“I pretend like it’s not happeniing because it’s going to be very hard for me to leave here,” she told The Compass.
Sr. Marlene, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace based in Columbus, Ohio, said she came to the Green Bay Diocese with the intention of becoming a parish director. She previously served as pastoral associate for six years at St. Benedict Parish in Cambridge, Ohio. “My mentor, Sr. Mary Bride Grubbs, invited me to come to Wisconsin,” she said. “She invited me to come to work toward (becoming) a parish director, so I really have to credit her.”
Sr. Mary Bride, who now lives in Florida, was the diocese’s first parish director.
Upon arriving in the diocese in 1993, Sr. Marlene first served as pastoral associate at St. Thomas Parish in Humboldt. She said it was required that parish directors have service in the diocese before being appointed parish directors. After six years at St. Thomas she assumed her first parish directorship.
“I love being a parish director,” she said. “There are challenges along the way, but the people here are very nice, very easy to work with and do a lot of the work themselves, like visiting the homebound and fund-raising. They take charge of it.”
Among the biggest challenges she faced during her time at St. Louis was the closing of the parish school in 2004 and the addition to the church, which was completed in 2011. While the renovation was a challenge, it was also a rewarding experience, she said, watching parishioners and community members step up and offer their talents and donations to make the project a success.
Nancy Christoff, liturgical coordinator at St. Louis Parish, has worked closely with Sr. Marlene for the past seven years. “Sr. Marlene is a person who, without having to say a lot or do a lot, gets the results that we all hope for,” said Christoff.
She especially appreciated the support and patience shown by Sr. Marlene in 2006, when her husband was diagnosed with cancer. “She’s a very good person and I’m going to be very sad to see her go.”
Sr. Marlene, who entered religious life in 1957, said she was surprised by the outpouring of affection when the parish celebrated her 45th and 50th jubilees of religious life. “They gave me a dinner and they even did a book on my family tree. They got pictures from my family on a CD and had that rolling” on a screen during the jubilee celebrations. “I just love the people. They just knock themselves out.”
She is also pleased to see the growth of parish directors serving in the diocese. When she was appointed to St. Louis, there were seven parish directors serving the diocese. “Now there are like 21 or 22.”
Fr. John Van Deuren, who has been sacramental minister at St. Louis Parish for six years, said he has been impressed with Sr. Marlene’s rapport with parishioners. “Her ability to love the people she works with and to know them is extremely important to her,” he said. “And her gift is to trust them, to know that it’s their parish and their community. She is there to serve them and to be a pastor to them. I think she did that extremely well.”
Leaving a parish family with whom she has “formed a deep friendship, that is going to be the hardest part for her,” said Fr. Van Deuren, adding that “she will always be a Packer fan.”
Sr. Marlene’s successor has already been appointed. Patricia Ratajczak will assume her role as parish director on July 3. Sr. Marlene said she served as Ratajczak’s mentor when Ratajczak was completing the Commisssioned Ministry (now called Emmaus Lay Formation) Program. Sr. Marlene’s last week in Dyckesville will be spent helping Ratajczak get acquainted with her new role.
Sr. Marlene serves on two diocesan committees that help prepare lay ministers. She leaves with a positive impression of the diocese, its formation programs and the staff.
“They are very good at encouraging you to try new things and they help you to establish new programs or new ways of looking at things,” she said.