PLAINFIELD — St. Paul is a small parish in a small town and Cheryl Pionke says that makes her parish a second family to her. “It’s like belonging,” she said. “It’s a whole other family — your parish family. It’s fun and we’re fun people.”
So when the parish needed a second-grade religion education teacher 11 years ago, she didn’t hesitate. “I just jumped into it. No one else wanted to do that grade level,” she said with a laugh. “But I wouldn’t give it up now. It’s such a fun age. They haven’t developed an attitude yet and their brains are like little sponges. They absorb anything I tell them.”
She said that in her classes, they cover everything from the liturgical year to saints, reconciliation and that “God loves us so much, he forgives us. That takes us to Christmas. Then we’re on to Lent and Easter with Stations of the Cross, Jesus’ ministry, him dying on the cross and that’s why we have the Eucharist,” Pionke said. “It’s one big circle throughout the year.”
It’s also the age for first Communion, so Pionke helps the children prepare for reconciliation and first Communion. “When you’ve seen in their eyes that they finally understand it, I know I’m making an impact,” Pionke said. “I tell them first Communion is a special day and a day the whole parish gets to celebrate with them.”
A new task Pionke recently took on is making baptismal gowns for babies of the parish. The pattern is a very simple, no-sew design that was developed before Pionke took over, and she embroiders a special three-color pattern on the front of each gown.
“I’ve always liked to sew, do embroidery and things like that,” Pionke said. “When it was in the bulletin that they were looking for someone, I hung back a little bit in case someone else wanted to step up. Then I volunteered. It’s something I can fit into my schedule. It’s such a simple pattern and I commend the ladies who had done this before me.”
Pionke said the pattern is for a white garment that is placed over the babies’ heads when they’re blessed with the oils and the water. “They receive this white garment from the parish,” she said. “There is no physical sewing machine stitching involved. I just cut them out on a fold with an opening and slit on the back. It’s all one piece and kind of like Jesus’ garments.
“Then I embroider the symbols on the front. They’re so easy to work on. I can sit in the evenings and embroider the symbols while I watch TV. I’ve stitched waiting for basketball practice or volleyball practice to get over. It’s something I can do. It doesn’t take that long and it keeps my hands busy.”
So far, she has completed eight gowns and has a couple more in progress.
Pionke’s home parish is St. Joseph in Wautoma. “We were great Catholics and went to church every Sunday,” she said. “My sister, Kathy VandeCastle, is pretty involved in the youth ministry at that parish. Maybe we both became involved in youth ministry because we were brought up in that kind of family.”
Everyone could find satisfaction in helping out their parish if they can find the time to do so, Pionke said. “I know everyone is strapped for time,” she said. “If you can fit it in, do something. Find something that will fit into your time schedule.”
She enjoys her current ministries because they cover the first three sacraments a child will receive, she said. “It’s a good feeling when you can see a little baby wearing the baptismal gown. I think, ‘I did that,’ ” she said. “That is their first sacrament that they receive. I get them again for their second and third sacraments, reconciliation and first Communion. I’m kind of getting them started on the right foot, I think.”