TRAGEDY to HOPE: Prep wrestler turns to prayer, friends in rehab from spinal cord injury

 

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Cathedral Prep junior Ian Malisiewski arrives Nov. 7 for the celebration of his first day back at school after a serious wrestling accident last June.

BY MARY SOLBERG | FAITHLIFE

Cathedral Prep junior Ian Malisiewski suffered a serious spinal cord injury while wrestling six months ago, but the people closest to him say his indomitable spirit has surfaced.
“I can count on one hand the really tough times he’s had, and mostly those were about missing a wrestling tournament or something,” says his mom, Hallie Reid. “Every morning, he gets up and says, ‘OK, let’s go to work. Let’s do this.’ He never complains.”
That determination has carried 16-year-old Ian through surgery and several months of intense physical therapy. He fractured two vertebrae and injured his spinal cord June 3 while competing in the United World Wrestling (UWW) Cadet Greco-Roman Nationals in Akron, Ohio.
Paralyzed from the neck down immediately after his accident, Ian has regained some movement in his arms, shoulders and hands. According to his dad, T.J. Malisiewski, doctors probably will not have a clear prognosis until swelling is reduced completely in his son’s spinal column.
“We’re not giving up hope. His prognosis is above what they thought. He wants to keep moving forward in life and he doesn’t want this to hold him back,” T.J. Malisiewski says.
On Nov. 7, Ian returned to Cathedral Prep, cheered on by his classmates, faculty and staff as he wheeled through the first floor to his classroom. Students like Tommy Russo and Garrett Heidt, both juniors, held signs: “Ian Strong,” and “#BeADog,” a reference to a 2011 video of then-Coastal Carolina football coach David Bennett, who advised players to “be a dog” instead of a “kitty cat.”
“It’s his [Ian’s] mentality. It’s how he operates,” Heidt says. “He hasn’t changed one bit. He’s the same Ian who we’ve always known, just full of life. He’s always making us laugh and making us smile.”
His first friend at Prep, Ethan Rys, also was on-hand for Ian’s first day back at school. They caught up with each other in the classroom that has been converted from the school spirit store to one that can accommodate Ian’s new specially made computer.
“There’s no one like Ian,” Rys says. “He’s crazy energetic. It’s been a hard time, but it’s been inspiring, too, just to see the outpouring from the community.”
The night of the accident, hundreds of people gathered at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Erie. They held an impromptu prayer service while awaiting news on Ian’s eight-hour surgery at Akron Children’s Hospital.
The Catholic Preparatory School community, which includes Prep and Villa Maria Academy, set up the “Ian Fund,” requesting donations to assist the family through Ian’s rehabilitation and recovery.(Make donations at http://www.prep-villa.com or checks can be made payable to Cathedral Prep and sent to Cathedral Prep’s Advancement Office, 225 W. 9th St., Erie, PA 16501, with “Ian Fund” in the memo line.)
In September, another benefit was held at Gravel Pit Park in North East.
“I learned that prayers work,” Ian says. “I had a lot of prayers said for me, not only from my class, but everybody in Erie. They just helped pull me through this emotionally and physically.”
Father Jason Feigh, campus minister, has met with Ian weekly since his accident. They do independent study for confirmation preparation.
“His return was an early Thanksgiving and Christmas present to the Prep community,” Father Jason says. “It shows hope amidst tragedy.”
According to Father Jason, Ian’s “big heart”—in the face of such difficulty—has brought everyone together. Even before the accident, Ian was active at Prep, participating in football and wrestling, Campus Ministry and Key Club. This year, he is serving as class vice president.
“He continues to inspire people in ways he has no idea of,” Father Jason adds. “He is not only a witness of how to carry himself personally, but spiritually.”
Since his return to school, Ian attends classes in the morning and then eats lunch with friends. He then goes to physical therapy for the rest of the day.
And, of course, he and his family depend on prayers.
Says his mom, Hallie: “People say how much they’re sending prayers. I’ll take anything. It makes him feel better to know that people care and that they love him.”

Diocesan communications staff wins five Niagara Awards

The Communications Office of the Diocese of Erie won five Niagara Awards Nov. 17 from the Northwestern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

The awards—presented at The Brewerie at Union Station—are given annually to public relations practitioners who have successfully addressed a contemporary issue with “exemplary professional skills, creativity and resourcefulness.” Judges gave points on sound research, planning, execution and evaluation.

Faith magazine-—with editor Anne-Marie Welsh—garnered a gold Niagara for the December 2015 edition covering Pope Francis’ visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families. The magazine also won the Best of Show Award for that edition.

Additionally, Welsh won a gold for internal communications for the unveiling  of parish restructuring. Elizabeth Butterfield, graphic designer, won a gold for her series of ads celebrating National Catholic Sisters Week.

Mary Solberg, editor of FaithLife newspaper, won a silver Niagara for her story, “Behind the Razor Wire,” about prison ministry in the diocese.

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Communications staff members, from left, are: Anne-Marie Welsh, Elizabeth Butterfield, Brenda Williams and Rich Papalia.

 

 

Guest Column: God still opens holy doors

By Brandon Vogt

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Brandon Vogt

What better way to celebrate the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy than at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Harborcreek?

On Jan. 1, 2016, the entrance to Mary’s Chapel at Our Lady of Mercy became a holy door of mercy. We were chosen as one of seven pilgrimage sites where the faithful could visit in the Diocese of Erie.

No one at Our Lady of Mercy anticipated all the blessings we would experience this year. We were challenged to provide the best hospitality we could to those who visited our church for the first time.

Our pastoral staff made a concentrated effort to explain the Year of Mercy, the sacrament of reconciliation, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and the concept of indulgences. We offered reconciliation services, the Stations of the Cross, Eucharistic exposition and adoration, and most recently, a musical concert.

Many people—some from as far away as the states of California, Washington and Massachusetts—visited Our Lady of Mercy this year and signed the register book we created specifically for the Year of Mercy.

Groups from the Diocese of Erie that passed through our holy door included the Franklin and Oil City Cursillo, Our Lady of Peace and St. Jude the Apostle faith sharing, the Ladies Guild at St. Anthony Parish in Tionesta, members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania, and the St. George/Springhill Legion of Mary.

Msgr. Gerald Ritchie, pastor, has said how inspiring it was to see so many visitors to our holy door.

“We hope and pray that those who entered the holy door might be truly motivated to show God’s mercy to those whose lives they touch,” he says.

All of us are on a pilgrimage together. Like our ancestors in faith, we pilgrims are bonded into community, journeying together in a spiritual quest with hearts open to new insights into God’s mercy.

As the Year of Mercy comes to a close this month, it’s good to remember that we all are called to be a pilgrim people on a journey to the eternal holy door of heaven. The opportunity to be involved in the Year of Mercy by hosting a pilgrimage site has prompted me to stop and give thanks for all the doors God opens for us.

Whether or not you have had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage this year, hopefully the doors of our lives and our hearts have been opened a little wider to receive God’s bountiful mercy and to share that mercy with others.

Brandon Vogt is the director of pastoral liturgy and music at Our Lady of Mercy Church, Harborcreek.

A Shrine to the Yankees: Priest maintains love of team despite them not going to World Series

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Msgr. Richard Siefer, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, and administrator of St. Josseph and St. Michael the Archangel parishes, all in DuBois, stands in his so-called “Yankee Shrine” in the rectory of St. Catherine.                                                                                                                                                                                           

Story and photo by Mary Solberg | FaithLife

This year’s World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians is all about answered prayers, but Msgr. Richard Siefer isn’t praying for either team.

He’s a die-hard New York Yankees fan, a birthright bestowed on him by his late dad, Jack. Father and son regularly traveled from Oil City to Cleveland in the 1950s and ‘60s to watch the likes of Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maras.

“My Yankees aren’t in the Series this year, so I don’t care who wins,” says Msgr. Siefer, pastor of St. Catherine Parish, and administrator of both St. Joseph and St. Michael the Archangel parishes, all in DuBois.

Yankees fans are accustomed to success, having seen their team win a total of 27 World Series titles. But not this year. New York’s poor showing in the first half of the season kept them from coming out on top. The Cubs and the Indians both hope to break decades-long droughts.

Msgr. Siefer’s rabid Yankee loyalty prompts parishioners, family and friends to give him memorabilia whenever possible. Over the years, he has amassed some 200 items, ranging from baseballs to books, bats, caps, cards, statues and photos.

“I finally organized it into my Yankee shrine in a side room on the second floor of the rectory [of St. Catherine Parish],” Msgr. Siefer, 68, says.

His most precious possession is an autographed Mickey Mantle baseball, given to him by a former parishioner. One oddity in the collection is a Texas Rangers cap that some parishioners presented to him when the Rangers beat the Yankees in the 2010 playoffs.

“They said it had to go in the Yankee shrine,” he says, laughing.

In 2015, celebrating his 40th anniversary as a priest of the Diocese of Erie, Msgr. Siefer received four free tickets to a Yankees game in New York, compliments of behind-the-scenes work by Bishop Emeritus Donald Trautman and some parishioners. During the seventh inning, the jumbotron flashed “Congratulations, Msgr. Siefer.”

Although his all-time favorite Yankees player is Mickey Mantle, Msgr. Siefer considers Gary Sánchez, a rookie catcher, to be at the top of the current lineup. This year, Sánchez hit about 20 homeruns.

Among Msgr. Siefer’s most treasured memories was when he saw several members of the famed team—including Yogi Berra—walk into the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Cleveland. It was about 1960 and the young Siefer and his dad were attending Mass during one of their weekend baseball pilgrimages.

“I was going to get their autographs, but they were gone after Communion,” Msgr. Siefer remembers.

At the time, he was impressed that his baseball idols also went to church. But that’s not why he considered the priesthood. Msgr. Siefer credits former Erie Bishop Edward McManaman for inspiring him as a young child to religious life.

The evolution of Msgr. Siefer’s “Yankee shrine” is inspirational on another, more temporal, level. He always dreamed of becoming as good a player as Mantle.

The 12-year-old that still resides in him says, emphatically, “The Yankees speak to my soul.”

Villa Maria Elementary to close at end of academic year

img_7560By Mary Solberg | FaithLife

Erie’s Villa Maria Elementary School—a mainstay of Catholic education offered by the Sisters of St. Joseph since 1892—will close at the end of this academic year.

Sister Mary Herrmann, SSJ, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania, publicly announced the closure at an Oct. 4 news conference at the community’s motherhouse in Erie. She and other members of her leadership team met the previous two days with members of the board of trustees, with parents and school personnel. Some expressed deep sadness and frustration at the passing of an era.

In explaining the decision to close a school so close to the hearts of generations of sister-educators, Sister Mary stated, “The Sisters of St. Joseph always try to respond to current needs. We give up a particular ministry when that need can be met by others.”

Giving up the ministry of elementary education was not made lightly by the aging religious congregation. But with the establishment of the new Erie Catholic School System, announced by the Diocese of Erie last spring, the sisters felt confident that students had strong options for Catholic education. A recent pastoral planning study by the diocese indicated that current demographics do not support keeping all Erie area Catholic elementary schools open in the foreseeable future.

Villa Elementary is a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph, not a diocesan school, but sisters have collaborated over the years with the diocese by staffing Villa and nearly 40 other elementary and secondary schools.

“This is a proactive response that reflects our belief that together we are stronger and can more effectively fulfill the Gospel mandate of preaching and teaching God’s word,” Sister Mary said.

Bishop Lawrence Persico lauded the Sisters of St. Joseph for their longtime commitment to Catholic education.

“One thing I admire most about women religious is their commitment to following wherever the Spirit leads them,” the bishop said. “When they see a need, they meet it. In our diocese, they have addressed needs in health care, in Catholic education and in social ministry, always filling the gaps. But they also have the courage to move on when those needs are met by others.”

The school’s 12-member board of trustees expressed dismay Oct. 3 when it first learned of the school closure and the sisters’ decision to replace the board with a nine-member governing board of sisters. All former board members have been invited to be part of a transition team being created this year.

In a letter to parents and other members of the school community, former board of trustees members stated, “We fully understand that there is little that we can do to make you feel better about the SSJ’s decision— most of us have children at the school ourselves and are experiencing the same kind of disorientation and worry as you.”

Mary Gibson, president of the newly created Erie Catholic School System, personally understands the impact of a school closure. Last year, as principal of Erie’s now-closed St. Peter Cathedral School, she had to help students and parents say good-bye to a school they loved.

At the invitation of the SSJs, Gibson was on-hand at the parent meeting this week, as well as at the news conference, to extend support and offer help to families and students planning for the future.  Currently, the school’s enrollment stands at 431 in pre-school through eighth grade.

Gibson said there is more than enough room in all of the Catholic schools in the Erie area to accommodate students from Villa Elementary. She recommends that Villa Elementary students visit other schools and go over the pros and cons for their family situation.

“It’s a difficult time for parents,” Gibson said. “I would recommend that they be sympathetic and be open to their children’s concerns. Try to be as positive as possible about the process even though it’s tough, but especially because it’s tough.”

Damon Finazzo, principal of Villa Elementary, has met with students to confirm the closing. It’s better, he said, to all be “on the same page” and to come together during a difficult moment.

“We’re going to go one day at a time and we’re going to make every day awesome for our kids,” Finazzo said. “The kids are looking to us for direction. I just told them how awesome they are and how awesome we are. They were very receptive; they’re good kids.”

Change has been at the core of the Villa experience since the Sisters of St. Joseph first arrived in the Diocese of Erie to teach young women at St. Ann Academy in Corsica, Pa. In 1892, the SSJs established Villa Maria Academy for grades 1 through 12. In the late 1920s, the school became two entities: Villa Maria Elementary for grades 1 through 8, and Villa Maria Academy for grades 9 through 12.

The community founded Villa Maria College, which later merged with Gannon University in Erie. And in 2009, Villa Maria Academy successfully merged with Cathedral Prep, creating the Erie Catholic Preparatory School.

 

Marathoner, SSJs help immigrants

BY MARY SOLBERG | FAITHLIFE

    Ajla Glavasevic and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwest Pennsylvania have teamed up for a cause close to their hearts.

At 27, Glavasevic finished the Erie Marathon Sept. 11 to help raise money for the new Sisters of St. Joseph Initiative for Immigration Fund. The goal is to collect $10,000 to finance legal assistance for the increasing number of immigrants in northwestern Pennsylvania.

At press time, Glavasevic—who is an attorney with ‎Jones, Gregg, Creehan & Gerace in Sharon—raised $2,610 through the fundraising site www.crowdrise.com.

“My goal is to let immigrants know about the options available. Legal services do exist and there is a way that we can alleviate the financial stress and pressures,” Glavasevic says.

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Ajla Glavasevic enjoyed a recent practice run along Presque Isle Bay. (Photo by Mary Solberg)

Glavasevic, who at age 6 immigrated to Erie with her family from Bosnia and Herzegovina, understands the plight of displaced people. The genocide and war in the former Yugoslavia had claimed at least six members of her extended family.

“This has been a driving force. I know the sacrifices that many of these people endure when they come into this country,” she says.

Growing up in Erie, Glavasevic got to know the Sisters of St. Joseph through her best friend, Meredith Pompeani, who is the daughter of Stephanie Hall, the religious community’s public relations director. Over the years, Glavasevic attended many events sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

They share a common vision of peace and social justice. So when Glavasevic approached Hall about doing a marathon, ideas started rolling.

Hall and the SSJ leadership team brainstormed about ways to combine the community’s peace and justice outreach with Glavasevic’s legal expertise and passion for immigrants.

“The passion Ajla has…oh my gosh,” Hall says. “She’s a go-getter.”

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A group of family, friends and members of the Sisters of St. Joseph community surround Ajla Glavasevic, pictured standing seventh from left, at the Erie Marathon at Presque Isle State Park Sept. 11.                                                            (Contributed photo)

Glavasevic eaned her undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, where she attended as a Division I track and field captain and scholarship student. In May 2014, she earned her law degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Law. An elite athlete, she spent a year competing as a member of the USA women’s bobsled team, through which she met her fiancé, who is a member of Austria’s men’s bobsled team.

Since January 2016, she has practiced law with Jones, Gregg in the areas of immigration, domestic relations, criminal and employment law.

Erie, she says, is the fifth largest resettlement community in the nation, yet there are no attorneys in the region strictly devoted to practicing immigration law.

“I think immigration law will be growing 100 percent. How long that growth will last will depend on the policies and laws that are implemented in this country,” she says. “If we become more isolationist, there could be changes in deportation. If we become more open, we will see an influx of refugees.”

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To donate to the Initiative for Immigration Fund, search Ajla at www.crowdrise.com.      

For those who want to send a contribution by mail, checks may be made payable to the Sisters of St. Joseph, earmarked for the Initiative for Immigration Fund, and mailed to:
Sisters of St. Joseph of
Northwestern Pennsylvania
5031 West Ridge Road, Erie, PA  16506

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Ajla Glavasevic finished the Erie Marathon. (Photo by Stephanie Hall)

HOPE in the CROSS: Hungarian immigrant spreads peace through woodwork

BY MARY SOLBERG | FAITHLIFE

People stop to pray nearly every day before the eight-foot wooden cross in front of Tashawna Harden’s house at 2307 Holland Street in Erie.

Two years ago, Harden’s cousin Tyshaun Thrower was shot and killed just north of Harden’s home in one of Erie’s most violence-prone neighborhoods. The cross stands as a magnet of hope, surrounded by flowers and stuffed animals left by people who knew the 20-year-old victim.

“You see people here anytime of the day or night. They talk to the cross just like they’re talking to Tyshaun. Or they pray,” Harden says. “The cross brings peace. It brings people together.”

 

Harden, 23, has come to love the cross in her front yard; it seems to keep her cousin close. But an unlikely consequence of the tragedy is that she and her extended family have developed a friendship with Erie resident Frank Juhasz, a Hungarian immigrant in his 70s, who made the cross and offered to place it at the murder scene.

 

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Frank Juhasz stands with Tashawna Harden and a wooden cross he made to remember Tashawna’s cousin who was murdered in 2014. (Photo by Mary Solberg)

A member of Erie’s Son of God Prayer Group at Holy Rosary Church, Juhasz was moved to tears when he saw people gathered to pray at E. 23rd and Holland streets just days after Tyshaun’s murder on Oct. 24, 2014.

“It breaks your heart what’s happening in the city,” Juhasz says, standing next to Harden one recent summer afternoon. “When someone drives by the cross, they can’t help but think of Christ and that he died for us. We should flood this town with crosses.”

Juhasz and the Son of God Prayer Group have installed several pressure-treated crosses throughout Erie. Some of them stand at 20 feet; others are 18 feet and 14 feet. Juhasz made them all.

He spent his career rebuilding industrial machinery, having owned and operated the former Juhasz Industry in Erie. On a business trip to Lithuania in September 1993, he first became inspired by the powerful nature of the cross when he made a personal pilgrimage to the site known as the Hill of Crosses.

Years later, Juhasz started to build his own.

“When you see a cross, it represents God. It represents your faith,” Juhasz says. “I know Christ was crucified on one of those. It reminds people to get hate out of their heart. If you love Christ, then you have no hate. That young man would not have been killed if there was no hate.”

Besides the cross in front of the Harden home, there are others that encircle the neighborhood. An 18-footer is located across the street next to a playground. Another one is outside Missionary Baptist Church at E. 21st and Holland.

 

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A large cross created by Frank Juhasz of Erie is displayed at the busy intersection of East Avenue and Buffalo Road in Erie.

About 18 months ago, Juhasz asked Parris Baker, pastor of Believers International Worship Center, if he could install a 20-foot cross—complete with a barbed wire crown of thorns—on the community’s currently vacant property at East Avenue and Buffalo Road.

Pastor Baker agreed. As program director of Gannon University’s Social Work Department, he and his congregation are searching for any and all ways to curb the violence that has plagued city streets. They are working closely with police, doing ride-alongs with patrolmen and conducting diversity training.

“The cross is a powerful symbol; it has a galvanizing effect and reminds people of the answer,” Pastor Baker says.