Lisa-Marie Calderone-Stewart's friends and colleagues remember her as a woman passionate about youth ministry who brought hope to others as she lived a Gospel-centered life.
Calderone-Stewart, EdD, 53, the founder and first director of Tomorrow's Present, a youth leadership program of the Leadership Center at Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee, died December 9, 2011. She was the author of 22 books and scores of magazine articles, and contributor to the Catholic Youth Bible. Her death came more than two years after her diagnosis with bile duct cancer.
"She wanted to inspire people with a sense of hope that moved them beyond themselves," said Sean Lansing, who knew Calderone-Stewart for nearly 25 years and succeeded her as director of Tomorrow's Present.
Tomorrow's Present was founded on Calderone-Stewart's doctoral research that youth will lead when given the tools to do so. Through Tomorrow's Present, teens were involved in a number of leadership roles, including workshops for middle-schoolers.
The leadership that Calderone-Stewart nurtured was a particular kind, Lansing said. "She was really committed to helping young people with their moral and ethical leadership skills." The leadership training was focused, he said, on making the world a better place through Christian service. He explained that the youth minister wanted teens to understand "who you were called to be and how you were called to serve the world."
Calderone-Stewart communicated that not just to the teens but to youth ministers during talks, workshops, and her books published through Ave Maria Press and St. Mary's Press. Her legacy, Lansing said, is not just to the thousands of teens she touched but youth ministers who will touch other teens.
Leota Roesch, director of Faith Formation at Resurrection Parish, Tempe, Arizona, echoed that thought. "She's going to continue to inspire people for years to come," she said.
Roesch found Calderone-Stewart "a delight in collaboration" and "on target" in what she published concerning youth. Calderone-Stewart's work, she said, showed "a great trust in young people to be the subjects of their catechesis, not just the objects."
And until the end, Roesch noted, Calderone-Stewart's life was "in service of the Gospel." Roesch added, "She lived the kingdom. She is certainly celebrating in the reign of God."
Followers of Calderone-Stewart's blogs on the CaringBridge and U.S. Catholic websites witnessed her faith as she wrote about daily life lessons, the lives of the saints, and her family and friends during the two years before her death. The title of her blog "Dying to Get to Know You Better" played with the idea of dying but rarely mentioned the pain of cancer.
"She really saw her dying as a way of bringing life to others," said Dan Mulhall, the editor of her novel Made to Write and novella We Didn't Cheat (both available through www.lulu.com; proceeds go to Tomorrow's Present). "She didn't want it to be about her. She wanted it to be about us."
He continued, "It was about how could she most fully live the Gospel while she was dying." She aimed, he said, to portray "as long as there's life, there's hope, and as long as there's hope, there's promise."
When Calderone-Stewart spoke of her cancer diagnosis, she reflected on her fortune to have time with those she cared about. The thoughts expressed in her blog were similar to the following that she wrote in her July 2010 Pastoral
Liturgy® article "Gracefully Facing Death":
||My family and friends know the time for significant talk is now . . . they are so willing to share intimate memories—profound thoughts, amazing insights with me. I have been so honored to be part of their lives in this way. I think that is the greatest miracle of all! In many ways, my dying has turned out to be the most marvelous part of my living.
In her final blog on November 6, 2011, she noted her happiness at having exceeded the six months that the doctors had predicted in 2009 that she would live. "I am thrilled that I have had so many opportunities these last two years of my life . . . years that I wasn't even supposed to be alive!"
Her attitude toward death was, perhaps, not unexpected for those who knew her. "Lisa approached death as she approached life—she lived every day attentive to God's presence and faithful to being a disciple of Jesus," said Bob McCarty, executive director of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM). He noted that his friend and colleague relied on prayer. "She was a person of deep prayer, so her fear was overcome by her prayer—if she didn't think she was courageous, I would say she was, indeed, convinced . . . convinced that death wasn't the final word for those who believe."
In presenting Calderone-Stewart with NFCYM's National Youth Ministry Award for Peace and Justice in October 2010, McCarty reflected on her example. "Lisa is a role model in living a Gospel-centered life. She shows us what unconditional trust in the providence of God looks like and what humble acceptance of God's will really means for all of us."
She is survived by her two sons, Michael and wife Megan, St. Augustine, Florida, and Ralph and wife Cassie, Franklin, Wisconsin; three brothers, Joseph, Jr., and wife Heidi, Mountainside, New Jersey, Steven and wife Marie, Whateley, Massachusetts, and David and wife Rosemary, Basking Ridge, New Jersey; nieces Bernadette, Elizabeth, and Barbara; and grandsons Evan, Isaac, and Kaleb.
Memorial donations may be made to "Cardinal Stritch—Tomorrow's Present," The Leadership Center at Cardinal Stritch University, 1037 W. McKinley Avenue, Milwaukee WI 53205.