OSHKOSH — When Arlene Robl’s husband, Eugene, died in 2000, Robl was overwhelmed with her loss and all of the tasks that had to be done to arrange for the funeral.
She had recently attended a funeral at a different parish where the volunteers arranged for the funeral luncheon and took care of the setup, serving and cleanup details.
“I thought, ‘It was such a wonderful service,’ and when my husband passed away I was wishing we had a service like that to offer to the people of our parish,” she said.
She started such a ministry at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish later that year in honor of her late husband, with enthusiastic support of her then-pastor, Fr. Dan Felton. “He was all for it,” Robl said.
She is grateful to fellow parishioner Kathy Bruch, who she said was very helpful in setting up the ministry.
Robl said that before this ministry, the family of the deceased would have to make these arrangements themselves. She wanted to offer the service for the families. “It’s a time for healing because the luncheon volunteers will actually talk to the family of the deceased and tell them stories about their loved one. It’s a time to start their healing,” she said.
Robl said the first thing she does to arrange a luncheon is to contact the family to determine how many people they estimate might be in attendance at the funeral. “It’s mostly to find out what they would expect from us,” she said. “I always ask if there is something special they would like — a certain kind of candy or a special food or a color.”
The parish provides two kinds of coffee, punch and water. The volunteers drape tables with tablecloths of various colors and arrange centerpieces.
While the family is responsible for paying for the food, it is catered in and the volunteers “take over,” serve the food, pack up leftovers for the family at the end, and clean up afterward.
“There’s nothing the family has to do,” Robl said.
There are about 35 volunteers on the ministry’s list, and eight at a time serve each funeral, Robl said. The number of funerals can range from one or two a week.
“That’s why it’s good to have so many volunteers,” she said. “We don’t know when we’re going to be needed.”
She said the volunteers all love serving this ministry. “We’re doing something for that family, and the need is so great,” she said. “Being able to help the bereaved in any way at this time, it represents the church community. It’s a good way for them to know that we’re there for them as much as we can be.”
Robl said she does not find it difficult to talk with grieving family members “because I’ve been there. After losing my husband — no, it’s not difficult.”
And the ministry receives numerous notes of thanks regarding how grateful the families are that St. Raphael provides this ministry.
Robl has been a member of St. Raphael Parish for 26 years. She has three children and several grandchildren, and she also volunteers at the Paine Art Center and Gardens. She enjoys the volunteer work she does because, she said, “It’s giving of yourself. That is so rewarding. It’s such a lovely gift.”