GREEN BAY — After a family tragedy in 2010, Carol Kekula felt the call to move from the classroom to focus on ministry.
Kekula had been teaching at Holy Family School for 10 years when her husband, Bob, died unexpectedly.
“The Lord closes a door and opens a window,” she said about her change in paths. “I just felt every which way that I needed to retire from full-time teaching. Ever since then, it became about ministry and volunteering for the things I have trained to do and the things I love to do. I tell anyone who asks, ‘I’m working from my passion.’”
Kekula serves as liturgy coordinator, a full-time volunteer position, at St. Agnes Parish. She is a 2007 graduate of the Diocese of Green Bay’s Commissioned Leadership Formation Ministry Program (now the Emmaus Program). Her education through the program was designed to help her as a teacher.
“I was already planning liturgies for school Masses,” she explained. “I felt very drawn to the things that relate to liturgy.”
In her current position, Kekula assists with weekend and school Masses, and funeral liturgies. She draws on her personal experience when working with family members who have lost a loved one.
“It’s helpful for me to put myself back in that moment of time when you need to be led,” she said. “You need to be told what to do. You just want your hand to be held. It’s such an honor to help people through that time.”
Kekula, who has been a member of St. Agnes Parish since 1986, “makes sure things are in place” for Mass and “notices the little things that need to be done,” said Fr. Patrick Beno, pastor.
“A number of years ago, I asked Carol if I could ask her for a favor,” said Fr. Beno. “It struck me at that moment that everything she does is a favor because she is a full-time volunteer. Carol has been a gift at the parish for a long time. She keeps things in good perspective and adapts to change. She has a lot of gratitude to God and sees God’s work.”
Deacon Greg Rotherham said that he will be “forever grateful” to Kekula for her assistance when he was appointed to St. Agnes Parish following his ordination to the diaconate last year.
“I’ve known her for a number of years and we were reacquainted,” he said. “The transition was seamless. Carol made it so easy and is so welcoming. … She loves the church, loves God and it shows in everything she does.”
Kekula is humbled by praise she receives and reminds people that it’s a team effort.
“We do this together,” she said. “It’s so important to have other people. I always tell them, ‘You make me look good.’”
The rewards of her ministry are the relationships she has formed over the years, said Kekula. Continued friendships from the commissioned ministry program are an example.
“It was hard, but we loved it,” she said. “Classmates would be working from 5:30 (p.m.) on Friday into Saturday morning. We would get to class at 9 a.m. and say, ‘What time did you stop doing your paper?’ It was so beautiful. It connects us today. It’s all about relationships, the classmates and the wonderful teachers.”
The relationships Kekula has developed with priests also stand out. Priests from the west side Green Bay parishes rotate for Holy Family School Masses.
“I’ve had such wonderful conversations about ministry with so many priests,” she said. “Fr. Kyle Sladek was a student of mine. I also had Patrick LaPacz, who became a Norbertine priest. They are so gracious. I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of the newly-ordained priests. They give such excellent homilies. They really have tremendous pastoral skills.”
Fr. Jim Massart, who assists with Masses at St. Agnes, reminds Kekula that you never lose “the teacher inside you.” Recently she prepared the fifth- grade students for Mass.
“We couldn’t go to church like we usually do because carpeting was being laid,” she explained. “There I was back in the classroom. It’s just amazing to have those teaching moments. You can’t take the teaching out of the teacher.”
Kekula had wanted to be a teacher since she was a child growing up on a farm in rural West De Pere. She attended St. Boniface School.
“I had the sisters from Bay Settlement (Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross) as teachers,” she said. “That was a wonderful upbringing as far as seeing someone who could give their life to God and put others first.”
Kekula also credits having 10 siblings with helping her to “learn about putting others first.” She grew up in a family with three older and three younger sisters, and two older and two younger brothers.
“I’m so ‘middle child.’ I have an excuse for everything,” she said with a laugh. “We didn’t have money, but neither did any of my friends’ families. Some of my high school classmates and I still get together once a month. It’s about relationships.”
Kekula, a graduate of St. Norbert College in De Pere, taught at St. Matthew School in Allouez for seven years and Holy Angels School in Darboy for two years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She returned to teaching in 2000 when Holy Family needed a religion teacher. She taught middle school religion for six years before teaching second grade for four years.
In addition to her ministry at the parish, Kekula leads a Communion service once a month at Mason Manor, a retirement community in Green Bay.
“The people who are receiving Communion are so grateful,” she said. “They are so moved by just that little bit of contact by someone who cares. That’s all it takes. Show them that you care about them and they reciprocate it. It’s the way life should be.”
Kekula has four adult children, three granddaughters and another grandchild on the way. She enjoys pilgrimages when she gets the opportunity. The trip to Philadelphia in 2015 to see Pope Francis is among her most memorable moments, she said. Kekula plans to serve in ministry as long as possible.
“It’s a great thing to feel that this is meant to be what I’m doing,” she said. “I’m constantly learning and I’ve met so many people. There is such a feeling of belonging.”