That’s the story of the Vincentian tradition in Jeanne Harper’s life as written up in the Green Bay Wisconsin Diocesan paper “The Catholic Compass”.
“A framed print of the poem “Children Learn What They Live” is fittingly displayed in Jeanne Harper’s home. Harper learned the value of service from her parents while growing up in Coleman.
“My mother had a list of all the lonely people at Christmas,” she said. “She didn’t want anyone alone at Christmas, so we would visit and sing Christmas carols outside the door. Helping others has always been a part of my life. You couldn’t just be a Christian on Sunday, not in that house.”
Other examples of outreach from her youth include teaching religious education from the time she was in eighth grade and working with the missions. She was recruited to work with migrant workers by Fr. Bob Karuhn, a family friend who was a first-year seminarian at the time.
“We did it three or four summers,” said Harper. “We talked religion. We were with the people, inspired by God in our lives. The migrant workers helped to deepen that faith.”
Today, Harper not only volunteers for many causes, but provides service opportunities for young people through her role as the youth and young adult Vincentian advisor for the St. Joseph Conference of St. Vincent de Paul.
Harper became a Vincentian in 2000. She started the youth conference in 2002 at the request of Luke Wilke and Erin Folgert, who were youth volunteers at the time for St. Vincent de Paul. The young Vincentians take part in Catholics at the Capitol in Madison, raise funds for the poor and homeless through such efforts as “Freezin’ 4 Reasons” and the recent “Friends of the Poor” walk. She also takes young people on home visits for firsthand experience.
“When you go on a home visit, you are not helping the poor, you are helping a person,” she said. “There are a lot of people who feel that maybe the youth shouldn’t go on a home visit. The youth don’t judge people, adults do. The youth walk out more impressed by what has just happened. Sometimes I let the kids lead the prayer at the end. It makes the Bible come alive in their lives.
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“The kids just keep you going,” added Harper. “Their faith is so deep and so innocent. It’s just absolutely inspirational. That’s for me; I work with the youth for me. They keep my faith alive. They keep me young.”
Last year, Harper was named regional vice president for the north central region of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. She also served a five-year term as president of the Green Bay Diocesan Council for the society.
“I want (volunteers) to live and know and breathe corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy,” she said. “That’s what you do at St. Vincent de Paul. We are so fortunate to be called.”
Harper, a retired psychotherapist, teaches sociology at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and takes classes through DePaul University in Chicago. She is an active member of Holy Family Parish in Marinette. Her ministries have included serving as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, lector and bringing Communion to nursing home residents. She also started a local Meals on Wheels program, a grief support group and coordinated a program providing free rides to medical appointments. Her work with Vets Journey Home is a personal passion. Her father, grandfather, brother and uncles all served in the Navy and her family lived four doors down from the American Legion in Coleman. Harper assists with the annual Vets Journey Home retreat at Camp Bird near Crivitz.
Harper and her husband, David, have two adult children and four grandchildren. She is also a professional speaker and a published writer, having contributed to nine books including “Discover Your Inner Strength” (Insight Publishing, 2010). Writing helps Harper reflect on her faith journey. She is thankful for the many spiritual directors who have guided her along the way, especially Bishop Robert Morneau and Frs. John Van Deuren, Ron Colombo and Don Zuleger. She also credits the support of her husband’s family, including her brother-in-law, Fr. Jack Harper.
Two bouts with cancer were among the struggles Harper has faced in her life. Words of encouragement from Bishop Morneau have helped during the tough times.
“He was my spiritual director for seven years and has really touched my life,” she said. “He once said to me, ‘Jeanne, I need you to take these scars and turn them into stars to shine light for other people on that path.’ That’s what I try to do.”
Photo Jeanne Harper (Manu Junemann | For The Compass)