Manitowoc care minister brings spirit, love of God to homebound

Bishop’s Appeal funds training of parish care ministry coordinators

MANITOWOC — Kathy Leist wasn’t actively seeking to be a care minister. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“Sr. Connie Wavrunek (of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross) called me at work one day and said someone thought I might make a good care minister,” Leist said. “I said I didn’t think I’d be good at that. And I was working full-time, my mother was in a nursing home and I wanted to spend time with her, and I was just very busy.”

Kathy Leist, left, visits with Elaine at an assisted living home in Manitowoc as part of her service as a care minister. Kathy and Elaine have been matched for 14 years and both are members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)

But Sr. Connie was very persuasive. “She talked me into coming to talk with her about the program,” said Leist. “So I gave it a try and went through care ministry training. It was definitely something out of my comfort zone. But it didn’t take long for me to get more comfortable and realize that I was making an impact in other people’s lives. Now, here I am, 14 years later, and I’m still in care ministry.”

Leist, 69, has embraced her love of care ministry so much that she serves as a care ministry program coordinator through St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc.

Leist is one of more than 1,400 care ministers throughout the Diocese of Green Bay who bring the spirit and love of God to the homebound and those in nursing/assisted living homes through their presence and prayer. Care ministers visit those who are dealing and coping with a variety of changes in their lives — such as the effects of aging, physical/medical issues, moving to another type of residence/care facility, memories of losing a spouse/family members and friends, regrets in their lives and fears about dying.

“Care ministry is a wonderful example of how the Bishop’s Appeal supports parish outreach ministries,” said Josh Diedrich, director of the Bishop’s Appeal and assistant director of the Catholic Foundation. “The Bishop’s Appeal funds training for parish leaders to become coordinators of care ministry at their parish. Through this training, they are able to then train additional parish members to visit those who are homebound or hospitalized. … It is through the Bishop’s Appeal that many of these ministries of mercy are provided throughout the communities of northeastern Wisconsin.”

Leist was matched with Elaine, a fellow St. Francis of Assisi parishioner, shortly after starting as a care minister 14 years ago. They’ve been matched ever since. Leist visits with Elaine for more than an hour every other Sunday at a Manitowoc assisted living home that Elaine shares with six other residents.

“Kathy is the best care minister,” Elaine said, eliciting big smiles from both of them. “It’s very nice that she comes to visit me. We talk about different things that we do and (about) the church. I don’t get out too much, so I really like that Kathy cares and comes here.”

Leist brings Communion to Elaine and they talk about whatever is on Elaine’s mind.

“I come with no agenda whatsoever,” Leist said. “That’s what care ministry is all about. The focus is totally on Elaine. If she just wants to visit and talk, she’ll talk about if she’s been out with friends or family or shopping or something like that.” Leist also brings Communion to Elaine.

“We pray together during that service, and we have prayer intentions for other people, too. Sometimes Elaine has poems or a book for me to read — they’re like reflections. But whatever we do, it’s all up to Elaine.” Both Leist and Elaine say they forged a genuine friendship.

“What I hoped would develop between us is trust — and we definitely have that trust,” Leist said. “I don’t come to give advice or judge anything whatsoever. I think Elaine feels comfortable enough to talk with me about anything she wants. We have a very close friendship. And God loves her very much. I thank him for allowing our match to continue.”

Leist retired three years ago and knows that she could be doing something else with her time. But serving as a care minister is engrained in her life and not something she plans on stopping anytime soon.

“I find it very rewarding, and I hope Elaine does as well,” Leist said. “When I come to see Elaine, no matter how her day is going, there’s a smile on her face. I feel I make a difference in somebody else’s life. And she makes a difference in my life, too.”

Leist said that serving as a care minister enabled her to develop invaluable skills that have carried over into her everyday life — like communicating and listening better, and being more patient, caring and compassionate.

“Being a care minister is something that almost anybody can do,” she said. “There are no educational requirements. Just be a good listener and care for people. It’s really a ministry of being who you are, rather than doing something in particular.

“I’m very glad I decided to try being a care minister because it really changed my life in a lot of ways.”

For more information about the Bishop’s Appeal, call Josh Diedrich at (877) 500-3580, ext. 8197, or visit www.catholicfoundationgb.org.