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Fr. Mel Merwald Spirit of Courage Award

Inaugural Father Mel Merwald Spirit of Courage Award Recipient, Angelica Vazquez Fonseca.

About Angelica:


Angelica is a survivor of domestic violence. She and her children endured years of mental and physical abuse at the hands of her ex husband. Angelica’s courage and resilience gave her the strength to escape her abuser and to become the sole provider for her six children.

Angelica began accessing services provided by Catholic Charities. She utilized the Juan Diego Center Pantry to provide food for her children. She enrolled in the Microbusiness Training Program to take classes that educated her about running a business. She also participated in parenting workshops offered by the Family Resource Center. She was determined to be the best parent she could be for her children.

By connecting with the Juan Diego Center, Angelica learned about our Immigration Legal Services (ILS) too. During Angelica’s first appointment, she felt hopeless because she believed she needed her husband’s help to continue with her immigration process. After learning that she qualified for immigration relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) she was relieved and began the process of adjusting her immigration status.

Upon applying for immigration status, Angelica was eligible for a work permit. For the first time since arriving to the U.S. she could work and did not need to depend on her abusive husband for financial support. Angelica was proud she could finally provide for her kids. At the same time she was a role model for her kids especially her teenage daughter who had also been the victim of abuse perpetrated by her father.

After two years of navigating through the immigration legal process, Angelica attended her immigration interview at the local CIS office in Omaha. Through hard work and determination by Angelica and the Catholic Charities staff, she was approved and granted lawful permanent resident status. Angelica now has a green card and after many years will finally be able to go visit her family in Mexico. Most importantly, she no longer lives in fear of being deported and separated from her children.

Angelica will be traveling to Mexico this year after 19 years of being away from family and friends who still reside there.

********************************************************************************************************************************************************************** About Fr. Mel Merwald:

Father Mel Merwald was a revered leader in the Omaha Catholic community. Known and loved by all, he devoted his life to serving Christ and people in need. Through his nearly 40-year ministry, he touched and inspired many. It is for his steadfast faith and his heart for service that he is remembered.

From 1982 – 1990, Father Merwald served as the Executive Director of United Catholic Social Services, known today as Catholic Charities of Omaha. His imprint on the agency was profound and can still be felt today in the scope and impact of the services provided to the 80,000 people in need annually. Father Merwald’s deep commitment to Catholic Charities was clearly evident, inspiring and motivating those around him – including his family – to become engaged in support of its mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ to our brothers and sisters in need. Father Merwald’s sister and her family – the Janie and Harry Hoch, Jr. Family – were the 2020 Irish Fest Chairs, continuing their sustained support of the agency.

Born in 1945, Father Merwald grew up in Omaha, graduating from Omaha Creighton Prep. He attended the former St. John Seminary (now called Mount Michael) in Elkhorn, and graduated from Conception Seminary College. He received his Theology training at Mount St. Bernard College and Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, and his Master of Divinity degree from Creighton University. Ordained in 1971, Father Merwald’s first assignment was at St. Thomas More. He went on to serve as pastor at St. Margaret Mary and St. Wenceslaus parishes, and as the Executive Director of United Catholic Social Services, known today as Catholic Charities of Omaha.

Father Merwald had a knack for finances and operational management. In 1995, he created the “Cycle of Life Campaign” that identified parish concerns and included a plan of action for change. He was a very outgoing person, had a vibrant sense of humor and loved joking around.

In 2010, he retired from the pulpit 39 years after being ordained and passed away two years later. He left behind a legacy of generosity and kindness. He was a giving and unselfish person who always put others first including family, friends and parishioners.