OSHKOSH — Life has thrown some unexpected challenges toward Rachel Graskey, but she has found strength and peace among her family at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish.
Graskey is originally from Ripon, and she and her husband, Brian, joined St. Gabriel Parish in Neenah. Their daughter, Hailey, now 8, was baptized there. When Hailey was only 6½ months old, Graskey’s husband died of a blood clot. “I wasn’t mad or in desperate despair,” Graskey said. “He’s the lucky one. He’s up in heaven, and he doesn’t have to suffer on earth.”
But Graskey was in need of support. She and Hailey moved to Oshkosh, where two of her aunts are members of St. Raphael. That led her to join the parish in 2010 and seek to become an active member.
“When you deal with something like that, you need a support group,” Graskey said. “We got really active. Every time they have a class, I take it.”
Graskey joined the parish during a stewardship campaign, and she signed up to participate in the donuts and coffee activity. This once-a-month effort, for which she is now the coordinator, is a fellowship time for new members where “all families can come, sit and chat, and talk to people you don’t normally have a chance” to talk with, Graskey said.
She also serves as the wait staff coordinator for the parish’s weekly fish fries held during Lent. About 8,000 people are served during the annual event. “There was a need for it, so I signed up,” Graskey said. “They offered daycare, and Hailey was quite little at the time. I could drop her off, know she was safe; it didn’t cost us anything and we could still participate.”
Graskey said she often fills her calendar with activities based on the parish’s needs. She looks at every posting in the weekly bulletin. “I bring it home and open up my planner and ask, ‘What can I fit into my schedule?’” she said. “I just put it on my calendar and go from there. You need to help out where you can. I may not be able to contribute financially all the time, but just direct me and tell me what you want me to do.”
Graskey is going into her fourth year teaching fifth-grade religious education. She didn’t have a teaching background but was willing to try it when she was asked.
Fifth grade was the year in school when she, herself, transferred to the public school system and felt a loss. “I did what I had to do to get through and make my parents happy,” she said. “I can help these kids realize exactly why they need (spiritual direction) in their lives.
“It’s a learning experience for me, too. The more you educate yourself, the better Christian you can be. You totally understand why we do everything. It makes those experiences so much richer,” added Graskey.
She enjoys working with children in the parish and with lunch duty, field trips and other activities at Lourdes Academy, where her daughter will be a third-grader.
“I want to be that person who is a good influence on them,” she said. “They might not be getting that at home or in other parts of their life. I want them to look up to me and for me to be a good role model. I like to see all the little faces and feel like I get through to some kids year after year.”
But for as much as she feels she can provide to children, she feels being involved with the church provides for her as well. “When I’m at church, it’s the best part of my week,” she said. “I feel that when I’m at church and centered around that, I’m most at peace.
“I’m a hairdresser. Throughout the day, I’m surrounded by people and their problems and I get to listen to all that. When I go to church, I’m centered around people who are trying to better themselves and live the Christian, Catholic way,” added Graskey. “It’s refreshing to be centered around people who are trying to live that way. It’s rewarding to see people happy and see people living the same faith and living the way that you do.”
Graskey’s ability to give her time, more than she can give money, allows her to interact with her church family. “It’s a sense of community and we’re in this together. We’re all the hands and feet of Jesus,” she said.
“Maybe someone may see something I’m doing and get more involved. That’s only going to help the Catholic Church,” she added. “I’m just trying to be a good person and put a smile on somebody’s face. It could be the first smile they’ve seen all day.”