APPLETON — St. Therese Parish has been a part of Bob Weller’s life for as long as he can remember. He attended St. Therese School from first through eighth grade, and from there he went onto St. Mary High School in Menasha before enlisting in the Navy.
After his time in the military, Weller worked in the foundry industry and later had his own business. When he retired in 2003, Weller got actively involved at St. Therese thanks to his pastor at the time, Fr. Bill Hoffman.
“Fr. Hoffman needed another person as a sacristan every Thursday to set up for him for Mass,” recalled Weller.
“From there he got me involved in going down to the Dominican Republic. They were looking for volunteers, and that first year I went down for two weeks.” Later trips included longer stays: Four weeks, six or seven weeks, and last year, two months.
Because of time spent in Japan when Weller was in the military, he had no problem handling the warm climate in the Dominican Republic. His stays down there keep getting longer and longer in part because he really likes the people — not only the natives, but the group from the Green Bay Diocese that he travels with. He plans on going back again next year and will stay as long as they need him. “It all depends what they come up with. If they want me down there, I’ll stay.”
Weller explained the volunteer projects in which he has been involved. “The first project, we built a chapel in Sabaneta and the next year we built some homes around Sabaneta,” he said. “After that I also built a couple of chapels. Father has various chapels all the way around.”
The work they do is rewarding but it’s not easy. “You’re building everything (by hand). The mortar we’re mixing. All of our block we’ve got to set by hand,” he explained. “Two years ago, we were helping to build an aqueduct up in the mountains. It was an hour and a half in — originally they were going to have a road bulldozed in but they never finished, so we had to walk in carrying the pipe, the rebar.”
They weren’t able to complete the project then but it has been finished since.
Not every volunteer activity demands that much physical labor. Weller noted that no matter what a person’s skill set is, they’ll find a way to put those skills to use for anyone who wants to join them on a mission trip.
During his trip earlier this year, Weller had the opportunity to work with a number of different people. “I went down with the first group and built a chapel. Then the deacons came down and I stayed with them and worked with them for two weeks.”
He also spent time chaperoning a group of parish youth and staying with members of Fr. Mike Seis’s family.
During the rest of the year, when Weller isn’t in the Dominican Republic, he’s busy back home. He volunteers at St. Therese, helping the part-time maintenance person with various jobs, from plumbing to electrical. He assists with the construction project on their campus as they prepare to be the new home for Loaves & Fishes later this summer.
Weller still has his sacristan duties on Thursdays and tries to go to daily Mass. When his schedule doesn’t allow for him to attend St. Therese, he’ll go to Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Mary or St. Joseph church. At St. Joe’s he volunteers to take up the collection every Friday, where the proceeds are donated to St. Joseph Food Program. He also strives to pray the rosary daily.
Weller said it was hard to say what inspires him to do all of his volunteer activities. “I don’t really know what motivates me. It’s just something to do. It’s a combination of things because over the years you can see the improvements that have been made on the island,” he said. “The roads are improving; they’re bulldozing new roads in different areas, things like that are improving.”
He said anyone can help those in need by giving of their time, treasure and/or talent, even if they are unable to make a service trip. “Loaves & Fishes needs money and also for the Dominican Republic,” said Weller. “We’re always trying to raise money for the various projects. If we build a chapel, that’s usually funded by volunteers or donations from other people. … Everything takes money. We’re always looking for donations.”