For some Catholics committed to good causes, there’s no such thing as ‘retirement’
Many people look forward to their retirement and the leisure that accompanies it, and some hope to retire early. Others delay retirement because their jobs give them a sense of purpose or they simply enjoy what they do.
Some, inspired by their Catholic faith, undertake charitable endeavors and remain engaged in them well into their golden years. Here we profile just a few of these individuals
Joseph Scheidler leading pro-life pioneer
Joseph Scheidler was active in the pro-life movement since before the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its fateful 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion. The previous year, the former Benedictine monk, journalism professor, and advertising executive saw a photo of a garbage bag filled with aborted babies and noticed that one of the tiny corpses looked like his own young son. Several years later, in 1980, Scheidler founded the Pro-Life Action League in Chicago and began a campaign of activism against the destruction of unborn human life.
With his long coat, signature hat and bullhorn, Scheidler led many pickets at abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood locations over the years and gave numerous talks and press interviews calling attention to the evil of abortion. His experience in journalism and public relations meant he knew how to work the media. He became a recognized expert on the abortion culture and on methods of pro-life protests, sidewalk counseling, clinic occupations, and forcing abortion clinics to close.
From the perspective of pro-abortion groups, he also wore a giant target on his back. The National Organization for Women (NOW) filed a lawsuit against Scheidler, accusing him of racketeering and extortion for his training of pro-life activists. His case went three times to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in 2006. NOW didn’t pay off the financial settlement until 2013.
He gave way to his son Eric as executive director in 2009; Joe’s wife, Ann, is vice president. But even at the age of 91, Joe remains active as the League’s national director. He continues to speak out against abortion and provides recorded pro-life news and commentary weekly through his Action News Hotline.
His message remains consistent: “I say abortion is murder, the abortionist is violating his Hippocratic Oath, and we need to work hard to stop abortion.”
And there’s a kicker: “You have to do something about it,” he says. And he’ll channel his Benedictine background too. “Ora et labora,” he once told LifeSiteNews. “You pray and you work.”
In a recent interview, Scheidler noted how the pro-life movement had evolved over his nearly 50 years of activism.
“The movement has grown exponentially,” he told Catholic World Report. “It has become more specialized and sophisticated …. In the early days we did everything— pickets, protests, lobbying, interviews, classroom talks, sidewalk counseling, etc. Now the pro-life movement has more full-time people on all fronts, impacting every aspect of the culture. And the number of pro-life pregnancy centers has grown to over 3,000, four times the number of abortion clinics.”
Scheidler said he wishes he could have done more to expose the evils of the abortion industry and convinced more providers to leave the business. But his activism, he said, has been good for his Catholic faith.
“The pro-life work has strengthened and expanded it, and led me to daily Mass, rosary, and more spiritual reading,” he said. “My faith has been my motivation in my pro-life work.”
Mary Jo Copeland lifting up the poor and hopeless
At 77, Mary Jo Copeland remains as active as ever serving the poor and homeless of downtown Minneapolis through the nonprofit she founded more than three decades ago.
Copeland did volunteer work for Catholic Charities after the youngest of her 12 children started school, but a few years later she struck out on her own to found Sharing and Caring Hands in 1985. She became known as the “foot-washing woman of Minneapolis” because of the hospitality she would show to the homeless who visited her drop-in center, going to her knees with a basin and a towel to wash their feet as Christ did for his disciples.
Today, Sharing and Caring Hands serves some 20,000 people per month by providing free meals, shelter, clothing, showers, medical and dental care, and other necessities out of its two-building, 13,000-square-foot facility in the shadow of Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. Thousands of volunteers, including church groups and health care professionals, staff the facility each year or donate goods and services. In 1995, through generous private donations, she also established Mary’s Place, a transitional housing complex that over the years has expanded to 100 units.
Copeland’s devout Catholic faith and her life experience motivate her outreach. She rises in the wee hours each morning for hours of prayer and Mass before heading to the center to begin her day. And she understands the plight of the poor and suffering because she’s been there herself. Raised by an abusive father and a neglectful mother, she was ridiculed by schoolmates because of her unbathed and unkempt appearance. Later, as a mother, deep clinical depression led to Valium and alcohol addiction. But her deep Catholic faith and her sense that God was calling her to do something special for him pulled her through it all.
“Getting out of your own pain and into someone else’s doesn’t take it away, but it gives you peace,” she said in an interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Instead of concentrating on the pain and hard times and suffering in your own life, you are concentrating on someone else to help them.”
With that generous spirit to keep her going, Copeland has said that she intends to keep working with the poor and homeless for the rest of her life, health permitting.
“That’s what I do all day long,” she told the online journal MinnPost. “I never look at the crowd, I look at the person in front of me, and I let God take care of the rest.”
Gerald and Barbara Krosnowski restoring starving children
Gerald Krosnowski and his wife, Barbara, started their lay missionary work in 1968 by serving the homeless population of Detroit. They continued their charitable work after a move to Minnesota, partnering with various domestic and foreign mission organizations.
In 2006, Krosnowski – a member of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish in Burnsville — made a mission trip to the Philippines and witnessed the extreme poverty suffered by many orphans and families there.
It was an “eye-opening” experience, Gerald recalled. “I saw terrible suffering in so many places: mountain villages, swamp villages, garbage dump villages. The poor children living there don’t just die, they suffer painfully for a decade or more first and then they die. It was heart-wrenching, and the need was so overwhelming.”
At a hosted dinner on the final full day of his visit, Krosnowski asked the local bishop if any U.S. charities had provided any assistance to the starving children over the previous five years. “No, Jerry,” came the bishop’s answer, “but we’ve been praying for someone like you to come.”
That was his defining moment.
“I realized then that I was being called to try,” Krosnowski said. “I knew in my heart that I had to create a charity to save the starving children. Risen Savior Missions was born, because so many lives were at stake.”
Since that time, the Krosnowski family and Risen Savior Missions have been delivering food and assistance to the desperately impoverished of the Philippines and other countries. Raising funds throughout the year, particularly through an annual Gala each October, they ship meals provided by Feed the Starving Children to thousands of feeding centers overseas.
The initiative not only provides food for the needy, but it partners with others to teach the poor about hygiene sanitation, farming, nutrition, manufacturing, and microfinance, Krosnowski explained. It also provides health care services and faith formation.
Staffed entirely by volunteers — including the Krosnowskis’ daughter, Pam Germ — RSM has provided more than 100 million meals to starving children since 2006.
“This was accomplished by the grace of God, our fantastic volunteers and partners, and the amazing people, donors, and organizations who support Risen Savior Missions,” Krosnowski said.
Gerald and Barbara are both 78 now but show no signs of slowing down. They say they are committed to keep delivering meals, as Barbara says, “until we fall over.”
Gerald would agree because the task is too important.
“As lay missionaries, somehow with our hands and feet we bring the gift of God’s personal love for them and his life-changing, inspiring, heavenly hope,” he said.
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine editorial consultant.