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Padua senior finds faith through hardships

December 26th, 2013 Posted in Our Diocese, Youth Tags: , ,

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Staff reporter

 

WILMINGTON — Perhaps, when Erin Wendelburg walks to the altar at St. Anthony of Padua Church in May to receive her diploma from Padua Academy, she will hear a voice. That voice will cheer her for reaching a milestone on a journey filled with almost unimaginable hardship, and it will encourage her to continue on to even greater accomplishments.

That voice is one she hadn’t heard in years and desperately wanted back in her life. She discovered it as she found her faith. The voice belongs to her mother, who died in 2004, when Wendelburg was just 8 years old. If that were the only tragedy in her life, it would be enough. But her journey was just beginning.

Wendelburg returned to Padua last February after missing several months while undergoing treatment for an inoperable

Erin Wendelburg participates in several activities at Padua Academy, where she is a senior. Last year, she started Erin’s Army to help raise money at the Delaware Brain Tumor Walk. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in summer of 2012. (The Dialog/www.DonBlakePhotography.com)

tumor in the center of her brain. She had begun experiencing headaches and blurred vision in the summer of 2012 and thought she was suffering from migraines. An eye doctor, alarmed by the swelling of the nerves in her eyes, advised her to get an MRI immediately, and Wendelburg, then 16, heard the sobering news.

“When I went in for my first MRI … doctors are really bad at hiding their emotions, so I knew he was coming to tell me something really bad,” she said a few weeks ago. “The whole time I was having these headaches it felt like something was trying to get out of my head. It was so painful. But I was just thinking, this is my luck. I mean, only I could have chronic headaches and turn out to have brain cancer. That’s just kind of the way that it works.”

The tumor was benign, but every day for six weeks, she traveled to Philadelphia for an hour of radiation. She had to wear a fitted mask that was bolted to a table so she couldn’t move, but steadily her health improved. For the last year or so, Wendelburg has had to take oral “maintenance” chemotherapy for one week each month.

After a recent MRI, she was told that treatment would be over in February. The radiation and chemo didn’t seem so bad. After all, Wendelburg explained, she had already been through so much in her life. Less than five years after her mother’s death, she lost her father as well. Being orphaned before your 13th birthday has a way of making you grow up pretty fast.

A caregiver at 8

“I always felt like I was so much older than people in my grade, and I still kind of feel like that sometimes,” said Wendelburg, who maintains a cheery demeanor when no one could blame her if she was the polar opposite.

Wendelburg has known illness, not just her own, all her life. Her mother, Diane McGrath, had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease while she was a student at Padua, where she was a member of the Class of 1976. She married a lawyer, Allan Wendelburg, and became a paralegal so she could work with him. The couple had three children, two daughters and a son, and lived in Hockessin. Diane Wendelburg was sick nearly all of Erin’s life, and Erin, her youngest child, took care of her mother as much as her mother cared for her.

This year, during an Encounter retreat at Padua, Erin Wendelburg reflected on her parents, and her college essay is about them as well.

“It was just kind of funny to think about, when you really write it out, that when you’re 8 years old, a lot of people are being taken care of, and being fed and bathed by their parents, and when I was 8 years old I was feeding and bathing my mom. I could pretty much take care of myself. I used to make myself dinner and get myself off to school and do whatever I had to,” she said.

Allan Wendelburg did not handle his wife’s death well, Erin said. “My dad, he had always been alcoholic, but just kind of completely went downhill after she died. He lost his license to practice law, and we lost our house.”

Wendelburg’s older sister moved in with their grandmother, while Erin and her brother stayed with their father. The three of them lived in a small ranch house near H.B. DuPont Middle School, which Erin attended. She was very close to her father and remembers how much fun they had.

“We always did things together. My dad was a big motorcycle guy, so I was the girl in seventh grade who would get driven to school on a motorcycle,” she said.

The house was dirty, Wendelburg said, and they never really unpacked the belongings from their old house. And when her dad was in bad shape or yelling at her brother, she sought refuge at night under the train tracks that ran near her house. Not yet a teenager, she was sleeping beneath train tracks. Her friends at H.B. had no idea she was doing this. She’s not sure her father or brother knew.

Then, in March 2009, her father died suddenly, leaving three young people without either parent. She moved in with a friend, but she was not used to having strict rules. Wendelburg then went to an aunt’s house, but, again, it did not work out.

Since last October, she has lived with her grandmother. Ironically, her sister and brother also live there, the first time the three siblings have been together under the same roof since their mother’s death.

Everything has a reason

While Wendelburg was trying to find a literal home, Padua became her refuge.

“I think that everything happens for a reason, even things that are awful,” she said. “If my dad hadn’t died, I would never have come to Padua, and Padua is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. It’s like my home. I never refer to wherever I’m living at the time as my home because it’s not. I spend more time at Padua then I do at my house.”

She appreciates how she was accepted upon her return to school after the treatment for her tumor. In her first class, there were gifts from friends on her desk. The students in her sci-fi literature class, which included boys from Salesianum School, applauded. And no one minded that she had no hair.

Having grown tired of pulling out her hair after radiation treatments, Wendelburg shaved off what was left. She worried about making people uncomfortable, but she had no desire to wear a wig. She preferred scarves, particularly in the cold weather. A teacher who is a breast cancer survivor “brought me all her nice Chanel scarves,” Wendelburg said.

At the school, she is a member of the National Honor Society, music ministry and the Encounter retreat team, as well as the theater program and the dance team. A writer for the school’s online newspaper, Padua360, she aspires to a career in communications and fashion merchandising.

Wendelburg said she had never been very religious while her parents were alive, but Encounter has changed her life. In one way, it helped her mature, but at the same time, it took her back to a part of her childhood she had forgotten and wanted to remember.

“We had this moment at Encounter last year where you just sit and you have adoration in the chapel. I remember I was very doubtful before Encounter. People say that they felt God or heard God or whatever, and I was like, ‘Well, are you supposed to feel a hand on your shoulder or something? I have no idea what that is.’

“Then during adoration … I could finally remember my mom’s voice, which is what I was really hoping for. I really don’t remember her at all. We were not like a home video kind of family. I have pictures. I definitely remember what she looks like, but I don’t remember what she sounds like.

“She wrote my brother, my sister and I all notes before she died. But when I read it, it’s my voice, it’s not her voice. But during adoration I could remember what her voice sounded like. That’s when I really knew that I was Christian. … I believe in God, and I believe in just being a faith-filled person. It’s helped me in my outlook.”

Wendelburg is at peace with how her life has transpired. Her brother gave her a copy of the book “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, which she has found to be of great comfort. The message of the book and movie is that if you think positive thoughts, positive things will happen to you.

She also has surrounded herself with people she believes will make her life better, and she tries to make every moment count. She has a blueprint for her life, both professionally and personally.

“I look up to my parents’ marriage so much. My dad loved my mom so much that when she was gone, you can’t live without that person. That’s what I aspire to have, someone that I can’t live without,” she said.

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Bishop asks inmates to be light for others

By

Staff reporter

 

SMYRNA – In each of six years as the leader of Delaware’s Catholics, Bishop Malooly’s first Christmas Mass has been at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, home to some 2,500 inmates.

On Dec. 21, several hundred gathered for spiritual nourishment and fellowship in the chapel inside the prison fence in Smyrna.

“How many of you have been here all six years?” the bishop asked. A few dozen hands went up.

The prisoners, clad in white Department of Correction shirts and sweatpants, were a mix of ages and races. An inmate choir led the music; the singing was loud and spirited. As the inmates arrived at the chapel, Bishop Malooly and Msgr. Charles Brown, a chaplain at the correctional center, greeted each of them. They were joined by Deacons Mike Truman, coordinator of prison ministry for the diocese, and Vincent Pisano. The congregation also included several correctional officers and Rob Coupe, the commissioner of the state Department of Corrections.

In his homily, Bishop Malooly said the two readings and the Gospel are the series generally used at the midnight Mass. The first reading, from Isaiah, is a forecast. Paul, in his letter to Titus, continues the story, and the Gospel “is the fulfillment of longing and praying,” the bishop said.

Isaiah forecasts the birth of Christ, and the prophet says “the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.” He reminded the inmates to be like Pope Francis, a man who is always smiling, a great light for the world’s Catholics.

“I think it is a great reminder for us,” he said. “We need to bring that light to others.”

The birth of Christ is an invitation to us to be Christ’s light wherever we are, Bishop Malooly said. Pope Francis sets an example for us. He is always smiling, a great light for all Catholics, and he prefers to spend his time with the poor. On his birthday earlier this month, the pontiff ate lunch with four homeless people brought into the Vatican.

“I think (his example) is a great reminder for us. We need to bring that light to others,” he said.

The Eucharist, the bishop said, is God’s way to be present to us, as we are present to others. “God wants to draw each of you closer. He won’t move from you. He wants each of you to move closer to him.”

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DiVincenzo leads Sals to 55-39 road win at William Penn

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NEW CASTLE – For a quarter and a half, it looked like Salesianum’s basketball team had left its game back on North Broom Street on Thursday afternoon. But, trailing by 11 to host William Penn midway through the second, the Sals found an extra gear and cruised to a 55-39 win over the Colonials.

The Sals trailed after the first quarter, 9-6, and scored five points on free throws in the first four minutes of the second. Shane Clark’s layup was their first field goal of the quarter and gave them the lead at 13-12, but William Penn would score the next 12 points for a 24-13 advantage. Read more »

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Ursuline overcomes challenge from Pandas, takes 57-49 hoops win

By

Staff reporter

 

WILMINGTON – Ursuline Academy has had the better of rival Padua Academy on the basketball court in recent years, but the Raiders know they are always in for a battle when they take on neighboring Pandas. Thursday’s game was no different, as Ursuline held off a spirited challenge from Padua, taking a 57-49 win.

All-state junior guard Adriana Hahn led the Raiders with a quiet 18 points. Ursuline also received key contributions from sophomore Alyssa Irons (nine points), along with junior Courtney Wallace and sophomore Kailyn Kampert, who chipped in with eight each. Read more »

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Salesianum’s Reeder wins 2013 DeLucia Sportsmanship Award

By

Staff reporter

 

WILMINGTON – Troy Reeder, a two-way starter for the Salesianum School football team, was named the recipient of the 2013 Michael DeLucia Sportsmanship Award, presented annually to a senior football player from a Delaware Catholic high school. The award, which has been given for 42 years, goes to a player “who has exemplified outstanding performance, attitude and character on and off the field.”

Reeder, a linebacker and running back, was recently named the defensive player of the year by the Delaware Interscholastic Football Coaches Association, and he was a first-team all-state selection on both defense and offense. He had 58 unassisted tackles and assisted on 28 others. He collected 3.5 quarterback sacks, forced two fumbles and recovered three fumbles. Read more »

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The sound of music is the gift Ursuline senior brings to nursing care center

December 12th, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized, Youth Tags: , , ,

By

Staff reporter

 

WILMINGTON – When it comes to senior citizens and students interacting, it’s usually the older people sharing their expertise with the youngsters. But in Emma Field’s case, the roles are reversed.

The Ursuline Academy senior is the one leading her elders, —residents at Kentmere Nursing Care Center — where Field is the volunteer director of the handbell choir.

When she started, she was not familiar with the bells, but she could read music, which was good enough. Read more »

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From Easton to New Haven with a stop at New York awards banquet

December 1st, 2013 Posted in Youth Tags: ,

By

Staff reporter

 

Ss. Peter and Paul senior is a finalist for the Wendy’s High School Heisman for academics and athletics

EASTON, Md. – Around the Ss. Peter and Paul High School campus, everyone knows Emily Granger. She is a three-sport standout athlete and active in several other extracurricular activities, and she has distinguished herself academically as well. In a few weeks, the entire country will meet her.

Granger is one of 12 high school seniors from around the country who is a finalist for the 2013 Wendy’s High School Heisman, which recognizes students based on academics, athletics, community leadership and extracurricular activities during their freshman through junior years. [Granger won the women’s award  at a banquet in New York City  Dec. 13. The broadcast aired on ESPN2 on Dec. 15 at 3 p.m.] Read more »

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Studying this recipe: Cooking oil, tigers and rainforests – All Saints Catholic School students tackle the problem of palm oil, Sumatran tigers and deforestation

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Staff reporter

 

ELSMERE — It might be happening on the other side of the globe, but students at All Saints Catholic School have taken a special interest in the deforestation of an Indonesian island and its effect on an endangered species.

The school is participating in the UNLESS Project, sponsored by the Philadelphia Zoo. This year, the zoo is focusing on the devastating effects of deforestation on the Sumatran tiger. The tiger and other species are losing their habitat on the island of Sumatra because forests are being cleared to make room for oil palm tree plantations. Read more »

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Women from diocese join D.C. rally against HHS contraception mandate

November 25th, 2013 Posted in Senior / Health

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Not all women believe the government should force health insurance carriers to provide free contraception, and a few hundred of them, including 16 from the Diocese of Wilmington, rallied in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1 to make their position known.

The rally was sponsored by Women Speak for Themselves, a group of mostly Catholic women who are opposed to the mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that contraception be included in health care plans.

The mandate was scheduled to take effect Aug. 1, hence the date of the rally, but it has been pushed back to Jan. 1 of next year.

Delia DeAscanis, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in New Castle who is active in Delaware’s pro-life community, said the idea behind the rally was to put a public face to the movement. The mandate, she said, is an infringement on women’s First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.

“This is not about agreeing with contraception,” she said. “I think the main message is that the women in this group disagree with the government’s assertion that contraception is part of women’s freedom.”

Jessica Ferraro of St. Hedwig Parish in Wilmington said Women Speak for Themselves welcomes women of all faiths, and some of them are proponents of contraception but don’t want to be forced to pay for others to get it. The next mandate might affect another faith like this one hit Catholics.

“We realize that even though Catholics may have felt the blow of the HHS Mandate most acutely, it’s not going to end there. Which religious group is going to be next?” she asked.

Eleven women spoke at the gathering, including Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University Law School and a former pro-life official for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Teresa LoPorto, one of the local attendees, said Alvare was dynamic.

“Helen Alvare kind of summed it up: we are like the new hippies. We are the ones working against the system, and we’re right,” said LoPorto, a parishioner at St. Mary of the Assumption in Hockessin.

Ferraro said Alvare’s talk reminded her that “we as Catholic women are called to be a support for one another, and continue the discussion in our own diocese. Maybe there will be a woman reading this article who is using contraception and doesn’t understand why it is wrong.”

The Obama administration has carved out several exceptions to the mandate for religious employers and their affiliates, such as hospitals and universities, but DeAscanis said the exceptions do not matter. Everyone paying into a health care plan will contribute to contraceptive care, no matter where one stands on the issue.

“That’s where the accommodation doesn’t protect individuals,” she said. “Right now, there’s really no way to remove yourself from it.”

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Hockessin parishioner honored for a lifetime of volunteering

By

Staff reporter

 

WILMINGTON — Professionally, John Iwasyk is a scientist, a chemical engineer who spent nearly 50 years at Dupont’s Experimental Station in Alapocas.

The Pike Creek resident also may as well have a Ph.D. in historical preservation, having invested as many years in various local organizations since coming to Delaware in 1960.

John Iwasyk a St. Mary of the Assumption parishioner at Coffee Run Cemetery. wwwDonBlakePhotography.com

The list of organizations is impressive: Historic Red Clay Valley and its offshoot, the Wilmington and Western Railroad; the North Mill Creek Hundred Association; the Delaware Nature Society; Friends of Brandywine Springs; Delaware Greenways; Red Clay Scenic Highways; the Delaware Museum Association; and the Westgate Farms Civic Association.

For his efforts, Iwasyk received the 2013 Paul Wilkinson Lifetime Achievement Award from Gov. Jack Markell in October at Dover Downs. It was the highest of the 25 Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Service Awards presented at the ceremony.

Iwasyk downplayed the award recently, saying others have done as much or more than him. His desire to serve these groups stems from his interest in historical preservation and his scientific background.

“It’s really just part of my nature” to get involved, he said recently at his home in Westgate Farms. “It’s the engineering instinct. You see a problem; you know pretty much how to solve it. You just sit down and solve it and move on.”

He and his wife of 53 years, Kathleen, raised six children, but his volunteer pursuits didn’t interfere with his family commitments. “If I calculate how many hours I spent on it per day, it’s under two. As an engineer, you begin to deal with all kinds of things.

“The family is always first. My wife is No. 1. I was always able to juggle things around, and I never took on more than I could handle.”

Follow that train

Iwasyk first came to Delaware in 1955 as a co-op student from Northwestern University and returned for good five years later. Almost immediately, he immersed himself into the local community, volunteering with Historical Red Clay Valley Inc., which operates the Wilmington and Western Railroad. He’s a big fan of railroads.

“I grew up west of Chicago next to the largest railroad yards in the world, between two other railroads, and I used to walk to school,” he said. “When I started work permanently at Dupont, I was driving down Lancaster Pike, and there’s a little railroad crossing. I saw the local company towing a steam engine. I’d grown up with steam engines, so I said, ‘I’m sure I can follow it, see where it’s going.’

“I followed it up to Yorklyn, and it was being restored there. So I found out about it, and that was the same time as they started this railroad, in 1960.”

He is currently the vice president of the Wilmington and Western Railroad Corp., and he previously served as a track inspector. He has been on the board of HRCV since 1966.

Iwasyk is especially proud of the work done by the Kennett Pike Civic Association, which in the early 1970s worked on the Evergreen Plan. He was invited to serve based on his work with the North Mill Creek Hundred Association.

“I looked at the plan and I said everything’s green but Hockessin. There are no parks,” he said.

The group met with county councilman Joe Biden and helped establish two parks in Hockessin that are still in use today.

A few years later, Iwasyk and Biden, who by this time had been elected to the United States Senate, had another encounter. Their children were classmates at Archmere Academy, and the two fathers were enlisted to help out at the senior prom.

“The senior prom came along and Joe and I were blowing up balloons. His always went higher,” Iwasyk joked.

Visiting homebound

The Iwasyks also have devoted much of their time to their church. They have been members of St. Mary of the Assumption in Hockessin since before the current church was dedicated in 1965. The family belonged to St. Joseph on the Brandywine for a year, then worshiped at St. John the Evangelist in Hockessin and St. Patrick in Ashland until the new church was built.

Today at St. Mary of the Assumption, Iwasyk is a minister to the homebound, but for a while he took Communion to just one person.

“They fixed me up with a nursing home that has 50, so I’m not bored anymore,” he said.

Some of his children attended St. Joseph on the Brandywine School, and he was on the school board, but when it closed, Iwasyk and others from St. Mary of the Assumption went to work to find an alternative for the students. The parish forged a partnership with Corpus Christi Parish in Elsmere to co-sponsor Corpus Christi School. The two parishes are now part of All Saints School.

He also started the Men’s Club at the parish, and he is involved with preservation of the Coffee Run plantation, the plot of land that was the original site of the first Catholic church in Delaware. At one time there was a rectory and barn and the cemetery, but much of what had been preserved was destroyed by fire a few years ago.

Among those buried at Coffee Run are many Irish workers who died in industrial accidents at Dupont, Iwasyk said. Many of the graves are unmarked and fall outside the marked boundaries of the cemetery.

When not involved in historic preservation, Iwasyk and his wife like to travel. They go to Boston frequently, as one daughter lives there and another is in nearby Providence, R.I. Boston is also Kathleen Iwasyk’s hometown. The couple also returns to Chicago on occasion to see his extended family. They also like to spend time with their 14 grandchildren – seven boys and seven girls, and they spend two months a year in Naples, Fla., where, they say, they run into a fair number of fellow parishioners.

Iwasyk said others could have been chosen for the Wilkinson Award. “It’s quite a surprise. You never plan on them. When they come, they come.”

 

A longer version of this article appears at www.thedialog.org.

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