MENASHA — Whether she visits someone for five minutes or 10 years, care minister Julie Kresal says, “If I put a smile on someone’s face, it’s all worth it.”
Kresal was certified as a care minister after completing the Diocese of Green Bay’s Emmaus Lay Ministry Program in 2015. Care ministers are trained to listen, support and pray with people in need of compassion.
“Sometimes you go in for a 15-minute visit and it turns into hours,” she said of the ministry she has grown to love.
Her story began 16 years ago, when her daughter, Jillian, was born. She had left her position as a paralegal and began her ministry as a stay-at-home mom and later in parish ministry. She and her husband, Jeff, are parents of two daughters, Jillian, 16, and Katie, 13. Both are students at Appleton schools.
“I have an associate degree as a paralegal and worked for 15 years in law firms,” she said. “Then, I had a miscarriage. After another difficult pregnancy, I had to stay in bed for about 27 weeks. That’s when I became a stay-at-home mom.”
At this time, the family lived near St. Bernard Parish in Appleton, and she eventually became the volunteer coordinator for the parish and worked closely with the pastoral associate. “That’s what sparked my interest in care ministry.”
She was assigned to be the caretaker of a parishioner, whose name is Bill. “That was about 10 years ago. Even after I left that parish position, I continued to be his care minister,” she said.
Kresal brought him Communion after he had heart surgery. In the process, she and her family connected with Bill and his wife. “They became part of our family,” she said. “My daughters cannot have a birthday party without Bill and his wife. Every year, he gives Katie four tickets to the Packers’ Bishop Charities Game.”
Kresal has seen Bill through a second heart surgery and even though he is able to get to Mass now, their visits and friendship continues. The Kresals moved to Menasha last summer to be closer to their daughters’ schools. The family remains members of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Greenville, where she teaches religious formation.
“When my daughter was born prematurely, she was visited daily by a sister who was on staff at St. Bernard’s. I didn’t see Sr. Juliana (Dischler), but we knew she was there. That is the first time my interest in visiting the sick was sparked,” she said.
Someone told her about the Emmaus Lay Ministry Program and she decided to inquire. “I wanted to learn more about my faith,” she said. “I felt I didn’t have the faith-based knowledge that the other staff members had.”
With support from the Bishop’s Appeal, she enrolled in the program and attended courses at Silver Lake College. In her last year, she completed a project in care ministry that deepened her commitment to caring for the sick.
In addition to her parish care ministry, Kresal also became an integral part of Elizabeth Ministry International. Headquartered in Kaukauna, Elizabeth Ministry offers “hope, help and healing on issues related to relationships, sexuality and child bearing.”
As a volunteer, she works in pastoral care, serves as a chapter consultant, and writes for the ministry’s blog. She also helps in the “Reclaim” program, which focuses on helping people deal with pornography addiction.
“I do miscarriage visits,” Kresal said. “When someone loses a baby, we are there to meet with them if they want someone to talk with.” Kresal and her husband have had two miscarriages, so she can speak from experience.
Going through the Emmaus program also brought to light her love of writing.
“I never thought I liked writing, but I found out I love it and I love writing about care ministry. My daughters call me their professional editor,” she said. “They run their school papers through me.” She shares her thoughts on the Elizabeth Ministry blog.
But what continues to drive her is bringing smiles to those who are ailing. “Yes, I go to a lot of funerals,” she said, “because the people I visit are sick, but their smiles make it all worth it.”