Stir over newspaper column provides ‘teachable moment’

Bellevue Catholics witness their faith to wider community

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

BELLEVUE — Catholics in Bellevue had an unusual chance to give a witness to their faith to the wider community, particularly on the importance of Catholic sisters, after a column published earlier this month in a local newspaper caused a stir.

In a piece which ran with an un-sourced photo of Catholic nuns in habits holding rifles, a columnist wrote about several women religious teachers and one unidentified male teacher who served many years ago at Bellevue Catholic schools in a disparaging way. In the wake of this controversy, Catholics in the area came together in unity to provide a loving response that turned something that could have been negative, into a positive teachable moment about our faith and gratitude.

“There was an immediate response,” said Father Phil Kruse, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Bellevue. “We need to stand up for what we believe. People do care about the priests, deacons and religious.”

Father Kruse was among the large number of area Catholics who contacted the newspaper with letters and phone calls expressing their discontent with the article and their support for women religious and all the other religious, clergy and lay people who serve the church in Catholic schools. In the March 15 issue of the newspaper, two of those written responses were published, along with a response from Editor David Namanny of the Herald-Leader.

“As a freshman at Marquette I will cite this one of many examples of who these sisters really were,” wrote Jim Kettmann, a 1969 Marquette graduate, in one response. “In the fall of 1965, my two-year-old brother drowned on the family farm. I was angry and inconsolable … Fortunately for me, the sister mentioned in the article (Sister Geraldine) noticed, took me aside and helped me understand that bad things happen, and we may never understand why.”

“She was very kind and patient with me, explaining that I would see my brother Pat again someday. She turned my life around that day …” wrote Kettmann.

Nammany responded that the column was “simply meant to be a humorous take…” “Many local readers of the Catholic faith, however, did not see any humor in the piece and several were offended,” continued the editor, in part. “…Therefore, as editor of this newspaper, I apologize to those readers who were offended for allowing the column to run. While some apparently thought it was in bad taste, we sincerely meant no harm.”

Women religious had served the local parish and Catholic school system in Bellevue for 155 years before the last sister left about two years ago, according to Father Kruse.

Another part of the response to the column involved students and staff at Marquette Catholic schools. They decided to use a section of the Herald-Leader’s March 15 issue called “The Marquette Medium,” usually reserved for news about Catholic schools, to publish a message in the shape of a cross:

“The Marquette Medium would like to say thank you to the priests, deacons, brothers, lay-teachers, and especially the sisters who have dedicated their lives and careers to education in the Catholic school systems around the world and here in Bellevue,” said the message. “Your personal sacrifices for your students, and examples of Christ’s love that you set are constant reminders to us that we must give of our own talents for the greater good of others, work tirelessly to make this world a better place, and remember that Christ is at the center of it all. Thank you.”

Photo: St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bellevue. (Photo by Dan Russo/TheWitness)