Sister says duties as parish director bring her ‘great joy’

By | February 28, 2011

Fr. Doug LeCaptain and Fr. Jason Blahnik of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Oshkosh serve as sacramental ministers for the two parishes.


Joni Volkert, music director at St. Mary Parish in Omro, is pictured with Sr. Pam Biehl at St. Mary Church in Winneconne. (Dick Meyer | For the Compass)

Sr. Pamela shares her love of walking with people through all seasons of their lives, not only in her two parishes, but as part of this year’s Bishop’s Appeal.

Sr. Pamela, 60, was born and raised in Chicago. Through 12 years of school, she was taught by the Fransican Sisters of Christian Charity, based in Manitowoc. When she decided she wanted to become a teacher, she turned to the community for membership as well.

She says her reasoning then may have been a little naive, but the choice of a religious vocation has grown to be so much more for her.

“I was 17 at the time,” she says. “I remember clearly thinking I wanted to be a teacher, and I wanted to be the best teacher in the world. Spending so much time doing that wouldn’t leave me enough time in my life to do other things, such as having a family. I felt I needed to become a sister because that would give me the time to devote to teaching.”

She joined the community in 1968, completed her bachelor’s degree and taught elementary school for 20 years in Waukesha and Manitowoc, West Point, Neb., Santa Barbara, Calif., and Arizona.

She always had an interest in liturgy and leadership.

“When I was teaching, I played guitar,” Sr. Pamela says. “I started a folk music group of some kind wherever I was teaching. I was involved in liturgy work with children. That was my passion. I loved the liturgy.”

She asked her community for permission to do graduate work in liturgy at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. “My community let me go on in my hobby, which was my great love and passion. After my graduate work, I was able to do that work full time.”

In 1994, she became director of liturgy and ritual at St. Raphael in Oshkosh. During her 13 years there, the parish grew from 1,300 families to 2,800 families. Her interest in parish leadership also grew.

When the position of parish director at the two St. Mary parishes opened, she applied and was appointed to the position in 2007.

“I was excited about the challenge of being a spiritual leader in a parish,” Sr. Pamela says. “It was a way for me to use my gifts and talents for leadership in the parish setting. To be able to share my commitment to the church and my love of God in a parish setting is a great joy to me.”

She says walking with people in good times and bad is a humbling experience.

“It’s just wonderful to be able to work with people, share my faith with others and together grow as a faith community,” she says. “We’re at a really challenging and exciting time in our church. The ministry of the parish director is a great sign of life and vitality and a positive look at the future of the church and parish.”

The most difficult part of her job, Sr. Pamela says, is finding balance.

“With the fact that I have two parishes, balance is the biggest challenge, not only my pastoral work and administrative work, but my own personal life,” she says. “Some days it can feel overwhelming because there’s so much coming at you.”

But the people who are part of her Christian community keep her going as she works to help her parishes “continue to be a vibrant, alive faith community that grows in faith together and reaches out to be part of the mission of the church.”

“The Bishop’s Appeal helps to make that possible,” Sr. Pamela says. “Through training and formation of our lay staff through the resources they provide, we have a strong formation for our parish. It’s built on education, Scripture and knowledge of the faith. Our lay leaders have that firm foundation so they, in turn, can share that with our youths and families. It carries out the mission of the church. We’re grounded in that faith. The Bishop’s Appeal helps provide for that foundation.”

Every year, Sr. Pamela says, the parishes view the Bishop’s Appeal video and discuss its importance in supporting diocesan programs such as Catholic Charities, the Department of Education and Stewardship and Pastoral Services.

“What’s important to me is to help our parishes understand how it touches our lives and is a response to our call as Catholic Christians,” Sr. Pamela says. “It’s part of our mission as a church. It’s what we’re called to be.”

The Bishop’s Appeal allows people to reach out and help those beyond their own faith communities, she adds.

“We’re not just about ourselves, we’re about others,” Sr. Pamela says. “We’re about what the church has called us to be and help others. That’s easy to forget when we get wrapped up in ourselves and our own needs. The Bishop’s Appeal reminds us of the bigger church, and that’s important.”

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