WAUTOMA — They say “home is where the heart is,” and for Donna Tompkins, that’s St. Joseph Parish in Wautoma.
Tompkins was born in Rockford, Ill., and grew up in North Dakota before her family moved to Wautoma in 1952. They ran the Silvercryst Supper Club for 40 years, which is where she met her husband, David. She and David were married at St. Joseph Church in 1954. His job as a civil servant caused them to relocate to various states while raising seven children.
“I always felt like I was a member of St. Joseph’s even though we weren’t here,” said Tompkins. “We went to other churches wherever we lived, but I always felt like St. Joseph’s was my home parish.”
After moving back to Wautoma in 1977, Tompkins joined the church choir, embroidered the baptismal gowns, washed and maintained the altar cloths, and became an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. “Whatever needed to be done, I took on,” she said.
When Tompkins was asked to be a religious education teacher, she readily accepted and taught fifth and eighth grade for about 10 years, as well as a Bible class for developmentally disabled young adults in the community. “It turned out to be a very good thing in my life,” said Tompkins. “It helped me to grow in my faith, too. I was learning right along with them.”
In 1989, the St. Joseph Mission Group was founded from Tompkins’ wish to provide more social interaction for her mom, who was showing early signs of dementia. “We’d come to church for the rosary in the afternoon,” she said. “But I’d always thought it would be really nice to get together with other women from our parish and do some good things for needy people.”
After receiving permission from Fr. Bob Karuhn, the group, comprised of about 10 women, decided to meet on Monday mornings in the church center. To generate funds to purchase supplies for their projects, they began recycling greeting cards. Parishioners would turn in their old, used cards and the women would cut them up, make new ones, and sell them for 35 cents each or three for $1.
“Originally, we sold them out of a shoebox in the back of the church,” said Tompkins. “Now we have a card rack; the cards are very nice – and still the same price.”
The money from card sales was used to buy materials to make 65 lap robes and 24 coverlets for St. Joseph’s former sister parish in Antlers, Okla.
For the past 30 years, the mission group has met on Mondays for fellowship, friendship and fun and has expanded its projects to include making baby sleepers and children’s clothes, crocheting blankets, stringing rosaries for the diocese’s World Mission Services, volunteering at the Salvatorian Mission Warehouse in New Holstein, assembling gift bags for shut-ins, coordinating a free Last Saturday Lunch for the parish community, organizing outreach at Waushara County Jail, sewing a quilt for their annual raffle in partnership with the Knights of Columbus, and supporting the Green Bay Diocese’s mission in the Dominican Republic.
“If you’re willing to do things for the needy, the Lord sends opportunities your way,” said Tompkins. “We all may not be capable of going to Haiti or the Dominican Republic, but we can be home missionaries.”
“The gals have just been amazing, wonderful, good friends,” she added. “They support each other, they build friendships. You don’t have to know how to sew or have any big talent to be part of the mission, just come be a part of the group and we can find something for you to do.”
Tompkins has been an active member of the Parish Council of Catholic Women as well as president of the group’s vicariate. “I was going to Green Bay for meetings and conferences. The next thing you know I was the international affairs chairperson in charge of missions,” she said. “That’s how I got involved with the Salvatorian Mission Warehouse.”
She is also the coordinator of the St. Joseph Right to Life group. Their projects include making “baby bundles” that are filled with necessities like diapers, wipes and shampoo for needy mothers in the area.
“As I look back, I’ve had a busy life,” said Tompkins. “Everything I’ve been involved in has helped me to grow into the person God wanted me to be.”