Retired sacristans inspire others

By Lisa Haefs | For The Compass | October 2, 2013

Widows related by marriage share more than last name

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]ANIWA — Catherine Kautza, 87, and Maude Kautza, 96, recently gave up their duties as sacristans at St. Boniface Parish in Aniwa, a small 100-family parish dating to 1884 located 10 miles south of Antigo. The parish celebrated their retirement, which came after seven decades or more of service, with a reception after Mass late this summer.

Maude and Catherine Kautza (Lisa Haefs | For The Compass)
Catherine and Maude Kautza (Lisa Haefs | For The Compass)

“Catherine and Maude felt the calling to do something for the Lord,” parish secretary Shirley Schreurs explained. “Now it seems people find excuses, but they never felt that way.”

The two women are outstandingly sharp, if a bit fuzzy on dates. To the best of their recollections they had been performing the duties of sacristans — which involve preparing the church for worship and then cleaning up afterwards — for the better part of 75 years.

“I don’t know for sure, it’s been a long time,” Maude said. “I started right after I got married.”

“I followed her,” Catherine added.

The women’s lives were entwined by their husbands. Maude, who grew up in the Antigo and Aniwa area, married Leonard Kautza in 1939, and joined St. Boniface Parish at that time. Catherine, who attended St. John Catholic School in Antigo, followed suit in 1947, marrying Leonard’s brother, Clifford, moving to Aniwa and joining the parish.

Life was far from idyllic. Catherine and Clifford operated a dairy farm for 21 years, and raised eight children. Maude and Leonard took the business route, owning Kautza’s IGA in Aniwa for 43 years. They had seven children.

Raising families, running farms and operating businesses could be considered round-the-clock jobs, but the families also took a very active role in their church.

“It’s just something you did,” Catherine said.

Maude’s husband was a member of the parish council, president of the Holy Name Society, served on the Green Bay Diocesan Pastoral Council and, in his retirement years, penned a history of St. Boniface that his wife points out with pride today.

“Didn’t Leonard do a good job on that?” she said, a rhetorical question since the pamphlet is chock-full of church details.

The women also found time for church duties, which depending on the time of year, could range from washing, ironing and changing the altar linens to cleaning the wax out of the candelabras.

“Whatever we had to do, we did,” Maude said. “We use to have to get on our hands and knees and scrub the floor.”

“That was before carpeting,” Catherine noted.

Over the years they worked with more than a dozen priests and witnessed the transformation of the church, including the move from wood to oil to natural gas heat and the very-welcomed addition of plumbing and restrooms.

“We had a big wood pile out behind the church,” Maude recalled. “But we didn’t have to fire up. The men did that.”

The brothers, separated by seven years in age, died 11 months apart in 1993. But that did not slow down their wives.

“We just continued to do it,” Catherine said. “It was a part of our lives.”

While others are amazed by Maude and Catherine’s devotion to their church, the women take their longevity in the congregation for granted.

“It just seemed normal,” Catherine said. “You should do something for your church.”

Maude also played down her role, noting that she has lived her entire married life near the church.

“Maybe it would be different for someone who had to get in a car in the snow and ice and come in,” she said. “I’ve always been right across the street. I see the church from my window.”

Maude and Catherine did not take the decision to retire lightly. But advancing age and the number of church steps combined to make it a simple choice. They have already trained their replacement, Mary Bessert, who Schreurs called “another rock in the community.”

At 66 years of age, the new sacristan “has got a ways to go,” Maude said.

The women continue to attend every Mass, perhaps sneaking an extra look at the altar linens and candles to assure everything is just so.

“They sit side-by-side in the first pew every Mass,” Schreurs said. “You’ll see them on the left side.”

Maude and Catherine said that, in the 21st century, it is concerning to see so many people stepping back from active daily involvement in their parishes.

“Everybody learns by themselves, you can’t preach it,” Maude said. “Stay busy. It’s not really that consuming and it’s easy to do when you care for the church.”

“If you can find the time, you should help,” Catherine stressed.

While they have given the church decades of their lives, the Kautzas said they have gained much more.

“Church is home,” Catherine said. “We belong.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info”]Your Catholic Neighbor

Names: Maude and Catherine Kautza

Parish: St. Boniface, Aniwa

Ages: Maude, 96; Catherine, 87

Favorite saint: Maude, Michael; Catherine, Anthony

Words to live by: Maude: “Do what you can, when you can.” Catherine: “Sit down and pray the rosary.”[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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