‘Blessings in disguise’ fulfill Hollister

2020 Faith That Works award recipient

SUAMICO — When one door closed for Laura Hollister, two opened.

Eight years ago, Hollister lost her position in banking operations after 19 years of employment.

“It was really a blessing in disguise,” she said. “I ended up with two jobs, and I can actually say that I love both of them.”

Laura Hollister balances her time between work in the parish office and Bay Port High School. Her service, outside her two positions, includes the parish picnic, Ladies Auxiliary and Ribbon of Hope. (Scott Eastman | For The Compass)

Hollister is the secretary/bookkeeper at St. Benedict Parish, Suamico, and St. Pius Parish, Little Suamico. She works late mornings and afternoons as a receptionist/secretary at Bay Port High School in Suamico.

Hollister has been a member of St. Benedict for 35 years, so serving the parish was nothing new. Her volunteerism includes 27 years as a co-chair of the annual parish picnic.

“When my job was eliminated, I took the spring/summer off,” explained Hollister, who was born and raised in Milwaukee. “I volunteered here (parish office) for a little bit. I was able to do my picnic (work) without having to work around my job.”

Hollister was also able to help a friend in need that summer. She offered to watch the young children of a parish family.

“(The woman) was pregnant with her third child,” explained Hollister. “I said to her, ‘You know if something would happen in the middle of the night, why don’t I give you my phone number and your kids can come to my house. Or if you and your husband need a break, call us and we (along with her husband, Mark) will watch the kids.”

Hollister took care of the children for a weekend. Later in the summer, she received an emergency call from the woman who had suffered burns in a household accident.

“I was able to help with the kids and change her dressings,” she said. “That was another blessing in disguise.”

Weekdays for Hollister start at 4 a.m. She leaves the house at 5 a.m. to exercise with her two daughters, Helen and Amy. She arrives at the parish office between 7 and 7:30 a.m. and heads over to the high school at 10:30 a.m. Following the school day, she usually returns to St. Benedict. Hollister also regularly visits retired priests from St. Benedict including former longtime pastor Fr. Gary Dantinne.

“I’m a cancer survivor,” said Hollister. “Fr. Gary is very special to me. He was my priest here. When I was going through that journey, he would pray for me. He had people praying. He walked that journey with me. I hold a special place in my heart for him.”

Hollister also visits Franciscan Fr. Everard Scesney, who served at St. Benedict.

“I have a special place in my heart for the international and Franciscan priests,” said Hollister. “That’s who I’ve worked for. Through Fr. Judah (Pigon, administrator at St. Benedict) I’ve gotten to know a lot of the Filipino priests. The Ugandan priests — Fr. John Katamba, Fr. Celestine (Byekwaso) and Fr. Frederick (Sserugga) — are all very special to me. Fr. Katamba is like part of my family.”

Even though they have never met, Hollister has built a relationship with Fr. Katamba’s mother. They have exchanged gifts.

“She sent me a beautiful picture with her picture, a picture of the rosary, a picture of Jesus and a beautiful story about how her life is blessed to have me it,” explained Hollister. “I helped with tuition for one of (Fr. Katamba’s nephews) to get him through college. It’s just a good feeling. I don’t have much, but what I do have, I give away.”

Hollister welcomed numerous Mass celebrants to the church over the years, including a number of retired priests.

“I tried to make sure that everything was set up,” she said. “(The late) Fr. Gordon Gilsdorf was helping out. If he was going out to St. Pius, I would make sure everything was set up for him. He would come to the sacristy to make sure he had his bulletins. It was how I was raised, to help wherever I can.

“I love the priests,” she added. “They are doing our good Lord’s work. I do whatever I can for them.”

When Hollister was a junior in high school, her family moved to Townsend, Wis.

“That was a big culture shock,” she said. “I graduated with I think 23 kids at White Lake. As soon as I graduated I moved to Green Bay and have been here ever since.”

In addition to her work on the parish picnic, which includes a car show, Hollister has also served the parish as a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion, and assists with training of new ministers. She is a member of the Knights of Columbus Ladies Auxiliary, including a term as president, and has served on the parish mission planning and one by One capital campaign committees. Her community involvement serving on the board of directors and chairing events for Ribbon of Hope, an organization that serves as a resource for individuals with breast cancer in northeast Wisconsin. While in the banking industry, Hollister led United Way campaigns, back-to-school programs and U.S. Bank Eve, a family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration.

“I can’t say no. That’s my problem. I find a way to make it work. The busier I’m kept, the more I stay out of trouble,” she said with a laugh.

Hollister also serves an important role as grandma to 9-year-old Bennett, who is an altar server at St. Benedict.

“My whole world is my grandson,” she said. “I will do anything and everything for him.”

Bennett has attended Camp Tekakwitha in Shawano each summer since he was 6. Hollister is proud how he has grown in his faith.

“He comes back from camp and can name all the priests who were there,” she said. “He came to my house after his first time at camp and all of sudden he is saying the Hail Mary. He said, ‘I know the Our Father too and I know how to pray the rosary.’”

Hollister said that she “gets the best of both worlds” by also working at Bay Port because it’s a “good school with good teachers and good students.” She makes checklists to help her keep track of tasks.

“I like doing things to get them done and know they are done,” she said. “It puts my mind at ease.

“I just go day-by-day,” added Hollister. “Some days when I have an elderly parishioner come in they just sit in the chair and I just listen. If I’m not getting my work done, it’s put on the back burner. They are more important today.”

The example of St. Teresa of Kolkata inspires Hollister in her work, ministries and service.

“(St. Teresa) said, ‘Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.’ I always try to live by that,” said Hollister. “I don’t know if I always do, but I try.”