Care for the least brings big reward
Oshkosh widow leaves more than $300,000 to parish that cared for her
By Sara Eliasen
OSHKOSH -- To many of the parishioners and staff at St. Mary Parish, Oshkosh, Lois Pagel was the face of Christ -- the personification of those Jesus referred to as "the least of us" when he said, "Whatever you do for the least among you, you do for me."
A lifetime of mental illness had left her lost, lonely and impoverished. She had been forced to place her three children up for adoption, and her relationship with her husband, Walter, whom she met while they both were in a mental health facility, was rocky.
After his hospitalization and death -- the result of a stand-off with Oshkosh police in August 1998 -- her main sources of companionship were her lawyer, her social worker, her neighbor and her cat -- and the folks at St. Mary's.
Sr. Judy Miller, CSJ, parish director at St. Mary, said many parishioners "took time to listen to her, to provide for her needs, and to be there for her. Some drove her to her medical appointments, or took her shopping, or drove her home after a visit to the parish office. Our St. Vincent de Paul Society was very good about providing her with food and clothing, too."
Jan Cleaver, St. Mary's bookkeeper, recalls how Lois would "go in streaks -- calling up the parish staff sometimes as often as 20 times a day, and then you wouldn't hear from her for a couple of days."
Yet, it came as a complete surprise for Sr. Miller and St. Mary parishioners to learn that Lois, who died last July, had named St. Mary's as the primary beneficiary of the $900,000 settlement she had won from the city of Oshkosh in the wrongful death suit filed on behalf of her husband, Walter.
A contesting of the will was recently decided in the parish's favor.
"The amount of money St. Mary's will receive is not within our control," said Sr. Miller, "but we have been told it will be approximately $350,000.
"This money will be used to further the mission of our parish," she added, "and to continue reaching out to others like Lois."