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ALS ice bucket challenge an issue for many area Catholics

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    Leaders at St. Rose in Perrysburg, from left, the Rev. Jeff Walker, associate pastor; Bryon Borgelt, school principal; Keri Struckholz, assistant principal, and Kathleen Schramm, administrative assistant, get ice water dumped on them for the ice bucket challenge.

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    Before the ice bucket challenge, the Rev. Jeff Walker, associate pastor at St. Rose Church in Perrysburg, talks with Denise Bernath, who suffers from ALS.

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    Michele Bronder is one of several getting a camera ready.

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n7icebucket-4

Leaders at St. Rose in Perrysburg, from left, the Rev. Jeff Walker, associate pastor; Bryon Borgelt, school principal; Keri Struckholz, assistant principal, and Kathleen Schramm, administrative assistant, get ice water dumped on them for the ice bucket challenge.

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A local Catholic priest and Catholic educators proceeded with the ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenges on Friday but donated to groups other than the association, whose research is opposed by the church.

The challenge, which has soared to national prominence on social media such as Facebook as participants dump cold water with ice cubes over their heads to raise money for ALS research and then challenge others to do the same, is controversial among Catholics.

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The Archdiocese of Cincinnati this week told 113 Catholic schools in its jurisdiction to “immediately cease” plans for such ice bucket challenges because it said the ALS group funds embryonic stem cell research, which was “in direct conflict with Catholic teaching.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo has decided to take no position on the issue but has advised local Catholics there are groups that support research on the deadly disease by using adult stem cells, which is in line with church teachings.

Friday in Perrysburg, tears welled up in Denise Bernath’s eyes as she sat in a wheelchair and St. Rose School children swarmed around her to watch an ice bucket challenge from church and school officials who’d raised about $2,500.

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Before the ice bucket challenge, the Rev. Jeff Walker, associate pastor at St. Rose Church in Perrysburg, talks with Denise Bernath, who suffers from ALS.

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Ms. Bernath, whose son Kyle is in sixth grade at St. Rose, struggles to communicate and move with ALS. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes paralysis and eventually death.

Kyle stood beside his mother as St. Rose’s associate pastor, principal, assistant principal, and administrative assistant all endured buckets of ice water dumped on their heads from eighth-grade students.

“It was pretty cold,” said assistant principal Keri Struckholz, smiling even as she was drenched. “We were hoping for $1,000 and exceeded $2,500 and we’ll still have more next week.”

St. Rose is giving the proceeds, donated by students and school staff, to the Bernath family. The Rev. Jeff Walker, the church’s associate pastor, asked in the challenge video for donations to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa. He said the church does not support the ALS Foundation’s stem cell research, but hopes to help with research about the disease through the John Paul II Medical Research efforts.

Friends of Ms. Bernath who helped her communicate said she plans to use some of the money for her medical expenses.

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Michele Bronder is one of several getting a camera ready.

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In Sylvania at St. Joseph School, Principal Sally Koppinger said that about 20 were to take the icy shower at the school in honor of a staff member who lost a loved one to the disease about a year ago. It was done for support and to raise money and awareness about the disease, she said.

She said the challenge was not associated with the St. Joseph Church or school, despite an earlier error of posting it on the school’s Facebook page. The event, though, was held on church property after school was out.

The parish gave a letter to those at the event that detailed which ALS groups align with Catholic doctrine. The letter, which Mrs. Koppinger briefly read to a reporter, alerts participants that “there may be conflicts in church teachings and ALS Association practice.”

The letter says it does not have verification that the ALS Association conducts embryonic stem cell research.

The school principal said she would donate to John Paul II Medical Research Institute and “everyone else will have to make that decision personally and privately” on where to send money.

Spokesman Sally Oberski said the Toledo diocese was not issuing a directive about the ice bucket challenge and schools are left to make their own decision. She said she could not comment on why that decision was made.

The Rev. Charles Ritter, Toledo’s diocesan administrator and the associate pastor of St. Joseph Church in Sylvania, could not be reached for comment.

A mile away from St. Joseph’s campus in Sylvania, about 100 Northview High School students on Friday gathered around the stadium to do the ice bucket challenge in honor of math teacher Melissa Belcher, who was diagnosed with ALS six years ago.

The challenge nationally has drawn much attention on social media in the last several weeks.

Even the bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, David Zubik, plans to participate in such a challenge today for a fellow priest.

Participants typically make videos of the ice pouring and of the verbal challenges and post them on YouTube and other platforms.

The challenge is to take the cold shower or donate to ALS research, but many participants have done both. It has raised millions for the ALS Association.

Contact Matt Thompson at: mthompson@theblade.com, 419-356-8786, or on Twitter at @mthompson25.

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