MANITOWOC — Sharon McConnell’s adult life has been a series of invitations offered and invitations accepted. Today, it’s her turn to invite others to become involved in their parish and community, she said.
Since 2012, McConnell has served as a sacristan at the chapel at Holy Family Memorial (HFM) in Manitowoc, volunteering over 1,500 service hours to the hospital operated by the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.
In February, she was honored with one of the hospital’s two quarterly Inspired Caring Awards. Her nominator wrote, “Sharon’s stewardship is obvious through her willingness to selflessly serve the (hospital) community as a sacristan.”
Inspired Caring Award recipients “exemplify HFM core values of stewardship, excellence, respect, innovative care and compassion.”
McConnell retired from a 29-year career with the City of Manitowoc in 2009. “I began coming to Mass here,” she said, and when the priest who had been offering Mass was transferred, she realized “they didn’t have anybody to set up the altar.”
She had already been serving as a sacristan and extraordinary minister of holy Communion at her own parish of St. Francis of Assisi, so McConnell decided to volunteer at the hospital. Her volunteer ministry was inspired by Clara Svatek, a member of her parish, who extended an invitation to her to become more involved when she heard McConnell lector at a funeral.
“She said to me, ‘You have a really nice voice. … Why don’t you try being a lector?’” said McConnell.
Being a sacristan at the Holy Family Memorial Chapel has been a gift from God, she explained. “This is something that God has opened up for me because I asked him to show me some sign of what I should do when I retired,” she said.
Noon Mass is offered Monday to Friday, with Sunday Mass at 9 a.m. These days you’ll find her volunteering on Monday and Friday.
Whether serving as the sacristan at the chapel or her parish, McConnell said, “You’re behind the scenes quite a bit. … You ready the credence table for the Mass, you have to light the candles and make sure the sound system is up and ready,” plus make sure lectors and Communion ministers are ready.
“It’s almost like when someone is getting ready for a play production. You get there before all the hustle and bustle and when it gets time, about 15 minutes before … the hustle and bustle really starts,” she said.
McConnell said there were times in her younger years when she didn’t “feel worthy” to participate like she does now in the church.
Her daughter was only 3 years old when her husband left her, she said. And though her marriage was annulled, McConnell said, “I had to get into a place where I was doing what the Lord wanted me to do.” Her daughter, Kristin Mulkey, now lives with her husband Scott and their daughters Anna, 10, and Emily, 8, in Pensacola, Fla. “They are the love of my life,” she said of her granddaughters.
One of McConnell’s favorite keepsakes is a small plaque with a saying from St. Teresa of Calcutta: “Do small things with great love.”
That plaque was given to her by her friend Rose Marie Derks, who passed away three years ago from ovarian cancer. Her influence was life-changing, McConnell said.
McConnell recalled how she would often go for a walk during her lunch breaks while working for the city. One day she stopped in for lunch at Beerntsen’s Confectionary. In another booth also on break from work and having lunch was Derks. She had seen Derks before, but they had never met.
“We just got talking to each other and realized how much we had in common,” she said. As the friendship grew, at Derks’ invitation she attended a weekend retreat and later a Bible study as well as respect life activities. “She and I were like sisters in Christ,” McConnell said, adding, “God has his plan.”
McConnell participates in 40 Days for Life, is a member of her parish’s Respect Life Ministry, and is coordinator for the parish funeral dinners at the Marshall Street site. She is already looking forward to the Respect Life Ministry’s annual Baby Bottle Project, which will begin on Mother’s Day and conclude on Father’s Day.
Parishioners are sent home with baby bottles and asked to fill them with donations. “We give a portion of it to our pregnancy counseling center in Manitowoc, The Crossing,” she said. The donations have also helped send students to the annual March for Life in Washington D.C.
Learned from the experiences in her own life, McConnell said she now makes a point to invite people to service. “There are so many people out there that have gifts that could be sharing their gifts,” she said.
As for herself, she noted that both her parents lived into their 90s. “I have a lot to do yet,” said McConnell.