Father Leszko calls women’s organization a ‘spiritual treasure’ for Diocese, parishes
The following story appeared in the May 12 Idaho Catholic Register.
Back row, from left, Father Adrian Leszko, parochial vicar at St. Mark’s in Boise and spiritual advisor for ICCW; Father Francisco Godinez, pastor at Corpus Christi in Fruitland; and Father Jerry Funke, pastor at St. Agnes in Weiser. Front row, from left, are board members of ICCW, Mary Glenn, Pierrette Madrid, Tina Turpin, Woman of the Year Kimberly Hanigan and Crystal Church. (ICR photo/Emily Woodham)
FRUITLAND – The 60 women who attended the biennial convention of the Idaho Council of Catholic Women heard riveting stories from women whose own lives are a testament to the convention’s theme, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you,” taken from Ezekiel 36.
Their stories are an inspiration as well to Father Adrian Leszko, parochial vicar at St. Mark’s Parish in Boise, and the recently appointed spiritual advisor to ICCW.
“I would like you to always remember that you are not only workers, people of action, but you are also a spiritual treasure in the Church in Idaho,” Father Leszko said during his remarks at the organization’s 78th biennial convention April 28-30 at Corpus Christ Parish in Fruitland.
Katie Kuchar, a mother of six, told those attending about her experience of nearly dying from a medical emergency in 2020 and how the aftermath of that crisis became her own journey of a heart transformed from “a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.”
In January 2020, Kuchar gave birth to her sixth child. Although the birth seemed normal, she had numerous health problems postpartum, including nearly hemorrhaging to death.
After numerous tests and hospitalizations, doctors said that the only way to save her life was for her to have a full hysterectomy. The news was devastating, given her age – 30 – and the fact that she and her husband loved having children and planned to be open to life throughout their marriage.
Despite the great heartache of becoming “permanently infertile,” she was not done facing trials. Soon after her surgery, she became ill with COVID. She recovered, but more difficulties and disappointments were to come.
“My story is not unique. I’ve heard lots of stories from lots of other people,” especially during 2020, the height of the pandemic, she said. “Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. … And life is still worth living. God is still worth trusting.”
Before the incidents of 2020, Kuchar said she had a heart of stone, although she was good at hiding it. “I thought I had to be perfect to be loved. When I went through all that stuff, God was there, even though I couldn’t feel Him. And He taught me that I don’t have to do anything to be loved. Whatever good or bad that I do, God loves me the same. He doesn’t change.”
God showed her these truths through the people “who reached out their hands and lifted” her, she said, through all the difficult times. “I learned that when my heart breaks, His heart breaks, too.”
When she thought she was dying, she also realized that so many of the things that she was upset and worried about didn’t matter.
“When death is staring you in the face, it doesn’t matter anymore that so-and-so said such-and-such about me. None of that matters. My stony heart was full of resentment, grudges and pride. Jesus gave me His heart, and He continues to do so. The process of having a ‘heart of flesh’ ” is continuous, she said.
In the end, all that matters is love, Kuchar concluded. “Death does not have the last word, fear does not have the last word. Pain does not have the last word, nor does suffering. Love has the last word.”
SANDRA LOERA, a parishioner at Corpus Christi Parish who came back to the Church after a time of losing her faith, spoke about her spiritual journey in discerning Religious life. When she returned to the Church, she had hoped to join a Religious community. Through prayer and counseling, she persevered through spiritual darkness and also overcame abuse from her childhood. However, the community she had set her hopes on turned out not to be where she was called.
The disappointment and feelings of rejection by the Religious community resulted in more spiritual trials.
Through her friends and parish community, she was able to persevere and “pick up the pieces” of her life, she said. Although the suffering was difficult, it has helped her to find more compassion for others going through heartbreak, she said.
Pierrette Madrid, outgoing president of ICCW and a parishioner at Corpus Christi Parish, spoke briefly to the women attending the conference.
“I pray we all find loving hearts in everything we do,” Madrid said As leaders of the Church, ICCW has the task of continuing the growth of faith in Idaho, she said.
There is also a need to increase ICCW’s membership, which declined during the pandemic of 2020, Madrid said. “I am sure we are up to the task and will find creative and innovative ways to empower and grow our organization,” Madrid said.
Kimberly Hanigan, ICCW’s outgoing treasurer, was named the Woman of the Year. She was honored for her “love and joy” in volunteering for ICCW and at her parish, also Corpus Christi in Fruitland.
“Kimberly has done numerous things and filled numerous roles through the years, from serving different roles on the board of ICCW to teaching religious education at her parish,” Madrid said.
FATHER LESZKO was appointed spiritual advisor for ICCW by Bishop Peter Christensen, a move that surprised him. “I am really excited and thankful to the Bishop for putting his trust in me,” he said, noting that he was just ordained in 2021.
During his remarks, Father Leszko encouraged ICCW to continue its good work. “I am always amazed with how much work ICCW does,” he said. “They have such an openness to help, and they are such virtuous women.”
“It’s wonderful to see women who are committed to so much love, to be merciful, forgiving, always ready to show the beauty of our faith,” he said. “It’s incredible, especially for those people who are in darkness, who come to the Church looking for faith, to see these women who are always welcoming and joyful. They are full of the beautiful news of the Resurrection and full of the Spirit.”
The role of women in the Church is exemplified by Mary Magdalene, whose primary work was to bring the news of the Resurrection, Father Leszko said. “I wish that you all would always rejoice in the message of the Resurrection because everything that we do – our charity, our works, our prayer life – is to give testimony to the Risen Christ.”
The Catholic Church in America stands on the hard work of women, he said. The staff and volunteers of American churches are mostly women. “We have women who have tender hearts who help parishes in thousands-and-more ways to survive,” he said.
Father Leszko emphasized that all believers are meant to take up their crosses and follow Jesus as He carries His Cross.
“We sometimes think that when we choose to be Catholic, everything will be fine. ‘I will have the grace of the Holy Spirit; I will be levitating in prayer; everything will be great.’ But we know that we have to be Christ-like.” This means, he said, to be willing to withstand suffering, being misjudged, misunderstood and persecuted.
The way to realize our mission as Christians is to stay connected to God, he said. “We must ask God for insight, for spiritual gifts, which the Holy Spirit has to give us.” St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a model for staying connected to God through Adoration, the Mass and prayer before embarking on good works, he said.
“If I work too much, if I’m all action, I have to stop. I have to give space to Christ in my life,” Father Leszko said. “It’s very important to understand that. Every saint was immersed in God. The saints were immersed in the love of Christ and the ocean of His mercy.” It is from this immersion in relationship with Christ that the saints achieved so much, he said.
Christians need to grasp, like St. Peter, the loving forgiveness that God has for everyone, including ourselves, he said. Because of personal experience of God’s love and forgiveness, he said, we share this knowledge with others.
“Because of what we experienced, we say to others: ‘You are forgiven; you are not forgotten; you are loved; you are needed; you are desired. You are at the center of the craziness of God’s love.’ This is the beauty we have to share day-by-day in the ministry of the Council of Catholic Women. This is the commission given to each of us through baptism,” he said.
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