Grateful hearts and a deep desire to serve others compel Ron MacDonald (l.) and Jerry Gantner to consistently remember the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary with their donations.
Ron and Jerry have spent their lives giving and serving. As a young man, Ron served as an unofficial “translator” for Austrian students at his home parish with School Sisters of Notre Dame and began teaching fifth grade at Holy Name School in Wilmot, Kenosha County, Wis., in 1959.
The school needed a teacher and Ron, “with no teaching background or prior experience whatsoever” stepped up and took on the responsibility of educating and leading the children. “When your uncle is the priest and the pastor, you go where you are told to go,” Ron laughs.
During that time, Ron became close with teachers at Holy Name—BVMs Ann Daniel O’Neill and Lilia Spellecy. They would often take their breaks together. Lilia would use that time to provide wise counsel to the new teacher, presenting her advice in a gentle and reflective manner. The friendship was an important one, and even after Lilia moved on to other schools and locations, they remained in touch. Ron even had the chance to visit her in Long Island, N.Y.
Although Ron says that he was a “strict teacher,” when he runs into former students, they tell him that even though he was firm, they learned from him because they knew he cared about them. And that he did—Ron deeply cared about his students and others in his care. Jerry worked in nursing for many years. He served as a home health nurse and geriatric technician, offering his expertise in Milwaukee at Wheaton Franciscan Home Health Care and Madison Hospice. Jerry was one of the first to work in the AIDS ministry in Milwaukee. Through his compassionate work, he met Diane M. (Damaris) Barabe, BVM.
Diane was involved in AIDS ministry and in women’s prison ministry. Soon, the three, became very close—sharing a beautiful friendship, giving their time together in service, and sharing a passion to help those in need.
At Diane’s 50th jubilee celebration, Ron shared, “Diane, you ARE a Sister of Charity of the BVM. Let’s look at what that means. First, is ‘Sister.’ You are a sister to all of us here today. Next, is ‘charity.’ Charity is another word for love. With all of the love that you have given, you are the true meaning of love. Lastly, is ‘of the BVM.’ Diane, you are like the Blessed Virgin Mary to all of us here in Milwaukee.”
Today, Ron and Jerry spend most of their time volunteering. They believe that “you better give back.” When asked why they continue to give to the BVMs, Ron responds, “We have always been so impressed with how BVMs help each other and others. We keep giving because, unlike other organizations, when you give to the BVMs, the money actually goes to the effort.”
The men reminisce and marvel at how they receive handwritten thank you letters from the BVMs. “Even [former BVM President] Sister Teri Hadro, with how busy she was, would always find the time to write back and thank us. She even teased us, saying that we trained her how to write thank you notes with a personal touch. But really, we are the ones blessed with how the BVMs have personally touched us.”
WINTER 2022: CELEBRATING THE GIFTS WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN
In this issue of Salt, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary adapt and thrive during the pandemic, use their gifts in ministry in ways that carry out the BVM core values, express gratitude to supporters and donors, and take strides to preserve BVM history.