CRIVITZ — Last November, Joey Pickett, a fourth grader at Crivitz Elementary School, donned his altar server vestments for the first time at St. Mary Church.
Fr. Walter Stumpf, pastor of St. Mary Parish, recalls Joey’s first Mass as one where the sacrament of anointing of the sick was offered.
Within days of that Mass, where he witnessed people who were ill or facing medical challenges receive the sacrament of anointing, Joey was diagnosed with a brain tumor. “I thought that was meaningful, that he was there to help our sick people, not even realizing how sick he was,” said Fr. Stumpf.
Since the first surgery on Nov. 27 to relieve pressure on his brain from the tumor, Joey, 10, has faced additional surgeries and 30 radiation treatments to his brain and spine. The past four months have been challenging for Joey’s parents, Sherie and Jim Pickett, but faith, prayers and community support have helped them. The most recent gesture of support took place at the Rural Life Mass held March 27.
The committee organizing the Rural Life Mass in Crivitz wanted Joey, who is on the road to recovery, to serve at Mass. Still showing the effects of radiation treatment, Joey and his family accepted the invitation. “He was nervous,” said Sherie Pickett, explaining that Joey worried he would forget his altar-serving duties and wasn’t sure how to address Bishop David Ricken, who presided at the liturgy. While in the church sacristy preparing for Mass, Fr. Stumpf introduced Joey to Bishop Ricken.
“After I introduced him, (Bishop Ricken) said, ‘I would like to have a special blessing for Joey at Mass. Would it be alright?’” said Fr. Stumpf.
Following Communion, before the traditional blessing of seeds and soil that takes place at every Rural Life Mass, Bishop Ricken, unbeknownst to everyone but Fr. Stumpf, asked Joey to stand with him. Bishop Ricken explained to the congregation that Joey was recovering from a brain tumor and that it was fitting for them to join him in a prayer for Joey’s complete recovery. With his hands over Joey’s hairless head, Bishop Ricken asked that God grant him good health and courage to continue.
Sitting near the front of the church, Joey’s mother was moved to tears.
“I had no idea that he was going to do that,” she told The Compass. “I started crying. I didn’t expect it at all.
“It was neat, because that morning, before we went to church, Joey was excited to meet the bishop. He was asking, ‘What do I call him? How do I talk to him?’ It was just awesome that (Bishop Ricken) did that for Joey.”
Pickett explained that other awe-inspiring gestures by the church, especially Fr. Stumpf, have helped them face Joey’s cancer battle.
The day of Joey’s diagnosis, Pickett called Fr. Stumpf, who teaches Joey’s fourth grade religious education class. That evening, Joey received the sacraments of anointing and reconciliation from Fr. Stumpf. While Joey was at Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee for surgery, Fr. Stumpf visited the family and celebrated Mass in Joey’s hospital room. “Joey did serving from his bed,” said his mother.
On Jan. 17, Fr. Stumpf was invited by Jeff Walsh, Crivitz Elementary School principal, to a surprise assembly for Joey. The priest joined school leaders and Joey’s father in having their heads shaved as a sign of unity with Joey. Joey even helped shave Fr. Stumpf’s head. A few weeks later, nearly 90 of Joey’s school mates had their heads shaved in solidarity.
Sherie Pickett said that the ordeal has strengthened her family’s faith.
“I don’t think we could have gotten though it” without prayers and faith, she said. “People who we didn’t even know tell us they are praying for him. We’ve had people tell us, they are going back to church because of all of this with Joey, including my mother. She hasn’t been to church in years.”
One day before Joey was scheduled for radiation treatment, his father drove him to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, where they attended Mass, lit a votive candle and received a special blessing from one of the priests.
“Wherever Our Lady appears, there’s been miraculous healings and just a possibility of having a miracle happen was our thoughts,” said Jim Pickett. “After Mass was over, we spoke with the priest and he actually took time to pray over Joey. It was comforting.”
Sherie Pickett said Joey’s recovery is going well. He returned to school for a few days last week and this week he returned to school full time.
“Joey is very strong in his faith,” said his mother. “He has had a very positive attitude. The doctors and nurses tell us that he made their jobs easy.”