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The People's Voice: Father Bruce, the people’s priest

Father Bruce Ludeke of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Sterling came to the Sauk Valley in 2011 and serves both at the church, as well as at Newman High School, where he is the spiritual director.
Father Bruce Ludeke of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Sterling came to the Sauk Valley in 2011 and serves both at the church, as well as at Newman High School, where he is the spiritual director.

Maybe it’s his penchant for sports banter, even working references into his homily on a regular basis.

Maybe it’s his vibrant personality and quick-witted sense of humor.

Maybe it’s the narrow gap, in terms of age, between Father Bruce Ludeke and me.

It’s likely a combination of many things that brought us together.

As we chatted Ash Wednesday afternoon leading up to our recorded conversation, Father Bruce emphasized that the Lent season isn’t just about giving something up. It’s about taking on more of a responsibility.

Click here to listen to the podcast (right-click and save, if you'd like to download it to your desktop)

Full disclosure: I’m a spiritual person. Further disclosure: You don’t have to be in order to take something significant from Ludeke’s message. While they are not mutually exclusive, the concepts of being a good person and spirituality are not one and the same, either.

I didn’t see the latter part of Father Bruce’s message coming. I’d contemplated what I would give up for Lent, and settled on alcohol. But what about something to add? I’m still thinking about that as I pen this column Thursday morning. I think I’ll have an answer for you in a moment.

In a tangential sense, my wife, Kayla, and I had been trying to add something to our lives for several years. Long before we added our twin daughters into the fold, we were trying to add ourselves to a much larger family. While living in Janesville, Wis., and Muskegon, Mich., we attended numerous churches. Lutheran churches, as I was raised in the Lutheran faith. Catholic, the doctrine with which Kayla was raised. Methodist. Nondenominational.

As we kept our hearts and options open, we were searching ultimately for something we believe is more important: a place we feel at home, and where we’re welcomed like family.

I’ve often been frustrated with my faith and others under the Christianity umbrella for the unnecessary divisions that are placed.

Our decision to join Sacred Heart has been validated repeatedly over the past 3 months.

There was no baptism lite for Anna and Elise, even if their dad isn’t Catholic. The only thing I miss out on is the sacrament of communion. I feel no less a member of the church than the longest-tenured members of its congregation.

Enough about me. Let’s talk about why I’m able to feel so very much at home at Sacred Heart. Enter Father Bruce, who makes himself available to anyone in the Sauk Valley, regardless of denomination. He was called upon to provide counsel for a visitation Thursday, perhaps one of the saddest and seemingly most senseless ones the Sauk Valley will see. And he answered the call without hesitation.

On a far lighter note, Father Bruce and Newman principal Andy Edmondson challenge their students in athletics whenever they can. They even would have challenged the state champion football team to a 7-on-7 scrimmage, if not for the team being busy … well … doing all it could to win a state championship.

Father Bruce has challenged tennis players throughout the region, from the No. 1 women’s singles player at NIU (an anecdote from a recent homily) to Newman senior Mary Alice Oswalt – “She’s got some game,” Ludeke says – and Sterling sophomore phenom Jack Nitz – “He’ll win conference. No doubt about it,” Ludeke assesses.

Father Bruce, ordained in 2006, came to the Sauk Valley in 2011, via St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Crystal Lake, where he spent 2 years after 3 in Geneva. He had studied at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmittsburg, Md.

Don’t let his East Coast past fool you. Bruce is right at home in the Midwest. He arrived with an understanding that he needs to connect with people on a very human level. Hence, the accessible, everyday-practical feel of his homilies. He’s a helper. When he saw Kayla and I were trying to accommodate a nap for the girls Wednesday morning, he came over to our pew to place an ashen cross on our foreheads. Similarly, he walked over to give Kayla communion.

He’s on the lookout for those who need assistance at all times.

That makes me feel a lot better. And it points out the simple thing I can add this Lenten season: To be on the lookout for the opportunity to help out my fellow man.

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