VALMY — Like so many Catholics, Debby Wegner hadn’t thought of the ministry she loves as living out her faith. She only knew she was trying to do good for people who need it.
Wegner is a member of the Christ Child Society in Door County, and recently coordinated its Baby Bottle Drive to raise money to buy layettes for needy, pregnant women. The bottles were given out to volunteers who had a month to fill them with loose change.
“The play on words was to use our spare change to change the life of a child,” Wegner said.
They gave out 150 bottles, but received money back in all kinds of containers because the demand was greater than they had anticipated. They collected $2,786 in the preliminary count.
“I’m a nurse, and I spent my whole nursing career in labor and delivery,” Wegner said. “I feel like I got to participate in miracles every day. Now, I feel like I’m making a difference behind the scenes.”
Besides working directly on various fund raisers for the Christ Child Society, she also crochets baby outfits, booties and Afghans.
“I know the money and these handmade items are going for a good cause,” Wegner said. “When we first came here years ago for vacations, we saw the affluence. I didn’t realize the depths of poverty there are in this county until we moved here.”
Wegner and her husband Paul moved here permanently in 2004. She worked for a while in the insurance industry and tended to their parents’ health needs before finally retiring. It was a Catholic friend, Karen Haen, who told her about the Christ Child Society. Wegner joined in 2017, and found it a good fit.
Forty years before that, Wegner found a couple other “good fits.” In 1977 she became Catholic and got married.
“I was raised Lutheran,” she said. “My grandmother was best friends with the pastor and his wife, and every Sunday we went to services and sat right in the front row.”
The pastor was the fire-and-brimstone variety, “and he let us know in no uncertain terms how bad we were. He was a very intimidating soul and I didn’t get a lot out of his sermons,” Wegner said. “To make matters worse, Grandma and the minister’s wife exchanged Sundays and we had to go to the minister’s house every other Sunday for dinner.”
This continued until Wegner went off to college.
The college she chose, because of its good nursing school, was Marian College (now Marian University), in Fond du Lac.
“That was my first exposure to anything Catholic,” she said. “Our instructors were Sisters of St. Agnes and we had very few lay instructors. Plus, the vast majority of my friends in the dorm were Catholic.”
The college had Mass every Wednesday afternoon in Dorcas Chapel, and that’s where her friends went before supper. So, not knowing what to expect, Wegner decided to join them to see what it was all about.
“It was the first time in church that I was not chastised for being a bad person,” Wegner said. “It was the first time that I felt welcome, and felt so at home.”
She continued to attend Mass, “which didn’t sit well at home,” and dated her future husband, who was Catholic.
“When I was home in Mayville during breaks, he and I used to go to the local hangout on Saturday nights. But he always met me there. He never picked me up,” she said.
Finally Wegner asked him about that, and found out that he always went to confession and then to Mass before their date.
“That added a whole new dimension to the guy,” she said.
Eventually they got engaged. Wegner was confirmed in Dorcas Chapel, graduated from college a week later, and was married the next month. She said she never even considered getting married in her hometown church.
“I always knew I would convert and be married in the Catholic Church. I didn’t know if my mother would attend the ceremony — but she did.”
Wegner, with her husband Paul and their family, moved around a bit for their jobs until finally settling in Door County, where she discovered the Christ Child Society.
“Our foundress, Mary Virginia Merrick (now up for sainthood), was bedridden because of a boating accident,” said Wegner. “She lay on her back and did her crocheting and knitting for needy children. She always said, ‘Nothing is ever too much to do for a child.’”
Wegner and other members of the local chapter attended the national convention of the Christ Child Society in Milwaukee last year, and came home with the idea for the baby bottles.
“We were the smallest chapter there — 43 members,” Wegner said. “We went as sponges,” to learn as much as possible from the others.
Much of Wegner’s prayer life involves sitting on the porch of their country home, feeling the wind, listening to the birds, and talking with God about her day.
“My faith has been tested, and there were times I was questioning,” she said. But she carries a pocket rosary, and wears a bracelet with a cross — physical reminders when she needs them to “get back on track.”
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Debby Wegner
Parish: SS. Peter and Paul, Institute
Favorite saint: Christopher
Words to live by: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]