LINCOLN (SNR) – St. John the Apostle School in Lincoln handed out more than 500 religious medals Nov. 9 to members of local law enforcement as part of “Liza’s Mission,” an effort to show officers appreciation through gifts of St. Michael the Archangel medals.
The Liza of Liza’s Mission is Liza Viera, a 19-year-old college student majoring in criminology from Houston, Texas. She began handing out blessed medals of St. Michael to officers she knew after two officers were killed in Dallas this summer.
“Saint Michael the Archangel is protector of law enforcement,” she explained on a website, “and I wanted them to carry this close to their heart as protection during these especially dangerous times.
“Even if they weren’t Catholic,” she continued, “my hope was that it would symbolize that people in the community… were praying for them.”
Viera started with $20 worth of medals from her local Catholic bookstore, blessed at her local parish – and ran out in 24 hours. When she replenished her supply and returned to her church to have more medals blessed, her parish offered to support the project. Through word of mouth, local media picked up on the story and she now has a gofundme page to raise money to continue the mission, and to encourage others to do the same.
St. John teacher Melinda Reinert heard about the mission when her son Jordan, a sheriff’s deputy in Houston, received a medal from Liza this summer.
“He was so excited to get it,” Reinert said. “I wanted to ‘pay if forward’ because someone was nice to our son. I can only imagine what they go through and deal with; I wanted to show our support for them. I was trying to think of a way to hand out the medals around here so I asked my school family if they would like to help and they all agreed to help."
On Nov. 9, St. John School invited members of the Lincoln Police Department, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police, the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office and the Nebraska State Patrol to receive medals from the school. More than 50 representatives attended and the school gave them 526 St. Michael medals, as well as seven St. Francis medals to canine units.
Liza’s Mission provided the medals, string and cards. The children and teachers put them together and personalized them with their own messages.
“We are raising money,” Reinert explained, “by doing extra random acts of kindness for our parents, families and neighbors. The money we raise will be sent to Liza so she can continue to purchase medals and cards so her mission can continue to spread.”
At the ceremony, each department addressed the students.
Chief of Police Jeff Bliemeister thanked the school and told the children how much they appreciated the gesture of caring and support, acknowledging the danger of their jobs and their desire to continue to protect and serve the Lincoln community.
Sgt. David Dibelka of the University Police reminded the students that officers in uniform are there to help them, not to be feared.
Lt. Jeff Wilcynski explained the history of the Nebraska State Patrol and spoke about the children’s safety.
“Do you know the best way to improve your safety in a motor vehicle?” he asked, and smiled as nearly every child’s hand waved in the air.
“You all know,” he said. “Go ahead and yell out the answer.”
“Seatbelts!” the students responded.
Captain Jerry Witte of the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office also addressed the students, saying he too had attended Catholic schools. He received a St. Michael medal when he was sworn in, but gave that medal to his oldest son when he was deployed in the military, to wear in his battle vest, as St. Michael the Archangel is also the patron saint of military personnel. The same medal, which his son brought home safely, he then gave to another son who is currently deployed in the military.
“So receiving this medal means a lot to me,” he said, “since I don’t have one right now.”
Father Lyle Johnson, pastor of St. John the Apostle Parish and chief administrative officer of the school, led the assembly in the prayer of St. Michael. The children joined him in raising hands over the officers present as they asked for God’s blessings on them.
Shane Kennett, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Lincoln, attended to watch her husband, Detective Tim Kennett of the Lincoln Police Department, receive his medal. She said she found the experience moving.
“The grace in a prayer and the love in a blessing leave no space for hatred or fear, only love,” she said.