APPLETON — Fox Valley Catholic Bible Study Group celebrates 40 years of weekly Scripture study on April 21, 6:30 a.m. The event will be held where the group meets each week: St. Bernadette Church, 2331 E. Lourdes Drive. The event is open to the public.
Four men who have been involved with the Bible study group since its inception — Al Vandenberg, Jim Hyde, Deacon Maury Reed and Tom O’Hearn — said the group has not only had a personal impact on participants, but also on the Fox Valley community.
Vandenberg and Hyde are members of St. Bernadette Parish; Deacon Reed serves at St. Bernard Parish; O’Hearn is a member of St. Pius X Parish.
“It started at Monte Alverno,” the former Capuchin retreat center, said Vandenberg. “There were two Fox Valley men’s Bible retreats there. Afterward they wanted to keep that experience going.”
Eight men started the group in 1977. Vandenberg, Hyde, Deacon Reed and O’Hearn came on board later that year. Fr. Bill Alcuin was the original facilitator. After he was transferred, Fr. Orville Janssen led the group until he died in 1999. For the last 18 years, Fr. Don Zuleger has led the group, which now has more than 270 men and women as members.
“Fr. Alcuin said we’re going to start with the book of Matthew and the theme of Matthew was establishing God’s kingdom on earth,” recalled Hyde. “He issued this challenge to them, ‘What can we do to establish that kingdom here in the Valley?’”
Through the years that challenge has been taken to heart by countless members of the group, which resulted in the creation of many charitable organizations throughout the Fox Valley and beyond. These include:
- St. Joseph’s Food Pantry;
- Loaves & Fishes meal program;
- Hortonville Community Food Pantry;
- Pioneer Village and Pioneer Haven senior and assisted living facilities;
- Fox Valley Warming Shelter;
- Casa Clare, a home for women;
- Widows of Prayer ministry;
- Appleton Youth Mentoring Program;
- Parish Vitality Initiative;
- Riverview Gardens job training;
- LEAVEN (Limited Emergency Assistance Valley Ecumenical Network);
- FISC, a consumer credit counseling agency;
- COTS transitional shelter;
- Thanksgiving Shepherds Fund Drive.
“If you put a dollar figure” to what the organizations provide in service, “it’s about $12 million every year,” said Hyde. “It’s amazing what they have done to accomplish all this.”
Not only did the Bible study group create non-profit organizations, they promoted vocations. “I came about six months after it started,” said Deacon Reed. “I was really fascinated by (the study of Scripture). Fr. Alcuin was my spiritual director. This Bible class moved me into the diaconate.”
Studying Scripture changes lives, according to Vandenberg. People have sent him letters, testifying to that. “I have things that are in writing. Things that came out of being blessed by the Lord by coming to the Bible studies,” he said.
There is a hunger for Scripture, said Hyde, who mentioned a conversation he had with a minister from a large, non-denominational church. “He was a former Catholic and the reason he changed was Scripture. He said, ‘Sixty percent of my congregation is former Catholics. Why do they come here? Because in school the faith education, the religious education program is a complete failure, these kids know nothing about Scripture. They see Scripture when they come here.’”
Fox Valley Catholic Bible Study Group is one of the best places to learn that, said Hyde, especially the way Fr. Zuleger, like his predecessors, brings Scripture to life. “He doesn’t just know Scripture, he can give it to you, he can explain it, he’s a teacher,” said Hyde.
“And he lives it,” added Vandenberg.
“I love Scripture,” Hyde explained. “I could probably do a good job teaching this but people want a priest. It’s not easy to find them. You have to have a teacher.”
The four men have something in common with every other member of their Bible study group: they were invited by someone to join. In that spirit, they invite anyone else who’d like to deepen their faith to stop by on any Friday morning at 6:30 to join them for coffee, donuts, rolls and spiritual nourishment.
“It’s extremely welcoming. Come once and you’ll be hooked,” said Deacon Reed. “I think studying Scripture and becoming aware of Scripture makes you a totally different Christian.”
“If you come, expect to find 120-plus members anxiously waiting to hear the Old and New Testament explained in a way that is exciting, interesting and understandable,” Hyde said, adding that guests should bring a Bible.
Joining the Fox Valley Catholic Bible Study Group has been a life-changing experience, said Vandenberg. “I don’t think I could have accomplished what I did since I came into the Bible study — in my field of work, with my friends. … I prayed with most all my clients and the relationship I had with them changed. It was really a good experience with my family. I could work with them and pray with my kids more.”
Studying the Bible deepens your faith, added O’Hearn. “You feel more secure in your faith, comfortable going forward putting into practice those things you garner from being here. Being with people of similar faith and understating, it affects your life away from here.”
The public is invited to attend the 40th anniversary celebration at St. Bernadette Church on April 21, 6:30 a.m. Send RSVP to Jim Hyde at [email protected]