LITTLE CHUTE — Family is very important to Peggy DeCoster. Her parish of St. John Nepomucene is a second family to her, and just as important as her own seven children, 11 grandchildren and three stepgrandchildren.
While today she is recognized for her volunteer work around the parish, she also spent 10 years leading the religious education program for the Little Chute parish and school.
“When my children started school, I helped in the religious education program at St. John’s,” she said. “Msgr. Jim Vanden Hogan asked if I’d take over the religious ed when someone left. At first I said no, but they had me (take over) because there was no one else to do it.”
She volunteered to help for one year, but “one year turned into 10.”
It was the 1980s when she was running the religious education program, she said. “It was a big program. We had 120 or more first communicants and 100 or more confirmed at a time. This parish has always been very giving. Our volunteers are wonderful.”
DeCoster went through a two-year diocesan program for religious education directors and coordinators as part of her position.
A native of Kaukauna, she moved to Little Chute when she married her husband, Jerome. She had been a faithful member of St. Mary Parish, Kaukauna, and recalls how she often spent time praying at the grotto of Mary there.
At one point, the DeCosters took in a nephew after his father died. At the time, they had five children age five and younger. “But, you know, I never thought of saying no and if I could have I would have taken in his brothers and sisters, too,” she said. Her nephew lived with them for several years and they remain close today.
As her energies went into the religious education program during the ’80s, she said, “It was a busy time. I had seven children – six daughters and one son.”
“All of my volunteering has stemmed from this (religious education position). I trained the Mass servers, which has now been taken over by Deacon George (Schraufnagel).”
She also decided to take a course in calligraphy, something she had long been attracted to. “Anytime we had people receive the sacraments, I did a certificate for them. I also did graduation certificates for the school. I love doing it. It’s very relaxing for me,” DeCoster said.
In 2013, she was a recipient of the St. John Athletic Association’s Msgr. Jim Spirit Award as recognition for all she has done for the parish. “It is very easy to volunteer in our parish,” she continued. “We have a beautiful, beautiful staff. We’re a very busy parish, so there’s always something going on.”
In September 2010, DeCoster suffered a personal tragedy when her husband was diagnosed with cancer. He died on Oct. 31, 2010.
She turned to her family for support, and at the same time was a support for them. She also turned to her parish family for support. Her volunteer work increased and today she continues her calligraphy for the church and school, serves as sacristan, lector, commentator, choir member and extraordinary minister of holy Communion. She also keeps an eye out for others she can recruit to volunteer.
“It’s been a good life,” she said with a smile and a tear in her eye. “I’ve been very fortunate.
All of my children, except one daughter, live in the area.” That means grandma is available and willing to babysit. Her grandchildren have helped her around the church and visit the nearby cemetery and their grandpa’s gravesite with her.
“My daughters now are getting involved in the parish,” she said. “That makes me very happy. It’s fun to see them starting to get more involved.”
DeCoster also assists a new cancer support group at the parish. She has given talks about her experience as a caregiver.
She doesn’t hesitate to invite others to join in. As a member of the choir, she often looks out at the churchgoers and thinks about those who attend Mass regularly. “I’ll invite them to be a sacristan or to do something else,” she said. “We don’t realize how much or what people all do here. Now that I have the time, I’m happy to help.”
And helping at St. John’s is easy and fulfilling because “you’re among friends,” she concluded.
Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Peggy DeCoster
Parish: St. John Nepomucene, Little Chute
Favorite saint: Blessed Mother, Paul
Words to live by: “Though darkest clouds now hide the sun, this thought will help: God’s will be done.”