Awake is led by a small staff and a dedicated team of volunteers, in collaboration with our valued Survivor Advisory Panel and many supporters who offer their time and energy to our mission. Please get to know some of our leaders below!


Sara Larson
I am, first and foremost, a committed disciple of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church has been my home at every stage of my life – from childhood Sunday school to high school youth group, from a theology degree at Marquette University to serving on parish council, volunteering with RCIA, and leading Bible study at my parish. I spent eight wonderful years working in parish ministry, until January 2019 when I discerned a call to devote myself full-time to responding to the abuse and leadership crisis in the Church that I love. In the years since, I have been profoundly changed by the relationships I have built with abuse survivors who have trusted me with their stories and challenged me to ask hard questions and work for real change. These brave men and women are the reason behind everything I do with Awake. (You can read more about Sara here and contact her at saralarson@awakemilwaukee.org.)

Catherine Owers
I grew up in New Orleans, attended the University of Notre Dame to study English and theology, and have lived in South Bend, Indiana ever since. For me, the summer of 2018 highlighted the deep wounds in the body of Christ, and I was drawn to Awake’s approach of healing and hope through the robust virtual offerings during the early pandemic days. I served as a volunteer with the Courageous Conversations team for a year before becoming Awake’s Community Engagement Specialist. I work remotely from my home in a part-time capacity and travel to Milwaukee for our in-person community events. (You can contact Catherine at catherineowers@awakemilwaukee.org.)

KEY Volunteers

Cathy Dante
Originally from New England, I have lived in Milwaukee since 2012. I was living in Massachusetts and working as a social worker when the clergy sexual abuse scandal began to escalate. I have worked as a case manager for survivors, as a trainer on child abuse prevention for a Victims’ Advocate, and as an intern at Saint Luke Institute, a facility that treats priests and religious, some of whom have abused children. I now work as a spiritual director and lay minister while working on my PhD in theology and psychology. Awake offers me a way to work towards healing of all those affected by sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, from survivors to parishioners to priests and religious, both individually and institutionally.

Esther Harber
I am a devoted Catholic living with my husband and daughter in Ohio. I am a convert from a fundamentalist Protestant denomination, and I was blessed to enter the Catholic Church in 2006. The Lord placed a passion in my heart for sharing the faith, and I spent the better part of my twenties as a lay missionary in New York City. I was also in religious life for a year. During my time as a missionary, I experienced spiritual abuse and a sexual assault by a Catholic priest. After a long period of healing, I felt the Lord calling me to walk with other victim-survivors and to bring light to this crisis in the Church. While I love the Church, I know personally how hard it is to wrestle with one’s faith in the wake of such atrocities, and I desire to help others in this healing journey. (Abuse survivors can contact Esther at estherharber@awakemilwaukee.org.)

Leadership Team

Elizabeth Brick
Born in Connecticut and raised in Michigan, I am a lifelong Catholic who has served the Catholic Church in paid and volunteer positions, including (at various times) as a youth minister, parish council member, lector, Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist and sacristan. I have a BA in English and Theology from the University of Notre Dame. My husband, young son, and I currently live in the suburbs of Milwaukee and are parishioners at the Church of the Gesu on Marquette’s campus. I joined Awake because it is important to me to listen to survivors and advocate for their needs. I also believe that the Catholic Church’s ability to minister to the world is limited if we cannot admit the wrongs done in her name and work for justice.

Lynn Charnitz
I grew up Catholic in an era when much of the abuse in the Church was occurring, and when priests were routinely transferred from parish to parish despite their abusive past. I am retired from a career as an IT Project Manager, giving me time to pursue more volunteer interests. As a member of Saints Peter and Paul parish I have served as a trustee, on the Stewardship Commission, and as a co-chair of the Block Party.  When I considered becoming involved in Awake, I asked “If not me, then who?” and decided that as a person of faith I needed to step up to work towards healing the wounds in our Church. 

Mary Gentile
Fifteen years ago, my commitment to the life and teachings of Jesus and curiosity about faith and religion, led me to a masters degree in theology. I then taught high school theology for ten years. I have taught in parish religious education programs, served on parish school commissions and pastoral council, and other service work through the Church. My husband and three adult sons sustain, support, and inspire me. Victims of abuse, God’s beloved children, have been critically damaged and need healing and support. The integrity of our Church and its ability to authentically share the Gospel has also been damaged and needs healing and renewal. Awake has given me a place to work toward healing and renewal with other concerned Catholics.

Sara Knutson
I am a lifelong Catholic and native Milwaukeean, leaving to pursue a BA in Theology from Xavier University and a Master of Divinity from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry before returning home to work in college campus ministry. My husband and I are active members of Saints Peter and Paul and became parents to our little son this summer. I am involved with Awake because the summer of 2018 woke me up to the scandal that abuse survivors have been naming for decades, and I want to work toward a holier Church and justice for those harmed.

Mike Larson
I am a husband and a father of two teenage sons and enjoy games, nature, and theology. I fell in love with Catholicism as an adult in college and have been deeply involved with the Church ever since. I’ve led or been involved in dozens of bible studies, men’s groups, and service opportunities through the Church and enjoy sharing my love of Christ, the Eucharist, and our Holy Mother with anybody willing to listen. As the scandals of recent years have rocked the Church, I knew I needed to do something positive to fight for who we could be as a Church- a true light for the world. I could not stand by and do nothing, and I hope my involvement with Awake helps to heal the divide between the Church, those affected by our sins, and the world.

Erin O’Donnell
I am a wife and mother of two sons and a freelance journalist covering mainly health and science topics. A lifelong Catholic, I’ve lived in many different dioceses, including 8 years in the Archdiocese of Boston, before moving with my husband to Milwaukee in 2006. An active member of Saints Peter and Paul parish on the East Side, I’m also a longtime participant and leader in the Beacon Moms program, a faithful, supportive community for moms. I joined Awake in part to help make the Church a safe community for all, and to help educate fellow Catholics. I also joined for my sons. When they become adults and learn the history of the Church, I want them to know I worked for change and healing.

Elizabeth Schick
I’m a cradle Catholic originally from Dearborn, Michigan. While studying German as an undergraduate, I discovered a love for theology which ultimately led me to pursue graduate studies in theology in Europe, where I lived for a total of six years. I’m currently working on my PhD in Theology at Marquette University, and I have a deep personal and academic interest in the intersection between trauma and theology, particularly trauma that has occurred within religious settings. As a theologian, I feel called to wrestle with the hard questions on behalf of those who have been hurt or marginalized in the Church, and it has been an immense privilege as well as a healing opportunity for me to become involved with Awake. I serve as a volunteer with the Courageous Conversations Team and now also as a member of the Leadership Team.

Jerri von den Bosch
After growing up in Pennsylvania, I moved to Milwaukee to attain my Masters in Theology from Marquette University. Today I work at Gesu Parish as the Director of Youth and Adult Formation. I have come to know the abuse crisis intimately through personal experience – my mother’s experience of abuse at the hands of Church leadership. However, my mother’s trauma did not stop her from making sure I knew God through the Catholic Church. Her trust in God has turned me into a public servant and a determined Catholic; I owe so much of my passion for advocacy and Catholic lay ministry to her. Through prayer and community, Awake has given me the outlet I need for my anger towards the Church. I no longer feel constant anger; rather, I feel constant drive to bring us all closer to the Kingdom of God.

Board of Directors

Elizabeth Zimmer – President
I was raised in a Catholic family in Indiana, graduated from Indiana University, and spent many years working in nonprofit development in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Portland, Maine. These days, I live in Shorewood with my husband Eric and four small children and belong to St. Robert parish. I love the Catholic Church and feel blessed by a wonderful parish community that is helping me raise my children in the faith. I have been involved with Awake since early 2019, after feeling called to “do something” about the deep wounds caused by a growing awareness of abuse in the Catholic Church. I am thankful for Awake giving me a safe place to share, listen, and ask tough questions with other people of faith, making it possible to connect with the pain of survivors, and inviting me into the work of transformation and healing.

Elaine Steele – Secretary
A lifelong Catholic, I grew up in the Fond du Lac area and graduated from UW-Madison. My work as a high school teacher brought me to Milwaukee where I met my husband A.J. We live in Glendale with our young daughter, and we 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. Due to that experience, it became apparent to me in 2018 that the way we responded in the early 2000s was woefully insufficient, and 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.

Amanda Conlin – Treasurer
I was born into a Catholic family in the suburbs of Chicago but was not confirmed in the faith. When I met my now husband at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, we started attending an evangelical church together. After getting married, we moved to northern Wisconsin where he served as a youth pastor for a Baptist Church and I was a volunteer. I followed him to Milwaukee in 2016 so he could attain his MA in Theology. During that transition we deconstructed the years of evangelicalism and committed to Catholicism. We had our marriage blessed, and I was confirmed the same day! I became aware of Awake through a friend’s involvement and was drawn to the work the organization was doing. I have a heart for survivors and want to make a difference in the community I committed myself to.

Doris Brosnan
I am an employment and immigration attorney and partner at a local law firm. I live on the east side of Milwaukee with my husband Rob, two children, and dog Tilly. I am a lifelong Catholic and dedicated to our Catholic community in Milwaukee. It is my honor to be on the Awake Board and assist this important organization in their work to provide comfort, counseling, and consolation to victims of clergy abuse. I appreciate Awake’s community of concerned and faithful Catholics dedicated to doing something constructive about this crisis in our Church.

Deirdre Dempsey
I was born in Philadelphia, PA, but my father was in the Navy, so we moved around a lot. Everywhere we moved, my parents made sure that we became a part of the local Catholic parish (even when we were stationed in Egypt in the early 1960’s – I made my First Communion at the Church of the Holy Family, in Maadi, Egypt). I’ve lived in Milwaukee since the mid 1990’s; my first teaching job after I got my PhD from The Catholic University of America was at St. Mary’s Seminary, in Houston, TX. I now teach in the Department of Theology at Marquette University. As a lifelong Catholic, I am very concerned about transparency in the Church – I am very happy to be involved with Awake because of the good work this organization has done to promote transparency.

Kristin Hansen
A lifelong Catholic, I attended 16 years of Catholic school, graduating from college at Notre Dame. My faith has been an important part of my life, and I went to law school to pursue a career advocating for those most in need. I currently work for a non-profit focused on reforming the child welfare system to better support children and families. My spouse and I are committed to Catholic schools and are proud parents to three children who attend St. Robert School in Shorewood. I’m so excited to be part of a community fully committed to supporting the victims and all those struggling with their faith as a result.

Patty IngrilliPresident-Elect
I am blessed to be raising three boys. I am an active member of St. Joseph Parish in Wauwatosa, where I have served on parish council and currently on the Stewardship and Communication Committee.  My full-time job is in finance. I became involved in Awake’s Leadership Team after finding out that my great-uncle was credibly accused of abuse as a priest in the Green Bay diocese. After taking a year to focus on my family, I am excited to be part of the Board of Directors. Awake has given me a way to focus my frustration and anger about the crisis in our Church by turning it into action. I desire to help our Church fully acknowledge the pain and hurt caused and work towards bringing Christ to others.

William Kessenich
I became interested in Awake’s work as a result of a conversation with a fellow victim-survivor from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, where I studied for priesthood at St. Francis de Sales Seminary beginning in 1965. I continued my studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C, and I have two Master’s degrees, one in pastoral studies from Loyola University of Chicago and another in organizational development from Silver Lake College in Manitowoc. I had a successful 35-year career in business during which I helped raise our six children, but I am currently retired and living in Appleton, Wisconsin. I think that Awake is doing important work, and I want to lend my expertise and personal experience as a victim-survivor to benefit a hurting Church!

Shelly Roder
Since studying Theology and Justice and Peace Studies at Creighton University (Go Jays!), my life’s work has been a journey through Catholic ministries and nonprofits who accompany people in need of physical necessities (food, employment, housing) while simultaneously accompanying people of faith in spiritual necessities (community, connection, growth). Currently, I serve 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. I see Awake’s work as critical for the future of the Church to which I hope my four children will remain connected.

Jerri von den Bosch
See bio under Leadership Team