COMBINED LOCKS – A ministry of listening. That’s how Patty Vanden Heuvel describes her parish’s St. Paul Cares, a ministry to the homebound or those in skilled care nursing facilities. And, as with everything this year, it has been drastically impacted by the pandemic.
“Basically, we are listeners for those who might need someone to listen to them,” she said, adding that the ministers also bring Communion to those who would like it.
“We go out and bring the parish to them,” said Vanden Heuvel. “We let them know the parish cares about them and let them know they have not been forgotten.”
St. Paul Cares ministers visit any facility in the Fox Valley and surrounding areas where their parishioners reside.
As COVID-19 rages, the ministry has changed. In-person visits have been replaced by sending cards and making phone calls. Some volunteers continue to make home visits where it is safe. Vanden Heuvel, whose own health is compromised, has taken on the role of coordinator of the program, and she is working on different ways to expand the ministry.
“I see this as a chance to regroup,” she said, “a time to try to expand the ministry and look for volunteers. COVID has to let up at some point. I say COVID is God giving us some time to breathe.”
Vanden Heuvel got involved with St. Paul Cares after hearing someone speak about different ministries needing volunteers. “I felt a tug in my heart,” she said. Though she resisted at first, she found herself thinking that it would be a good way to get more involved in her parish. “I had been looking to get more involved with a ministry and this one felt right,” she added.
Due to her own health situation, she had spent a lot of time in the hospital when she lived in Illinois and people had come to her to visit and to support both her and her husband, Paul. “St. Paul Cares is a way for me to give something back.”
She praises all the volunteers who share in this ministry, including her husband, who also is active in other parts of the parish. In addition to being a parish trustee, he is active in the Knights of Columbus, is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and works on many parish events.
“I am one of several — one of many — working at these events,” he said. “If asked to help, we just do it.”
The couple has long been active in their church communities, beginning during their college days at St. Norbert College, De Pere, where they met. They helped with faith formation and confirmation classes at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in De Pere and then became involved in their church in Naperville, Ill., where they lived after graduation.
Both Patty and Paul found role models in their parents, who were active in their parishes. “It’s what we grew up with,” Paul said. “Service is not foreign to us. We went through parochial education and to me this is what you do.”
Paul grew up in Appleton and Patty in Naperville. After college, they lived in Illinois until 2010, when they returned to Wisconsin and settled in Combined Locks. They have three grown children and two grandchildren, who live in other parts of Wisconsin and Atlanta — and “we have an amazing dog,” Patty added.
Among the couple’s other ministries are the pancake breakfasts started by the Knights of Columbus, helping with the launch of the parish’s Alpha Program and subsequent work with the faith formation parents in both the Alpha and Wild Goose programs at St. Paul. Wild Goose is a program that invites men and women to an encounter or a renewed encounter with Christ. They also worked to assist in the transition of the parish as it went from being led by a pastor to having a pastoral leader. On Dec. 4 and 5, they will assist with the Living Nativity (a drive-through event, thanks to COVID).
Since 2017, the couple has helped with memorial Masses on All Souls Day. This year, due to COVID, instead of a large gathering indoors, the parish lined the sidewalks around the church and down the street with luminaria (wickless candles) in bags.
They put out 400 bags and left them out overnight. “Even the next day, there were people walking through,” Patty said. “It was such an expression of love from our parish to our community.” The 2020 Mass honored 27 people and drew a large crowd.
Looking ahead, she said, she would like to expand the care ministry to include caregivers, “so we can help them also. They need support and someone to talk to. They need us as much as the patients do. We also need to find a way to attract younger people. Right now, it is hard to get the word out because ministry fairs have been put on hold.”
While Patty sees care ministry work as something personal and a way to give back, her husband adds that it is a good way to meet new friends.
“Another reason we got involved is about stewardship for others,” he said. “We met at St. Norbert College and are grounded in the three core traditions of the college and try to live by the one word that defines the SNC experience that graduates are asked to embrace: Communio. By getting involved in our parish, we’ve had many unforeseen ‘God wink moments’ that positively impact others. We’ve each had an opportunity to attend a Cursillo (retreat). Patty looks forward to Women Celebrate (retreat weekend). I enjoy Esto Vir and serving our parish as a Knight of Columbus. Together we enjoy working with our friends to make St. Paul a better community.”