• By Sister Margie Lavonis, CSC

    SOUTH BEND — Michelle Toepp was always interested in working with poor children.

    “One reason I entered the Sisters of the Holy Cross was because it was an international congregation,” she said. “That was a pull for me. I also wanted to work with poor children and I knew that the congregation did that type of ministry since I taught with the sisters at Holy Cross Grade School in South Bend.”

    Sister Michelle entered the congregation in 1984. After she made her first vows in 1987, she was sent to Los Angeles, Calif., to teach at St. Agnes, a grade school in the inner city staffed by the sisters. While living there, she earned a master’s degree in education and psychology with an emphasis on children. From Los Angeles she spent a year in Brazil having a multicultural experience.

    “This was a chance for me to get to know our sisters and their ministries in another country and see if I was called to be a missionary,” said Sister Michelle. “And when I returned to the United States after that experience, I knew I wanted to live and minister in another country.”

    She planned to return to Brazil, but God had another plan. She was asked to consider helping begin the congregation’s mission in Mexico. She said, “yes,” and has been in Mexico since 1996. Sister Michelle’s first 15 years were spent in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, and now she lives and works in San Ildefonso, a very rural area in the state of Queretaro.

    Sister Michelle got her wish to work with children. When she was in Monterrey she worked with approximately 250 children each year who came from the different chapels in the parish of La Luz, where Holy Cross men and women minister together. At San Ildefonso, where she has been for a year and a half, she has touched the lives of 50 more children.

    Her work with the children includes helping with homework, religious education, values and ecology. They also learn to play together, and learn about health and safety. She teaches the children discipline and responsibility, among other important lessons.

    “What I like the most about teaching,” said Sister Michelle “is touching the lives of these children. I love working with them, and I learn so much from them. There is never a dull moment working with children. I love helping them discover so much about themselves, God, life and so much more.”

    Sister Michelle is pleased that the ministry of the Sisters of the Holy Cross is growing in Mexico. She is helping expand the ministry beyond Monterrey, where the majority of the Holy Cross family is located, and new members are joining the congregation. There are four native sisters ministering in Mexico and one in the novitiate at Saint Mary’s.

    Her deepest desire is that “hopefully, in the not too distant future, we will be able to spread out more and collaborate more with the Holy Cross men to reach out to even more poor people.”

    Sister Michelle is the daughter of Marilyn and John Toepp, who are members of St. Matthew Cathedral Parish in South Bend.






    Posted on October 10, 2012, to:

  • Bishop Rhoades blesses the efforts of the Christ Child Society and their new facility on the first morning of their 2012 Coats for Kids distribution.

    By Michelle Castleman

    FORT WAYNE — At this year’s annual Mass and dinner with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades to be held on Oct. 15, the Christ Child Society will celebrate a special milestone — 15 years as a chapter in Fort Wayne. Over their short tenure in Fort Wayne, the Christ Child Society has grown by leaps and bounds and multiplied their membership tenfold.

    Bishop Rhoades was on hand Oct. 3 to bless a special endeavor — a new facility to house their “Coats for Kids” distribution project. Since its inception, Christ Child Society has given out brand new winter coats, hats and gloves each fall to youngsters in the Fort Wayne community who might otherwise go without.

    Christ Child Society procured the old Sears building at Rudisill Plaza thanks to the generous efforts of Tippmann Properties, upgrading from both St. Paul’s, then Sacred Heart School, where they have been housed since the first coats were distributed in October 1998. The new space will be leased to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend at a nominal charge and no rental fee will be passed on to the Christ Child Society.

    The location is ideal and will serve the clients of the Christ Child Society well.

    Bill Dotterweich, who has been instrumental to the ongoing success of the Christ Child Society, detailed, “The building is located conveniently on a bus route, has more than ample parking, full time security guards and large, clean lavatory facilities on both floors.”

    There is much activity in the area with other tenants in the building that employ over 200 people. Family and Social Services Agencies are also under the same roof making it a familiar stop for the clients. The Christ Child Society is segregated from the rest of the well-maintained building with a separate street level entrance.

    Coats for Kids is just one of the many ministries of the Christ Child Society. A relieved and grateful 2012 co-chair, Lynne Pollifrone, stated, “We are so blessed to have obtained this facility. It has taken a lot of hard work by everyone involved, but our first distribution day went very smoothly.”

    Coats will be distributed again each Wednesday during the month of October. The project started humbly, giving out 93 coats the very first year. Over time, records kept on hand-written 5×7 index cards have been replaced by speedy check-ins on seven donated laptops and last year members gave out over 2,000 coats.

    The other original ministry, which is at the heart of every Christ Child chapter, is Layettes for Infants. Like their founder, Mary Virginia Merrick, first did in 1884, Christ Child Society members assemble and provide hundreds of layettes annually containing clothing, a blanket, diapers, baby bottles and other basic necessities for a newborn infant in need at area hospitals and social service agencies.

    Also in 1998, Christ Child Society members added My Stuff Backpacks that contain personal items and school supplies for children in crisis situations to their list of undertakings with tutoring at Most Precious Blood and St. John, Fort Wayne, grade schools, provided since 2001. These ministries currently operate out of the Archbishop Noll Catholic Center. Crib Club came on board in 2004. The Christ Child Society maintains a room at three different locations located within the Women’s Care Centers (WCC) in Fort Wayne known as the Crib Club. The rooms are stocked with infant care items for expectant and new mothers who are clients of the WCC. The women use coupons they have earned by attending prenatal check-ups and parenting classes to “shop” in the room. In addition, Christ Child Society has four different internal committees for their nearly 200 members to become involved including: event planning/fundraising, spiritual, communications and membership.

    The Fort Wayne chapter came about after founding president, Peggy Dotterweich, ran into then National Christ Child Society president Kathleen Gibbons at a reception following the Notre Dame vs. Ohio State football game in 1995.

    “She asked for help. It was that simple,” Dotterweich explained. Discussions, correspondence, visits and a request to then Bishop John M. D’Arcy followed over the next year. Finally, in April 1997, 18 charter members, who mostly came from the Orphans’ Guild, got the green light for the very first meeting.

    Dotterweich continued, “Our chapter was one of the first to set up as a 501c3 nonprofit corporation. If something were to happen to national, our chapter would always be there, no matter what.”

    Fort Wayne is one of over 40 chapters of the National Christ Child Society across the country that provides services to at-risk children. The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend also has a large chapter in South Bend. Founded in 1887 in Washington, D.C., by Merrick, volunteers continue to live out the legacy of their founder by sharing and expanding her vision of faith-in-action 125 years later.


    Posted on October 10, 2012, to:

  • The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), the public policy arm of the Indiana bishops, offers Hoosier Catholics a three-part series of articles profiling statewide-elected officials. In each article, the candidates were asked pertinent questions that relate to the office that they seek to hold. The questions and answers appear in their entirely below. The articles are to serve as a resource for Catholics.

    INDIANAPOLIS — In a matter of weeks, nationwide millions of Catholics will enter the voting booth to cast their vote. According to the Official Catholic Directory by P.J. Kennedy & Sons approximately 700,000 Catholics reside in Indiana. These Hoosiers will have the opportunity to make their mark on the national canvas by electing several national office holders including one U.S. Senator from Indiana.

    Three U.S. Senate candidates seek the office. Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock is running on the Republican ticket; Congressman Joe Donnelly (D-IN), who is currently serving in the 2nd Congressional District, will run on the Democrat ticket; and Andrew Horning, who works in the cardiovascular healthcare industry, will run on the Libertarian ticket. All three candidates were invited to participate in the Catholic Conference election series. Below are their responses. The candidates appear in alphabetical order.

    Responses from Joe Donnelly

    Question: What is your position in regard to protecting unborn human life from abortion and committing federal resources to ending abortion?

    Donnelly: I believe human life is sacred, and I value it in all its forms. I oppose abortion, am pro-life, and believe that government policies should encourage life and make it easier for parents to adopt children.

    Question: We hear much about the economy but what is to be done about the moral imperative of pervasive poverty. What would you do to address the problem of pervasive poverty; what policies/path(s) do you offer to overcome it?

    Donnelly: I often say that the best social program is a job for mom and dad, and that means giving Hoosier men and women the skills and education they need to compete while working with local businesses to provide them with the environment they need to grow. To that end, we need to make sure local educational institutions are teaching the skills employers need now.

    Question: How would you balance the problem of public debt, making it manageable, as it relates to the moral obligation of providing for the least?

    Donnelly: We must get our fiscal house in order, which is why I have supported almost $2.4 trillion in spending cuts and have given back over $600,000 from my office budgets since coming to Congress. Yet we cannot balance our budgets on the backs of the least among us, seniors, students and veterans, like the budget my opponent Richard Mourdock supports.

    Question: What is your position on legislation and regulations that forces health-care providers to provide, pay for or refer for services contrary to their conscience for moral or religious reasons?

    Donnelly: There is a common sense solution that needs to be found, one that protects access to health services while also ensuring that religiously-affiliated institutions are not required to act against their religious beliefs. Finding common ground can be achieved administratively. Religious institutions have the clear right to pursue this option through the courts as well. I am confident a solution can be found.

    Question: What immigration policy would you pursue that would protect the human dignity of all persons?

    Donnelly: Our country has a rich history of legal immigration, and to that end, I support those who travel to this country legally. I support bipartisan efforts to immigration reform as no one party gets it right 100 percent of the time. We will need to work together to fix the immigration system in our country.

    Question: Do you support or oppose the overturning of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?

    Donnelly: I oppose overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman as it is defined under both Indiana and federal law. I also believe that current Indiana and federal laws adequately address the issue of same sex-marriage and should remain in place.

    Responses from Andrew Horning

    Question: What is your position in regard to protecting unborn human life from abortion and committing federal resources to ending abortion?

    Horning: I’ve been a fan of Ron Paul’s pro-life plan to remove abortion from the appellate jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court. Clarifying who gets constitutional rights (all humans), as Dr. Paul and others have proposed, is something I could get behind. Overturning Roe v Wade as law, of course, would be a no-brainer. And I’d likely support legislation to clarify certain interstate abortion/life issues that cross state lines (if a father has to pay child support if a child is born, why couldn’t he have some say over whether the child can live, for example … this issue often crosses state lines). But murder is, unless it does cross state lines, a state issue.

    There are other things related to this that should get more attention than just abortion, in my opinion. Since few of us have any stomach for imprisoning more people for more things, we need to think more about prevention. So I’d get behind proposals to reduce barriers to adoption, or reduce the disparity between reproductive and fiduciary rights between men, women and politics.

    Question: We hear much about the economy but what is to be done about the moral imperative of pervasive poverty. What would you do to address the problem of pervasive poverty; what policies/path(s) do you offer to overcome it?

    Horning: Take away from Caesar what we should never have surrendered unto Caesar! I’d cut federal government down to its constitutionally authorized, legitimate size; and thereby remove the impediments to success we’ve imposed upon our citizens. The opportunity costs of our crony capitalism, corrupt and lawless lawmaking, and ungoverned government are too high. Our debts are unsupportable. All of it is illegal, immoral, and will stop either by design and careful execution, or by slack jaw surprise in failure.

    Question: How would you balance the problem of public debt, making it manageable, as it relates to the moral obligation of providing for the least?

    Horning: When did the church give charity unto Caesar? Where are we called to delegate our accountability for compassion to the keeper of jails and bombs? This is not a balancing act! This is about right, wrong, authority and law; and I say we restore the laws proven to be better than any other society has come up with for at least a very, very long time. The constitutions, state and federal, as written, are still law. But they aren’t even close to what we’re doing now. See http://horningforsenate.com/files/THE-UNITED-STATES-CONSTITUTION-1211.pdf

    Question: What is your position on legislation and regulations that forces health-care providers to provide, pay for or refer for services contrary to their conscience for moral or religious reasons?

    Horning: They are unconstitutional, immoral and corrupt and can’t work. See http://wedeclare.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/a-short-history-of-health-care-let-doctors-be-doctors/

    Question: What immigration policy would you pursue that would protect the human dignity of all persons?

    Horning: The laws, as written, should be enforced. States have more authority in this than we’ve been led to believe.

    Question: Do you support or oppose the overturning of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?

    Horning: DOMA is misguided and unconstitutional, insomuch as the federal government (and Caesar in general) has no constitutional or moral authority in marriage. But I wouldn’t overturn it until we extricate the contractual issues of Caesar from the holy covenant between a man, a woman and God. See: http://wedeclare.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/gay-marriage-is-that-what-we-think-this-is-about/

    Responses from Richard Mourdock

    Question: What is your position in regard to protecting unborn human life from abortion and committing federal resources to ending abortion?

    Mourdock: I oppose abortion except for cases where the mother’s life is in danger and oppose the use of federal funds in this regard.

    Question: We hear much about the economy, but what is to be done about the moral imperative of pervasive poverty. What would you do to address the problem of pervasive poverty; what policies/path do you offer to overcome it?

    Mourdock: We need a strong, three-track approach to chronic poverty: First, we need to get this economy growing again. A strong, growing economy addresses so many critical needs within our society that it must remain our guidepost in terms of public policy. Second, we need to do all we can to incentivize contributions to charitable organizations that are well positioned to meet these challenges. Beyond that, I support safety net programs designed to meet the basic needs of those in our society who need and deserve our help the most. These include nutrition, housing, medical and mental health services, among others.

    Question: How would you balance the problem of public debt, making it manageable, as it relates to moral obligation of providing for the least?

    Mourdock: We can stop the borrow-and-spend mentality that has dominated Washington for decades and we can put our fiscal house in order without compromising core services to those most in need. The core and largest aspects of federal budget should be the focus of our reforms, which will leave ample room for core services for those individuals with the least among us.

    Question: What is your position on legislation and regulations that forces health-care providers to provide, pay for or refer services contrary to their conscience for moral or religious reasons?

    Mourdock: I strongly oppose such policies and mandates. I have voiced strong opposition to President Obama’s health-care policy, which is now the focus of litigation by Notre Dame and other faith-based institutions. My opponent supported that legislation.

    Question: What immigration policy would you pursue that would protect the human dignity of all persons?

    Mourdock: I support federal legislation that would secure our border, make legal immigration more transparent and timely and encourage a fair and humane enforcement of the law for illegal immigrants.

    Question: Do you support or oppose the overturning of the federal Defense of Marriage Act?

    Mourdock: I would oppose overturning the act and would have voted for the law if I had been in the U.S. Senate.

    U.S. Senate Candidates’ web pages

    Joe Donnelly: www.joeforindiana.com

    Andrew Horning:


    Richard Mourdock:


    Additional Resources for Catholics

    Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC): www.indianacc.org

    United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB): Faithful Citizenship document



    Posted on October 10, 2012, to:

  • Ruth and Anna Beier work together for ethical research for a cancer cure.

    FORT WAYNE — Ruth Beier and her daughter Anna have been in the fight of their lives. A year ago in August, a very active Anna, then 12-years-old, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor, and began the arduous journey back to health. Now after months of painful chemotherapy, surgery and rehabilitation, Anna is cancer free.

    The promise of health has brought a new awareness to this seventh-grade, homeschooled student and her mom, both of whom have developed a passion for life that now includes hope for others who face cancer. And with that hope comes an interest in ethical research methods and right to life issues.

    Respect for all life began with Ruth’s mother who was one of the first to pray outside the abortion facility in South Bend years ago. Her passion for pro-life issues was passed to Ruth, who has now instilled it in her own daughter.

    Ruth says, “I believe in the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of life from womb to the tomb. So many moral issues make sense when you understand the consistent teaching of the Church.”

    Among the many pro-life issues, including contraception and abortion, lies the controversy surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells, obtained only by destroying living human embryos, for research toward cures, therapies and treatments for the multitude of diseases the population faces currently, including cancer. And after experiencing first hand the rigors of the present day treatment for osteosarcoma, a protocol decades old, the Beiers place their hope in the future of alternative stem-cell research to produce a cure for it and many ailments, all framed in a firm belief in dignity for all life.

    As a devout Catholic and parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Anna, along with her parents and four siblings, is passionate about respecting life and says of her cancer treatment, “If getting better meant killing innocent babies, I would have never gone through with cancer treatment.”

    She believes there’s more to respecting life than just rallying against abortion as well. “Being pro-life means more to me then just praying for a change. It means reaching out to others and making a change happen,” she says. So she and her mom began to investigate ways they could make a difference in the ethical and moral cause for cures, especially with the use of adult stem cell and umbilical cord blood research.

    Ruth’s urgency to help find a cure for cancer due to her courageous daughter’s experience continues still. She says, “Anna’s cancer made me pray and think more specifically about organizations that I would like to support. … Sadly, we know many other young people who are still fighting the good fight.”

    With over 300 nonprofit research foundations and academic centers that support embryonic stem-cell research, Ruth was thrilled when she heard about the John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute based in Iowa.

    “I immediately wanted to get involved because it is exactly what I believe our culture needs. … We cannot hope to make true medical progress unless we hold onto the beliefs and practices that protect life at every stage, especially the most vulnerable and innocent life,” she says, adding, “The road you take to get to your destination is just as important as where you are going. We can’t use immoral methods to get to a moral end.”

    According to the John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute’s website www.jp2sri.org, the organization is a “nonprofit research institute whose mission is to advance research and education on stem research in a manner consistent with bioethics that recognizes the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception to natural death.”

    An exciting new national gift campaign that began at the institute in July, with former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum as official spokesman, titled Give Cures, hopes to raise funds from parish giving for advancement of ethical research and education.

    Plans to open a cord blood bank where mothers can donate cord blood from their newborns as an alternative to embryonic stem-cell use, are also in the works. Ruth and Anna are spreading the word about this effort, supported by the bishops of Iowa and the Vatican, and hopes it is successful in funding ethical regenerative research.

    Anna says, “Give Cures is offering a way to fight cancer in a moral way. And they have been having more success then research on aborted babies ever did. So if you want a cure for cancer, do it the more effective way. … I think Give Cures is a great way to find answers because no one dies.

    “I’ve been to hell and back and there was never a point where I didn’t think life wasn’t worth fighting for. So no matter how dark life may seem you should never think it’s not worth saving. Babies aren’t products to be used for medical research,” she adds with passion.

    Ruth says of this fight for all life, “Even though I believe with all my heart that Anna is cancer free, I still feel an obligation to do whatever I can to support finding a cure for cancer in an ethical way. I believe that research on adult stem cells being done at the John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute will provide that breakthrough.”


    Posted on October 3, 2012, to:

  • Diocese prepares for Year of Faith 

    FORT WAYNE — “The Year of Faith is a great opportunity for all of us to grow in our relationship with God and to rediscover the truth, beauty and power of the Catholic faith.” These words from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades sum up the much-anticipated time of spiritual renewal this year.

    The Year of Faith begins on Thursday, Oct. 11, and ends on Nov. 24, 2013. The opening date coincides with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the ending date celebrates the feast of Christ the King.

    The Year of Faith is an initiative promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI, and observed by the faithful worldwide. In Pope Benedict XVI’s beautiful Apostolic letter “Porta Fidei” published in 2011, he states “The ‘door of faith’ is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into His Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace.”

    Many faith-building observances and initiatives are planned throughout the year, not only on a worldwide scale, but also at the diocesan and parish level.

    A keen aspect of many initiatives include a heavy emphasis on the New Evangelization and using social media as a means of deepening and growing the faith of Catholics everywhere. The Vatican has created a special website dedicated to following the pope throughout the Year of Faith, which also includes some key resource materials designed to increase knowledge of the faith. Visit www.annusfidei.va/content/novaevangelizatio/en.html.

    Closer to home, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has fully embraced the initiatives set forth by the Holy Father, and Bishop Rhoades, including:

    The Opening and Closing Masses

    The Year of Faith begins locally with the opening Mass, which will be held on Thursday, Oct. 11, at 5:30 p.m. The Mass will be celebrated in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne and all are welcome.

    The Year of Faith concludes with a Mass celebrating the feast of Christ the King on Nov. 24, 2013. The Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Rhoades and take place in St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend.

    Apostle’s Creed Prayer Card

    Bishop Rhoades has commissioned the manufacture of prayer cards for every family in the diocese that wishes to have one. The prayer cards contain the Apostle’s Creed, and other faith devotions designed to be used every day, and recited either as a family or individually. The beautiful prayer card is laminated, easily portable and lends itself to daily use.

    The App

    One of the most exciting faith-building initiatives put forth by the diocese is an app, available for iPhone and Android mobile device users. This app, which goes live Oct. 11, is titled “My Year of Faith” and can be a daily resource for users, and is customizable for each individual. It includes many features that lead users to a deeper understanding of their faith, an increased prayer life, and reflections and thoughts from nationally known bloggers and writers — all with daily content updates. The list of contributors is a “who’s who in Catholic social media” including Lisa Hendey, Brandon Vogt, Father Leo Patalinghug, to name but a few, and other popular Catholic authors and speakers like Dr. Greg Popack, as well as local voices, like Bishop Rhoades. The diocese anticipates this locally-produced app to gain national favor and recognition. The app will be available at the iPhone App Store. Links to the app as well as the My Year of Faith website can be found at the diocesan website www.diocesefwsb.org or access the site directly at www.myyearoffaith.com. Those who do not have smartphones can follow the blog at www.myyearoffaith.com.

    The Pilgrimage

    The summer of 2013 brings with it an exciting adventure. A pilgrimage for youth and young adults is in the works. The pilgrimage will include a tour of North American shrines and holy sites in the U.S. and Canada. The tour includes stops in upstate New York, Montreal, Ontario and Michigan, and will also include a stop at Niagara Falls. More information regarding the pilgrimage can be found at www.myyearoffaith.com.


    A well-timed faith-building program is currently underway at many parishes. The ARISE program sponsored by the diocese and Renew International is a program that builds upon the small Christian community model, and works to increase open dialogue and faith sharing in the intimate confines of participants homes, or select gathering spaces. While this program is sponsored by the diocese, it is led by the parish pastor and lay leaders. More information regarding the Arise program can be obtained by contacting local parish leadership.

    These are but a few of the initiatives and programs set forth by the Church to aid everyone along their journey to a deeper faith. The USCCB has also placed other easily accessible resources on  their website at www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/year-of-faith/. These resources include the catechism in digital format, as well as many homilies and articles submitted throughout the year.







    Posted on October 3, 2012, to: