Mad for…Erin

The saints are not supermen, nor were they born perfect, but rather are ordinary people who recognized God’s love, they followed it, and served others. –Pope Francis

A couple weeks ago, I got a text from a young lady I have been watching from afar all fall. Her request was a simple one. She wanted a ride to Ft. Wayne, and she knew we were going, so she was hoping we’d let her tag along!

I’ll be honest, I tried to dissuade her– mostly for her own sake. I knew it was going to be a very early morning and an extremely long, hot day in Ft. Wayne at Homestead High School for the Guerin Catholic boys tennis team. We were headed there for a day long tournament, and I’d been to it twice before.

Pictured on the far left with the GC Varsity squad at Homestead HS is Guerin Catholic junior, Erin Horrigan.

Erin Horrigan was not having it. She pressed me, because she knew that if she wasn’t there, the team would likely go without a manager all day. She’s a genuinely charitable and sunny soul who looks out not for her own interests, but has carried the burdensome GC tennis clipboard around with her all fall. The GC boys tennis team has 52 boys on it’s roster! Honestly, it’s an insanely large number of matches to keep track of each week, but Erin has been the backbone of the squad, keeping track of all the data, and helping to “herd the cats”. That’s the nicest analogy I can come up with for the hapless task with which she has been assigned.

Rather than counting herself as unfortunate or unlucky, Erin has smiled through the season– knowing she was needed. As I write these words today, I’m aiming for something more for her. I want her to also know I see her, and she’s so valued and appreciated! Erin is both sunny and encouraging. Some time back, I wrote down this quote that I really find compelling. It’s a tad tragic that I cannot locate the author to whom it should rightly be attributed, but I’ll share it all the same, because I feel strongly that Erin is off to a hot start in her young life where these sentiments are concerned.

What are the things that you can’t see that are important? I would say justice, truth, humility, service, compassion, love. You can’t see any of those, but they’re the guiding lights of a life.

After that hot, sweaty day in Ft. Wayne, I was sitting “shotgun” and she was seated directly behind me in the Thieme family Durango on the way home from the long day of tennis. She didn’t even complain when she had to endure the smelly tennis shoes and flat out “stank” of my youngest son who was seated next to her– after playing three tennis matches in the blazing sun. That was when I announced that she’s my official winner of the Shelly Thieme MVP Manager of the Year award. It’s a very prestigious honor, ha? Evidently, the “award” also comes with the glorious excitement of being named my “Mad for” Person of the Week post this week.

The world is simply a better place with Erin’s beautiful smile, stellar work ethic and positivity. Thank you, Erin, for being a bright light for those in your path!

Mad for…Mike

For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:27)

Quietly improving the lives around them is the frequent choice of a soul with a servant’s heart. While I was wandering into the 11:00am mass yesterday, I noticed such a man quietly volunteering his time, yet again. He’s a great man of character and integrity, and there he was working diligently on the equipment at the rear of the sanctuary. His name is Mike Panasuk.

Mike is the husband of a beautiful wife named Alanna and he has two lovely young towheaded daughters. They are a trio of very blessed ladies to have a man like Mike in their daily lives.

The Panasuk family

Allow me to digress a moment and mention that I met Mike at Guerin Catholic High School several years ago. At the time, he was teaching Theater Arts. My oldest son was an awkward freshman at the time and struggling to find his way. Mr. Panasuk connected with Nick through their mutual love of sports. I found out pretty quickly that this guy was also a talented (former pro) football kicker. Imagine having that guy as your teacher as a sports-crazed 15 year old? That was nearly a decade ago. He still blesses the students in his care each day at GC, and I think he does it these days as a Business teacher. In any case, as the months and years ticked by, I learned that Mike is a talented videographer and photographer. If I’m completely honest, I consider him our family’s personal photographer, since every single photo of my sons that is worth having of their sports experiences at Guerin Catholic was taken by him. I’ve asked around, and guess what? There are many others who have similar tales to tell of general goodness he sprinkled upon their children or their family.

He’s thoughtful, courteous and understated when it comes to accepting the gratitude of others for the small kindnesses which often aren’t so small in the minds of those of us on the receiving end. Mike is an inspiring example of what it means to be the light of Christ by the way he lives his life. It’s something that seems to come naturally to him.

For the people of my parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Mike’s time and talent during the time of the pandemic made all the difference. I asked Rex Rund, who is the Director of Music and Liturgy at the parish to help me properly explain the good that Mike has accomplished for thousands of our parishioners and to thank him for his efforts. He said the following.

Yes! Mike’s been a hero! When we first started streaming masses, even from the Convent, MIke worked with Troy and Angela and the Sisters to set up all the right equipment (much of it his own personal equipment) with all the right settings so that the Sisters could operate it themselves so others wouldn’t have to come into the convent at the height of Covid.

When masses moved into the church after the renovation was done, Mike again used all his own equipment (cameras, laptop, interface, cables) AND manned at least one live-streamed mass every weekend (sometimes two) all the time the church was closed. Even after the church got it’s own equipment, Mike continues to man the live-stream almost every Sunday.

Without MIke’s expertise AND his generosity in time, talent and equipment, we would have been in a tough spot.

I couldn’t have summed up MIke’s sincere goodness or virtuous generosity of spirit any better. At this moment in the history of the world, there are so many people hanging on by a thread. Be like Mike. Be the thread.

Mad for…Todd

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. (Phil 2: 3-4)

Our priorities are sometimes rearranged by love. One of my positivity heroes, Bob Goff, says it this way. “Every act of selfless love is a declaration of faith.” If that’s true, then my friend, Todd Metzger, is shouting rather loudly to the world about what it means to be a man of God.

The Metzger Family

A father of 4 nearly grown sons and the husband to a beautiful wife named Terri, I have gotten to know Todd mostly through the sport of tennis. The Metzger clan is pretty much tennis royalty at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville. We arrived late in their long run at GC. For the previous two years, the youngest of the Metzger boys, Cole, was a teammate of our son, Zach. In fact, Cole made quite a deep run in the state tennis tournament last year. It was such fun watching him play!

One day during our son’s freshman year, Todd noticed that Zach was struggling to hit an overhead in a match. He asked Z about it, and Z replied, “Well, Coach, I’ve never been taught how to hit one, so I don’t really know how to do it.” Our Z, you see, is a little bit of a tennis unicorn. He’s mostly self-taught. Sometimes, wonderful humans come along to save the day. He took an hour out of his life the next day to help a kid learn to hit an overhead. That’s Todd. He spent the whole off-season, in fact, teaching another young player this year on the team. That terrific kid, Sean Loub, considers him a mentor. Fine choice, Sean!

Coach Todd Metzger advising GC doubles team, Sean Loub and Rhys Garrison.

This fall, two of the Metzger boys are playing for the same college tennis team– the Depauw Tigers. It’s the one and only season that these two talented boys will be college teammates. It’s this fact that makes Todd’s ongoing commitment to helping with the Guerin Catholic Boys team an even more selfless act. Let me explain further.

Guerin Catholic’s beloved head coach, Chris Sciaudone, is a brain cancer fighting badass. The man shows up every single day that it’s remotely physically possible to coach the 50+ boys on his roster. They are clearly his passion. We are all so blessed to have such a coach! There were bound to be days, though, where it was simply not going to work. Chris’s ongoing treatments are no joke. Enter Coach Todd Metzger. There he was leading the squad at the GC Invitational, and again at the John Shirley…in 90+ degree heat all day long…volunteering his time and expertise.

In his quiet and humble way, Todd has chosen the path of charity, love, selflessness and kindness– for the boys, and for his friend. To me, he’s chosen the path of everyday holiness that we are all called to select. It’s beautiful and very inspiring. He’s full of character and owns the sort of depth of humanity that makes the world a better place.

From nearby, I have watched as Todd supports and loves his family while running his own small business. He’s employed endless numbers of high school youngsters over the years as they took on their first job in his warehouse. Respectful, kind, thoughtful and funny, Todd is simply the real deal. I don’t know what he feels interiorly, of course, but what he gives off to me is a sense of faithfulness and peace. It begins with his genuine smile and shines in his charitable attitude and generosity of spirit.

Thanks, friend, for showing us all the way it’s done. You make me want to break off a little piece of what you’ve got and BE LIKE TODD. I’d bet I’m not the only one..

Mad for…Colleen

Intense love does not measure, it just gives. – St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta

Once in a blue moon, I encounter a soul that instantly captivates me. Perfect measures of both holiness and smartassery are rarely found in the same person, I’ve noticed. Today, on the very appropriate feast day of St. Teresa of Calcutta, I’d like to introduce you to such a person– my new friend, Colleen DuLac.

Here I am, on the left, with my friend, Colleen, on the right.

Truly genuine, beautiful souls like Colleen are a gift from the Lord. This Jesus girl lives her faith every single day. A gifted and compassionate caregiver, Colleen has walked with many folks as they journey to the end of their lives and into eternity with Christ. She’s a mother, sister, aunt, daughter and friend. She’s suffered much in her life— physically, spiritually and emotionally. However, none of that pain has gone to waste. She uses what she’s learned to make the lives around her better by her presence.

I met Colleen when she began to help the Thieme family care for my father-in-law, Tom. He’s a gentle, but stubborn soul and does not always take up well with strangers. Colleen, though, is a faith-filled woman and a patriot who has a special affinity for all our military men and women who serve the country now, or who are veterans. She also adores helicopters and airplanes. These are affinities she has in common with Grandpa Tom, and she played that common interest card perfectly with our family patriarch. He really didn’t want any strangers in his house even before his cancer battle got serious and he clearly needed us to pour forth some intrusion. He’s not the extrovert his wife was, for sure. So, Colleen simply became his friend, and developed fast rapport. She’s grace filled. The Lord blessed her with incredible patience and warmth, gifts she passes to others in heaping, ornery, “smart-alecky” spoonfuls. She is not afraid to look you in the eye and speak truth, but those glorious, sparkly things are so full of love that one can’t even hold it against her when the truth is tough. THIS is an awesome human being. She’s smart as a whip and can accompany a confused or hard of hearing patient to the doctor and take perfect notes, ask the important questions…and humble enough to see that the bathroom just really needs to be cleaned and simply step up to offer another human being dignity in their daily life. To be an integrity-filled truth teller who cares for others, meets them where they are…well…that’s what it means to be the face of Jesus to those in need. Just like Mother Teresa did, she looks gritty in the eye and sees only our Lord, and she wants to be His hands. It’s incredibly inspiring.

Also? She likes her morning coffee…and my friends St. Francis and St. JPII. When I heard she once got on a flight to Italy with like 30 minutes notice so she could be there when he finished his magnificent work here for the rest of us on planet earth, it made my soul smile. She’s a woman after my own Polish pope loving heart.

It seems to me that the world wants us to overlook heroes like Colleen. These are tumultuous times for sure. However, yesterday while I was at the Purdue football game, I noticed something important. The entire crowd of Ross-Ade stadium got up on their feet and applauded (at some length) while the photos of many military men and women were flashed on the jumbo-tron. They stood again to thank the military pilots who showed up on the field because the weather was too crummy for them to do their planned flyover. They yelled “I am an American” with one voice during the pre-game festivities. It was as if we are all a little more in love with one another, and mostly a notch or two better than we’ve been led to believe, by social media or our TV screens. This made me realize how important it is to be fully present and notice the heroes around us, the folks who make the world more light-filled. This is the best time to become saintly. When it’s difficult to live in a virtuous way, when the world tells us that being Christian isn’t a valid perspective, I think this is the time to look at each other with love in our hearts and minds. Be like Colleen.

So. My little “Mad for” series is back. I’ve decided I’ll reboot this series, making it a weekly for the next year. I’ll introduce you to a “person of the week” starting with TODAY– this Labor Day weekend– and my friend, Colleen (Conner) DuLac is my first victim. As I have said before, and will likely say again, she’s a big scoop of awesome sauce. Nominations are welcome, as always. I make up the rules as I go along, folks. Stay tuned for more inspiring humans. They’re everywhere.

Peace out.