ALLOUEZ — When Greg Van Thiel stepped forward to fill a need 24 years ago at St. Mary (now Holy Family) Parish, Brillion, he had no idea the ministry opportunity would start him on the path to becoming a deacon.
In August of 1996, his father, Ted, died, which led to a deeper prayer life. A month later, the parish advertised an eighth grade religious education teacher position. He asked his wife, Ginger, if she would teach the class with him.
“This was a huge step in learning my Catholic faith and growing closer to Jesus,” he said. “The questions the kids were asking helped me dive deeper into our faith. We both enjoyed sharing our faith with the class, and they seemed to respond to the teaching.”The next year, with the couple expecting their fourth child, Van Thiel taught the class on his own. He served as a catechist the next seven years and began to expand his parish ministry. He served as a member of the Total Board of Catholic Education for St. Mary, which in 2001 merged with St. Mary, Reedsville, and St. Patrick, Maple Grove, to form Holy Family Parish.
Van Thiel served as chair in 2000. He also was an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, a lector and brought Communion to the homebound. Additional ministries include sacristan, stewardship committee, financial trustee, Catholic Heart Work Camp leader, baptismal preparation coordinator, Alpha leader and Holy Family Esto Vir men’s group member.
Van Thiel began discerning the call to the diaconate in 2004, but was advised to wait until his children were older. Ten years later, with three sons (James, Mike and Clayton) in college and daughter, Rebecca, in high school, he decided to pursue the diaconate with the support of Fr. Timothy Brandt, then pastor at Holy Family. Their youngest daughter, Mary, is currently a junior in high school. The couple has two granddaughters.
Van Thiel is originally from Darboy. He is number six of 11 children in his family. All attended Holy Angels School.
“Our parents (Ted and Betty) taught us from a very young age to pray and serve Jesus and his church,” he said, “The boys were altar servers and the girls entered the youth choirs.”
In 1987, he met Ginger, whom he describes as “a special gift to me from God.” They were married in 1989 at St. Gabriel the Archangel Church in Neenah and moved to Brillion in 1994. Ginger has served in music ministry ever since they met.
Van Thiel credits all the priests who have served in Brillion during his time in the community for their faith influence. He is also thankful for encouragement from Deacon Steve Letourneaux.
“The most influential couple in all my ministries would have to be my dad and mom,” he said. “The church teaches that marriage is a vocation, which includes self-sacrifice to your spouse and children. When you add 11 children in the equation, it is a total self-sacrifice that allows very little luxuries for the mom and dad.”
Capuchin Fr. Martin Pable is Van Thiel’s spiritual director, and Deacon Mark Mullins of St. Francis Xavier Parish, De Pere, and St. Mary Parish, Ledgeview, serves as his deacon mentor.
In January of 2019, Van Thiel retired after 32 years at Kimberly Clark in Neenah. He became a pastoral minister at Holy Family, a role he will continue in addition to serving the parish as a deacon.
“The people in Brillion, Reedsville and Maple Grove make a living in agriculture, manufacturing and service-type occupations, all of which I have experience in,” he said. “Hopefully, I will be able to share my experience with them as together we explore how the Holy Spirit is working through us to bring the kingdom of God to all people of our parish boundaries.”