Deacon Steve Przedpelski, OFS, tells the story of a woman we’ll call Rebecca (in the interest of privacy).
A successful professional with a college education and several years in a high-paying job, Rebecca seemed to be living out the American Dream as so many yearn to.
That all came crashing down as the pain of being sexually abused as a child, being exposed to child pornography, and being locked in an underground storage area boiled over and consumed her.
Rebecca ended up on Milwaukee’s streets as a prostitute. But that’s not where her story concludes.
Deacon Steve and his organization, Franciscan Peacemakers, ministered to Rebecca for almost four years, eventually succeeding in getting her off the streets and on her way to the healthy, happy life she deserves.
Rebecca now volunteers for the Peacemakers, has recently become Catholic, and is studying to become a social worker. Deacon Steve himself is not a stranger to traumatic childhood experiences.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, he grew up in a home with an alcoholic and physically abusive father. When things would get especially out of control, he was sent to live with relatives and, at times, with four Franciscan priests, a Franciscan brother, and their housekeeper.
“I am happy to say that these men, whether I was staying with them or living back at home, taught me what it would take to grow up and be a man,” he remembers.
Entering the diaconate wasn’t something Deacon Steve really planned on. Upon the encouragement of his wife, pastor, and other parishioners, he attended an information session on becoming a deacon.
After some discernment, he was ordained a deacon in 1994. The kind Franciscans who cared for him during his childhood would be happy to know that Deacon Steve became a professed Secular Franciscan in 2014.
In 1995, Deacon Steve started volunteering for Franciscan Peacemakers, which was founded the same year by two Capuchin Franciscans—Father Robert Wheelock and Father Michael Sullivan.
“My six-week commitment turned into becoming an active volunteer, being a board member, and then being hired as associate director in 1999,” he says. Since 2001, he has been the executive directory of the ministry.
The approach to saving women from a life of prostitution is strategic and multipronged.
First, there is the street ministry, where bag lunches are served to those in need in the community. This is a chance for Franciscan Peacemakers to meet and gain the trust of the women.
Then, once a woman decides to break out of prostitution, the Clare Community is there to take them in. The Clare Community provides spiritual enrichment, life-building skills, and educational opportunities.
Finally, Franciscan Peacemakers offers Gifts for the Journey, a social enterprise that helps women of the Clare Community to reenter a normal work environment. They produce and sell natural bath and body products.
“While it is good that we address the needs of the victims of human sex trafficking, we as a Church, including the everyday Catholic who goes to Mass each Sunday, need to understand that the bigger problem is the demand, the men who purchase sex,” Deacon Steve says.
“We cannot kid ourselves into believing that those doing this are only non-churchgoing men.”
Saint Clare of Assisi: Mirroring Christ
Mirrors were popular in the Middle Ages—for people who could afford them. Christian writers had already begun to speak of a person’s soul as a mirror of Christ.
Clare, however, spoke of the entire human person as a mirror of Christ. She uses this image in her third and fourth letters to Saint Agnes of Prague.
This symbolism is explained in “The Mirror of the Cross,” a chapter in Ilia Delio, OSF’s, book Clare of Assisi: A Heart Full of Love (Franciscan Media). –P.M.