asked Our Lady to perform some sign so that everybody would believe. That’s why Our Lady did the “Miracle of the Sun” on Oct. 13, 1917. [The miracle was viewed by 70,000 or more people in the pasture area known as the Cova da Iria and was reported to have been seen from as far as 25 miles away.]

Q: Then it’s a matter of faith?

Father Poulson: It always is. The advantage that we have in the 21st century is that we can look back and see that what Our Lady prophesied has happened step by step in the order that she predicted. We have even more reasons to trust in this message than the three children had.

Q: What is the message for the 21st century?

Father Poulson: Our Lady came to warn us about world wars, communism and the persecution of the church, but at the same time to give us hope that people’s souls can be saved and peace in the world is free for the asking. All we have to do is pray for them.


Calvary Cemetery expands mausoleum

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Urns begin to fill the new niches created in the Calvary West Mausoleum on West Lake Road in Erie.                                 (Contributed photo)


    Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

   For those who operate cemeteries, Franklin’s quote is an important reminder to always think ahead when it comes to space for burial and/or inurnment.

   Calvary Cemetery, one of four cemeteries operated by the Erie Diocesan Cemeteries, recently completed expansion of one of its two mausoleums. A total of 168 niches, or columbariums, have been added, according to Linda Chrzanowski, family services representative at Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum on West Lake Road in Erie.

   Niches are 12-by-12-by-12-inch boxes designed for the respectful and public storage of cremated remains. An urn is placed in the niche behind glass or marble.

   “There’s always a need for space,” Chrzanowski said. “People are choosing cremation more now.”

   Per person, the cost for a standard ground burial in a full casket at Calvary is about $5,000, compared to about $3,000 for cremation and ground burial. The average cost to put cremated remains in one niche in a mausoleum is roughly $3,000.

   Keeping in mind the continued need for expansion, Calvary officials last year recognized that its mausoleum on the west side had space that was not being used.

   Two 16-foot folding doors that separated the chapel from the mausoleum could be removed to allow room for more niches.

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A crew from Schutte Woodworking of Erie works on the niche walls at one of Calvary Cemetery’s mausoleums.   (Contributed photo)

   Calvary hired Schutte Woodworking of Erie to remove the doors and create two niche walls, 7 feet wide and 12 feet high. Steve Rimpa, owner of Schutte, said workers also built the openings for the niches. They were conscious of the look of the existing woodwork and color.

   “We tried to make it look as if it basically always looked like that,” Rimpa said.

   Biondan North America, based in Toronto, created the actual niches, as well as the glass and marble for the final finish.

   “We needed the inside space, so this gives people who have a loved one entombed at Calvary West the opportunity to also be there,” Chrzanowski said.

   For Rimpa and his crew, working at a cemetery requires sensitivity. They did not start construction until after Valentine’s Day, when many people visit cemeteries.

   Construction during the regular work week required some adjustments when people came to place flowers or pray.

   “We’d take a break or do a job outside during those times. People were understanding,” Rimpa said.

   Calvary Cemetery was consecrated as a diocesan cemetery in July 1921.

   Other diocesan cemeteries are: Trinity, which opened in 1869; Gate of Heaven, in 1968; and Mary Queen of Peace, which was consecrated in August 1996.