Crowdfunding’s Corporal Works of Mercy for Catholic Family

Thousands Worldwide Pitch in Financially to Help After Wisconsin Tragedy

Rogan family
Rogan family (photo: Courtesy of Dominic Gruetzmacher)

STRATFORD, Wis. — Strangers from all over the world have come together to help a young, Catholic, home-schooling family from Stratford, Wis., after the father was killed in a freak accident.

Mike and Niki Rogan loaded their seven young children into their van around 4am on April 17, because Niki was in labor with their eighth child.

According to the couple’s cousin and close friend, Cody Nikolai, the Rogans were driving to the hospital when Mike saw some deer in the distance. Unexpectedly, an oncoming vehicle hit one of the deer, and the animal rolled, bounced off the oncoming car and then crashed into the Rogans’ windshield.

Niki and her children did not sustain any serious injuries, but 42-year-old Mike did, and he was pronounced dead at the hospital. Later that afternoon, Niki delivered a healthy baby boy named Blaise.

A former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and a member of the Naval Reserve, Mike was a well-respected businessman known for his honesty and cheerfulness. He sold organic feed supplies to dairy farmers, and he was the sole income provider for his family. His community also knew him to be a kind, committed and involved father.


Help From Friends

Online fundraising has raised an unprecedented amount for the family.

Kelsea Little, public-relations manager for GoFundMe, told the Register, “The campaign is certainly one of GoFundMe’s fastest-growing campaigns of all time. In less than one week, over 6,000 people helped raise more than $450,000. It has quickly become one of GoFundMe’s top 20 ‘most-raised’ campaigns.”

Dominic and Cecilia Gruetzmacher from Wausau, Wis., set up the page for the Rogans. The two families met at their church, St. Mary’s Oratory in Wausau — which is an apostolate of the Institute of Christ the King — some 12 years ago.

As Dominic told the Register, “St. Mary’s … draws people from long distances. Because people come from such distances, they don’t tend to leave right after Mass. They usually go down to the church basement and stay there for an hour to two hours every Sunday” for refreshments.

Canon Aaron Huberfeld, rector of St. Mary’s Oratory, remembers that Mike was the one who took the lead in the family spirit cultivated at St. Mary’s.

“He would be the first to say, ‘Let’s have a good time meeting people downstairs after Mass, and then let’s go to the park and play football.’ He showed how being a man’s man, being fun-loving and being a devout Catholic all go very much together.”


Bringing Good Out of Tragedy

News of the Rogan family’s horrific ordeal traveled swiftly, with numerous state, national and international media outlets featuring the story.

What started as the Gruetzmachers trying to raise enough funds to replace the Rogans’ van blossomed into something much grander.

“I am surprised by how far the word has reached and how many people have sent their prayers, condolences and money,” Cecilia said. “The donations on the GoFundMe site are primarily from strangers.”

Dominic added, “Of the 6,100 donors, approximately 175 are international donors, contributing around $10,000. Many of them are from Canada; some are from various European countries, such as Italy and Germany; a few donations are from Central America and other countries, including a $12 donation from India.”

“It’s incredibly heartwarming to see so many generous people come together to help this family. It’s clear that the Rogan family’s story touched many people who wanted to help in some way,” GoFundMe’s Little said.

The Gruetzmachers see the donations as an expression of compassion. “If you look at all of the comments on the GoFundMe page and summarize them, it’s: ‘I can’t give you a hug, but I’m going to give you $10 instead.’ It has all added up to this big, sacrificial donation.”

Canon Huberfeld thinks God used tragedy to bring the best out of people.

“God himself brought the best out of the human race through his own suffering,” he said. “We have this horrible question of ‘Why?’ in the face of such terrible tragedy, but we know that God can bring good out of these things. I think that when people look at something like this, the best is brought out of them, because they see that ‘I can be God’s instrument in bringing good out of this unspeakable tragedy.’”


Van Donated

The Manternach family of Wisconsin felt called to be one of God’s instruments. They offered to replace the family’s van. Ruth Manternach was visiting St. Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield when she happened to meet the eldest Rogan child, 15-year-old Ann. After Manternach learned about Mike’s death, she and her husband felt motivated to help.

As Manternach told WSAW-TV News: “Her story broke our heart, but yet she got into our heart somehow.”

She went on to say, “Someday, I hope that one of those — or all of those — eight kids will remember that somebody helped them out when their dad died and their mom came home with a new baby, and they will pass it on and do it for somebody else.”


Grieving Family

Besides the flood of generosity and condolences, two important things provide consolation for Niki Rogan and her children.

“The consolation for them is that Mike was wearing his brown scapular when he died and that he received the last rites at the hospital. This has brought them a lot of consolation,” said Nikolai, who thought of Mike as a brother.

To help them cope, Niki is keeping her children on their regular routine. Two days after losing her husband and delivering Blaise, they were at St. Mary’s for Mass and Blaise’s baptism. Dominic Gruetzmacher was in attendance.

“She came up to me and gave me a hug and thanked me,” he said.

Added Nikolai, “The world needs to know how remarkable and humble they are. ... This outpouring of support that they are getting is going to do this family well for a while. The resources will allow them to heal and figure things out for the long run. It will allow Niki to stay home and home school their children, which would have been the most important thing to Mike.”


Register correspondent Lori Hadacek Chaplin writes from Idaho.