When the Holy Spirit came upon her, Bleser said that she had never felt so happy. “It was as if everything was lifted from me. The fear was gone and I felt so much love for everybody and that was the Holy Spirit,” she added. “The Holy Spirit changed everything.”
It was such a powerful experience that she quit her part-time teaching job at a local public school and went into full-time ministry at St. Agnes Parish. She became coordinator for the parish’s religious education program for more than 20 years. It was not an easy task. At the time, Bleser said that the parish had close to 10,000 members. Her job was to stay on top of dozens and dozens of catechists for each grade. Her favorite students in the program were the teenagers.
“I really loved working with the high school kids. I loved their enthusiasm, their honesty and openness,” Bleser told The Compass. “They wanted to learn about God if you showed them the right way.”
Since 1995, Bleser has been a volunteer leader in the program that changed her life, Life in the Spirit. The seminars consist of a series of talks, usually weekly, that hope to help people realize the power of the Holy Spirit. She, along with Carol Abts from St. Bernard Parish, has been organizing two or three seminars around the diocese each year.
Bleser noted that they could have as many as 70 people or as few as 20 attend a seminar. Despite the fact that she is closing in on 80, it hasn’t slowed Bleser down one bit. “I don’t run the Life in the Spirit anymore but I still go there and help the team,” she said. “I am training new people to lead.”
Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Joan Bleser
Parish: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Green Bay
Favorite saint: Francis of Assisi
Words to live by: “God poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit. That is God’s gift to us.”
As if she did not have enough on her plate, about 10 years ago she began a three-year weekend program through St. Norbert College to become a spiritual director. “The program was great,” Bleser explained. “I still give direction to two or three people. I have had as many as five or six.”
In her 50s, Bleser began to recognize some health problems. She noticed that she was becoming extremely tired and that her body ached when she would get up in the morning. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disease that cripples one’s hands and feet. There is no cure for it. Medicine however can slow down its progress.
While she could sit around and wallow, she has no time for that. Bleser credits her positive attitude to the Holy Spirit.
“I feel this is my next chapter. No one likes to suffer but if you have to suffer; do it right,” Bleser said with a chuckle. “So I am offering it up for the salvation of others and for the salvation of my four children. If I do that, then I do not feel sorry for myself. It is something that God wants me to do.”
From her many years as a religious education instructor, to being a leader in Life in the Spirit and a spiritual director, Bleser has been a witness to the richness of the Catholic faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the most important life that she has touched is that of her husband, Al.
“Without her, I would probably be close to hell,” he said with a smile. “Joan brought me back to the church. She has pushed me to know the Holy Spirit and has supported me ever since.”