He stepped forward and now he invites

By Monica Sawyn | For The Compass | December 3, 2014

Bill Graf found he loved volunteering at church; now he encourages others to do same

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]STURGEON BAY — Step up, speak out. Ask, invite.

Words being heard more and more in the jargon of the new evangelization are words used long ago that set Bill Graf on a volunteer path in the church that has continued and grown into his retirement years. And he loves it.

Your Catholic Neighbor: Bill Graf (Monica Sawyn | For The Compass)
Your Catholic Neighbor: Bill Graf (Monica Sawyn | For The Compass)

Graf left Sturgeon Bay when he was 20 years old to join the Navy and then to work in Two Rivers, but 13 years later he returned to his hometown and his home parish of St. Joseph. By then, his daughter was ready for first grade and was enrolled in the parish school — where volunteers were always needed.

“The hook went out, and I got snagged — and I’ve been snagged ever since,” he said. He started by serving on the school board, which spread to other areas, and soon he organized coffee and donuts after Mass with his wife and three girls.

“Our pastor then, Fr. Ivan Smith, called the girls my indentured servants,” Graf said, his ready, infectious laugh floating across the kitchen table in the house where he and wife Mary Ann raised their family.

Ask Graf what else he’s been involved with, and he starts down a list that goes on and on: presider for Communion services in the parish as well as senior residence homes in the community, parish council member, leader of the rosary and the perpetual help devotion at St. Joseph, head of the Friday fish fries, trainer for extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, painter and sometimes remodeler at the parish, unofficial parish historian, to name only a few — and a SCAB.

He paused for a beat after announcing that last one, eyes twinkling, his laugh waiting in the wings.

“That’s Senior Citizen Altar Boys,” he said. “We serve at daily Masses and funerals. I remember the laugh I got out of our two previous pastors when I introduced myself as ‘one of your SCABs.’ But, we’re going to have to change our name, because two of the ladies have joined us.”

He thought for a moment. “Altar servers, altar people … SCAS? SCAP? It’s just not quite as catchy.”

All of these volunteer activities came about because someone invited him to help. But it was a deacon who encouraged him to be an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, which in turn led him to make at-home visits with parishioners who are homebound. This has become his favorite volunteer job, one that he looks forward to each week.

“I have eight people right now that I visit every Tuesday,” he said. “Tuesday is church day.” When appointments for anything else come up, his answer is always the same, “Never on Tuesdays.”

Sometimes his stops are brief, sometimes he stays to visit for a bit, especially if they’ve known each other’s families through the years.

“We chit-chat a bit about old times. I get a lot of personal satisfaction in doing it, and I know they appreciate it.”

One lady he visits always has questions for him, provided by her group of friends where she lives.

“I always have to bring her up to date about what’s going on at church, and once the questions are answered, we get on with the Communion service.”

Sometimes friends or family are waiting along with Graf’s clients when he arrives, and he said the communal aspect of that visit makes it very special. For that reason, he carries extra consecrated hosts with him.

“Of all my volunteer activities, this is my favorite because it’s personal,” he said. “I develop a relationship with the people I visit, and although it’s hard to lose them, it’s worth it.”

Graf reflected on the fact that he might never have gotten as involved as he’s been over the years if someone hadn’t extended the invitation. He, too, invites others to share their time and talents.

“Just ask my family,” he said, laughing at the ways he’s managed to draw them into his circle of volunteerism. Even his 94-year-old mother, along with his wife, go with him for monthly Communion services on Sunday at local nursing homes.

His advice to others is to be willing to try when asked.

“If everyone did a little something, it would go a long way to filling the needs in the church,” he said. “Even to be a greeter before Masses — it’s a (seemingly) simple job, but when done well, has such a powerful effect on people.”[/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: Bill Graf

Parish: St. Joseph, Sturgeon Bay

Age: 71

Favorite saint: Anthony of Padua

Words to live by: “To love as he loved, live as he lived and serve as he served.”[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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