Solid, Holy Ground

Nov. 4-10, 2004
Solid, Holy Ground
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Does faith play a part in one’s secular career? How do Catholics who struggle to balance family, faith and career prioritize what’s important in their lives? Five Catholic professionals were asked those questions and others pertaining to the challenges they face raising children in a materialistic and media-driven society, staying true to their beliefs despite the scandal in the church and how they view the future. Here are their stories. Bob Gomulka is the chief financial officer and vice president of finance for United Health Services in Binghamton. He is a life-long member of St. James Parish in Johnson City and a volunteer at Broome County Catholic Charities and St. James Parish. Gomulka and his wife share their strong faith in God with their two sons, who both attended Catholic schools and are now in Catholic colleges. “Times have changed since I was in school,” said Gomulka. “Some of the things I hear and see today indicate that it’s important that my sons receive a Catholic education to guide them along with ethical decisions and help them with their view of life.”

To help him in his daily life and maintain his own spirituality, Gomulka attends Mass daily. “I’ve come to the realization that what I have obtained came to me through the grace of God,” he said. “My faith keeps me going day in and day out.” In addition to exercising his spirituality, Gomulka works out each day to remain physically fit as well. “I run each day to keep my stress down. I need both of those things –– spiritual and physical to function on a daily basis and give me a complete perspective on life.”

As chief financial officer at United Health Services, Gomulka struggles to balance providing healthcare for an increasing number of aged and indigent individuals with maintaining a profit. However, Gomulka said that there are rewards to his job as well. “The rewards are that we have a charity care program that provides free care for many in the region who are in need of healthcare services but don’t have the resources or the insurance coverage,” said Gomulka. “We provide over $16 million of uncompensated care to those who need health care in our community.” Gomulka grew up in the Johnson City community and feels that his ties to the community and the people help him better understand their needs. In order to help fill those needs Gomulka helps non-profit organizations by offering his expertise. At Broome County Catholic Charities, Gomulka assists with financial planning and works with government programs on complicated issues such as reimbursement from state agencies. “Catholic Charities does an excellent job meeting the needs of those who don’t have the resources,” said Gomulka. “You ask how one can make a difference. I think that using one’s own talents to help others is an important way to do that.”

Gomulka said that he tries to stress the importance of integrity both at work and in his personal life. “It means doing the right thing,” he said. “I bring my personal values and morals to my job.” When asked what common phrase he thinks his staff would use to describe him, Gomulka responded, “integrity.” “And I hope my family would say the same –– integrity and diligence.”

Jim Reath has been in the media business for more than 20 years. He started as an anchor reporter and news director before becoming a radio talk show host at WSYR six years ago. Reath is a straight shooter who holds politicians, religious leaders and government officials accountable for their actions and misdeeds. His talk show, broadcast Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., has a loyal audience who call in to express their opinions on the topic at hand or to agree or disagree with Reath’s viewpoints. “Any views I express are mine and being a Catholic is a major part of who I am,” said Reath. Reath said he’s had more compliments than complaints from his listeners about his Catholic beliefs. “I am pro-life and have no hesitation in discussing that whenever it comes up,” he said. “I feel people welcome an honest viewpoint.” When topics such as the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia and other controversial issues arise, Reath said that listener opinion is split about 50/50.

Reath’s faith plays an important part in his life. A member of Assumption Parish in Syracuse, he attends Mass almost daily, says the rosary with his wife and son each day at the breakfast table and volunteers his services to non-profit organizations. Reath is a member of the Franciscan Visioning Committee –– a committee set up to determine the Franciscan’s presence on the north side of Syracuse for the future, create a mission statement for the Franciscan community and purchase the former Assumption School with a vision of using it for various diocesan programs in the future. As parents of two young children, Reath and his wife work to instill their faith-filled values into their children. “We limit their exposure to a lot of public media and expose them to more religious-based programs,” said Reath. “My wife deserves the lion’s share of the credit for educating them about the Catholic faith.” Reath said they also supervise whom their son is allowed to play with and believe that by providing him with a good foundation while he is young, he will have better decision-making skills when he is older. “If parents are strong and consistent in their faith, their children will pick that up, if you remain positive about it,” said Reath.

The scandal in the church has not weakened Reath’s faith. “The scandal had more to do with individuals in the church and the hierarchy than it did with faith issues,” said Reath. “It affected those who were abused and their families. It didn’t diminish my faith.” While Reath said that he doesn’t hold much hope for society in the future, he does think individuals can make a difference. “I think the time is going to come where people will tire about what’s going on and say, ‘That’s enough,’” said Reath. “I think the way society affects people is a personal thing and if your faith is strong enough, it helps strengthen you against society. I think that individuals, especially individuals with faith, can make a difference if they are not afraid to speak out about what they believe in. It helps me stand up [for my beliefs] on the radio and not worry about what people will say.”

Kathleen Crandall has experienced the unpredictability of life which taught her to put her priorities in order. Crandall survived a very serious illness and currently suffers from arthritis. Her mother and her best friend both died in the same week in 1998. Therefore, Crandall’s job as assistant branch manager at Community Bank in Pulaski comes in third on her list of what’s important in her life after God and family.

Crandall has worked at Community Bank for 23 years, which gives her the opportunity to meet people “from the very poor to the well-to-do.” Crandall said she meets with families who are looking for a loan to pay the rent or prevent their utilities from being shut off, to those who are successful and looking for excellent customer service. “And you have to strive to treat everyone the same, regardless of their circumstances. My biggest spiritual struggle is to see God in others,” said Crandall. Crandall said that when she gets stressed out or impatient, her faith allows her to stop and remember to treat others the way she would like to be treated. “If it was easy to see Christ in everyone, then it would be hard to mistreat them,” she said.

When not dealing with the challenges of her job, Crandall spends her time as part of a support group at Unity Acres, a Catholic Worker Home of hospitality founded in 1969 by the late Father Raymond McVey and Kate Stanton to assist men who would otherwise be homeless. She is also a member of the board of the Rural Migrant Ministry of Oswego County. The ministry offers family and social service counseling, after school programs and a medical clinic to migrant workers who work in Oswego County during the agricultural season. Her passion for helping people comes from her faith and her devotion to attending Mass. “I love, love going to Mass,” said Crandall. “Some people look at attending Mass as an obligation. I feel I am present at a miracle every time I go. Padre Pio said that if people knew of the importance of the Mass, they would risk their lives to attend just one,” said Crandall.

Crandall said that her faith influences everything she does –– what books she reads, what TV programs she watches and what music she listens to. She reflects each day on what she considers her weaknesses and looks for ways to improve. “My heart and the Holy Spirit won’t let me get away with rationalizing my misdeeds,” said Crandall. “If I fail, I can see plainly through the light of my faith where I have failed and I try to do better the next time.”

Kathleen Eichenlaub, executive director of Catholic Charities for Oneida and Madison Counties, has been involved in Catholic Charities for most of her life. As a teen she participated in the Christian Youth Organization at her parish and during college worked as a camp director at Camp Bethlehem. In addition to her work at Catholic Charities, Eichenlaub is a facilitator for the Protecting God’s Children Program –– a diocesan-wide program that instructs individuals working with children on how to keep them safe from abuse.

Working with people who often do not have even their basic needs met has changed Eichenlaub. “Because I’ve seen some terrible situations in families, I appreciate more the time I get to spend with my children and husband,” she said. Her children, ages 12 and 14, are well aware of what her job entails. “They’ve shopped for Christmas gifts as part of the Catholic Charities Christmas Assist Program and are aware of those less fortunate. They have also purchased and donated school supplies and participated in holiday family visits through the Holiday Outreach Program.” If there is one valuable lesson that Eichenlaub has learned throughout her 18 years at Catholic Charities it is that people should not make assumptions about others and their situations. “People tend to think that the poor are ungrateful,” said Eichenlaub. “When actually, it’s more embarrassment. To be able to express your gratitude when you are asking for assistance is often difficult for those who are in need.”

Eichenlaub continues to work to accommodate those served at Catholic Charities. “It’s a difficult economic time. We are doing everything in our power to avoid layoffs and meet the needs of those we serve with diminishing resources,” said Eichenlaub. Eichenlaub’s faith is a very strong part of who she is. “I grew up in a faith-filled home where my parents would often take my sister and me with them when they did their volunteer work,” she said. She was also inspired to go into social work by a parish priest who told her not to let her studies [at Nazareth College] interfere with her education. While at Nazareth College, Eichenlaub was very focused on community involvement. Today, she continues to reach out to people in need with compassion and faithfulness.

Andrew Moen is all about planning. As an attorney, it is, after all, his business. Moen works not only to assist his clients with planning for the future, but as a member of Holy Family Parish, he offers his planning expertise to prevent additional Catholic school closings in the Syracuse Diocese. Moen and members of Holy Family Parish would like to begin an endowment program. “Every parish has leadership that will accept the responsibility to help. But we have to give people time to build on something –– to educate them on how we can plan for the future –– before another emergency arises,” said Moen. Moen said that in law school he spent three years reading about things that went wrong. “Practicing law is about avoiding litigation. You have to analyze and determine the risks your clients face with a goal of avoiding problems in the future.”

Because he is a life-long Catholic, the future of Catholic schools and the generation they will serve is important to Moen. “Children are the future of the church,” said Moen. “It’s more important than ever to determine what we can provide for our kids for the future.” Moen said that by creating endowments, financial flexibility and a strong foundation for future generations could be secured. After watching the Catholic school he attended close because of economic hardship, Moen is more determined than ever to ensure that the quality education offered at a Catholic school is available for his children and others.

“We need to address the future so that it no longer becomes a crisis situation,” said Moen. “When schools close, we miss them. We remember them as being part of our childhood, a safe place to go. Catholic schools strengthen the community as a whole. When they close we lose part of our Catholic community as well as the overall community. It is felt by all of the neighbors, not just Catholics,” he said. Moen doesn’t hesitate to take on the challenge. Running a small business from beginning to end challenges him to balance the personalized service he offers his clients with spending time with his family. “I struggle with not letting my time get out of control,” said Moen. “I continuously battle to make my family my first priority while balancing my client load.”

However, Moen is proud that he has a business that he built himself and said that the personalized service he offers his clients results in his job never becoming routine. “I am immersed in many avenues of my clients’ lives –– from retirement planning and budgeting for the future to personal injury cases and elder law. Helping them plan gives me a great sense of accomplishment,” he said. What lessons will Moen teach his own children? “That your faith is there for you. Life, at times, knocks you down. What will help you get up is your family, your friends and your faith.”

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