‘Kathy the church lady’ helps engage others in faith

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | February 8, 2022

Germain serves at nursing homes and at the Hmong Mass at St. Jude Church

Your Catholic Neighbor: Kathy Germain (Jeff Kurowski | The Compass)

GREEN BAY — Kathy Germain found out how much she was missed at Marla Vista Assisted Living and Memory Care in Green Bay. She leads a weekly Communion service at the facility, but was unable to visit for several months due to COVID-19. She returned at the end of May 2021.

When Germain was spotted by a member of the kitchen staff, he proclaimed her return. The man ran to each wing, clapping his hands and loudly announced, “Kathy the church lady is back!”

“I’ve gotten that title,” said Germain with a laugh. “That first day (back) was on a Saturday morning. We didn’t have anything to follow. It was as if they forgot how to pray. The next week, I asked if I could come on Sunday. Bishop (David Ricken) was saying Mass in the (St. Francis Xavier) Cathedral, so I asked if we could watch the Mass (televised on WFRV Local 5). It was wonderful. It sure helped with the Communion service. I go every week since they called me back.”

Germain began serving at Marla Vista, on Green Bay’s west side, 30 years ago. She also currently ministers at Green Bay Health Services nursing home and has assisted at Crossroads Care Center (formerly Manorcare), Western Village and Grancare Gardens, all in Green Bay. In addition to leading Communion services, Germain has arranged for priests to hear confessions at the facilities and tries to engage Catholic residents in their faith.

“I’ve always reached out to include people,” she said.

For example, Germain developed a close friendship with a deaf couple at Western Village. She learned some basics of American Sign Language to better communicate with them.

Born in Marshfield and raised on a farm in Brantwood, Wis., located in Price County, Germain was the eldest of five children of John and Mary Hoffman. She credits her late parents for their examples of generosity and faith.

“My mother and dad were always helping everybody out in the rural area,” she said.

Brantwood didn’t have a Catholic parish, so the family drove 21 miles to Prentice for Mass. In the spring, when the roads were muddy, they would take a different means of transportation.

“My parents did their best to get us there,” said Germain. “When the roads would break up, and we would have all these spongy, swampy areas where the mud would fly up, we would take the Soo Line Railroad and then walk a mile and a half to church. We would go into the woodshed and change our clothes. We would change our clothes after Mass and take the train back.”

Germain enjoyed working in the barn with her father over household tasks. She won grand champion honors for her Holstein cows four out of her 10 years in 4H. Her first calf, Queenie, was special, said Germain. She struggled to ride her bicycle on the gravel road to the co-op, so she rode Queenie instead.

Following high school, Germain moved to Green Bay to attend Badger Business College, located upstairs from what is now the Meyer Theatre on Washington Street. She quickly developed an appreciation for nearby St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.

“I would just sit in that church and look around at everything,” she said. “It was like I had already gone to heaven compared to our little cracker box up north.”

Germain lived with 11 other women from the college. Only two of the 12 were Catholic. The others initially didn’t attend their churches, so Germain accompanied them.

“That was a big ‘no-no’ back then,” she said. “I would go to the cathedral and had confession with Msgr. (John) Gehl. My punishment was three rosaries because I set foot in another church. I got all of the other 10 to go to the church of their faith by Christmas.”

Germain, who worked for Northern Transportation Company after graduating from business college, became involved with Young Christian Workers through the cathedral. She met her husband, Dale, who died in 2015, on a blind date. He was raised Lutheran and joined the Catholic Church before they were married in 1965. Three families were also entering the church as members of the cathedral parish at the same time. Msgr. Jim Vanden Hogen asked Germain to help.

“I knew the Baltimore Catechism very well,” she said. “I helped train those families. We practiced going to confession. We practiced receiving Communion. I had them making rosaries and the Stations of the Cross.”

In 1970, Germain became a member of St. Jude Parish on Green Bay’s west side. She volunteered as a third-grade religious education teacher and helped with the summer Bible school. Germain also volunteered at the parish school, where her three children attended. She also had a “special” fourth child who is in “God’s care,” said Germain.

Her volunteerism also included working with the La Leche League to help families achieve their nursing goals.

“I ran around and did a lot of things with La Leche League,” she said. “I started groups in Sturgeon Bay, Ephraim, Kaukauna, Pulaski. I’ve always tried to help people.”

In the early 1980s, St. Patrick Parish in Green Bay was seeking homes for four Hmong families. Housing was available near St. Jude Church, so the families became parish members. Germain was among those who helped them learn about the church. A Hmong Mass was started at St. Jude Church. The late Fr. Jim Samter served the community and celebrated at the Mass. Germain continues to assist at the Hmong Masses as sacristan and as an altar server when needed. She also trains altar servers.

“I try to have kids from different families get involved,” she said. “One of the girls I trained as an altar server said, ‘I really like the way you tell me what’s going on.’ I tell them certain things. ‘We don’t run up the aisle, you walk slowly and prayerfully. You’ve been invited to come to Jesus’ house for a meal.’ I use stories to teach them.”

Germain, who has one grandchild, also volunteered with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts when her children were involved. She brings Communion to the homebound, and helped start and continues to volunteer with the egg roll sales which are held at St. Jude to support the Hmong Catholic community. She cherishes special gifts from the Hmong families, including a top with cross stitching and a costume to wear at the Hmong New Year celebration.

Germain plans to continue in her ministries as long as possible.

“I find that I get more out of the Mass when I’m involved,” she said.

Name: Kathy Germain
Parish: St. Jude, Green Bay
Age: 79
Favorite saint: Jude
Words to live by: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31).

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