Annual lunch to honor those who work to support life issues set for Oct. 6

| August 31, 2011 | 0 Comments

The fourth annual Champions for Life awards will be presented by Archbishop John Nienstedt Oct. 6, during a lunch at St. Peter Catholic Church in Mendota.

The awards, sponsored by the archdiocesan Office for Marriage, Family and Life, honor individuals, teams, youth and organizations that have worked tirelessly for respect life issues. Recipients were chosen from more than 50 nominations.

Dr. John Bruchalski, chairman of Divine Mercy Care, a non-profit, faith-based health care organization, will be the keynote speaker. The 201l Champions for Life categories and recipients are:

Youth Category:

Stephanie Gockowski is a recent graduate of the University of St. Thomas and attends Mass at Nativity, St. Mark and the Cathedral of St. Paul, all in St. Paul. While in college, Gockowski served as vice president of Students for Life and helped organize the Cemetery of the Innocence on the UST campus. She also has worked with the Little Sisters of the Poor in Denver, serving pregnant women and the elderly; volunteered with the Highland Life Center and currently works with pro-Life Action Ministries.

Her nomination said: “What really makes Stephanie a Champion for Life is the way she lives her life every day, loving each and every person in all the little day to day things. And how grateful she is in her own life.”

Church, School or Catholic-Affiliated Group:

Rachel’s Vineyard, Twin Cities retreats provide hope, help and healing for men and women suffering from the aftermath of an abortion. Serving hundreds if not thousands of clients in the Twin Cities area since 1999, the retreats have brought Christ’s love and mercy to those lost in despair.

Nancy Blom has directed more than 29 Rachel’s Vineyard retreats. She and her team members become ministers of hope and healing. Blom said, “The retreats are patterned after the Passion of Christ and the retreatants need to go through their own passion in order to obtain the resurrection from the death of their grief and loss. . . . God heals them with his unlimited love and mercy, and when you bring a woman back to the church, she does not come alone. She brings her husband and children with her.”

Team, Couple or Family Category:

Al Shimota and Paul Creagan are a dynamic team who work together to brighten the lives of the residents of the Alzheimer’s Care Unit at the Minnesota Masonic Home. Both are parishioners at St. Edward in Bloomington. In addition to leading the Communion service and rosary every Tuesday, both men use their special gifts and skills to bring joy to the residents. Shimota utilizes his wood crafting skills to create plaques from prayer cards for the residence and plays his harmonica or concertina. Creagan gives each person a hug and a smile.

Al is 84 years old and Paul is 93. Their lives and commitment to living out the Gospel message proves that you are never too old to serve others and live out the Gospel of life.

Adult Category:

Brian Gibson is executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries. He first served as a volunteer in the founding of PLAM in 1981 and has been its di- rector since 1989. Gibson and Pro- Life Action Ministries is recognized as the best organized and largest ministry for sidewalk counseling in the nation. The organization has expanded from one office to three — St. Paul, Duluth and Orlando, Fla. — and leads the Twin Cities’ Forty Days for Life vigils.

Gibson oversaw the creation of the Chapel of the Innocents adoration chapel and a collection of pro-life prayers. He hosts a weekly radio program and prays outside of abortion clinics almost daily.

But his work doesn’t stop at the sidewalk. He and his wife have two adopted children and he serves in many ministries at St. Michael Church in Prior Lake.

Paula Kelly puts in hundreds of hours at the Wakota Life Care Center as secretary of the board, office secretary and assisting clients. Her ability and passion shines as the organizer of the center’s annual fundraiser. Before she began working with the annual fund drive, it took in less than $3,000. This year’s efforts generated almost $30,000.

Kelly and her husband are active volunteers with ARC for people with intellectual and development disabilities. She has volunteered at a homeless shelter, taught confirmation classes, helps with her parish liturgies and continues her spiritual development through Bible studies and prayer.

For more information about the lunch or to reserve tickets, contact the Marriage Family and Life office at (651) 291-4488 or visit the archdiocesan website at

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