Local donors to Croatian orphanages see dollars at work

St. Joseph Orphanage in Croatia was built with the help of donors from all over the United States. Don Wolf, a parishioner of Christ the King Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, was instrumental in getting St. Joseph and St. Theresa orphanages built. PHOTO COURTESY OF DON WOLF
St. Joseph Orphanage in Croatia was built with the help of donors from all over the United States. Don Wolf, a parishioner of Christ the King Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, was instrumental in getting St. Joseph and St. Theresa orphanages built. PHOTO COURTESY OF DON WOLF

by Moira Cullings
moira.cullings@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “Beautiful sounds of children singing, playing, yelling.

These are universal.”

For Don Wolf, the children at St. Joseph’s Orphanage and St. Theresa’s Orphanage in Croatia are much like others from all over the world.

But there is something special about the two orphanages, which he —with the help of donors and supporters from all over the United States — helps maintain from afar.

One such supporter is Rick Mikesic, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kansas.

“The thing that really struck me more than anything was the interaction between the nuns and the kids,” said Mikesic, who visited the orphanages this past summer. “For all practical purposes, when you watch them, they’re very much a family.”

Mikesic, an adviser and board member of the Kansas City Croatian Council, helps with the financial side of the orphanages.

St. Theresa’s, the original of the two, provides a home to children under 9, while St. Joseph’s is for youngsters 9 to 19.

Support for the first orphanage was undertaken by Wolf with the proceeds of a documentary he made some 20 years ago, called “Making Povitica.” The project has taken off from there.

Mikesic, like other volunteers, always wanted to visit the Carmelite Sisters who run the orphanages and see the operations in person.

He was elated when the opportunity to fulfill that dream finally arose.

“More than anything, what I got out of the visit was the joy of being able to meet these nuns,” he said, “because I know what they’ve committed their entire lives to doing.”

Mikesic traveled throughout Croatia with a large group from the United States. A quick stop at St. Joseph’s was squeezed into their itinerary.

“It’s almost like they built individual little condos so the kids aren’t in just a big dormitory,” said Mikesic. “It gives more of a family feel to it.”

Wolf’s children, Lori Clark and Steve Wolf, also had the chance to see the results of the hard work of their father and so many others firsthand.

“I expected to feel sad seeing a facility full of orphans,” said Clark, “but the children are completely loved and they seem to be very happy.”

“The orphanages are joyful places, and the nuns just exude happiness,” she continued. “The rooms are well-kept and inviting. The entire orphanage is spotless and well cared for.”

For Steve Wolf, who first visited St. Theresa’s in 1993 when he and his father were in Croatia photographing and documenting the conditions of the country, the experience made a deep impact on his life.

“I visited Croatia again in 2000 for a family reunion with relatives from all over the United States, as well as from France and Croatia,” he said.

Between those seven years, much of the orphanage had changed.

“To see the amazing results of all the hard work put forth by so many from so many different places was and will always be a very special moment for me that I will treasure forever,” he added.

What Mikesic will cherish most is the image he has of the Sisters in action.

“Especially seeing them as they looked at the children,” he said, “you could just see the love in their faces when the kids were around.”

All of the children expressed the great appreciation they have for the Sisters, along with their dreams for the future, said Mikesic.

“When you hear their stories — and there were so many you’d hear — they all seem to have done very well in school,” he said, “and they’re moving on and going to make strong contributions to the world.

“I was left very impressed by the young people.”

Don Wolf, knowing the role he’s played in the lives of these kids half a world away, feels like all his hard work is worth it.

“God has allowed me to introduce several hundred Americans to the children of Croatia,” he said.

And for that, Wolf is very grateful.

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