‘The door is always open’ for Vander Steeg to serve

2020 Faith That Works award recipient

GREEN BAY — When Paul Vander Steeg, lead technician and co-owner at Kim & Paul’s Appliance Inc., makes delivery or service calls he sometimes can sense if the person he meets is dealing with a hardship. That was the case at a home 10 years ago where he met a woman who had small children.

Paul Vander Steeg has served in religious education for 30 years. He also lives out his faith through his prayer life, which includes morning “coffee with God.” (Scott Eastman | For The Compass)

“I was working on a stove or dishwasher,” he said. “You could just see (the anguish) in her. I remember looking at her and saying, ‘What’s the matter?’ She said, ‘I was just diagnosed with breast cancer.’”

Vander Steeg noticed a crucifix on the wall. He found out that she was Catholic. He asked her if she “didn’t mind this Catholic boy praying for you.”

“I would love that if you would,” she replied.

Vander Steeg added the woman to his prayers. Five years later, he delivered a washing machine to a home. A man met him at the door.

“I thought, ‘Boy, this place looks familiar,’” said Vander Steeg. “I said to him, ‘Can I ask you a question? Was I here before?’”

He said, “Yes, my wife loves you.”

The man was the husband of the woman who had breast cancer. She was now cancer free.

“I said, ‘Don’t look at me’ and pointed up in the air,” said Vander Steeg. “That was really neat. A lot of people around here are having troubles. I ask them, many who are not even Catholic, if I can pray for them. I have not had one say ‘absolutely not.’ I had an atheist tell me, ‘Go ahead and pray for me.’

“Like Mother Teresa said, ‘It’s simple, I just pray,’” he added. “I easily do two or three rosaries a day because I have it in the car. I do my early morning prayers. I call it ‘coffee with God.’”

Vander Steeg has worked in the appliance business for 37 years. For the past 25 years, he has been a business owner with his sister, Kim, whom he describes as the “bean counter” of the operation. He meets some of people on the job who ask him about another one of his siblings, Fr. Mark, pastor at St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay.

“Fr. Mark is number nine. I’m number eight. Eight is great. Nine is divine. That’s our little joke,” said Vander Steeg with a laugh. “My mom had seven in a row. Then, two-and-a-half years later, I came around. Nine years later, very unexpected, there was (Fr. Mark).

Vander Steeg has been a member of St. Patrick Parish in Green Bay since 1976. He began teaching religion 30 years ago. His mother, Marjory, served as the religious education coordinator at St. Patrick for nearly 25 years. Over the years, Vander Steeg coordinated seventh and eighth grade religious education, taught various grade levels and assisted with confirmation, along with his wife, Carrie. This year, he is again working with confirmation students. Faith formation has been combined into one program for the Quad Parishes in Green Bay — St. Patrick, Annunciation, St. Jude and St. Joseph — since 2006.

“Teenagers are fun. They make me young,” said Vander Steeg. “We have great confirmation kids this year. We just have to get them to church. Their parents don’t go to church, so why should they? I’m working on that.”

Vander Steeg’s faith formation ministry and his profession intersected in the past. Becky VanKauwenberg, discipleship and high school coordinator for the Quad Parishes, learned of a young woman’s request for valentines to help lift the spirits of her mother who had suffered a stroke. Vander Steeg took on the project with his sophomore students.

A couple weeks later, he walked into a home to deliver a washing machine. He noticed valentines displayed on a wall.

“I said, ‘Quad Parishes, that’s my class,’” explained Vander Steeg. “‘That is my valentine to your mom.’ Her mom poked in, in her wheelchair, and said, ‘You have no idea how much I appreciated that.’”

He shared the story with his faith formation students to show them the impact of their act of kindness.

In addition to religious education, Vander Steeg has served the parish as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, trustee, parish council member and, with Carrie, as a Foccus couple for marriage preparation.

“Whatever they needed,” he said. “The door is always open with me.”

Paul and Carrie are the parents of four: Mary, 25; Lee, 22; Grace Ann, 18; and Francis (miscarriage). A family tradition continues on Sundays. The couple and any of their children who are available have breakfast at his mother’s home.

In addition to his mother, Vander Steeg is thankful for some strong faith examples in his life, including Fr. John O’Brien, former longtime pastor at St. Patrick Parish.

“I used to swear a lot,” said Vander Steeg. “I used the Good Lord’s name too many times. I confessed that. Fr. O’Brien looked me in the eye. ‘Do you know what you’re saying? The Our Father, hallowed be thy name. You are using his name and it’s hallowed. It’s holy. Stop it.’ I was probably 30 at the time. That was it. I stopped.

“Msgr. (Brian) Coleman was like a third dad to me,” he added. “I lost my father (Leon) when I was 26 years old. Not too many guys had a father-in-law like I did (Bud Kirchman), who was my second father.”

Msgr. Coleman, who died in 2017, served as Vander Steeg’s spiritual director. The two met each week to talk for hours and “solve the world’s problems.” Msgr. Coleman was a Third Order Carmelite. Vander Steeg was invested with the brown scapular, which he wears around his neck.

“Once in a while when I go into a home, it will pop out,” said Vander Steeg. “People will ask, ‘What is that?’ I will tell them, ‘It’s a scapular, a garment of grace. It reminds me to pray.’ Since I started wearing it, my prayer life changed like that.”

Vander Steeg plans to continue to serve in faith formation and pray for people in need. Rewards of his ministry include seeing his former students living out their faith.

“It’s really cool when you see the kids from confirmation class and all of a sudden they are bringing their kids to be baptized in the church,” he said. “You know you did something right for some of them.”