STURGEON BAY — While some might consider ushering to be the “entry level” job for those wanting to get involved in parish life, for Steve Partyka, it’s the job of choice. For him, it’s the perfect way to practice Christian hospitality and he’ll do it as often as possible.
“I’ll do any Mass, and more than one Mass on a weekend,” he said. “If they need me, I’ll be there.” The only months he has off are May and November because he’s an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist then. But his favorite is the ushering.
Why that? Because it is where he has the chance to mingle with and help the most people.
“There are a lot of older people who come to Mass who don’t have anyone. Even on Christmas or Easter, I’ve had them tell me they’re going home alone,” he said. At least for their time at Mass, Partyka is there to give them a big smile as they arrive, to bring a smile to their faces and to share a happy remark or two as they leave. He stays alert to any special needs that might arise, for them or others.
Besides watching for late-comers who might need to find a seat, Partyka watches out for the elderly. One gentlemen arrived alone and told Partyka he wasn’t feeling well. During Mass, he became light-headed, and Partyka, as well as three other ushers, stayed with him during the Mass. Partyka brought Communion back for him.
Another very old and stooped man asks for two bulletins every Sunday. Partyka doesn’t know why — he suspects the man is bringing one to a friend — but he makes sure to give out the bulletins on the side of the church where that man always sits, just so he can share a word or two after Mass.
Recently, a parishioner in a wheelchair wanted to bring up the gifts with her husband because the Mass was being celebrated for a family member. That meant someone else would need to push the chair. Partyka organized the ushers to pool their collections quickly so as not to keep their pastor, Fr. Carl Schmitt, waiting, and then he manned the wheelchair himself. As he talks about it, he smiles broadly, happy that he could be of use and make someone’s Mass experience more complete.
“It’s all about making people feel welcome,” he said.
That even includes his fellow ushers.
“Everybody likes to be the one to take up the collection at the offertory, so I never do that,” he said. “I let the others do it because they feel real good when they do.”
Partyka helps out with parish festivals and other social events, too, and is becoming very active in the Knights of Columbus, which he hopes to help make more visible in the area parishes.
“I’m retired now, but I was a grounds superintendent at a golf course for many years and I never had the time to volunteer,” he said. “Now is my chance.”
Partyka starts each morning with an Our Father and a Hail Mary, and although he may not be on his knees a lot the rest of the day, he expresses his faith by his willingness to serve, wherever and whenever he’s needed.
Partyka and his wife, Dawn, visit the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help at least once a week, where he lights a candle, says a prayer or two, and then just sits and makes himself present to God. Sometimes — which is typical for Partyka — he chats with other visitors while he’s there.
While no one would describe Partyka as “pious,” his faith in the abiding presence and power of God is simple and runs deep, as was evident from two stories he told.
Many years ago, he and his wife were childless, and were told it would be impossible for them to have children. Then, friends they met on a cruise gave them a cross covered with silver tokens. It’s called a “milagro cross,” milagro meaning “miracle” in Spanish. They accepted the cross and immediately prayed that God would grant them a child. A week later, Dawn discovered she was pregnant, and their daughter Brianna is now 12 years old.
Now the cross, which Partyka proudly exhibited, contains a tiny image of an infant among its tokens.
Another time, Partyka was bleeding internally and was very afraid that it was something serious that might require surgery or even be incurable. He went to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help and asked Mary, “Could you please tell my doctor it’s only an infection and I only need antibiotics?” And that’s exactly what his doctor told him after his next appointment.
“I went back to the shrine to thank blessed Mary, and I knelt in front of her statue, and I swear she winked at me,” he said.
Gratitude and faith have spilled over into Partyka’s retirement years, expressing themselves in service for others. And although he didn’t quite say, “Try it, you’ll like it,” he promises the same kind of fulfillment for others who are willing to put the church first when filling up the calendars of their lives.