ALLOUEZ — Karmen Lemke is ready to give through her work as the new Catholic Charities director for the Diocese of Green Bay, but she also plans to receive.
“I’m going to get something out of this too,” she said. “I’m going to grow in my faith and fall in love with my church in a whole new way by prioritizing faith in my work.”
Lemke will begin her new position on Nov. 16. She describes her career path as “nontraditional.” Lemke, a Wrightstown native, earned an associate degree in marketing from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, which led to a position at Wisconsin Public Service (WPS).
“I spent 31 years at WPS before making the leap to nonprofit leadership,” she said. “I had great years working for the energy company. That’s where I got my love of the community and for working with different organizations that help make the community stronger.”
Lemke spent the majority of her years at WPS working in community relations, public relations and communications. Part of her role was to oversee the company’s charitable foundation,which provides grants to community groups.
“The goal was to align the company’s resources with the needs of the community,” she explained. “Through those experiences I met so many amazing people. I was able to serve on many nonprofit boards, helping them to make their missions very strong.”
Two years ago, Lemke, who, while at WPS, earned a business degree from Lakeland University’s Green Bay Center, became the chief executive officer for the Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes.
“I felt that I wanted to take my skills and put them to a mission,” she said. “It was a big leap of faith.”
Lemke said that the position has taught her about leadership and resiliency. She started her position one week before three Girl Scouts and a parent were killed while cleaning a roadside as part of a service project near Chippewa Falls.
“This year, we have the pandemic,” she said. “It’s made me a real strong leader. I think it’s prepared me well for my next step.”
Over the past year, Lemke said that she asked God, through prayer, where he wants her to serve.
“Through a lot of spiritual discernment and really reflecting on where I need to be, I had a calling,” she said about serving Catholic Charities. “It’s not only about using my leadership skills, but also allowing me to continue on that faith journey and really prioritize faith, family and then my career. It’s not that I won’t put my whole heart into this role, but it’s going to allow me to bring that faith component back to leadership to help a mission that I’m very passionate about.”
Lemke will help lead a transition in the way Catholic Charities provides services, said Fr. John Girotti, associate moderator of the Curia.
“For many years, we have used a medical model of service wherein people come to us and we assist them,” he explained. “This has worked well, however, it is not very flexible. And, because of limited resources, (it) has only been able to assist people living in large metropolitan areas of our diocese. Our new delivery model will be based in the field throughout the 16 counties of our diocese, working with other agencies around specific issues to deliver care. In short, rather than waiting for people to come to us, we will start going to them.
“Karmen’s many gifts include her proven leadership ability, her ability to articulate a vision and her strong faith in the mission of Jesus Christ,” he added.
“The key to success is embracing the true mission of the diocese,” said Lemke. “That mission is bringing all people to God’s kingdom and forming missionary disciples, leading with our faith and really embracing some of the new ways to do that.
“What are the needs? Stepping back, talking to the parishes, talking to the other social service entities, understanding those needs, will help us know what Catholic Charities brings to the table for expertise and how we can serve more people that way,” she added. “It’s now more community centered with Christ.”
Lemke and her husband of 27 years, Randy, have three daughters: Lauren, 25; Lindsay, 22; and Leah, 17. They live in Wrightstown and are members of St. Clare Parish. Karmen’s ministry involvement at the parish has included lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion, faith formation teacher and various fundraisers. She served the diocese as a nine-year member of the Catholic Foundation board.
Karmen said that she draws inspiration from Mary, the Blessed Mother, who has provided “guidance and wisdom in my life, not only as a parent and wife, but as a friend to others.” She also points to her mother, Kathleen Roebke, as a faith model.
“She inspires me because she is so driven by her faith,” said Karmen. “She has come through a lot of challenges in her own life and has always used her faith to guide her. She lives a very humble life, but a very giving life.
“She taught me about the meaning of service,” she added. “I hopefully have shared that with my daughters, so they can see why we serve and why giving back is so important.”