KAUKAUNA — Thirty years ago, Elizabeth Ministry was founded by Jeannie Hannemann and Capuchin Fr. Kurt Gessner at St. Bernard Church in Appleton as a way for parish communities to reach out to families facing the joys, challenges and sorrows of childbearing. Since that time, it has evolved into Elizabeth Ministry International, with more than 700 chapters and programs on six continents.
In 2008, at the request of Bishop David Ricken, Elizabeth Ministry expanded to include issues related to sexuality and relationships with a primary focus on healing from pornography addiction. RECLAIM Sexual Health, an online learning management system, has enrolled participants from more than 30 countries.
“One of the biggest scourges right now in our society is the misuse of sexuality and pornography,” said Jeannie’s husband, Bruce Hannemann. He has been actively involved in Elizabeth Ministry since it began. RECLAIM is based on “the latest science on brain training and addiction recovery. We have been able to incorporate exercises that people can use to retrain the brain and un-addict themselves from these sexual behaviors,” he said.
In 2020, Elizabeth Ministry’s board and staff launched a strategic plan to find new ways to carry out their mission. This goal was accentuated by the ever-expanding need for services, the challenges of COVID-19, the need to find new headquarters for the ministry and the Hannemanns’ desire to retire.
“Elizabeth Ministry has been growing and growing. Eventually, you get to the point where you have to restructure,” said board president Ken Stager. “It is important for us to focus our efforts where they can have the most positive impact.”
Elizabeth Ministry International’s chapter headquarters relocated from the St. Mary site of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Kaukauna to Mukwonago in southeastern Wisconsin, with Krys Crawley serving as executive director. Crawley started Life’s Connection, the first Elizabeth Ministry Pregnancy Resource Center affiliate.
The remaining ministries will continue in the former St. Mary rectory on the St. Katharine Drexel campus and will be known as Zechariah House of Healing. In addition to offering Elizabeth Ministry’s healing prayer ministry, retreats, childbearing chapter and days of reflection, as well as RECLAIM Sexual Health, Zechariah House of Healing will house a production studio and NAVIGATE Betrayal programs. This ministry is for spouses who have experienced sexual betrayal.
“We’re modeling this after the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, where the Holy Family came during their difficult times,” said Jeannie.
Alexa Harbor has been named director of Zechariah House of Healing. She has extensive experience in the nonprofit arena and in healing prayer ministry. “I believe that through the mission and works of Zechariah House of Healing and the direction of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to answer Christ’s call to heal hearts and bring souls closer to his merciful heart,” said Harbor.
The production studio will be used primarily by Harbor to create podcasts, videos and an online learning system. “The learning management system is basically like taking a class online. It’s really cool and really effective,” she said.
Whitney Stager, who has volunteered with Elizabeth Ministry International since its inception, will serve as mission coordinator. In addition, she will have office hours for people interested in therapy services. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and is also APSAT (Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists) trained and working towards certification.
Marina Parson will be the host of Zechariah House of Healing for those who come in for a time of prayer, companioning and assistance. Therapists, spiritual directors and Catholic coaches who become part of the healing team will be allowed access to the facility.
The former St. Mary convent, where Elizabeth Ministry had been located, will continue to be used for its retreats, such as mother-daughter and father-son days, and other events. They may offer retreats for those suffering after a miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn loss. “We’ll be doing online retreats because of COVID-19 as well,” added Alexa. “That’s great for our international side, too, because we’ll be able to offer them to anyone who speaks English.”
A eucharistic chapel, with a tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament, is on-site and will be open daily for prayer and community services.
With Bishop Ricken’s blessing, Zechariah House of Healing will expand prayer support endeavors. “We are working in collaboration with Dr. Bob Schuchts, the founder of John Paul II Healing Center. We have received more than 80 commitments from religious communities around the country to join us in praying daily for all those who seek our intercession on their behalf,” said Jeannie.
As an educational apostolate, the primary focus will be training others to serve those in need, while providing programs online and in person to reach people around the world.
“The Zechariah House of Healing will become the home of the newly-forming Canticle Community, designed to help members bring Catholic clarity into a confused culture by dedicating their lives to the Visitation Mystery,” said Jeannie. “I’ve meditated on the Visitation Mystery every day since 1991.”
Harbor wants to model the ministry of Zechariah and Elizabeth. “A big emphasis, with Elizabeth Ministry, has been evangelization and education, so being able to really share the truth of the Catholic faith with people in a loving, healing and restorative way,” she said. “We have all these resources now with technology that is being used so wrong and we have the ability to use them right. We have the ability to use our learning management systems to be able to heal and evangelize and educate.”