Meet Our New Affiliates
We are excited to introduce you to FSPA's new affiliates and their lives of prayer, ministry and community.
Colleen Gnabasik, of La Crosse, Wisconsin, a recently retired flight attendant, is a new FSPA affiliate companioned by Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Sarah Hennessy.
Prayer: Colleen was introduced to affiliation through her participation as a prayer partner with Sister Juanita Hytry. Colleen participates in a weekly adoration hour and Sunday Mass at Mary of the Angels Chapel. Colleen shared in her final reflection that being a prayer partner has helped her to “slow down and listen, while being an affiliate will propel me to perform the work of eco-spirituality and social justice.” Colleen is drawn to pilgrimage and holy sites and incorporates the rosary into her prayer.
Ministry: Colleen has spent most of her life as a compassionate presence to others. She loves to travel and encounter people through personal conversations. Her attraction to Franciscan values is rooted in simplicity, curiosity, and “an obligation to care for each other and the planet.” Colleen’s concern for justice extends to her prayer life in which she seeks to provide hospitality to others through a loving presence.
Community: Colleen’s companion wrote in her recommendation letter that “during the live-in, Colleen’s love for connecting with the sisters and her passion for reflective questions was evident.” Colleen’s desire to participate in community is evident through her volunteering as a tour guide for Mary of the Angels Chapel, and seeking out a companion community that is grounded in prayer but also involved in care for creation.
Dee Herzing, of Dakota, Minnesota, a retired therapist who recently completed SDPP at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and volunteers in hospice care, is a new FSPA affiliate companioned by Peggy Johnson, FSPA affiliate.
Prayer: Dee shared in her final reflection that “I experience Franciscan living as a deep honoring of life. That at the heart of being alive is to live in awareness to be present.” Dee participates multiple times a week in a mediation group based out of Rochester, Minnesota, and shared that silence and contemplative prayer keep her grounded. She previously participated in a weeklong silent retreat at Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha, Iowa.
Ministry: Dee engages in a ministry of “compassionate listening and presence” to others. Through her volunteer work in La Crosse in hospice care at Gundersen Health System and the Franciscan Spirituality Center, Dee encounters people who are experiencing their own periods of transition. Dee also recently began participating as an FSPA prayer partner. Dee shared that an important influence on her journey and interest in affiliation was her time in Assisi, Italy, which she has been to twice. “It remains in my memory, heart, and bones as one of the most important experiences of my life.”
Community: Dee sees her friends and family, along with the FSPA and affiliation community, as the space in which her own life intersects with the needs and prayers of others. Dee’s community is an extension of her ministry, and she feels deeply connected to providing presence and support to both hospice staff and those in their care.
Matthew Johnson, of Harshaw, Wisconsin, an optometrist, recently accepted into Master of Arts program at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, is a new FSPA affiliate companioned by Grant Van Lishout, FSPA affiliate.
Prayer: Matthew’s prayer and spirituality have deepened through his participation as a lay leader in the ELCA, in which he has had the opportunity to lead worship services and preach – influenced by his ongoing study of Franciscan spirituality and the writings of Richard Rohr. Matthew finds a deep connection through the Franciscan worldview of creation in which “the presence of the divine is in all of creation.”
Ministry: One of Matthew’s references shared, “He meets people from all walks of life and uses his gifts and education to help them see.” His desire to be present to people has led Matthew to serve on numerous councils and boards — both in his local ELCA conference and recently through his time serving on the board of directors of Marywood Franciscan Spirituality Center in Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin. As a lay worship leader, Matthew seeks to “support groups and communities that foster justice, equity, diversity and inclusion” while promoting “Franciscan values in all relationships.”
Community: Matthew’s invitation to affiliation came through his relationships with Grant and Tammy Barthels, FSPA affiliate. Throughout the discernment process, he has been active in the FSPA Earth Pilgrims Companion Community. Matthew is drawn to active participation in this community and reflects that FSA's emphasis on “adoration, ecology, and social justice all done in an inclusive environment,” have “cemented my desire to more fully embrace and participate in the charism of St. Francis and St. Clare.”
Marla J. Kaufmann, of La Crosse, Wisconsin, is a retired registered nurse companioned by Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Rose Elsbernd.
Prayer: Marla is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish and participates in both Lectio Divina and Eucharistic Adoration. Marla is said to have “a sincerity and desire for deeper prayer.” In Sept. 2023, Marla will be walking the Camino with her two sisters — a prayerful experience that she has been planning to do ever since her retirement. Marla is also an avid reader, seeking out any books to deepen her prayer life. She shares that the FSPA story documented in “A Chapter of Franciscan History” was one book in particular that captivated her and gave her a renewed appreciation for the FSPA.
Ministry: Marla has continued to volunteer for Catholic Charities, and when the Franciscan Hospitality House was open, she devoted her time there as well. Marla volunteers in both the Catholic Charities office and out in the community, particularly in those ministries focused on alleviating hunger and poverty. A friend wrote of Marla that “after all her years as a psychiatric nurse, she is unafraid to be among the people on the margins.”
Community: In her application for affiliation, Marla shared that she has “been drawn to the Franciscan community for years,” first, as a nursing student at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the 70s, in spiritual direction and, more recently, through programs at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Marla yearns for connections with people who care deeply about serving the world, and she desires to be actively involved in a companion community to connect with others who share similar desires of service.
Gina Pignatello, a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada, is the business manager of Christ the King Church companioned by Rita Marie Phillips, FSPA affiliate.
Prayer: Many have shared how important prayer and a faith community have been to Gina’s life. She mentions that after many years of feeling overwhelmed by work and the stressors of life, she now begins each morning with daily mediation in the chapel. “I love this time spent in deep prayer and quiet as a way to start my day.”
Ministry: For over 30 years, Gina has worked at the same parish in a wide variety of roles and advancing to business manager. She has done all of this while raising six children as a single mother. A friend says of Gina that “Her own simplistic lifestyle reflects the Franciscan values of peace, compassion and care for all of creation.” Her struggles to support her family on a very limited income have influenced her own sense of compassion and readiness to provide help through outreach at the parish. Gina is willing to step in and volunteer for whatever role is needed. Her ministry work is an extension of her love for her family and others.
Community: For Gina, an influence that stands out above all others was Sister Lorraine Forester, who passed away in July of 2023. Gina first met Sister Lorraine in 1990, writing that “she has walked with me ever since.” Gina shared in her autobiography that “becoming an affiliate has been on my mind and heart for many years.” It is only now though, after her youngest child recently turned 18, that she feels she can take the time to pursue opportunities, long on her mind, that affirm her own spiritual journey.
Steve Smart, of Waukesha, Wisconsin, is an ELCA seminarian and American Sign Language interpreter companioned by Mike Schnitzius, FSPA affiliate.
Prayer: Many people who know Steve talk about his compassion, kindness and people-centered approach to life. They also share that even before Steve began to pursue seminary studies, his approach to business and relationships was rooted in deep-listening, a calming presence and Gospel love. Steve has structured his day around prayer and contemplation while alone, with his family and as a member of a church community.
Ministry: Prior to entering into the seminary, Steve owned a company that provided American Sign Language interpretation services to communities in Wisconsin. In reading through his references, it was readily apparent that his former employees saw Steve as an engaged boss who was very supportive in creating opportunities for their own development and potential. Steve shares that “Franciscan living is seeing life through a spiritual lens that reveals a sacredness and interconnectedness of all things, propelling one forward to encounter and serve God’s diverse and beautiful creation.” This insight has led Steve to follow his own calling as a seminarian in order to lead a more fulfilling and integrated life.
Community: Steve previously encountered the FSPA and was introduced to Franciscan spirituality while an undergraduate and graduate student at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin. He is currently completing his third year in the Spiritual Direction Preparation Program through the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse. Steve’s desire for becoming an affiliate is to “go deeper into the Franciscan way of life so that I can learn more about living out the Franciscan values in my own life and in my ministry.”