It started with an unruly thistle.
Dr. Frank Van Lieshout was out for a walk one day when he spotted the thing, a scraggly intruder on the grounds of St. Bernadette’s campus. For most of us, if we’d noticed it at all, the plant would have been a minor visual irritant, gone from our consciousness almost as quickly as it had entered, but to “Dr. Van” it presented yet another opportunity to serve. He corralled a group of volunteers who went to work pulling, chopping, trimming, pruning, clearing, cleaning, and planting. Today, over two decades and many pain pills later, Dr. Van’s crew is still at it, spending hours in the spring, summer, and fall beautifying St. Bernadette’s grounds.
Dr. Van Lieshout and his dearly departed wife, Jo, a nurse and teacher of nurses, were always great at recognizing and answering the call to serve. In ways large and small, they strived to reflect God’s mercy. When a young mother from his practice was struggling with the stresses of single parenting, Jo and Dr. Van recognized and answered the call to serve by welcoming her into their busy home and helping her build her skills, confidence and worth as a mom. When, as the consequence of battling cancer, a young Dr. Van began living with an ostomy, he recognized and answered the call to serve by beginning one of the first ostomy support groups in the midwest, an organization that provided information, reassurance, and most importantly, hope to families throughout the state. When the roof at Xavier High School started to fail a number of years ago, he recognized and answered the call to serve by reaching out to the community and, in a matter of days, raising the funds necessary to repair it.
Since joining the parish back in the early 1970s, Jo and Dr. Van recognized and answered the call to serve many times over. Jo became a charter member of the mission committee, served as director of the parish’s St. Vincent De Paul Society, and worked in the church library. In addition to his work on the grounds crew, Dr. Van has served on the parish council, finance council, and numerous fund-raising initiatives, and he is currently one of the team leaders praying the Rosary for Life before Mass on Sundays. Together they washed dishes at the homeless shelter, sponsored a struggling young man as he found his footing, sorted books in the parish library, raised a loving family, made meals for the hungry, contributed financially to numerous causes, poured out their optimism and laughter to friends and strangers alike, and on and on.
In short, the Van Lieshouts epitomize the fact that service and reflecting God’s love comes in countless forms and degrees of magnitude.
Of course, Dr. Van would be the first to tell you that finding ways to serve isn’t difficult or complicated. It’s simply about being open and willing.
Sometimes it’s even as simple as noticing an unruly thistle.