ALLOUEZ — After 25 years of service at the Diocese of Green Bay, Mary Sherman, assistant director of stewardship and pastoral services, has retired.
Sherman, who came to the diocese after serving as family life director and counselor at Nativity Parish in Ashwaubenon, first worked fulltime as a counselor with Catholic Social Services (now Catholic Charities.)
“I loved parish work, but felt I wanted to do full-time counseling,” she said. “When the position opened at Catholic Social Services, it seemed like a perfect fit for me.”
She also facilitated the Alternatives to Violence group, a court-ordered alternative to jail time for men and women arrested for domestic violence. It helped many people turn their lives around, Sherman said.
A few years later, both her skill areas — counseling and parish ministry — melded when she took the position of social concerns consultant at the Pastoral Services Department.
Sherman became the catalyst for several programs — care ministry, parish nursing, bereavement, and prison ministry — and credits many others with helping her in this work over the years.
“Our diocese has an amazing network of leadership and volunteers that reaches out to so many people,” she said. “These include Single Again Ministry, Care Ministry, Prison/Jail Ministry, Parish Nursing and Bereavement.”
Of the many programs offered by the diocese and at parish levels through the guidance of diocesan pastoral service, the one Sherman said she has been most pleased to be part of is the Care Ministry Coordinator Training Program, which she said “has been implemented in many parishes throughout our diocese and other dioceses in Wisconsin. It enables a parish to greatly extend its pastoral care outreach.” She describes it as “a training the trainer model” for parishes forming their own pastoral service ministries.
She is also proud of the chaplaincy program started at the Brown County Jail. She was part of a group that approached the county several years ago, when the new jail was being built, to ask for some physical space to provide for inmates’ pastoral needs. Out of that grew an entire program and there is now a chaplain on site at the jail along with many devoted volunteers, both there and around the diocese.
Sherman said that when a person is in jail, “that’s a crucial time — those people sentenced to jail are there for a year or less. So, if they can turn their lives around then, that’s a critical time for them.”
It’s not just prisoners who are aided. Sherman vividly remembers sitting in a waiting room at the jail and watching an older couple — perhaps parents of an inmate — come in seeking information about a relative.
“They just broke down,” Sherman said, “and I thought how it’s so crucial that we have someone to meet with them and support them, because their pain is so palpable.”
Prison ministry has also been one of the most challenging aspects of her ministry.
“We are called to visit those in prisons and jails,” she said, “but there can be fear associated with volunteering in correctional facilities. We are also a culture that can have a punitive, rather than a restorative mindset. We have a wonderful group of faithful volunteers ministering at many of our prisons and jails. I find that if someone does volunteer, they usually come away so uplifted and they soon love the ministry.”
As she leaves the diocese, Sherman is “looking forward to having the time to be with people that I love” as well as to do volunteer work. She plans to focus on social justice, perhaps at a homeless shelter or with the literacy council. Also, she and her husband, John, are working on a vacation home.
Sherman has many fond memories of her service in the diocese.
“I feel very blessed to have had a position for 25 years that is so hard to say goodbye to,” Sherman said. “I’ve learned so much from the people in our diocese. They have shown me how to be more prayerful, how to be a little kinder, more caring, and how to both give and receive understanding. They are passionate in their beliefs and compassionate with those they minister to. They have been an inspiration to me and I am humbled by all the good work that they do.”