It All Started With A Wedding
Deacon Jim and Karen Kasprzak’s first involvement with St. Vincent Catholic Charities (STVCC) all started with a wedding. They have been part of the Marriage Ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in East Lansing, helping engaged couples with marriage preparation in the Catholic Church.
However their ministry was expanded in 2009 when they were asked to work with a family from Burundi who wanted to become Catholic. The mother, father and six children (with another on the way) came to Lansing through the STVCC Refugee Services program. STVCC asked the Kasprzak’s to assist with marriage preparation and to catechize the children.
“The mother had been baptized in her youth, but the husband and children had not been because they were constantly moving in their refugee status,” said Karen.
“We got to help arrange for them to be married in the church and witness the baptism of all their children. Dcn. Jim continued: “Their wedding was right here in St. Thomas Aquinas and it happened that the archbishop of Burundi, who has been working with St. Jude Parish [DeWitt] in terms of supporting an orphanage in Burundi, was visiting and celebrated their wedding mass and baptized their children. That was very special to them because he spoke their language [Kurundi].”
The image of the mother in her wedding dress, a donation that Karen and Dcn. Jim were able to secure, is something she’ll never forget. “She was so excited because she got to wear a beautiful, white wedding dress,” said Karen. “She was there with all of her children, with the bishop. Talk about the Holy Spirit at work!”
Karen’s nearly 20 years as a middle school teacher at St. Thomas and Dcn. Jim’s professional career in state government uniquely equipped them to serve this family. After working with all different types of assistance programs, working with the Burundian refugee family provided an opportunity to learn more about a new area. Dcn. Jim has been serving the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and St. John Church and Student Center since he was ordained as a deacon in 2009.
Following his retirement in 2015, he was also appointed as the Director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Lansing. The combination of his professional background, familiarity working with the Catholic Charities agencies and their personal experience with the Burundian family is what ultimately led to the Kasprzak’s joining the Guardian Society.
“This momentum built-up and since this is where we live, this is the local agency we decided we wanted to make a significant commitment financially,” said Dcn. Jim. “Everything done by the agency is done in the spirit of Jesus Christ.” Karen agrees.
“We’re all parts of the body of Christ and they [STVCC] assist me in being the arms and legs of Christ for those that I can’t reach.”
For a family that is so involved in the Church, they recognize the importance that Catholic Charities play in the lives of all Christians.
“Christ called all of us who are baptized to be missionary disciples,” said Dcn. Jim. “As Saint Teresa of Avila said, ‘Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on Earth but yours.’ We are the arms and legs, hands and feet, the voice of Jesus to and on behalf of those who are vulnerable and in need of services.”