Viterbo honors Sister Helen with St. John XXIII award

05/22/2018 1:39 pm

During a May 22 ceremony hosted by Viterbo University, John Desmond, a community leader known for his ability to get things done, Mike Desmond, a retired educator who has provided tremendous leadership with organizations that serve area youth, and Helen Elsbernd, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration who has always felt called to serve, are the 2018 recipients of the Viterbo University Saint John XXIII Award for Distinguished Service.

Now in her 60th year of religious profession with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Sister Helen Elsbernd’s service has come through many different roles throughout her life—as a Sister, an educator, academic dean of Viterbo University, three terms as vice president of her religious order, director of Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center, and as a current member of the boards of Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, the St. Anthony Foundation, the Mississippi Valley Conservancy, and the La Crosse Neighborhood Development Corporation. She is also a past member of the national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce board, St. Anthony Hospital board, and the La Crosse Rotary Club board. Known as an extremely hard worker as the academic dean at Viterbo, she provided crucial leadership at a time of critical enrollment and program growth for the university, including the creation of Viterbo’s first graduate program, the Master of Arts in Education. During her first term as vice president of the FSPA, she led the process to affiliate Franciscan Health System with Mayo Clinic Health System.

Sister Helen Elsbernd stands with flower bouquet
Sister Helen Elsbernd received these flowers as congratulations on her award.

John Desmond has given his time, talents, and resources to numerous important projects in the La Crosse area. Desmond played a crucial role in the building of the Aquinas High School gymnasium art, music and science addition, the La Crosse Country Club, the Amie L. Mathy Center for Recreation and Education, a joint facility of Viterbo University and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse and the first partnership of its kind in the nation, the Weber Center for the Performing Arts, a shared facility of Viterbo University and the La Crosse Community Theatre, the Viterbo University School of Nursing Building, and Viterbo’s Clare Apartments. He was also instrumental in the Terry Erickson Boys & Girls Club of Greater La Crosse remodel and addition, the restoration and return to financial viability of the Pettibone Boat Club, and the creation and restoration of a campus for the Family and Children’s Center in Winona. He has also served as president of La Crosse Oktoberfest, the La Crosse Country Club, as Commodore of the Pettibone Boat Club, on the Viterbo University Board of Trustees and the Aquinas Catholic Schools Foundation.

Always seeking to make a difference in the lives of young people, Mike Desmond has been the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse, a member of the La Crosse Mental Health Coalition and the Criminal Justice Management Council, and chair of the Rotary Club’s Mobile Meals program. He and his wife Karen also serve as foster parents for students experiencing homelessness. Under his leadership, the Boys & Girls Club built community partnerships to greatly expand their programming, including a mental health program that is now a national model, and offer healthy food options for the organization’s 600 members. His work with the Mental Health Coalition resulted in crucial crisis intervention training for area police, while his service with the Criminal Justice Management Council led to the creation of the Second Chance program, which helps people who have been in the justice system find gainful employment. He is proud of his Catholic education, having attended Blessed Sacrament School and Aquinas High School where he was taught by members of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Desmond was an educator and coach at Aquinas High School for 25 years.

The Saint John XXIII Award is the highest non-academic award bestowed by Viterbo University. Recipients are chosen on the basis of contributions in one or several of the following categories: education, business, philanthropy, peace and justice, and religious life.

Read the La Crosse Tribune's coverage of this award.

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