WAUPACA — Donna Rickel remembers the days when the only time women were allowed near the altar was when it needed to be cleaned and dusted.
“And that’s the truth,” she said. “When things started opening up after Vatican II, we had the first altar girl. We had women doing the readings.”
Women also became extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, and Rickel was among those at St. Mary Magdalene Parish eventually asked to serve in that ministry. That happened after she stopped working full-time and began attending weekday Masses occasionally.
The late Fr. Jim Vennix, who served the parish for many years, needed someone to help with Communion one weekday morning, Rickel recalled. “He’s the one behind all of this,” she said. “Father needed somebody, and I was available.”
Through the years, new priests arrived at the parish and, Rickel said, “They just accepted that I was part of the deal.”
At some point, additional parishioners were needed to lead the Monday morning Communion service, which begins at 8 a.m. Rickel is one of the small handful of people who leads the service. They take turns, based on who is available, especially during the winter months.
“I’ve been doing the Communion service for a long time,” she said.
When it’s Rickel’s turn, she arrives at church around 7:30 or 7:45 a.m. They have an outline to follow for the service, and her preparation includes getting the list of prayer intentions ready for the week.
“Then I go to the sacristy and get the key to open the tabernacle. I check to make sure I have the right readings and that all the books are current for that day,” she said.
The Communion service takes place in the Celebration Chapel, which seats about 30 people. “We generally have 10 or 12. Sometimes, we only have two,” Rickel said.
The service is held regardless of how many people are there. “It’s scheduled. It should be done and done as right as I can do it,” she said.
The service includes music, readings, prayer intentions, the Our Father, sign of peace and Communion distribution. It ends with a prayer and blessing.
Rickel is comfortable leading the service. “I guess I was given the talent to be able to stand before people and lead them in prayer,” she said.
That gift can be traced back to her childhood. Rickel was raised on a farm in Portage County and attended a one-room country school with a student body that ranged between 14 and 16 students in grades one through eight.
“We were all expected to take part in the Christmas program. That was my favorite part of school,” she said.
For years, Rickel was a member of St. Mary Magdalene’s choir, and she has also performed with Waupaca Community Theater.
She finds leading the Monday Communion service and going to daily Mass good ways to start her day. On her way to church, she said she thinks about what she needs to do to get ready for the service and always leaves it to God.
“It’s easier to leave it to God,” Rickel said. “Sometimes I drag off the path, but he leads me back.”
She said those who attend the weekday service and Masses have become a little family. “During the petitions, we are all encouraged to voice our own petitions aloud and then we can pray for specific people,” she said. “This is how we find out how families are doing. I think it draws us closer as a group. We deliver good news as well as bad news.”
They welcome others, and Rickel encourages people to volunteer in whatever way they can and however often they are able to “because you meet beautiful and interesting people in our parish.”’
She is happy women can contribute to their parishes in many ways and said serving St. Mary Magdalene Parish is God’s will.
When Rickel was setting up for a Communion service on a recent Monday morning, she realized the part of the day she really looks forward to is when she walks through the empty worship space in silence on the way to the tabernacle.
“Sometimes the sun will peek through the upper windows and shine right on the tabernacle, and it’s a beautiful start to the day,” Rickel said. “I get this feeling of peace which I wish could last all day.”