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In Gratitude of Deb Lethlean

Last Saturday evening was a wonderful dinner event at the Pfister Hotel celebrating the Catholic Stewardship Appeal’s (CSA) Campanile Society.

Archbishop Listecki

Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee


Last Saturday evening was a wonderful dinner event at the Pfister Hotel celebrating the Catholic Stewardship Appeal’s (CSA) Campanile Society. I always feel that this is my opportunity to give the “State of the Archdiocese” address, and share with our supporters the great works that are being achieved through the donations given by these generous people.

Our new CSA leadership couple is Nickie and Rick Schmidt, who will be the face of the 2018 CSA. Jim and Maureen Stern (2016-2017) have been the leadership couple the last two years, and they – with the help of the Campanile friends – achieved a record $8 million plus in donations. It was pointed out by Rick Schmidt that Campanile Society members account for 55% of the total campaign goal, and was raised from 1% of potential donors. Imagine if we could inspire that 1% to grow to 2% or 3%!

Jim and Maureen now join Jay and Kiara Mack (2010-2011), Jon and Libby Baranko (2012-2013), and Jim and Julie Lenahan (2014-2015) in supporting Nickie and Rick as they set their sights on the 2018 CSA.

My work with our CSA couples has been a blessing. These generous people have become my good friends. They are and continue to be tremendous supporters of the Catholic vision in the archdiocese.

One of the great fears of any speaker is that they miss an important element, or fail to acknowledge an important figure. The comedian, Steve Martin, has a routine that begins with, “Those French have a different word for everything.” Well, there is a French expression for that major failure by a speaker. It is called a social “faux pas.” The dictionary defines social “faux pas” as a speaker or presenter’s behavioral gaffe, some type of social mistake, or a breach of etiquette. I was present when a major in the Army was conducting a change of command ceremony. He kept on referring to the Lieutenant General (who wears three stars on his lapels) as simply Lieutenant (one silver bar). The first gaffe was uncomfortable; the continued mistake was a career changer.

Last Saturday, I joined the ranks of the socially inept. In my haste to thank various people who have been supportive of the CSA and report on the great progress of the archdiocese, I neglected to thank Deb Lethlean for her service and dedication to the Catholic Stewardship Appeal.

Deb, after 27 years of dedicated service in our Development Office and the last 11 years as director, decided to retire in 2017. Deb is one of those rare individuals you encounter in your life who you presume will go on forever. She grew the Development Office, set the direction and led the staff. During my eight years as archbishop, her knowledge of fund raising and sensitivity to issues created an environment for charitable giving that weathered the crash of 2008 and the five-and-a-half years of bankruptcy.

Her leadership created confidence, provided opportunities to grow relationships, and understood the need of donors to be informed. She planned individual dinners, Bishop and Archbishop Circle events, and assisted with development for Catholic Schools and Catholic Charities.

Through her efforts, tens of millions of dollars have been raised to support the parishes, seminary, charities, schools and offices of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

My social faux pas was in praising the building, the donors, the occupants and civic officials. However, I failed to acknowledge the architect who designed the structure. If I had the power, I would have ordered everyone (all five hundred plus) back into the room to offer my appreciation of her service.

I rushed over to Deb after the dinner when it was brought to my attention that I failed to acknowledge her contribution. I offered my mea culpa (through my fault) to her and, with typical graciousness, Deb said, “Oh Archbishop, don’t worry. I was basking in the glory of the CSA dinner and reflecting on the achievement the office made in the years under my direction.”

Still, if Deb were a general or a queen, my career as a public speaker would be over. Her husband, daughter, and son-in-law were present. They know the sacrifices she has made, and the love she put into every one of her efforts.

I wondered, if God protects children and fools, why He didn’t intervene and correct my foolish error. Perhaps God thought that an “LOA” would be a much more appropriate vehicle to convey my gratitude. After all, it’s true: Deb’s work has helped us all to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Note: This blog originally appeared as the January 30, 2018 "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.

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