Awake Expands Its Board of Directors, Adding Four New Members

Awake Milwaukee is pleased to welcome four new people to its Board of Directors. “This is an important moment for Awake, as it marks the first time we have brought on new leadership members since our founding in 2019,” explains Elizabeth Zimmer, president of Awake’s board. “I think it represents the steady growth of our grassroots ministry. It shows that we’re reaching Catholics who share a passion for supporting survivors and making a difference in our Church.” The new board members join Zimmer as well as Jerri von den Bosch, who currently serves as board secretary. Awake is grateful to Jim Cauley, who until recently served as treasurer of the Board of Directors.

“Our new directors bring a variety of skills and experiences that will strengthen our team and further our mission,” Zimmer adds. “I’m very excited for what we will be able to accomplish together for Awake.”

The new members are:

Deirdre Dempsey

Born in Philadelphia to a military family, Dempsey moved frequently as a child and worshiped in Catholic parishes all over the world, making her First Communion at the Church of the Holy Family, in Maadi, Egypt. She earned her doctorate in theology from The Catholic University of America, and currently teaches in the department of theology at Marquette University. “As a lifelong Catholic, I am very concerned about transparency in the Church,” she says. “I am very happy to be involved with Awake because of the good work this organization has done to promote transparency.”

Shelly Roder

Since studying theology and justice and peace studies at Creighton University, Roder’s work has been a journey through Catholic ministries and nonprofits that accompany people in need of physical necessities (such as food, employment, and housing) while simultaneously accompanying people of faith in spiritual necessities (such as community, connection, and growth). She currently serves as director of communication for Franciscan Peacemakers, which provides a pathway to well-being for women who have been sexually exploited. “This work has given me a front-row seat to how important it is to support survivors of abuse while also transforming systems and structures that have perpetuated this injustice for far too many generations,” Roder reflects. “I see Awake’s work as critical for the future of the Church to which I hope my four children will remain connected.”

Elaine Steele

Steele is a lifelong Catholic who grew up in the Fond du Lac area and graduated from UW-Madison. Her work as a high school teacher brought her to Milwaukee, where she met her husband A.J. They live in Glendale with their young daughter, and are parishioners at Holy Family parish in Whitefish Bay. “When I was a high school senior, our parish priest was removed due to allegations of sexual abuse, just before abuse scandals in the Church made headline news in 2002,” Steele says. “Due to that experience, it became apparent to me in 2018 that the way we responded in the early 2000s was woefully insufficient.” She likes that Awake provides the opportunity to listen to survivors and work with the Church to affect change. “I am grateful that I can work with Awake to help bring healing in the manner to which Christ compels us,” she notes.

Jim Ward

Ward and his wife are currently members of St. Francis de Sales Church in Lake Geneva. They have two sons and a granddaughter. A lifelong Catholic, Ward was educated in Catholic schools from grade school through graduate school. “Throughout my life, I have been pulled to support those who have been abused and those who have been wounded by toxic relationships,” he explains.  For many years he has volunteered as a grief facilitator in the “Living When a Loved One Has Died” program at Little Company of Mary Hospital in suburban Chicago. In his professional career, Ward investigated sexual abuse involving both adults and children in the workplace. “I welcome the opportunity to be part of Awake Milwaukee,” Ward says, “and to support those who have been sexually abused by priests and other leaders of the Church.” He will serve as treasurer of the board.

A grassroots organization independent of any parish or the archdiocese, Awake Milwaukee was founded to awaken our community to the full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and work for transformation and healing throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

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