Madeleine School photo
Matthew Andersen, a first grader at The Madeleine School.
Madeleine School photo
Matthew Andersen, a first grader at The Madeleine School.
A Madeleine School first grader, with a big smile and an even bigger heart, gives parents, students, teachers, the principal and even his parish priest, an opportunity to put Catholic faith into practice.

Here is a Thanksgiving Day letter to Father Mike Biewend, pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Parish, from Susie Andersen, mother of the first grader, Matthew:

"If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have told you I was thankful for my job, my house, my car — materialistic things — things I had aspired to and was happily checking off my list. Then something very wonderful happened to me. Ten years later, I had a child born with a disability.

"Now mind you, I wasn't thrilled at first. This didn't fit into my plans for my perfect world and I mourned the loss of the perfect child I had expected to bring home. I asked 'Why me?' but thought with a lot of hard work, I could change him to be close to 'our' normal.

"What happened instead was that he changed me.  I'm not a big fan of change, mind you, but along the way, I have had to realize his way is 'the' way.

I have met people I never would have: Therapists, like Dave Albertine, who have spent their lives' work helping to make his better. I am grateful for their dedication.  Doctors, like Karen Leigteig, who have endured years of training so that they may keep him in good health. I am in awe of her intelligence.  Teachers, like Leigh Ann Schneider and Jenn Langhus, who through trial and error have found a way to teach him. I am grateful for their diligence. For you, Father Mike, and Susan Steele, for even giving him a chance, I am thankful for your confidence.

"I am so proud of the students of The Madeleine who have shown him such kindness. Going out of their way to say hi or give him a high five. It makes my son so proud and happy to be at The Madeleine. I am thankful for each and every one of those students for their willingness to be open, warm and welcoming. As I watch him try his best at whatever task lies ahead, I am reminded that I must try to do the same: appreciate what I can do and not dwell on what I can't.

"I offer time and talent to the church because I can. I have discovered that it is not having others do for you but rather what you can do for others that bring me happiness. So, for his eight years of life Matthew has taught me far more than I have taught him. I am a far better person, we are a happier family, all of us a greater community, for having people with different abilities in our lives.

"I am, as a mother, grateful for this community as a parishioner, proud to stand behind a parish that proclaims, 'All Are Welcome.' I still ask myself why. But now I add, how did I get so lucky?"