Blessed Mother apostolate continues to grow throughout the diocese and beyond

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | May 2, 2023

‘Jack’s Story’ highlights Champion Shrine and spreads healing message

GREEN BAY — What started out with 20 prints of the Blessed Mother shared with friends at daily Mass has grown into an apostolate reaching thousands of people throughout the Diocese of Green Bay — and beyond.

The image of the Blessed Mother was taken in 2018 by Jack, who wishes to withhold his last name in print.

It depicts the statue of the Blessed Mother in the Apparition Chapel, located beneath the main altar of the Oratory Chapel at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion — formerly known as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.

The backstory of the photo represents a long healing journey for Jack, who is originally from Oshkosh. For half a century, he annually suffered serious coughing spells during the months of October and February, symptoms of asthma.

Jack, 88, a retired cancer cytologist, worked at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay from 1974 to 1988, and then worked half-time at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center, also in Green Bay, from 1988 to 2014.

The original print of the image of the statue Blessed Mother in the Apparition Chapel at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion, formerly known as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, is shown above. The prints have been updated with the new name. “Jack’s Story” is featured on the back. (Special To The Compass)

In 2011, a co-worker at HSHS St. Mary’s suggested that he visit the Shrine. He made his first trip on Sept. 25, 2011, in anticipation of a rough month to come.

“Mary, I’m a skeptic. If I have to live with this, I will, but if there is something you can do about it, I would appreciate it,” he told The Compass he prayed in the chapel that day.

He experienced no symptoms in October of 2011, and the cough did not return in February of 2012, he said.

Jack has not experienced an asthma-related cough since and became a monthly Shrine visitor to pray about other things in his life.

The quality of the photo Jack took of the Blessed Mother was unexpected.

Jack has tremors, so keeping his hands steady with the camera was difficult. When he returned home and looked at the photos, he was surprised to see an image that was “well-centered and very well-lit,” he said.

A friend who is a graphic artist made minor changes including the color of the floor to allow for text before Jack had prints made for distribution.

Through the encouragement of others, including recipients of the first prints, Jack decided to distribute the image to whoever would like one. On the back, he wrote “Jack’s Story” to provide context about the picture. He also has a Spanish-language version.

Today, prints that have been distributed by Jack and a network of supporters are displayed in homes, Catholic schools, churches, offices and businesses, including religious book and supply stores.

In December 2021, he gave a framed print to Bishop David Ricken, who wrote a letter of gratitude to Jack, referring to the picture as a “mini-indoor shrine.”

“I would like to humbly recommend that you continue to share your faith and the items you’ve created as the Holy Spirit moves you, in your personal, everyday life. I have found in these very personal exchanges that God’s Love is most revealed and reaped by those you encounter in your own life journey,” wrote Bishop Ricken.

One concern of growing the apostolate was the cost of producing the image with “Jack’s Story.” An ally was found in John Heyrman, owner of Heyrman Printing and Green Bay Blue in Green Bay.

Heyrman and his wife, Pam, volunteer at the Shrine as members of the Order of Malta.

“We’ve been members of Malta for five years,” he said. “One of our main objectives is to help the Shrine. We have a hospitality and first aid center there for helping visiting pilgrims.

“When (Jack) came in, it just seemed natural to help out to get the word out about the Shrine and hopefully get more visitors so they can take part in healing or praying. It’s spreading the word about the Shrine and I just wanted to be a part of that. I was in.”

Heyrman’s paternal grandmother, Alice Heyrman, prayed at the Shrine at least once a week, he said. Visits to Champion helped his family deal with difficult times, including loss in recent years, he added. Heyrman also attended healing services led by the late Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga.

There is no charge for the printing, thanks to Heyrman. He estimates that he’s printed around 7,000 in English and 2,500 in Spanish.

“It’s growing,” said Heyrman, who has updated the Shrine name on the prints to read “Our Lady of Champion.”

“The great thing is, if it gets to be tens of thousands, it’s spreading the word and getting people to the Shrine and to talk to Mary. It’s almost like something divine is guiding it because it’s just happening organically, Jack knowing the right people,” he continued.

Jack points to support from Curia members in distributing the prints, including Julianne Stanz, director of Discipleship and Parish Life; Karmen Lemke, director of Catholic Charities; and Fr. Luke Ferris, vicar for Clergy and Pastoral Leaders.

Tammy Basten, chancellor of the Diocese of Green Bay; Peter Murphy, associate director of the Curia; and Deacon Shaun Johnson, diaconate director, are among the other advocates from diocesan staff, said Jack..

“It’s growing because of (Jack’s) fervor,” said Murphy. “He goes out to businesses and retailers. He talks to restaurant owners. They say, ‘I have a connection to the Shrine.’ He’s built those bridges. That’s evangelization. He’s sharing his picture, but he’s also sharing the truth of Christ through that. It’s amazing, the places I go and I see the picture.”

Following an introduction to Jack and hearing his story, Jill Skaletski of Holy Family Parish, Brillion, received a framed print that is now on display in the parish office.

She said that she was inspired to spread Jack’s message, so she arranged with Deacon Greg Van Thiel to speak before two weekend Masses and following Communion at a third liturgy, and to distribute “Jack’s Story” prints.

“I invited everyone to come in the narthex to talk, to share Jack’s story, to share our story, ultimately, sharing the love of Christ,” said Skaletski, a 3K and 4K teacher’s aide and aftercare coordinator at the parish school. “I kind of share that Holy Family Parish is my home, but the Shrine is ‘my home away from home.’ I love it there. It’s very peace-filled there.”

Skaletski has continued to share the prints, including distribution in Hilbert, Manitowoc, Greenleaf/Wrightstown/ Askeaton, Whitelaw and Minocqua. She gave prints to a local landscaping firm that did work at the Shrine and Spanish versions to an area farm family that has Spanish-speaking employees.

“Everywhere I go, I pass them out,” she said. “(Jack) would give me about 100. I would run out and then I would visit him. I’m very thankful to help. God helps us in our times of need, and he heals us. “

Skaletski’s outreach expanded to Peru. She sent prints to the Katie and Taylor Schmidt family, members of Holy Family Parish who serve as lay missionaries in Peruvian communities.

“Sharing this picture and the love of the Shrine is guided by the Holy Spirit and all for the glory of God,” she said. “Each day is a beautiful gift and a blessing. Be the light of Christ to other people. That’s what Jesus wants.”

The print of the Blessed Mother is displayed in Skaletski’s living room along with a crucifix, with a light shining down on the image.

“It inspires me, having an indoor Mary shrine at home, praying the rosary daily and having that family connection, that family talk time,” she said. “It’s a reminder of prayer and our daily labor of love for God.”

Jack continues to find opportunities to share the print and his story. He spoke to a senior class at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay and also recently connected with owners of local funeral homes.

“I like seeing where it’s going from (Jack’s) text updates, from one person to another to another,” said Heyrman.

“The Lord put this on his heart and (Jack’s) zealous in sharing this,” said Murphy. “He had a personal experience and can now share that. A lot of people don’t have that personal experience of faith.”

Prints featuring the Blessed Mother and “Jack’s Story” are available at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion.

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