APPLETON — Gloria Koth has been an active volunteer at St. Bernadette Parish since moving to Appleton with her husband, Mark, in 1985. In the fall of 2015, Koth decided to expand her commitment to the church. She enrolled in Emmaus, the Diocese of Green Bay’s lay ministry formation program, which is primarily funded by the Bishop’s Appeal. She saw it as an opportunity to be “more grounded in (her) faith.”
Getting the Emmaus certification is a big undertaking, but Koth, a registered nurse who works full time as a clinic manager for Ascension Health, has made this a priority in her life. These college-level courses are held September through May and students take classes either Saturday mornings or Monday evenings.
Koth chose the Saturday morning track so she could complete her certification in three years rather than four. She said she could not do the program without the support of her husband, their three adult daughters and her fellow parishioners.
Between classes and coursework, Koth has her hands full but she still keeps up with her volunteer activities at St. Bernadette. “I’m an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at church and to the homebound. I do first Friday visits to our homebound and people in nursing homes. We go and spend time with them, pray with them and bring them Communion,” she said. “My job is flexible, so that I can take the first Friday of every month off of work. I have made that one of my commitments.”
Another area at the parish to which Koth devotes a fair amount of time is health care ministry. “Typically it involves things like blood pressure screenings and we do two health care newsletters per month that go into the bulletins,” she said. “Plus we do a couple programs each year. We’ll do a blood drive annually that we coordinate.”
Koth started a Grief Gathering program at St. Bernadette in collaboration with St. Therese and St. Bernard parishes in Appleton. “Three times a year we do a three-week grief gathering. We put it in the bulletins across the whole valley that anybody can come. It’s once a week for three weeks. We rotate between the three parishes.”
Many people enrolled in the Emmaus program either work for the diocese in some capacity or are deacon candidates. Koth is discerning how she will put this education to use in her life. “People go on and just continue as volunteers in their parishes, some go on to get a job in a parish,” she explained. “It really is pretty flexible what you do with it. I’m on the pastoral care track. I could be a pastoral care coordinator in a parish. At this point I’m leaving all my options open.”
She will complete her training in the spring of 2018. “I’m going to wait and see how the Holy Spirit directs me. I already do a fair amount for the church. I hope to continue to expand that.”
Jamie Whalen, lay ministry formation director for the Diocese of Green Bay, is glad the diocese can offer programs like Emmaus. “Each time our students gather for class, meet with me for a review session, or participate in a workshop, I can see their growth,” said Whalen. “They tell me how valuable the Emmaus and Discípulos de Crísto (the Spanish language lay formation) programs are for their ministries. I’m grateful for the tremendous generosity of our parishes to the Bishop’s Appeal — without it, these experiences wouldn’t be possible.”
He recently visited a parish that has two students set to be certified for ministry in May through the Emmaus Program. “Their parish is already two-thirds of the way toward their Bishop’s Appeal goal,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a coincidence — these ministers are better able to serve their parishes because of their formation, which is made possible through Bishop’s Appeal funds.”
Being in the Emmaus program has been a blessing for Koth and it’s changed her life. “I look at life from a whole different perspective. Everything in my faith just means more. Going to Mass means more, taking Communion means more, working every day dealing with patients means more. It’s enriched my meaning of life,” she noted.
Koth said she was “never really one to talk about my faith … but I’m getting better at that.”
“There’s a role of evangelization for any one of us. I took this path and got involved in all these things first and foremost because I wanted to live my faith and serve others,” she added. “Naturally the areas I’m involved in right now fall into my career path with nursing with compassion and mercy and things like that.”
She is thankful for others who “saw something in me that I didn’t believe in myself,” and now “I also want to help others not only grow in their faith but also find their gifts.”