KRAKOW — Carrie Mihalski laughs a bit when she describes herself as “the lunch lady.”
Her job title — well, one of her job titles — is kitchen manager at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary School, six miles south on Hwy. 32 in Pulaski.
She also prepares meals for young people at the diocese’s Camp Tekakwitha during the spring and summer, works the Lenten Fish Fry with her husband Andy at their parish, St. Casimir in Krakow, and holds down her primary job as mom of seven children, ages 23 to 11.
For 10 years, Mihalski facilitated St. Casimir’s religious education program. Today she’s in charge of decorating the parish church for the different liturgical seasons and celebrations.
She keeps a smile on her face as she talks humbly about all those activities, finding happiness and a reason to laugh even about all the rushing around.
She was simply volunteering in the lunchroom at Assumption where the Mihalski children go to elementary school when the job to manage the school kitchen suddenly opened up. That was seven years ago.
Cooking Monday through Friday for the 70 youngsters in the 3K- 5th grade school, she’s impressed Assumption principal Sara Mangold. The first trait that came to mind when the principal was asked about the school cook? “She’s so kind.”
Mangold appreciates that Mihalski works with all the students.
“She looks out for their best needs,” Mangold explained. “She knows students down to what kind of food they like, and who needs extra ketchup or extra ranch dressing.”
“The all-time favorite of the kids is spaghetti,” Mihalski responded in answer to a question from The Compass. “And pizza, of course. The little kids like chicken nuggets.” She smiles when she talks about cooking at Assumption “because of the kids, being with them. Kids seem like they’re always happy.”
It’s the same joy she said she’s found in the campers and young retreatants at Camp Tekakwitha. “Camp brings out the best in them,” she said.
Working the fish fry on Fridays at St. Casimir during Lent is more than just another volunteer service — it’s a family affair in several ways and another activity that Mihalski talks about with a smile on her face.
“We started three or four years ago, because we needed a new roof on the church,” she remembered. “It’s turned into a huge fundraiser — that’s so important for a small church like ours.
“People seem to enjoy it, and we serve with a fun group of people. I call it our ‘church family,’” Mihalski said. She was quick to give credit to coordinators Julie and Greg Vanasten who planned for weeks in advance to make it all work. Then, of course, her father-in-law Richard Mihalski will play guitar to liven things up, and someone else might bring a concertina to entertain the crowd and add to the fun.
It’s no surprise Mihalski is invested in her parish and works at Catholic institutions.
During her 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. workday in the kitchen at Assumption School, she listens to the Catholic programming on Relevant Radio. When she picks up her kids from school, they’ll pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet on the way home.
“We don’t watch much television, but we have Relevant Radio on a lot,” she said. She relates to the questions called in by listeners and feels she’s learning about her faith thanks to Fr. Richard Simon’s daily on-air Bible study. “He explains things in terms I can understand,” she said.
The Mihalskis have been praying the family rosary with Relevant Radio’s Fr. Rocky Hoffman, too, and Carrie said she believes prayer helped to heal one of their older sons when he had to be hospitalized with a severe illness while stationed with the U.S. Army in Texas.
“At Mass one Sunday, Fr. Carmen (Scuderi) asked people to pray for him,” she said, “and when we talked with a nurse there, she told us it was remarkable how much he had improved after that. I really think it was all the prayer.”
Mihalski thinks prayer “makes the world less scary — and it’s working.”
She added, “In the end, we want to be like Jesus, and we want to make sure we are following him and make it to where we are going.”
Name: Carrie Mihalski
Parish: St. Casimir, Krakow
Favorite saint: Faustina Kowalska
Words to live by: “Patience. Always stay humble and kind. Pray for those who are not kind.”