GREEN BAY — Hours before Mass on the first weekend of Advent, Bob and Josie Kanzenbach were busy putting the finishing touches on the Advent giving tree at SS. Peter and Paul Church.
For 12 years, the Kanzenbachs have been organizing the giving tree project at the Green Bay parish.
“It kind of evolved,” said Bob. “The parish was doing a lot in the community, and it kind of flowed from there. They had a food pantry here and … they would do Christmas grocery bags. That got into giving gifts to children.”
The Kanzenbachs joined SS. Peter and Paul Parish in 2004. They had been members of Holy Martyrs of Gorcum Parish, which merged with Holy Trinity Parish in Pine Grove to form Prince of Peace.
“When we came here, we saw something at another parish where they had a giving tree, so then we kind of plagiarized that idea,” Bob said with a laugh.
What makes their giving tree different is that the proceeds go to two causes which are important to the Kanzenbachs: the Green Bay Pregnancy Help Center/A&A Alexandrina Center and the Diocese of Green Bay’s mission parish at Elias Pina, Dominican Republic.
Bob and Josie have been active in the pro-life movement since 1973. “We’ve been involved in 40 Days for Life since it started,” said Bob. In 2005, Josie began the parish’s annual Mother’s Day rose sale, which raises money for A&A.
They are longtime friends with the director of A&A, Dr. Amy Rosteing, and support its mission of helping mothers facing crisis pregnancies.
Dr. Rosteing said she happily accepted their offer of partnering with A&A on the Advent giving tree. “They are always doing something,” she said. “They are a great inspiration. Bob and Josie are very loving, they radiate God’s love to everyone.”
The Kanzenbachs’ relationship with the Dominican Republic mission is also personal. Bob has traveled to the mission nine times to help construct churches and homes with deacons from the Diocese of Green Bay. He knows the good work that Fr. Mike Seis, the pastor and director of the diocesan mission, is doing there.
“All the money we raise essentially goes to building churches,” said Kanzenbach, whose last visit was in 2019. “It’s an extremely rewarding experience. It’s a warm climate, and it’s with a great bunch of guys. It’s like going on a retreat, and the people there are so grateful.”
The Advent giving tree includes tags with items written on them such as baby clothes, but mostly diapers are requested. The couple does not know exactly how many diapers they collect each year, but their minivan is always filled when they make a delivery to A&A, they said.
Envelopes are hung from the giving tree with a return address for Fr. Bill Hoffman, pastor of St. Philip Parish in Green Bay, who served in the Dominic Republic years ago. Bob said donors are asked to place a donation in the envelope and mail it to Fr. Hoffman. Since they don’t collect the donations, the Kanzenbachs do not know how much money has been raised through the giving tree.
Bob and Josie celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on Nov. 26. Bob joined the Catholic Church when he married Josie, who boasts that she and her two Catholic roommates all dated non-Catholic men, and all three of their spouses became Catholic. The Kanzenbachs have two sons, Mike and Kirk, 15 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
The couple has participated in Cursillo weekends and was very active in the Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) retreat program.
It was a Cursillo retreat that truly ignited Bob’s Catholic faith, he said.
“A friend of mine said, ‘You really ought to make a Cursillo.’ I thought, ‘This guy’s got everything put together. If it helped him, just think of what it could do for me,’” he recalled. “So I got there and I saw all of these guys had something that I didn’t have. I made a commitment that if (God) blessed me, I will give back. I don’t know exactly how it worked, but I know I had a profound conversion experience. That’s what started it all.”
It led them to direct the high school religious education program at Holy Martyrs and to volunteer as support staff for TEC. Bob said he worked on about 35 weekends while Josie assisted on about 15. They even joined Deacon Nick Williams and helped lead two TEC retreats in Sweden in the late 1980s.
As members of their parish’s evangelization committee, Bob and Josie oversaw the purchase of posters for a “Eucharistic Miracles of the World” exhibit in 2012. “We have 60 posters,” said Bob. “We started out with 24. As we generated donations, we kept purchasing more.”
Bob built the display stands and carrying cases for the posters, which are now part of a traveling exhibit that has been shared with parishes around Wisconsin.
While both Bob and Josie say that prayer guides them, they add that the influence of friends has also been key to living out their faith in so many ways.
“We got involved in many of the ministries because of the faith-filled, loving and dedicated people who we encounter in these ministries,” said Bob. “That inspired us and encourages us to do more.”