End of the Academic year reflection: Community

Introducing our newest blogger, Lucas Gerads, a student at St. Cloud State University. Read more about Lucas on the Meet Our Bloggers page.

As the end of the academic year winds down, I was invited and found time to reflect on the past school year and see where the Lord had really blessed me and guided me. Every time I’m asked that question on the spot with no time to pray, reflect and think about an answer, I usually get flustered and a little panicked. This time was different. I found myself answering almost immediately by saying, “The community I’ve been led to.”

Having been a student at Saint Mary’s University in Winona for two years, I built a strong community there, and toward the end of my second year, I found out I was not able to continue my education there for financial reasons. Coming home from Saint Mary’s University was a really hard transition for a couple of reasons, but the most prominent was the disconnection with a community. I still had my friends down in Winona and we talked but the face-to-face personal interactions were absent. Trying to grow deeper in my faith without that face-to-face community was hard and I was struggling.

Around Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to sit down and catch up with Father Scott Pogatchnik, the diocesan vocations director, and we got to talking about my transition and how I was resettling in. I expressed my struggles and he invited me to attend a Marmion House event to watch a football game. The Marmion House is a place where men in college have the opportunity to live in communion with one another and grow in their faith. A couple of days after Father Scott and I had talked, Father Ben Kociemba, who runs the Marmion House, had texted me inviting me over to events, and before I knew it, I was talking about moving in. I moved in on the 8th on January and I was a little concerned. I had only met some of the house members three times and now was living with them?!? It was crazy how quickly everything went through.

A photo of the chapel inside Marmion House.

As crazy as it all was, it has truly been one of the largest blessing of the past year. Since moving in, I’ve grown to know each of the guy in personal ways and we as a community have grown close to each other and Christ. Being able to live in the same house as the Blessed Sacrament allows us to grow our relations together rooted in Christ through prayer. I’ve always been a firm believer in the saying, “Iron is sharpened by iron; one person sharpens another,” (Proverbs 27:17) and that is exactly what has been happening. We check in with one another. Make sure each of us is staying faithful to the sacraments and prayer, and ultimately Christ. I think the pinnacle of this whole thought came through the other night when Father Ben celebrated Mass for 13 young men as a kickstarter for finals week. After Mass, we had time for some fellowship, and I could feel the presence of Christ amongst us.

The men of Marmion House at a recent gathering.

At the end of the day, a personal relationship with Christ is the greatest relationship a person could have, but Christ recognized the great need humanity has for community and relationships with one another. Even His apostles needed to be sent out in groups of two, (Mark 6:7) and so I encourage you to thank God for the communities you are part of that leads you to Christ. Pray for deeper relations with them and Christ, and for those who may not have such communities.

Lucas Gerads is a student at St. Cloud State University, currently living in Marmion House, an intentional community of men in St. Cloud. Read more about Lucas on the Meet Our Bloggers page.

Bottles and Water (part three in a series)

Guest blogger Yvette Piggush shares reflections about her recent trip to Lourdes, France. This is the final in a series.

My bottles of Lourdes water.

Souvenir shops in Lourdes sell many kinds of water bottles: gallon jugs, plastic bottles shaped like Mary with a screw-off crown, spray bottles, and tiny, jewel-like glass bottles. I had only seen water from Lourdes reverently stored in these special containers. In my experience, people regarded this water almost as a kind of miracle-working juice, one drop of which could defeat cancer or mend a broken heart. At the shrine, by contrast, the water was so abundant it almost seemed ordinary. People collected it using regular water bottles and they spilled it everywhere in the process. No one acted as though a drop or two would change their lives. Yet, in February 2018, the Catholic Church officially recognized the seventieth miracle attributed to Lourdes (https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/its-a-miracle-lourdes-healing-officially-declared-supernatural-84194).

Lourdes water special equipment.

St. Bernadette insisted that Lourdes water was not a magic potion. “One must have faith and pray,” she urged, “the water will have no virtue without faith.” The spring had its origins in an act of penance. In her apparition on February 25th, Mary directed Bernadette to scrape water out of the muddy ground at the back of the grotto and to drink and wash with it as a sign of penitence. Disgusted, Bernadette spit out the murky brew several times before managing to swallow some of it and to smear the rest on her face. People thought she had gone insane.

Pilgrims fill bottles with water from the miraculous spring at a row of taps.

Struggling for a way to say goodbye to Lourdes, I recalled Mary’s instructions to Bernadette. I went to the taps, cupped my hands, and drank, spilling water everywhere. I then took another handful of water and poured it on my head. I realized that I like bottles too much. Open gestures of faith are difficult for me. Yet faith, like water, needs to be poured out in order to have any effect. The most penitential experience I could muster in the moment was braving my friend’s quizzical look at my dripping face. But, just as the water has no virtue without faith, so too does our faith lack virtue if it is not like water, poured out, spilling over, and making us look a little silly for Christ.

Yvette Piggush is active in St. Mary’s Cathedral parish in St. Cloud. She teaches in the English Department at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. When she isn’t reading something, she may be found baking desserts, going on long walks, and enjoying time with her nieces and goddaughters.

The Grotto of Lourdes (part two in a series)

Guest blogger Yvette Piggush shares reflections about her recent trip to Lourdes, France. This is the second in a series.

The grotto at Lourdes. The statue marks the niche where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette.

The shrine of Lourdes in southern France commemorates the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Bernadette Soubirous between February 11 and July 16, 1858. The majority of these apparitions took place in February and March, but the pilgrimage season is from May through October. So, when we arrived in Lourdes in early March, we quickly learned one French word: fermé (closed). The tourist information office was “fermé,” many shops and restaurants were “fermé,” sites related to Bernadette’s life were “fermé,” and even the parish church was “fermé.” As a result, we approached the shrine itself with some misgivings about what might be “fermé” there.

Pilgrims touch and kiss the rocks of the grotto as they pray.

But the fact that the town was “fermé” meant that the shrine itself was very open. We joined a handful of other pilgrims for a rainy morning Mass in front of the grotto where the apparitions occurred. After Mass, we wandered freely in and out of the grotto. We viewed the spring welling out of the back of the cavern and touched the rocks polished by the hands and lips of millions of other pilgrims. I had expected barriers, lines, crowds, and lots of regulations. Instead, the grotto space was peaceful and largely empty, a mixture of shrine and park. I watched a nun kneel on the ground absorbed in prayer; a grandmother snap photos of her sticky-faced grandson; and a couple have an animated, whispered discussion about their relationship. People carried out their lives at Mary’s feet, praying, nurturing, and loving unselfconsciously and without shame.

Night life in Lourdes: a candle-lit procession with the grotto in the background.

I understood then that the real world at Lourdes did not consist of the shops, hotels, and tourist sites that were “fermé.” The most real world, the world where people became present and alive, was at the grotto. There it was just us and Mary, the silence and the weak spring sunlight, as it might have been for St. Bernadette 160 years ago. There, God had made an opening to His love that could never be shut.

Yvette Piggush is active in St. Mary’s Cathedral parish in St. Cloud. She teaches in the English Department at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. When she isn’t reading something, she may be found baking desserts, going on long walks, and enjoying time with her nieces and goddaughters.


Take Nothing for the Journey (part one in a series)

Guest blogger Yvette Piggush shares reflections about her recent trip to Lourdes, France. This is the first in a series.

I packed my suitcase for my trip to Lourdes so carefully. I tried to plan for every drop of rain and gust of wind. Of course, this isn’t how Jesus suggests that his disciples travel. Jesus urges us to “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic” (Luke 9:3). I told myself Jesus didn’t necessarily mean this literally.

A few minutes before the train to Brussels arrives.

When I arrived in Amsterdam, I discovered that my next flight was canceled. A snowstorm had shut down nearly every airport in England where I was supposed to meet my friend so we could travel together to Lourdes. On the advice of an airline representative, I decided to try to reach England using the “channel tunnel” train from Brussels to London. “How do I get my luggage?” I asked. “You don’t,” the airline representative replied. It was in an inaccessible storage area. I left the airport for the train station with only the clothes I was wearing.

Travel goal: Lourdes. The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception sits above the natural grotto where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette.

Taking nothing for the journey made me feel terribly vulnerable. As I stood on the train station platform in Amsterdam, I anxiously checked and rechecked the pocket with my passport. What more might I lose? But I couldn’t be worried and suspicious for long because I had left behind something else: English. Bewildered by signs and announcements in Dutch, I turned to a young woman beside me. She didn’t speak Dutch and her English had a French accent, but we puzzled out that the train I had been told to take to Rotterdam was canceled. I got on a different train. When I arrived at Rotterdam, other passengers pointed me to the train that would take me to Brussels. There, a station worker showed me the boarding area for the train to London.

I never reunited with my suitcase. But what I gained was more important than the carefully curated collection of socks and sweaters I lost. When I was compelled to take nothing for the journey, I discovered Jesus in the kindness of the ordinary people willing to help a stranger.

Yvette Piggush is active in St. Mary’s Cathedral parish in St. Cloud. She teaches in the English Department at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. When she isn’t reading something, she may be found baking desserts, going on long walks, and enjoying time with her nieces and goddaughters.


Easter is a Season: Three Ways I’m Extending the Celebration

I have always loved the liturgical season of Lent. The rich traditions and symbols usually aid me greatly in my spiritual journey and this year was no different. My first Minnesota Lent proved to be meaningful and memorable. Some very personal crosses helped me draw closer to Christ and I enjoyed experiencing the liturgies at my new parish. It is also the first time in several years that I have not been working in ministry, which enabled me to minister to my family in new ways and share my love of Lent with my daughters who are just beginning to understand and participate in some of our Lenten traditions.

Despite having a certain affinity for Lent, I understand that Easter is our high feast. I know that we Catholics are an Easter people and I feel that for many years I’ve been giving Easter the short end of the stick (even though it’s longer than Lent!). Easter is a season after all. Yes, it’s a day. And it’s an octave. But it’s also a season. A season that lasts 50 days! In fact, Lent should purify and enlighten us in order to properly prepare us for Easter. Why do I seem to prefer the fasting of Lent to the feasting of Easter? Maybe I am a glutton for punishment. Or perhaps the perfectionist in me just relishes a chance to assess my spiritual life and attempt to weed out my vices. Whatever the reason for my preference, I’m choosing to embrace Easter more fully this year.

Jesus has risen from the dead! The cross was not the end of the story.  In rising, Christ conquered sin and death. It is upon this mystery that our faith rests. And this is our Good News! This is the Gospel that his followers died to proclaim. Furthermore, we too are promised resurrection. In our baptisms we died to sin and rose to new life in Christ. Am I celebrating that enough? What more can I do to celebrate this great gift that is my own salvation? How can I more fully live the Easter season and how can I better share my Easter joy? I’ve chosen three ways that I believe will help me more fully embrace the Easter season this year. First, I plan to be more appreciative of the Church’s Easter symbols. Second, I will be more open to the moments in which I can encounter the risen Lord in my daily life. Finally, I hope to be more intentional about sharing my faith with others.

  1. Appreciating the Symbols of Easter
    The Church helps us embrace the season of Easter in several ways. The beautiful lectionary readings help us journey back to those days when the risen Lord walked among his disciples. Things like Easter lilies, white garments, and the sprinkling rite bring joy to our senses. Feast days like Divine Mercy Sunday, Corpus Christi, and the Lord’s Ascension provide great content for prayer and reflection. I have merely to open my eyes and employ all my senses to appreciate the many ways the Church is inviting me into the mystery of the Resurrection.
  2.  Finding Christ in Daily Life
    Easter reminds us that Christ is alive and present in our lives. This year I hope to keep my eyes open for the risen Lord in my daily life. I have opportunities to encounter Him every day yet sometimes I am too self-centered or too busy to recognize Him. If I will but open my heart, I will see that He’s there in the crazy questions my daughters ask me. He’s there when my husband comforts my hurting heart. He’s there with my medical team who takes such good care of me. He’s there in those new friends who bring me muffins, sit with me at infusions, or watch my kids during yet another medical appointment. He’s there in the visits from faraway friends. He’s there in the recent invitation to be a godmother. And countless other experiences. Jesus is alive and he wants to reside in my heart. He wants me to find him in my everyday life and share Him with my loved ones.
  3. Spreading the Good News
    A third way that I plan to celebrate the season of Easter is through a natural and authentic witness to my faith. I’m not talking about being pushy or proselytizing but rather about sharing the joy that has been shared with me. Peter tells us that we have to be ready to give an account of our hope (1 Peter 3:15). How do we do this in our modern world? Well, it will, of course, look differently for each of us. As for me, I plan to start with own family and friends. I can talk to my daughters about the joy of the Resurrection and remind my husband that each trial we face is simply another cross that leads to our own rebirth in Christ. I can also offer an authentic example of faith to friends in the way that I live and when the opportunity presents itself to share with them that my deep hope comes from the risen Lord.

What about you? Have you put away your Easter decorations? How are you going to celebrate the risen Lord throughout this Easter season? Would you like to begin a new tradition this Easter season? Is Christ calling you to share your Easter joy with others in a new way this year? Feel free to leave a comment below sharing any Easter traditions that have proven helpful to you in your spiritual journey.

Molly Powers is not a native Minnesota girl. Rather, she hails from Atlanta, GA and lived in several different states and countries before she landed in Minnesota in 2017. She is a wife and mother of two. Read more about Molly on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

My Top 4 New Favorite Catholic Women’s Ministries!

I have been falling in love with some incredibly beautiful podcasts, blogs, and videos lately, and since I was introduced to each of these by some dear friends in my life, I want to return the favor by passing them along to you! They have really spoken powerful and beautiful truths to my heart, and there have been so many times in the past few weeks reading or listening to these when my mouth hung open and I knew the Holy Spirit was speaking directly to me! It’s so funny how the Holy Spirit can speak directly into what’s going on deep in my heart, even when I try to hide or distract myself with the busyness of life. These resources have challenged me and brought me peace in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I pray that God will bless you through these as well!

1. “Abiding Together” Podcast— Abiding Together is a gem of a podcast, featuring Michelle Benzinger, Heather Khym, and Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT (from the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity). They have so much fun with each other on the podcast, and they often talk about the gift of laughter, which they share a lot of! Their mission is “to provide a place of connection, rest, and encouragement for those on the journey to live out our passion and purpose in Jesus Christ,” and they talk about really seeing God at work in the various seasons of our spiritual lives. I was introduced to the podcast when preparing to speak for the “Made in His Image” Tea Party hosted in Paynesville last month, since they have a podcast on each of the 4 marks of the Feminine Genius, and I quickly was captivated by the beauty and depth of their discussions. My personal favorite podcasts are the Feminine Genius series (It’s seriously so beautiful it will make you cry!), “Breakthrough vs. Breakdown,” “Creating Community Wherever You Are,” and “Striving vs. Abiding.” You can find these under “Episode Archives” at abidingtogetherpodcast.com!

2. “His Own”—His Own is a band & Women’s Ministry out of Nashville, TN, featuring 3 lovely young ladies who have a beautifully inspiring friendship! I first discovered this band when a friend of mine sent me their song “Making Me New,” which led me to finding my new absolute favorite song, “Little Girl.” Some of my favorite lyrics of their songs are “Your dreams over me are bigger than my own,” and “The King is calling your name; the King is seeking your face… Little girl, get up and live.” So much beauty! I also love their weekly “Makeup-less Mondays” videos on YouTube, where they talk a lot about dating, as well as the feminine heart, authentic friendships, etc. You can find them on YouTube at “His Own Music” or at behisown.com!

3.“Made in His Image”Made in His Image (MIHI) is a ministry geared toward women who have been victims of abuse in any way, to help them in their journey from being victims to survivors, but I really think it speaks to every woman. It was started by a woman named Maura, who uses her own past experiences to speak life into the hearts of those still going through those things. Even though I have not experienced those sorts of wounds personally, her words are so powerful and beautiful that this one needed to make the list! I highly recommend following Made in His Image on Facebook and other social media, because the posts are just so good. Her tagline is “You are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.” Who doesn’t need to hear those words more often?

4. “Blessed Is She”—I first discovered “Blessed Is She” through “Abiding Together,” when they interviewed the founder of Blessed Is She (BIS), Jenna Guizar, on the podcast. BIS is a very popular and growing ministry, and my favorite part of what they do is the daily reflection based on the lectionary readings posted on their Facebook page each morning. These reflections are written by a large variety of faithful Catholic women, of all seasons of life, so they’re very applicable and inspiring! There’s a great video on blessedisshe.net under “About,” which explains all of the resources that BIS provides, including “Blessed Conversations” Bible Studies, “Blessed Brunches,” regional groups, the annual BIS Retreat (coming to St. Paul this August!) and so much more! I highly recommend starting with watching that video to get acquainted with the ministry, and you can also follow them on all forms of social media!

Do you have any other favorite resources that speak to your feminine heart as a Catholic woman? I challenge you to spend some time over this last week of Lent allowing the Father to speak truth into your life through one of these podcasts, videos, or blogs. Truth brings freedom, and true freedom leads to the kind of genuine joy that could never come from this world. As the Father has to continually remind me, you are beautiful, you are valuable, and you are enough. Ask for the grace to believe that and trust the Father with the deepest desires of your heart. God love you!


Tricia and Nikki Walz are proud Minnesotans who were born and raised in the heart of St. Cloud with their younger sister Briana. Read more about them on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

With great hope

While I sit here, I can hear my three littlest kids out on the porch playing in the 20-something degree April weather. What cruel and unusual punishment old man winter decided to deal us this Spring! I’ve already written off April, deciding that we’re just going to lose a whole month of Spring, brown grass and fresh air. Right about now, we all need that new air in our lungs and those of us with younger kids have been hanging on desperately to turn the calendar page to finally get out of the winter season.

There is something that Spring brings and it’s always with a great hope that we long for it, especially when we are in the thick of Winter. How could the season that brings new life, new color and all sorts of new beginnings to our corner of the earth, not be one of great anticipation?

We dressed in our Easter finery (even baring our toes in new sandals), running to the risen Christ who brought us beautiful hope at his resurrection. The sacrifice and struggle of our Lenten journeys behind us (But still with us in the form of our growth in that season.) as we joined in expectant joy celebrating his revealing himself to Mary and the apostles.

When we are a people of faith and of longing, we cannot help but hope. We long for light in our darkness, answers to our long awaited prayers, signs to ease our troubled minds and hearts and we hold on to these sometimes tiny threads through the gift of hope.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of hope is this:


            to cherish a desire with anticipation, to want something to happen or be true;

            to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment, to expect with confidence


The Catholic Dictionary defines it this way:

            The confident desire of obtaining a future good that is difficult to attain. It is therefore a desire,  which implies seeking and pursuing; some future good that is not yet possessed but wanted, unlike fear that shrinks from a future evil. This future good draws out a person’s volition. Hope is confident that what is desired will certainly be attained. It is the opposite of despair. Yet it recognizes that the object wanted is not easily obtained and that it requires effort to overcome whatever obstacles stand in the way.

The Easter season and Spring fit intricately together, fulfilling those desires for both the liturgical and seasonal changes. We look forward to and embrace the new life in both of them, the longer light hours of our day, the brighter places in our prayer life that were brought about by the season of Lenten observances, and the celebration of Church feasts that follow the Resurrection. We continue to desire and seek hope around us, warding off the desolation and despair that even things like more snow in April tend to bring our way.

I look forward to continuing to rejoice in this Easter season and even optimistically look toward the prospect of mud season. If you know me or you have little kids who cannot ignore the smallest mud puddle, then you know that this is really letting go for me. Letting go of the dark and the cold, the confinement and the snow and truly reveling in the release and rebirth that is Easter. Even if it doesn’t look like it outside my window.

Sarah Heidelberger is a wife and homeschooling mom of five who keeps her days steady with her planning and organizing skills. Read more about her on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Opening Doors Lay Ministry: a new book by Franciscan Sister Pat Forster on Mexico Missions

Guest blogger Franciscan Sister Rose Mae Rausch is a co-founder of the Mexico Mission and wrote this reflection on Sister Pat’s new book.

Sister Patricia Forster, Franciscan from Little Falls, Minnesota, has just published the book, Opening Doors Lay Ministry: Mexico Mission 2002-2017.

Sister Pat writes from personal experience, where she and other Franciscans contributed much. The mission has flourished because local lay people were immediately invited and trained to participate and take leadership in the many forms of outreach.

Fifty-two villages, comprising the parish of San Rafael, Nuevo Leon, are being served.

A new mission in northwestern Mexico at Ocampo has just been started.

This book, with its many detail, is a story of what can be done with an inclusive pastoral ministry, with God’s help!

Sister Rose Mae Rausch is co-founder of the Mexico Mission. She served the mission for five years and two additional years as novice director for the two Mexican young women who joined the Franciscans from Little Falls. She currently serves as a staff member at Franciscan Community Volunteers in St. Cloud.



Miracles surround beautiful Costa Rican basilica

Sheila Pulju is a guest blogger and a member of St. Boniface Church in Cold Spring, where she lives with her husband, Rich.

Recently, my husband and I visited Costa Rica, and one of the highlights during our vacation was our one day trip to Cartago, a city in Costa Rica about 16 miles from the capital San Jose. The main historical attraction in the center of Cartago is the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles (Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels), which is a Roman Catholic Church and dedicated to Virgen de los Angeles (the Lady of the Angels and national patron of Costa Rica).

Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Cartago, Costa Rica

The Basilica is consecrated to the Virgin de los Angeles, which supposedly represents the Infant Jesus being carried by the Virgin Mary. Many pilgrims come to the Basilica daily all year in hopes of resolving health or other issues in their lives.

The church is beautiful with an interesting and unique story behind it. A peasant girl from Cartago supposedly found a black stone statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her baby (La Negrita) on a rock, and she brought it to her home. When she went to get the statue in her home the next morning, she could not find it, but instead found it was back at its original location. She then gave the statue to her priest and he locked it in a box! The next day, it was again back on the rock!

The church was destroyed many times by earthquakes during construction. Consequently, they then built the church on the exact location where the La Negrita statue (Queen of Cartago) was found. The statue is inside a golden shell inside the church. In 2004, there was a major renovation and chapels added to the church making it more spiritual much like the churches in Italy.

The Basilica is a true treasure in Costa Rica. It is famous for the annual August pilgrimage when thousands of devoted Catholics from around the world walk or crawl the 22-kilometer trek to the church during the Romeria pilgrimage. Actually, many pilgrims were crawling up to the altar while we were touring the church.

Also, on the same location where the statue showed up, there is a holy water spring where people drink the water, wash themselves and/or collect holy water in containers. The water has been tested and found safe needing no chemicals or purification systems and continues to provide water to this day. Many miracles have been reported.

Some places just leave you speechless with its divine beauty. This church is one of them and so beautiful inside and out with amazing architecture, stained glass, sound acoustics and gorgeous internal decor. It is finished in a white and gray façade with a blend of 19th century Byzantine and Colonial architecture style, which makes it a bit different than a lot of other Catholic churches.

Everything about this church was intriguing from the story on how this church was built to the numerous people who enter this place on their knees in prayer, from the story of multiple failed attempts to build the church to the story of millions of people walking to the church in August. A special added gift was we were able to attend a Spanish Mass during our visit on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. There was also a Christian bookstore close by the church.

I highly recommend a visit to the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles if you find yourself traveling to Costa Rica. Hopefully, it will be a highlight of your trip, as it was for us. This Basilica will take your breath away!

Sheila and Rich Pulju are members of St. Boniface Church in Cold Spring, Minnesota. They recently traveled to Costa Rica and made a pilgrimage to the Patron of Costa Rica in Cartago, which is located a few miles from the capital city of San Juan.