STEPHENSVILLE – Even though he considers himself a “young sprout,” Tony Lauer has been a member of St. Patrick Parish for nearly half of its existence. (The parish celebrated its 160th anniversary on Oct. 11.) When he and his wife, Grace, were married 57 years ago, Grace joined the parish. Even as busy as they were, running their farm and subsequently raising their eight children, they’ve always been active members of St. Patrick Parish.
A former parish finance council and trustee, Tony was serving as parish treasurer when St. Patrick transitioned from a resident pastor to a parish director. “We were the first parish in the diocese served by a parish director (Sr. Mary Bride),” he said. “I served on pretty much every council and every committee.” He taught religious education for 25 years as well.
Both he and Grace have always volunteered at the annual Round-Up, which is St. Patrick Parish’s annual picnic held in August. The parade starts on one of their farm fields. His band, The Tony Lauer Band, which he led for 35 years, provided entertainment for the Round-Up numerous times.
Grace baked and created crafts for the event. “I helped cook the dinner,” she said. “The cooking starts on Wednesday and the dinner’s not until Saturday.” This year would have been the 50th anniversary of the Round-Up, but, because of the COVID situation, it has been postponed to Aug. 14, 2021.
Grace joined the worship committee 50 years ago. It proved to be the ideal volunteer opportunity for her. “I never thought I had any major gifts to share with the church,” she said. “I wasn’t good at being on a regular committee or stuff like that. I wanted to work on my own ‘behind the scenes’ and I found the perfect thing. I make rosaries and I send them to Uganda. I also repair a lot of rosaries.”
She does not charge for the rosary repair. “I do it for nothing, you just have to pray an Our Father and a Hail Mary” as payment, Grace added.
One of Grace’s major undertakings is a candle ministry. “I decorate the paschal candle for St. Patrick and for St. Denis in Shiocton. We share the same priest (Fr. Michael Thiel).” She also decorates the paschal candle and creates one-of-a-kind individual baptismal candles for each child baptized at their church.
“I decorate the candle with their first, middle and last name and the date of their baptism,” she explained. “I trim it with lace. I put the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove above their name with a drop of water.”
Another candle ministry is repurposing the used paschal candles from their church and from a Russian Orthodox church in Green Bay that burns beeswax candles. “They save the stubs for me. I take the wax that comes from the old paschal candles and I have molds in cylinder shapes. I remelt and mold them into new candles,” said Grace. “I decorate them with holy pictures and sometimes with flowers and butterflies or even glitter. We set them in the back of church and people are welcome to take them home.”
After a lifetime of having a huge garden, canning, sewing and cooking — not only their own children, but for several neighborhood boys they helped raise — Grace still likes to keep busy. She uses her talents to make jewelry, which benefits her parish and groups in the Fox Cities. The jewelry she creates is donated to the church to be sold at various events and given away to brighten up people’s lives. “I take a box or two of them every year to Harbor House (a domestic abuse shelter in Appleton) or nursing homes,” said Tony.
The pandemic proved to be an ideal time for Tony to step back from his role as a lector at church and for the couple to discontinue delivering Communion to the homebound. They are open to volunteering in those areas again after the pandemic. However, Grace still keeps her assigned hour of perpetual adoration at St. Patrick each Thursday.
The countless hours the couple has donated over the years has benefitted them as much as their church family, they said. “You’ve got ups and downs, but if you leave it in God’s hands it works out,” said Grace. “Priests need the support of friends and family, too, and they devote their whole lives to try to keep us centered on the Lord.”
Volunteering also has another benefit. “If you stop helping, you’d lose contact with your church community,” said Grace. “This helps us keep in touch with our community.”
“There’s a confidence in being with like-minded spiritual people,” added Tony. “You enjoy their presence. That’s all part of the church community.”