Works of mercy are couple’s passion

By Jean Peerenboom | For The Compass | May 18, 2016

As Vincentians, Pethans make home visits, assist people in need

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]APPLETON — Helping others is all about building relationships. That is the key that brings Jean and Greg Pethan to dedicate much of their spare time to helping people in need.

The couple, who will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary in late May, have long been involved in the Care Ministry at St. Therese Parish and St. Vincent de Paul of Appleton. They also are or have been involved in the parish’s Vision and Action Committee, choir and other parish events that need volunteers. Greg has served as an usher. He also was with the Big Brother program for several years. When their two sons were in school, the Pethans helped with athletic and school events.

Your Catholic Neighbors: Jean and Greg Pethan (Kathy Weigman | For The Compass)
Your Catholic Neighbors: Jean and Greg Pethan (Kathy Weigman | For The Compass)

Their work with St. Vincent de Paul began in 2002 when, during a homily, the priest said if someone doesn’t help, the parish will have to end the SVDP conference. The Pethans agreed to step up and have been involved in conference leadership ever since.

As conference president, Greg serves on the district board, which encompasses nine parishes in Appleton and three parishes in Waupaca County, and oversees the thrift store on College Avenue, Appleton.

As conference members, the couple went through Ozanam training, which prepares SVDP members to conduct home visits with people who need help with rent or house payments, utilities, car repairs, food, medicine and other necessities. (The training is named for Frederic Ozanam, who founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1833.)

“We’re always shocked at the stories we hear,” the couple said. “These are truly the working poor.”

“There are tears; there are hugs,” Jean said of the visits they make. Most of the visits are at people’s homes, but sometimes they meet people at the library, for coffee or at a local shelter. The most important thing is to meet in a place that respects their dignity as human beings.

The SVDP training emphasizes going into situations in a nonjudgmental way. “We say, ‘Empty your cup.’ You are there to listen,” Greg said.

“We go into people’s homes. Today, I know, people are a little leery about that, but we just go in and listen. We help where we can: utilities, rent, beds, or vouchers for the (thrift) store. It really makes a difference for people,” he said.

“Maybe we see or hear something that we didn’t know about before we met them,” Jean added. “Sometimes we want to help them in ways that are more than they are requesting. You know, most people we see are working. They just don’t make enough money to get by.”

“When you’re working two jobs at $8 an hour, it doesn’t amount to much,” her husband added. “We try to help them through rough times. We also partner with other SVDP conferences or agencies, such as LEAVEN.” SVDP members also help their friends (which is how they refer to the people they help) connect with local social service agencies or churches for additional help.

“People don’t realize how many people in the Fox Valley fall under this umbrella,” Greg said. “They don’t associate with them, so they don’t see them. The bulk of the people we see are those who can’t make ends meet because something just happened to set them back.”

Working with those in need keeps them aware of the political situation as well as today’s economic conditions. For example, “I’d like to see the minimum wage go up,” Greg said. “It’s necessary.” He also talked about people dealing with emotional and mental health issues, which make it difficult to meet their basic needs on a regular basis.

Their commitment to helping those in need also led the Pethans to the parish’s Care Ministry, where they are assigned to people in nursing homes or who are homebound. “We visit them as often as we can and help keep them connected to the parish. At Easter or Christmas, we bring them gifts to show we all remember them,” Jean said.

Since both Jean and Greg work full-time in the insurance industry, they do the best they can at finding time for all these visits.

“It is rewarding and we’ll probably be with them for life,” Greg said of SVDP. “We work a lot of hours, so this gives us balance. It grounds us.”

“It brings joy to our lives,” Jean added. “We can be a team together. It gives us time with each other.”

“We’re fortunate that we both have had good jobs all of our lives,” Greg said. “We want to give something back.”

Both ministries are “very social,” they added. “We’re social people. Sometimes the visit is the best part and it is rewarding for all involved. We have great stories about people, some of whom feel like a part of our family,” Jean said.

The Pethans have two sons and two grandchildren. They are proud that their sons are following in their footsteps and are both active in their parishes in Minnesota and Illinois.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]

Your Catholic Neighbors
Names: Jean and Greg Pethan
Parish: St. Therese, Appleton
Ages: 57
Favorite saints: Jean: Therese of Lisieux; Greg: Francis of Assisi
Words to live by: Jean: “Doing the best you can do one step at a time.” Greg: “Be gentle to others and stern to yourself.”
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