GREEN BAY — An annual tradition continued, more than 2,000 miles away. A group of 10 men from the Diocese of Green Bay, including five deacons, traveled to the diocesan mission in the province of Elías Piña in the Dominican Republic to build a chapel Feb. 15-28.
St. Agnes Chapel in Gauzumal is the eighth concrete block structure built by a deacon-led group and the 20th chapel overall constructed by diocesan volunteers, according to Deacon Paul Umentum, trip organizer.
This year’s construction team featured multiple generations, including Bob Kanzenbach and his grandson, Willie Kanzenbach, one of the three first-time group members.
“Grandpa said that he has been going since 2011. He goes every year,” said Willie. “My sister (Rebecca) went one year to Honduras and my brother (Peter) also went to Honduras, so I figured it was my turn to go with him.”
The timing was right for Willie, who lives in Lena with his wife, Laura, and their four children. “I’m a builder and February is a bad time to build,” he said.
“I always wanted to build a church,” he added. “That was always a dream of mine. To build a church, to give my gifts back to God was my main goal. I also wanted to see a different culture and help out down there. I know that Grandpa really enjoys it, so it’s something I’ve wanted to experience for years.”
Willie, a member of St. Patrick Oratory (Traditional Latin Mass) in Green Bay, did masonry work on the trip.
“When we got there, they had the foundation and the first couple rows of block finished,” he explained. “It was on a hill. A mason down there worked with us. We finished everything, except for the roof. We finished what we went down there to do.”
The diocese has operated a mission in the Dominican Republic for more than 55 years. Fr. Mike Seis serves as the mission director and is the pastor of two parishes, Santa Teresa in Elías Piña and San Ysidro in El Llano. Fr. Seis, who has ministered in the Dominican Republic since 1995, also serves people in 90 settlements throughout the province. Chapels are built in rural areas to provide a place of worship.
The mission trip was also a bucket list item for Thom Cody of St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay. He met Deacon Umentum through his Fourth Day Group after making a Cursillo.
“I’m in awe of what Father has accomplished down there,” said Cody, owner of Pathmakers Inc., a consulting company that works in leadership and executive development. “I went to Mass with him five times in a day. It was one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had. The custom of coffee before every Mass stood out. Father is grabbed every place and asked to anoint someone.”
Cody had a lot of time for reflection at the work site. He was hoping to find answers about his business and career path on the trip. He shared his mission with Fr. Seis.
“I told him, ‘If I’m being honest, Father, I came down hoping that God would hit me with a (2-by-4) and tell me I want you to do that,” explained Cody. “(Father) chuckled and said, ‘You let me know how that works out for you. I’ve been down here for 25 years and I’m still trying to figure it out.’”
Opportunities for prayer as a group were appreciated by Cody. Friends dealing with health issues were in his heart.
“We prayed daily, morning and evening,” he said. “To be able to pray every day and to offer these people up is just a powerful experience. To sit with nine other men was a privilege.”
Deacon Randy Jaeckels, who serves Holy Rosary Parish, New Holstein; SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Kiel; and St. Ann Parish, St. Anna, was the third newcomer to the group in the Dominican Republic. He made a mission trip to Honduras in 2014.
“My favorite moment from the trip (Dominican Republic) was being able to participate in the first Mass celebrated by Fr. Mike at the chapel we constructed,” said Deacon Jaeckels. “There was a great sense of accomplishment. The local people were so happy to have the chapel. The smiles on their faces and the sense of joy beaming from them will be unforgettable.”
The noise was an adjustment for the new group members.
“We were staying in a heavy traffic area and the ‘vendors’ liked to play their music very loud, often late into the evening, making it a challenge to sleep,” said Deacon Jaeckels.
“Everybody was trying to describe the music to me,” said Cody. “I was in a band in college, I was in the entertainment business, so I dismissed it. How loud can it be? Oh my goodness. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
The generosity, happiness and faith of the people of the mission will be a lasting memory.
“No one really has anything, but everyone would give you everything,” said Willie.
“For the sign of peace, you better strap in because it’s going to be a while,” said Cody. “The church is alive. You see what it means to them, especially if they only get to see Father once a month. It definitely helped me to put into perspective what’s important and what’s not. There are some things that are universal: the love of God and the love of family.”
The diocesan mission in the Dominican Republic is supported by the Bishop’s Appeal and through grants from the Catholic Foundation. To support the mission, visit catholicfoundation.org/visit.