[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]GREEN BAY — Marlene Burton entered the convent with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Bay Settlement when she was just out of eighth grade. While she left the convent 13 years later, before taking her final vows, she still has a special place in her heart for the Bay Settlement sisters and her faith life is stronger than ever.
Marlene grew up in the village of Sherwood in Calumet County and had a “very Catholic childhood” along with her seven brothers and two sisters. “I’m so grateful for my upbringing,” Marlene said. “Every day we prayed the rosary, kneeling in the kitchen. That gave us a strong faith so when we got to this level in our lives, we could make our own decisions.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from St. Norbert College while at the convent, which led her to a teaching career lasting 21 years. She taught at the convent, then at St. Mary School in Peshtigo and St. Mary School (now St. Thomas More School) in Green Bay before switching to public school. She made use of her master’s degree in educational psychology while serving the students at Green Bay’s Danz, Lincoln and Keller elementary schools. She retired in 2011 after 14 years as a counselor at Edison Middle School and 36 years in the education field.
“God used me in another way,” Marlene said. “It was a whole other mission in the public schools.”
She still works as a substitute counselor at Edison, but in 2009 she began counseling as a volunteer at Wellspring, located at 413 Dousman St., which is a nonprofit daytime center for women. It offers peer support, personal growth opportunities, resources and referrals to the women who need that sense of support, safety, belonging and encouragement. Wellspring has just one paid person on staff, Marlene’s supervisor, Jane Jordan. There are 34 volunteers.
“All are welcome at Wellspring,” according to Marlene. Wellspring was founded by Bay Settlement Sr. Fran Bangert, who saw it through its first 10 years. The center has since been sold to Lutheran Social Services which operate it today.
Working with adults was a new experience for the counselor. “Some women stay and you listen. We may play games and a lot of talking goes on. We have Bible study every other week. I help with homework for those attending classes at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. I help them look for jobs and apartments. We have an exercise program and art and music. There are classes on anxiety and how to handle it. Some just come to sleep and don’t want to do anything else.”
Wellspring provides light lunches. Participants must be at least 18 years old and their children cannot come to Wellspring. Typically eight to 15 women come to Wellspring each day.
Despite all that is going on in their lives, Marlene says she learns from the women. “They aren’t depressed. I thank God and I need to be grateful for what I have. I feel the Lord put me there and helped me find that place. I get so much from these ladies.”
She truly loves the work she does at Wellspring. She tells the women at Wellspring: “If we just pay attention, we’ll find what we’re supposed to do.”
Eight years after Marlene left the convent, she was driving down the highway in Illinois one day and was paying attention, not to God, but to her CB radio. She heard a semi driver talking on the CB and she chimed in. The conversation continued for a few months until they met for the first time. His CB “handle” was Gunner and hers, in contrast, was Schoolmarm. She’s convinced their meeting was no coincidence. “God brings you together. I thank God for putting us on each other’s path, literally, on the highway.”
They clicked. Mark Burton grew up as a Southern Baptist in the village of Marshall, near Sun Prairie. They married 24 years ago in the First Christian Church in Illinois. Later, Mark became a Catholic. The couple “fell in love with Old St. Joe’s Church” and its priest, Norbertine Fr. Jim Baraniak, now the prior at St. Norbert Abbey. “He was so welcoming, especially because my husband wasn’t Catholic at first.”
When she was about 54, Marlene got involved in Bible studies. It only deepened her faith. “I don’t know what I’d do without God,” Marlene said.
God keeps her busy with volunteer work at her church, too. She counts and records the weekly collection; is a lay minister of the holy Communion; a minister of the Word, and also teaches at the vacation Bible school during the summer.
In addition, Marlene hosts a bi-weekly Bible study group in her home. They are currently studying heaven as explained by Dr. David Jeremiah, a California-based Baptist minister and founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries.
In her future, she sees work at local homeless shelters to continue her Catholic mission.[/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: Marlene Burton
Parish: Old St. Joseph, De Pere
Favorite saint: Francis of Assisi
Words to live by: “For I am the Lord your God. … Do not be afraid for I am with you.” (Is 43:3-5)[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]