GREEN BAY — Bernard Skaletski knows about every nook and cranny inside St. Mary of the Angels Church, where he’s been a member for 51 years. The retired electrician-turned-handyman has replaced or repaired countless light fixtures, windows and leaky faucets inside the 119-year-old church on Green Bay’s east side.
It’s one way of giving back to the church that he says has given him many blessings throughout his 76 years of life.
“It’s been a good life. I’m really blessed,” he said, while seated in a pew inside the church adorned with its colorful stained glass windows. “When people are down and out, when they are going through serious surgery, I can’t see how they can handle it without the faith of God with you.”
He points to two of the stained glass images depicting Jesus as examples of his reliance on God.
“The one where Jesus is pulling up Peter, I see that a little differently,” he said. “Jesus is pulling me up to heaven. And the one where he’s holding a lamb, I say that’s him carrying me when I did my electrical work, when I couldn’t solve the problem.”
Skaletski recalls turning to his faith many times. The one he enjoys retelling the most happened when he was young and single.
“When I was about 20 years old, I was tired of drinking beer and going out with the guys and I wanted a nice dating partner,” he said. “I made a novena to St. Therese (of Lisieux).” During those days he attended morning Mass before heading to his job as an electrician at Eland Electric. He prayed for someone with whom he could share his life.
“At the end of the seventh day, I had a date,” he said. His first date was on the first Sunday of Lent and, after Easter, they started going to dances. His dating and dancing partner, Karen Davister, became his wife in 1965. “I’m proud of that story,” Skaletski said with a laugh. “We have had a wonderful marriage.”
The couple have four sons, Brian, Scott, Gregg and Curt, and 10 grandchildren.
As a youth, Skaletski’s family attended Holy Martyrs of Gorcum Parish, which later merged with Holy Trinity to form Prince of Peace Parish.
“When I was growing up, Fr. Orville Janssen was the priest at Holy Martyrs and I made sure I went to his classes because he got the message that you could understand,” recalled Skaletski, who said he’s missed Sunday Mass only twice in his life.
Skaletski has a strong devotion to the Divine Mercy Chaplet. He installed special lighting on an image of the Divine Mercy of Jesus painting that hangs in St. Mary Church. “It’s an LED light and is on 24 hours a day,” he said. “It only takes 18 watts” of electricity.
When his sister, Dorothy Rau, was on her deathbed recently, he gathered his brothers and sisters together to pray the chaplet. “The 10 of us said it. To me, that was important to have that opportunity before she died,” he said.
According to Skaletski, his most satisfying accomplishments as volunteer handyman at St. Mary of the Angels has been completing projects he’s told he can’t do. The most difficult was pouring concrete in the church basement’s social hall after removing an awkward, hazardous step. “They said I couldn’t do it, but I made it all flat.”
He’s also offered his skills to other parishes.
When the adoration chapel was created at SS. Peter and Paul Church in Green Bay, Skaletski wired the chapel on two occasions. “Then I took an hour (of adoration) besides that,” he said.
Since the chapel opened in 1999, Skaletski arrives every Tuesday morning to pray and be present with the Blessed Sacrament between 5 to 6 a.m. Then he returns to St. Mary and volunteers as altar server at the 7 a.m. Mass.
Skaletski said it saddens him that fewer young families are filling the pews for Mass at St. Mary of the Angels, which means fewer volunteers to help maintain the church.
“Finding help is the hardest thing in anything you do,” he said. “We have an old parish. We have very few young parishioners and our donors are dying off.”
He encourages young parents to make connections with their church community and offer their time, even if it’s just a few hours. “Just make your name available that you’ll help do things,” he said.