[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]BELLEVUE — After 37 years as a catechist, Carolyn Whitcomb, who retired as director of religious education at Prince of Peace Parish on May 30, has a message to share with people. “Just remember that there is a God out there who loves you and you are important to that God and that is where you gain your strength.”
Whitcomb, whose husband, Patrick, was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1980 and retired in 2013, said this message has special meaning. It gave her strength following a string of health crises that began in 2008.
That year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments. In 2009 she suffered a mild heart attack that required a stint and hospitalization and in 2011, a perforated colon put her back in the hospital and nearly ended her life, she said.
It was these medical emergencies – particularly the latter one — that caused Whitcomb to draw strength from her faith – and from the care and concern of students and families at Prince of Peace (as well as those at St. Augustine, Wausaukee, and St. Agnes, Amberg, where her husband served as parish director from 2009 to 2013).
Faith and the community’s prayers, she believes, helped pull her through.
“Fr. Ron (Belitz, former pastor at Prince of Peace) asked the parish for prayers,” she said. “When I came back two months later, I walked into a religion class and this little boy looked at me and said, ‘You’re a miracle. I prayed for you.’ It was just so cool because it basically said, ‘Hey, you showed God’s love to somebody. Somebody knew what prayer could do.’
“It was the support of the people, the cards and the gifts — I had bags full of cards from the kids and people — that’s where God and I grew much closer because I couldn’t even sit up, walk, do anything. It took all of the strength I had knowing that God was there with me to be able to do this,” said Whitcomb, who declares steadfastly, “Without God I wouldn’t have made it.”
Whitcomb’s interest in teaching religion grew partly from the example of her father, Lloyd Daniels. A fireman, he was protective, loving and gentle at home with his five daughters. “That, to me, is who God the father was,” she said. Knowing that not every child has such an example, “you have to help them to know or see that. That is why I wanted to (teach religion).”
Her marriage to Patrick Whitcomb on July 1, 1967, put her on the path to teaching. At first, she was a stay-at-home mom to their three children, John, Greg and Heather. When Patrick began his studies for the diaconate in 1974, she took part in her husband’s formation.
At the time, they were members of St. Jude Parish in Green Bay and she was asked to be a volunteer catechist for grades six to eight. Soon grades one to five were added to her list and then she became the parish’s director of religious education.
There were other activities that helped Whitcomb’s faith blossom. She and Patrick were involved in the charismatic renewal movement and when Patrick was appointed director of evangelization for the Green Bay Diocese by Bishop Aloysius Wycislo in 1981, one of the programs he helped launch locally was Renew. Carolyn volunteered as a team leader, training parish teams to introduce the process.
Whitcomb served at St. Jude for 25 years before accepting the DRE position at Prince of Peace in 2005.
“It’s not just teaching the kids,” she said about being a catechist and director of religious education. “It’s also ministering to the parents.” Many parents who walk through the church doors have marriage, family or financial problems and they need someone to listen and offer kind words, she said.
Her goal was to “be able to minster and share God’s love … and letting people see, if I possibly could, the love of Christ in some way, shape or form.”
Today, Whitcomb is enjoying a new chapter in her life: retirement. “I will hit 70 in August. It’s time for turning it over to somebody younger.” She also wants to spend more time with Patrick (who volunteers at the Quad Parishes in Green Bay and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease earlier this month) and her six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Whitcomb said the ministry field has changed.
“Young people, I believe, have a spirituality, but I think they have a problem with organized religion, just like they have a problem with a lot of other organized things,” she said. “I think that’s part of what’s keeping them away from attending church.”
Her years of ministry to families have taught her that being a welcoming presence can tear down those walls.
“If you can welcome them from where they are coming, work with them, be gentle , kind, loving and caring,” she said, “somewhere, somehow they will come back.”
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info” style=”rounded”]Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Carolyn Whitcomb
Parish: St. Jude, Green Bay
Favorite saint: Brigid of Ireland
Words to live by: “Put your trust in the Lord.”[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]