The word ministry has several meanings and uses. It can be used as a noun, the particular work that someone is engaged in doing; teaching, nursing, chaplain, pastoral ministry. It is frequently used as a verb; the act of caring for someone, instructing someone or through listening leaving the person in better space than when you first met them.
In the 80’s I took a course from Fr. Dan Venglarik on Morality. He started the class by defining ministry. He said, ministry means caring. At an Ursuline High faculty meeting, he said that as teachers we were all pastoral ministers. At the time I was contemplating a move from teaching to pastoral ministry. After my mother died in 1982 I began to get involved in St. Columba Cathedral. When I brought her Communion on Easter Sunday in 1982, a few months before she died she said to me, You are my Easter Sunday. I took these words to heart and began to contemplate them. Did my ministry of bringing the Word and the Eucharist to her leave her in better space?What did I do? Was I being called to another ministry?
As I have moved from one ministry site to another I grew into a deeper understanding of ministry. From 1959 to 1990 I ministered as a teacher for fifteen years in grade school and 15 in high school. I started at St. Nicholas School, and then went to Our Lady of Lourdes in East Palestine, Ohio. Then followed Holy Family in Poland, St. Peter and Paul and then Sacrd Heart as principal for four years. In 1975 I went to Ursuline High School as a reading teacher. I helped students with their reading through the Individualized Reading Class. I went back to YSU for certification in English in 1982. Then I began teaching Freshman English until I left Ursuline in 1990. Thus I ended 30 years of formal ministry as a teacher. Those were years trying to motivate students to grow into good Catholic Christian Citizenship using their talents to make the world a better place to live. Yes, during those years I cared about the students and their success in learning.
In the summer of 1990 I went to Loyola University in Chicago for a Masters Degree in Pastoral Ministry. Two professors at Loyola said to me; 30 years of teaching, you won’t let go of those years will you? I said no. When I began my 21 year tenure at St. Hilary Parish in Fairlawn in 1991 as a Pastoral Minister I soon realized that my greatest asset was 30 years of teaching. Fr. Thomas Koegel hired me as a Volunteer Coordinator. I did many things with volunteers; funeral lunches, coffee and donuts, cancer support group, baptism preparation, coordinating Stewardship Activities, baptis, greeters, coordiated the Eucharistic Ministers to the Homebound in private homes and nursing homes; helping to establish the Health & Wellness Program with the Parish Nurse as the center of the ministry. In the area of Spirituality I was the director of the Joy Renewal ( the parish renewal) for 12 years. In 1999 Journey Women which is a mini retreat for women developed and continues today.
My experience with these groups was reciprocal. The people learned from me and I from them. We learned to care for one another. Part of my training at Loyola was in listening to others; letting people tell their story , letting you know how you could help them. We also talked about presence. No matter who you met the smile is always helpful. One professor asked us to smile and greet the clerks in the grocery store, using their name tags to call them by name. A greeting like that for someone on their feet all day could be a real gift. Without much effort you ministered to someone; perhaps brightened their day. For a brief moment they saw that someone cared.
These experiences led me to develop some guidelines of ministry for myself;
- When someone expresses an interest in a ministry ask them, What called or drew them to the ministry?
- Remove as many barriers as possible before they begin the ministry; provide training if necessary.
- Provide or suggest programs for spiritual development.
- Sit beside a volunteer letting them know you are not their boss but companion in ministry
- Be present to volunteers when they have life changing events such as the death of a relative.
- Provide time for volunteers from the same ministry to come together and share.
Through my guidelines I hear the words of St. Angela Merici: Do something, get moving, be confident, risk new things, stick with it, get on your knees then be ready for Big Surprises!
When I reached the age of 75 on May 6, 2012 I began to contemplate the call I heard to change direction in my life. June 30, 2012 I retired from St. Hilary Parish as a Pastoral Associate. The question that I was asked was what would I do? My answer was that I would grow into retirement. I moved to the Motherhouse on July 20, 2012 and I let each day flow. I begin each day thanking and praising God for this stage of my life. So far I have found that retirement is the time to take care of myself. It is also the time to give your fulll attention to whatever I am doing and enjoy the present moment.
Ministry to others comes in small ways. It can be spending extra time praying for someone who needs prayers. Then again I can be offering help to someone who needs a particular skill that I have. At this time of my life it especially means being present to the other sisters I am living with at our Motherhouse. Soli Deo Gloria!