A ministry of words

Holy Spirit guides The Compass

As we wind down Catholic Press Month, it’s a good time to share a story about the role Catholic newspapers can play in building and preserving family memories.

The story begins last July, when Mari Anne Hamilton-Cotter emailed our circulation coordinator, Lynn Mullins.

Mari Anne lives in Maryland, but grew up in Marinette. She still receives The Compass and wrote to ask for additional copies of our paper that featured stories about priests celebrating jubilees. In reply to Lynn’s message that extra papers were on the way, Mari Anne shared how reading The Compass (known previously as The Register) was part of her family’s tradition.

“Growing up in Marinette, my mom never missed reading every word of every issue until she died at age 98 and I couldn’t give up her subscription,” said Mari Anne. “In fact, as Catholic school students in the ’50s-’60s, we all went door-to-door selling The Green Bay Register and one year my twin sister and I won the diocesan contest for selling the most subscriptions. I can still remember driving with my parents to Green Bay where Fr. Stengel presented us with the first-prize Schwinn Bicycle. The picture of that presentation was then published in the Register.”

“After reading it, I felt compelled to find the photo described in her letter. With the assistance of Olivia Wendt in the diocesan Archives, we located the photo, which was published on April 3, 1964.”

Lynn shared Mari Anne’s message with our staff. After reading it, I felt compelled to find the photo described in her letter. With the assistance of Olivia Wendt in the diocesan Archives, we located the photo, which was published on April 3, 1964. It shows Mari Anne’s twin sister, Marilynn, receiving the bike from “Mrs. Donald Blahnik,” circulation manager (apparently first names of women were not used at that time).

After taking a photograph of the picture, I emailed it to Mari Anne, which brought her much joy. She said she would share it with her sister Marilynn. “She can use a smile, as her husband is dying of cancer and these are challenging days,” wrote Mari Anne. “So she and Tom will cherish your thoughtfulness and hard work. Looking forward to every new issue and will keep you and all of the Green Bay diocesan team in my prayers.”

While we like to think of The Compass as informative and inspirational, it can sometimes be relational. This became crystal clear after Sarah Gietman, communications coordinator for the diocese and part-time Compass proofreader, read Mari Anne’s note and saw the photo from 1964.

Sarah, also a Marinette native, recalled how Mari Anne’s parents were “cornerstone members of our parish in Marinette.”

“They were at every Wednesday Mass for our Catholic school and attended/supported everything and anything related to the parish and school,” Sarah told me in an email. “The kindest people, who all of us kiddos considered grandparents.”

Knowing Mari Anne would appreciate hearing these words, I forwarded Sarah’s comments.

“When I read the beautiful tribute Sarah took the time to write, and you took the time to share with me, the tears that flowed sang with the words, ‘God will never be outdone in generosity,’” Mari Anne responded. She said she would also share Sarah’s note with her siblings and grandchildren.

“So as Mom’s namesake, I will do what she would do — promise to pray for you both,” Mari Anne added. “Thanks for your gifts to me and my family. Mom and Dad are smiling with us all.”

One never knows how words — whether strung together in columns in a newspaper or in the body of an email — can touch the lives of others. As Catholic Press Month concludes, we at The Compass rejoice in knowing that the Spirit continues to guide our ministry of words.