Appleton woman enters A New Genesis community

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | July 30, 2014

While considering religious community in Mexico, Nemec learns of ANG from Compass article shared by friend

APPLETON — Therese Nemec felt called to religious life several times, but it never seemed to work out. A first nudge came while growing up in Niagara as a member of St. Anthony Parish and two aunts were in religious life, but then there was getting an education at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee and starting a career. Marriage followed, and her son, Joe. Then there was a divorce and single parenthood.

Therese Nemec, a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Appleton, was welcomed as a candidate with A New Genesis on July 14. (Patricia Kasten | The Compass)
Therese Nemec, a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Appleton, was welcomed as a candidate with A New Genesis on July 14. (Patricia Kasten | The Compass)

But the call kept coming. On July 14, Nemec was welcomed as a candidate with A New Genesis (ANG). ANG is an association of the faithful founded in the Green Bay Diocese in 1983. She will undergo five years of formation before becoming a vowed member.

“As I went through my ceremony,” said Nemec, “I have never felt this peaceful my whole life, so I just know I’m where I need to be.”

She learned about A New Genesis a year ago, from a friend who had saved an article on it from The Compass. Prior to that, Nemec considered a religious community in Mexico — Servants of the Eleventh Hour — that works in prisons. It was founded by Mother Antonia Brenner, who had been married twice and raised seven children of her own before she founded the community later in her life.

Therese found a book about Mother Antonia — “The Prison Angel” — right after the call to religious life came very strongly once again. Her pastor, Fr. Jim Lucas of St. Thomas More Parish in Appleton, was speaking at Mass about vocations. “If you feel called, talk to somebody,” Therese remembers him saying. “I remember sitting in the pew and thinking, ‘It’s too late for me, father. I feel called, but it’s too late.’”

The book about Mother Antonia made her rethink. “OK,” she said to herself. “Maybe it’s not too late.” She contacted the Servants of the Eleventh Hour and planned to go to Tijuana. But she had doubts.

“I am a Wisconsin girl,” she said. “Living in Tijuana, which is very dangerous and has a lot of drug activity, was scary to me, but I thought ‘I’ve been called, all my life.’”

She told a friend about her doubts and that’s when The Compass article on A New Genesis candidate Mary Peeters entered the picture.

“I contacted Sr. Carmelyn (Gentrup of ANG) and I just fell in love with them,” Nemec said. “The women are strong and intelligent and committed and they care so deeply about social justice.

“As a social scientist, I have always cared about social justice.”

At her parish, Nemec serves on the parish council and the service and justice committee and in liturgical ministry. She is a social worker by training and has taught psychology, sociology and ethics. She is currently associate dean of general studies at Fox Valley Technical College and has just accepted the newly formed post of director of instructional excellence. She is also working on her doctorate in leadership at Marian College in Fond du Lac.

“I am a worker bee,” she said. “My work is my passion. Everything I am doing I am passionate about.”

This past year was spent in a formal “inquiry stage” with A New Genesis. The next five years will be a journey with the community. Srs. Mary Jo Selinsky and Diane Baumann will be her sponsors, working on her formation. Nemec will meet regularly with a spiritual advisor and, she added, focus on theology.

Nemec said her son, who also works at FVTC, “is wonderfully supportive. He is very sweetly supportive.”

Her sisters, she said, were “a little bit worried at first, because of my great-aunts,” who had entered religious life years ago. “When they joined the convent,” Nemec said, “they really did move away from their family. It wasn’t until their later years that they were able to reconnect with their family and my sisters were really worried about that.”

She explained to them that community life with A New Genesis is much different. Members live in their own homes and support themselves through work in both the secular world and church community. They gather for regular business meetings and spiritual and social gatherings. Nemec will remain at her parish, where she credits both Fr. Lucas and retired pastor, Fr. Gerald Falk, for their examples of ministry.

After her candidacy, Nemec hopes to combine her love of education with social justice. Discerning which area of social justice will be part of her formation.

“I do believe very strongly that education is the key to solving so many of the ills,” she said. “Education gives you power. … So to combine my background in education with working with people who are in the margins of society, that’s probably what I will do, but I just don’t know how yet.”

For now, she is enjoying that sense of peace. “Every step has just gone as it should,” she said. “Every person is wonderful and it just feels right.”

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