APPLETON — Jessica Michels is passionate about getting younger families back to church and getting them involved in parish life. Building relationships is important to her as well, so she’s found the ideal volunteer opportunity at St. Mary Parish that encompasses all these areas.
A native of Fond du Lac and a graduate of St. Mary’s Springs Academy, Michels joined St. Mary Parish in 2010 when she and her husband, Craig, moved to the area after living and working in Chicago for several years. A graduate of UW-Stout with a degree in graphic design, Michels works full time for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
With her skill set, Michels saw a volunteer opportunity at the church that appealed to her. “I had done the website at my church in Illinois. I got involved with the website here fairly quickly, so I’ve been involved in the last two versions. Hopefully we’ll be redoing it again soon. We want to reorganize and update it a bit,” said Michels.
A year ago, Michels saw an announcement in the church bulletin about forming a communications task force. “That’s right up my alley, so I joined it and somehow I’m leading the communications committee now,” she said. There are five people on the committee with a range of backgrounds, and more members are welcome, she added.
The committee supports various initiatives. “We’re doing Facebook, Twitter and we just started YouTube, so we’re filming our homilies every week and then posting them,” said Michels. “Fr. Bill (Swichtenberg) is planning his homilies ahead of time. Someone else is coming up with discussion questions and a little card that’s in the pew that has the highlights and discussion questions for the homily, so now you can go watch it and have the questions (that go along with it).”
Empowering parishioners is one of the committee’s goals, said Michels.
“Here at St. Mary, we’re trying to transition to more of the people-leading role rather than the staff down,” she said. “Our website is very informative but we’d rather make it a journey through where you can find your way if you’re a first-time visitor. … We’ll do a video so you can see different Masses with people walking in.”
One item on the docket, she said, is creating a short video so visitors know how to process up for Communion, since it differs from parish to parish.
One of the most visible tasks Michels took on was redesigning the parish logo. A quote from St. Teresa of Kolkata, which is prominently displayed at the church, spoke to the group as they were going through the discovery process for the design. “I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a pebble across the water to create many ripples.”
Michels said the new logo features modern and traditional elements. “We went with a modern font for ‘St. Mary Catholic Community.’ We put ‘St. Mary’ in blue (in honor of Mary) and ‘Catholic Community’ in red for the fire of the Holy Spirit — we must bring that to our community,” she said. “The cross is a modern Celtic cross for our Irish history and … is centered in three ripples. Those represent the Holy Trinity. The cross is reflected in the water, which symbolizes how we must be reflections of Christ to our community.”
Advent and Lent are the busiest times of the year for the communications team. They meet once every other week or weekly, to help get the word out about the various church events and activities.
“For Advent, we did a homily series and for Lent we’re going to be doing that again. (Fr. Swichtenberg) planned all of his homilies ahead of time and they were one theme: entrusted — how we are entrusted with Jesus’ love and sent out to share it,” she said. “In Lent we have adoration, extra Masses, Stations of the Cross, confession. We’re working on (creating) non-churchy descriptions that anyone can read and know. For example, ‘What is Holy Thursday Mass about? What is adoration?’”
The bottom line for Michels is engaging parishioners and building community. “The bigger picture of building a community here, that’s what I’m excited about. It’s a gratifying undertaking,” she said.
She wants other people to be engaged in their faith as well. “I feel God in my life. I’ve gone through tragedy and different things and God’s always there,” added Michels. “I think it’s sad when people are kind of focusing on the wrong things instead of spreading love. I wish that for everyone.”