OMRO — St. Mary Church in Omro holds a lot of history for Ron Jungwirth. “I remember sitting out on the church steps with my best friend when Fr. Jerry Bouressa asked me to be a server. I was 10 years old and it was the first time I got involved,” he said.
St. Mary was also where he had his first confession, first Communion, confirmation, and where he married his wife, Lawanda. She sat about 10 pews ahead of him when they were children.
“Every time I walk through the door, I think of all those things that happened that are special in my life,” said Jungwirth. “Even saying goodbye to the people we love. … my mom and dad, having their funerals here, it was such a joy to come back to this church where I grew up.”
Jungwirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1986 with a degree in computer science. He then began his job at Humana in De Pere and he and Lawanda married. They bought their first house in Combined Locks and joined St. Mary Parish in Appleton.
After losing his mom in 1991, his dad in 1996, and finding out he and Lawanda couldn’t have children, Jungwirth said he needed to fill that void. He credits Fr. Michael O’Rourke for giving him the inspiration to step out of his comfort zone and become a catechist.
“I went to church faithfully, but Fr. Mike helped me to make that connection that there is more to being a Catholic than just going through the motions. That it’s building a relationship with Jesus,” he said.
Being a second-grade “sacramental preparation” catechist “turned my life around and got me into the uncomfortable things — knowing that I need to do this and, if I need to do it and I want to do it, then God is going to challenge me to do more,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the way your faith life is. It’s tough to jump in, but, once you do, you really like it and you get so much more in return than what you put into it,” said Jungwirth.
He taught catechism for 20 years in Appleton before he and Lawanda moved back to their hometown of Omro and St. Mary Parish, which also had an opening for a second-grade catechist. “It just happened to fit, and I’ve been even more involved in the sacramental program, doing the retreats and at the coordinator level,” he said. “It has been a joy being at a smaller parish where I actually know the families from when I was here before and can use stories from my childhood, and they just kind of come alive and become more relatable to my students.”
Prior to COVID-19, Jungwirth had been taking pictures and shooting videos of events and classes for the parish bulletin, website and Facebook page. When the pandemic hit and the parish had to rely on technology to connect with the community, Jungwirth was in his wheelhouse. Together with Sr. Pam Biehl, pastoral leader, and Rose Unser, pastoral associate, they found ways to host virtual events and digitally get information to people and encourage their involvement.
“It was exciting to be a part of those things,” said Jungwirth, who also serves on the parish pastoral council. “We did virtual rosary, two different virtual choirs. A lot of people enjoyed having that way of seeing other people and sharing different events. Even though they couldn’t come together for them, they could still be a part of something.”
The virtual offerings will continue in the future with livestreaming of Mass, video messages from Sr. Pam, online Bible studies and Zoom catechism classes. Jungwirth is having a virtual retreat with his second graders this month that will include pretzel making and a church search.
“For the church search, I’ll record Sr. Pam showing different things in the church and the kids will be signed-in through Zoom and have a sheet where they mark off the item that she shows them — like church bingo. I’ll also be teaching a lesson illustrating how each of the ingredients in bread relate to Eucharist. The yeast is like the Holy Spirit, the salt of the earth, etc.,” said Jungwirth. “We don’t make it into bread; I use the pretzel because it was a symbol that monks used as a sign of love, like the crossing your arms. The monks used to go around and give pretzels to children as a sign of Jesus’ love.”
“It’s nice to use the technology skills that I’ve developed for church. I don’t look at that as work. That’s joy, that’s fun,” said Jungwirth. “It’s just great to have something I can contribute. I hope everybody can find something that gives them that feeling — that this is something that the Holy Spirit gave me to do that is showing Jesus’ love to other people.”