20 Questions with Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ

Favorite color? What makes you happy? What are you good at? What is your greatest fear… “Twenty Questions” is a regular feature in which SCJs and those with whom they minister and collaborate share a bit about themselves in an informal Q&A. Participants are given the same list of questions and are invited to answer as many as they would like.

Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ, is local superior of Sacred Heart Monastery where he works with the ECS program, as well as at St. Martin of Tours parish in Franklin, WI.


Q: Where were you born and raised? Describe your family.

BR. DUANE: I was born and raised on a farm in western South Dakota.  My parents are John and Judy Lemke.  I am the oldest of three siblings.  My sister, Marta, and her husband have two children. My brother, Brandon, and his wife have five children. My nieces and nephews are a joy, and I try hard to be a “funcle,” that is:  fun-uncle.  Over the years the older ones and I have built a home-designed trebuchet with a 14-foot catapult arm and made a furnace to melt aluminum cans, and the younger ones and I have had a competition to create the best homemade ice cream flavor from scratch and share paintings with each other.

Q: What is your favorite book or movie?

BR. DUANE: This is a difficult question. How does one choose a favorite?  Books I have happily read more than once include Elkins’ The Age of Federalism, Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, anything by Sarah Vowell, and the pulp Star Trek novel Demons.

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world post-pandemic – without concern about the expense – where would you go and why?

BR. DUANE: I’ve been blest by being able to see many places worldwide, more than once:  Ireland, Rome, and Medellin, Colombia.  However, without any concern for expense  places that I would like yet to see with my own eyes:  Vienna, Austria; Iona, Scotland; Geiranger, Norway; Windsor Castle, England; Machu Picchu; Easter Island; Angkor Wat, Cambodia; and in the United States: Mesa Verde, Mt. St. Helens, Independence Hall, The Capitol, and the Grand Canyon.

Q: What are you good at?

BR. DUANE:  So much for humility!  I think I am creative, artistic, and in that vein good at painting.  To be honest, I often make a mess of the canvas and myself, with an occasional mess turning out as something I’m proud to display or give to others, with them offering (unsolicited) that I’m good, or even better: thought or spirit-provoking.  I’m also good at composing prayers and liturgies and have a passion for reaching into the Tradition for a prayer form or ritual element and feeling free to adapt it to a current event, whether that be a wedding, funeral, saying grace at a meal, or just an ordinary occasion of communal prayer.  Finally, I’m also pretty good at cooking.  However, I bristle a bit at occasionally being called a chef.  To quote Nigella Lawson: “I am not a chef, but a home cook… to deduce that [home cooks] are inadequate at the task of creatively feeding ourselves and others is madness.”

Q: What is your favorite color?

BR. DUANE: I love the stars.  My favorite color is the deep indigo blue of a star-dusted cloudless sky just before it turns black.  One of my favorite moments was sharing this to an assembly of children during Catholic Schools week, and hearing them collectively inhale, “ooooh,” and “ahhh.”  If I did nothing that day but inspire some of them to look up that night in Wonder and Awe at what God creates, it was worth it.

Q: Do you have any hobbies or pastimes? If so, what are they and how did you get interested in them?

BR. DUANE: My hobbies tend to be creative:  painting, cooking, gardening, mosaics, occasionally stained glass.  I’m not exactly sure how I got interested in them.  Most of my formative years were spent with teachers and parents proclaiming – with some truth-  how messy I was with paint, glue, or – God forbid – glass in my hands.  In my corner of rural America, at the time I was raised, the arts were sadly not always cultivated in children.  A paved sidewalk, repaired plow, trimmed room, or repainted shed were valued more than mosaic, sculpture, and painted canvas. I’ve spent some of my adult years reclaiming a deeper rural history that produced and valued many artists such as Georgia O’Keefe, Harvey Dunn, and Frederic Remington.

Q: What is your favorite food?

BR. DUANE: I love to cook, and it is difficult to have a favorite.  Generally, my favorite food is from single ingredients, prepared by human hands, and shared.  My favorite go-to cuisine is Italian (despite not having a drop of Italian blood).  My favorite dishes are Bolognese, Boeuf Bourguignon (Thank you, Julia), Chicken Noodle Soup (Thank you, Grandma Lois), and lest I appear snobbish:  a quickly grilled spam and cheese sandwich.

Q: What is your least favorite chore?

BR. DUANE: I can’t say I love cleaning, and it is obvious I don’t love housekeeping, but I have a passion for organizing.  Whether it be a post-meal table or a unkempt room and turning it into an ordered, everything-in-its-place area is a thrill.  One can quickly and easily see results.  Love it, love it, LOVE IT.  Thanks, Mom!

Q: Who — living or deceased — do you most admire and why?

BR. DUANE: This answer changes with my time in life.  At this point I most admire my Grandma Lois.  She was a woman who valued people, and valued treating them right.  She wasn’t afraid to take personal risks to help others, and she wasn’t afraid to show affection or spend time with others.  Her image is my current image of what the love of the Sacred Heart is about.  Not being particularly religious or self-confident she would dismiss and downplay all of the above with examples.  Only illustrating a connection I have always suspected between love, kindness, and humility.

Q: What would surprise people to learn about you?

BR. DUANE: Most people would be/are surprised at my independent politics and that I’ve never voted for candidates of a single party for any office in my history of voting.  I find the current climate of polarization uncivil, and the idea that a party can represent all of one’s interests (or personify all of one’s evils) baffling.  I recently shared with a family member that I think we have too many people of principle in politics, and not enough people of neighborly and civic compromise.

Q: What skill or talent would you like to have that you do not? Why?

BR. DUANE: I would love to be able to pick up a violin or cello and get lost in the well-played vibration of the instrument.  Why?  I know what it means to be lost in a piece of music, and the thought that it would be a piece I was playing would be fantastic.  What would I play on violin or cello?  Vivaldi, Bach, AC/DC, and Aerosmith.

Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

BR. DUANE: As a child, I wanted to be an astronaut.  I devoured stories of the moon landings and space shuttle, and especially technical articles and manuals about HOW the machines worked and how the astronauts and engineers made them fly.  The relationship between the electrical system and the life-support system on the International Space Station is amazingly practical and almost poetic in its design and construction.  Read about it sometime.

Q: What makes you happy?

BR. DUANE: What will always bring a smile to my face is a well-turned phrase, brilliantly coined or used word, or perfectly timed pun.  Christopher Moore, Maya Angelou, Shakespeare, Dickenson, Leslie Nielson, and Mel Brooks are some of history’s most entertaining wordsmiths.

Q: What is your greatest fear?

BR. DUANE: I’m afraid this answer is more visceral than deep or meaningful.  I fear spiders and snakes.  There is little that truly frightens me body and soul, but the sight or touch of even a harmless spider or innocent garter snake strips all rationality from me and I will twist and shout like a whirling dervish until I’ve grasped the nearest tool for killing and only one of us comes out alive.

Q: What trait or habit do you dislike in yourself?

BR. DUANE: I dislike my initial hesitation to say yes to new opportunities.  Fear, lack of confidence, or even disinterest kill creativity and any spark of the divine within people, and myself.

Q: What trait or habit do you dislike in others?

BR. DUANE: I dislike dull people.  This has nothing to do with what they do or with intelligence; some of the most interesting people I’ve been with have repetitive or mundane lives.  But rather, people who are uninterested in how or why they do what they do, or moreso in the meaningful life of those around them, are a complete turn-off to me.

Q: List three words that describe you.

BR. DUANE: Kind. Stubborn. Creative.

Q: How did you come to know of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians) and what interested you about them?

BR. DUANE: A Priest of the Sacred Heart – Fr. Joe Ford – baptized me as an infant, and the SCJs served at my home parish for decades.  I was interested in them because their common life and interest in the ordinary lives of people reflected God’s own loving kindness in some way.  As I got/get to know them better, I discover their concern that people and social structures reflect the Love of Christ to both smooth my rough edges and challenge me to act each day.

Q: Do you consider yourself a Dehonian? If so, what does that mean to you?

BR. DUANE: It might surprise people, especially other Dehonians, that my answer is “No, I do not consider myself a Dehonian”.   I will explain.  I understand and bow to the need for an easily communicated identity.  However, I think that Fr. Dehon would be appalled that we call ourselves Dehonian.  He would abhor it, and not out of false modesty.  In no way is my life centered on the life of Leo Dehon.  Rather, it is the love of God witnessed in the Sacred Heart that is the center of my life.  Now, Fr. Dehon certainly had some interpretations and viewpoints that I consider essential.  Not the least of which is that the love is the Sacred Heart is about more than making souls holy.  To that extent, my perspective on the Sacred Heart is Dehonian.  However, I would identify as a Priest of the Sacred Heart, those words center and ground my life, not Dehonian.

Q: What changes, adaptations or insights do you expect to stay with you from the pandemic? In other words, how do you expect to be changed by COVID-19?

BR. DUANE: This is difficult to say; I suspect we are only yet at the beginning of the pandemic’s duration and effects on society.  I think that the most meaningful adaptations thus far are threefold.  I see long-distance travel being more special and rare, perhaps as it was for people three and four generations ago.  I see hope in a less consumerist life as the question of essential and needed vs. convenient or common govern spending.  Perhaps we will slip from a culture that is less plastic and more long term in its spending and investing choices.  Finally, and this may only be a beginning: I see families discovering more concrete and regular ways to be what Catholics call the domestic church.  As parish-centered activity, education, and prayer becomes less robust, I see families asking how it can increase in the home.  I see faith-filled parents seriously asking “What can we do at home to live our faith?”  We are a Eucharistic people and that is central to who we are, but Catholics have always believed that the presence of Christ is multifaceted.  For example, I’ve heard of more families breaking open the Scriptures together, at times and with rituals that set the moment aside.  I’ve also seen more attention to Christ present in their bishop, as they read his words with hunger or listen together to him online or on radio or TV.  None of these are bad things.  They are not losses, but gains.