BAY SETTLEMENT — For Franciscan Sr. Geraldine Krautkramer, “Retirement to me is like entering a new chapter in life.”
In March 2019, Sr. Gerri, as she is affectionately called, officially retired after serving since 2015 as pastoral leader at St. James Parish in Cooperstown and St. Joseph Parish in Kellnersville.
Prior to that, she served seven years as pastoral associate with Fr. Ronald Colombo for the Circle of Faith Catholic Community, which included the Cooperstown and Kellnersville parishes as well as All Saints Parish, Denmark; Holy Trinity Mission, New Denmark; and St. Mary Parish, Glenmore/Stark.
Throughout her years of service as a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross she has also been an educator in both parish schools and in religious education programs and served in hospital pastoral care, leading the way to professionalize that important work by expanding Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). The program she specifically developed for the Diocese of Green Bay secured national accreditation.
“It’s a privilege to serve and minister,” said Sr. Gerri, chatting at her community’s motherhouse in Bay Settlement. “I don’t think it’s about me. It’s God’s goodness and all we need is to be open to what he desires of us.
“Wherever I was assigned, I felt God was there first,” she said. And always, she emphasized her goal has been to be present to those she serves. “Every person has a story to share, and as I listen we come to recognize within the conversation that the love and presence of God is in our lives,” said Sr. Gerri.
“Bringing a true and meaningful presence is important as I meet with people. I enjoy bringing hospitality wherever I am. This inspires my daily living,” she said.
Sr. Gerri said she was overwhelmed by the send-off she received at both parishes during her final weekend of service to Cooperstown and Kellnersville March 30 and 31. The heartfelt well wishes were among the “God surprises” she said she has had throughout her life.
“They were so grateful I retired because they felt I deserved it,” she said.
Sr. Gerri considers both parishes “family” and told them so at her farewells. She recalled telling parishioners “they are special and important, and it’s all about loving and caring for another.”
“I grew up in the rural setting, it suited me so well,” she said of her parish assignments the past 12 years. Sr. Gerri grew up on a dairy farm in West De Pere, one of five children. “I liked it very much, I had a very good family and we all worked very hard,” she said, adding that her family always prayed together each day.
As a pastoral leader, “I think it’s very similar to what pastors do… everything but the sacramental duties,” explained Sr. Gerri, noting, “I had an office in both parishes.”
Religious education, pastoral council, worship committee and finance committee, all were overseen by Sr. Gerri. But being present to parishioners, “sharing their ups and downs,” especially sickness, and even death, were especially poignant. “It was always a spiritual time with them, I think that was most meaningful,” she said.
Sr. Gerri came to the parishes with 25 years of experience in hospital pastoral care, serving among people when they were at their most vulnerable. She has served or taught pastoral care at all of the Green Bay Diocese’s Catholic hospitals and served 11 years at one of Wisconsin’s largest hospitals, today known as Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee. She also taught coursework and supervised training in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE).
Her early years as a sister were spent as a parish schoolteacher. Her first day of teaching is still memorable: Sr. Gerri walked into a room of 50 first-graders and, at one point, the young teacher suddenly realized that one of her students was missing from class. Panicked, his mother soon alerted the school he had decided to go home.
Sr. Gerri would earn a degree in education and theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee as well as a degree that was equivalent to a master of divinity from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.
Her decision to become a religious sister was influenced by several people in her life, one of which was a sixth grade teacher at St. Paul School in Wrightstown. “I can remember right where we were standing,” said Sr. Gerri of a favorite sister who suggested she would be a good sister. “She cared about everybody, and she was happy and real.”
Later, while attending St. Joseph Academy in Green Bay, a sister who was a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, based in St. Louis, Mo., who operated the high school, suggested she consider joining their community. “I was looking for what to do with my life,” and it was her uncle, Fr. Cyril Kabat, who suggested she stay local and instead pay a visit to the Bay Settlement community.
It was the sisters’ welcoming and friendly spirit that Sr. Gerri remembers to this day. Plus, the bonus was she would not have to leave behind life on a farm, for at that time the Bay Settlement sisters operated a farm. “When I got into the convent, my job was to pasteurize the milk,” she happily recalled.
Sr. Gerri joined the community in 1963, and became a full member in 1964, 55 years ago.
“Every group that I’ve had, I’ve learned something from life … even the children I’ve taught, but especially the adults,” she said. “There’s so much packed into people’s lives … and God is so present to all of it.”
Today, Sr. Gerri is easing into retirement. “I haven’t had a dull day yet,” she said.
“There are always surprises,” said Sr. Gerri. “Life continues to bring surprises if we open our heart and our mind to it, and God provides.”