||Good Shepherd Parish Nurse Cynthia Schoettler shares information about grapefruits with Doris Hayden, who joins other parishioners at the Hilldale Mall on Tuesday mornings for walking and socializing. (Photo by Shine Photografx www.shinephotografx.com)
MADISON/DODGEVILLE -- As parishes across the diocese and nation prepare for Christmas, many pay special attention to the elderly and homebound, including putting together and delivering gift bags and food.
While the gift bags are important, care ministers appreciate the gifts they give and receive throughout the year.
Gifts given and received
Fr. Patrick Wendler, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Dodgeville, talks of the “smiles I receive and the warm feeling I get as I leave those good people of God” as the gift he receives.
“People tell me that they don’t want to bother me because priests are so busy. I tell them that I became a priest to help and be with God’s people. I tell them, ‘Yes, I am busy, but God doesn’t give me more than I can handle.’”
Madison Good Shepherd Parish care ministers attending a thank you lunch last month at St. Joseph Church agreed that they receive intangible gifts when they visit the homebound.
Msgr. Tom Baxter, pastor, thanked the volunteers. He said, “The care ministry at Good Shepherd shows our members God’s compassionate care and our commitment to have a special care for the vulnerable. It also highlights what these people have been for the church.
“They are the people who have worked so hard to build up this parish and God’s kingdom. They have given us so much and inspire us with their faith. Now it is our chance to give to them and keep them involved in our parish,” said Monsignor Baxter.
“It is a great blessing all the way around, for the visitor and the person being visited,” said Sr. Zita Simon, pastoral associate at Good Shepherd Parish, Madison, who oversees the care ministry program with parish nurse Cynthia Schoettler.
“We are blessed at Good Shepherd Parish to have such awesome homebound ministers. And personally I am so grateful that so many folks have stepped forward and are willing to be the extension of our parish to the homebound,” said Sister Zita.
Good Shepherd, through a partnership with St. Marys Hospital, employs a parish nurse who coordinates the care ministry. One of nine parish nurses through the partnership, Cynthia Schoettler officially works 16 hours for the parish with additional hours at the hospital. She and her husband Brian Klitzkie and four children are active members of the parish.
Monsignor Baxter said, “Cynthia’s ministry is a sign of our parish commitment to these good and important people. She is able to devote much of her time and energy to their care and help them to stay healthy for as long as they can, by showing them how to help themselves stay as healthy as they can.”
One of the ways she does that is by leading a weekly walking group at a local shopping mall. While there is no age restriction, most of the walkers are senior citizens and enjoy each other’s company while walking. Schoettler always includes information on keeping healthy.
Working with Sister Zita, Schoettler oversees the volunteer care ministers who visit about a dozen facilities on a regular basis, some as often as twice weekly.
Betty Schuchardt goes to Avalon Assisted Care on Wednesday to lead the Rosary and on Friday to lead prayer and distribute Communion.
Some volunteers are on an on-call basis. Through the West Side Care Ministers Group, home-bound Catholics can expect to receive Communion weekly. Twice a year, the group offers an evening of prayer and reflection or some instructions on how to do care ministry better.
Sister Zita tries to be very aware of the elderly who come to Mass. She said, “When I do not see them for a while, I call or write to see if all is okay with them. So basically for me it is being aware of the elderly in our parish. I do find that some of the parish folks also look out for the elderly and will ask where is so and so. There is a closeness in the parish.”
United as a family in Christ
Sister Zita refers to the mission of the parish as a key reason to keep the elderly under close watch. “We unite as one family.
Keeping before us Christ’s call to live as HE lived and love as HE loved . . . strengthened by the sacraments, humbly preaching, teaching, and serving not in our name but that of Jesus . . .”
The monthly birthday breakfast is an example of the close community of Good Shepherd Parish. Held on the second Sunday after the 10:45 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph Church, parishioners Rick and Debby Hillebrand started the breakfast with a few people and a birthday cake.
Now, it features a full breakfast, mostly prepared by the Hillebrands, and lots of socializing with young and old alike. Those over 70 receive birthday cards and special recognition.
The Good Shepherd Crafty Quilters also welcomes senior citizens at its gatherings on the second, third, and fourth Wednesdays of each month from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at St. Joseph Church. No special skills are needed.
Sister Zita shared a story of being introduced to a woman on the edge of Alzheimer’s. Her daughter-in-law, knowing that her mother-in-law had been Catholic as a youth, made the contact.
Sister Zita said, “I went to visit, and she has come back to the Church. Since she was an avid quilter in her younger years, she helps with the Crafty Quilters. She also comes each week to church. She is so happy to be back home in our parish.”
Visiting care facilities
From Madison to Dodgeville, care ministry is important to every parish. In the Dodgeville area, Father Wendler has five nursing/health care facilities plus a regional hospital which he or a care minister visits weekly.
Father Wendler takes the Blessed Sacrament to Stonefield Apartments, Sienna Crest, and Crest Ridge on Wednesday mornings. Anointing of the Sick and the Sacrament of Reconciliation are also offered during the year. He goes to the hospital when notified.
Every Friday morning, Father Wendler celebrates Mass at one of the centers. To provide Mass at least twice monthly at each center, neighboring pastors also offer Mass: Frs. Sanctus Ibe, Ridgeway and Barneveld; Ken Frisch, Montfort and Highland; and Tom Gillespie, Argyle, Blanchardville, Hollandale, and Yellowstone.
Father Wendler said he makes time for this ministry because it is “one of the reasons I became a priest,” but he would like to expand the care ministry in his parish to reach more people.
The Dodgeville pastor said, “I feel care ministry should be part of parish life as we bring Jesus to those in need. As the care ministry grows, the parish will grow with it. Many of the people that this ministry serves have been good parishioners for years, and they have served God and their neighbor for all their lives. We as their brothers and sisters must serve them now.”
The role of the volunteer in the care ministry cannot be overemphasized, concluded Sister Zita. She said, “Our homebound ministers are very aware that the people they visit are so happy to have someone to visit with. The ministers know that the visiting is so very important.
“The homebound like to know what is happening in the parish, too. It would be great if we had more people who would be interested in visiting our homebound. It is a great blessing all the way around, for the visitor and for the person being visited.”
Father Wendler offers the following advice, “To learn more about this ministry of love -- to learn how you can help bring the gift of Jesus to those in need and to receive an abundance of unexpected gifts in return -- please contact the pastor of your parish. There are still many more of our brothers and sisters who could be served with our love.”