Your Catholic Neighbor
She 'let go and let God'
Surrendering her life to God leads Irene Skarban to happiness
By Joanne Flemming
APPLETON -- When Irene Skarban was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, she made a life-changing decision. She decided to ask God to give her direction, or as she likes to say, "Let go and let God."
Skarban, religious education director at St. Thomas More Parish in Appleton, explained that she had been "super shy" in high school and "very shy" when she started college. "I didn't like college at the beginning," she said.
She found it to be a "culture shock" because she had gone from living on a farm in Oconto County to living on a dormitory floor with more than 20 girls.
She knew that God would take care of her, but she also thought, "If I don't change and start to take care of myself and getting myself in the right direction, I (was) not sure what was going to happen."
She asked God to "really be part of my life and change it."
She majored in instrumental music, and after getting her degree, she taught music at a Catholic school in Ashland. At the end of her first year there Skarban decided she didn't want to teach instrumental music. She returned to school to get her certificate in elementary education.
"Teaching," she said, "is where my heart is."
Now Skarban begins each morning by telling God, "This is your day. Guide me along." Each day brings surprises, she said. The path he puts her on isn't always easy. She said she often asks God, "What am I supposed to be doing? Why did you put me in this mess?"
"He always gets me out of it. The situation always gets better. I have to hang in there to get to the joy beyond."
Skarban grew up the youngest of six children on a farm between Coleman and Lena. She attended Sacred Heart Church, now closed, at Spruce. Her only sister was 15 years older than she, and her youngest brother was nine years older.
Her father's mother, who lived with the family, helped shape her faith. She recalled her grandmother sitting in a wheelchair saying her rosary and praying or reading her Bible in Bohemian. Skarban related how her grandmother told her Bible stories.
When her grandmother was very ill and the priest came to give her the sacrament of anointing (then called Extreme Unction), "I helped him. I carried the candle up to my grandma. That has always stayed with me."
Her mother, Wilma, also helped shape Skarban's faith. When Skarban was a high school student and had to attend Saturday music workshops, her mother took over the religious education classes she taught.
Besides Ashland, Skarban has taught at Catholic schools in Oconto, Random Lake and Belgium. She has a master's degree in professional development from Mount Mary College, Milwaukee, and was a recipient of the Herb Kohl Fellowship.
She has been involved in music since playing the clarinet in sixth grade. She was required to take a piano class at UW-Oshkosh. That opened the way to playing organ in church and guitar and even singing.
While teaching at Oconto, she worked with the adult choir at Sacred Heart Parish. During her years at Belgium, she was a classroom teacher, music teacher, and parish music director. At St. Thomas More, she plays for Masses "as part of my stewardship" and assists the music director as needed. For four years she was also music director at St. Edward Parish, Mackville.
At Belgium, Skarban met Sr. Suzanne Dietz, who at the time was principal at St. Mary School and later became a "spiritual mentor" and friend. The two now share a home in the Appleton area.
At one time said she considered religious life and even went to a "come and see" weekend with the Bay Settlement sisters.
Sr. Suzanne invited her to attend gatherings with her religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph, in Stevens Point. Those gatherings helped her grow spiritually, Skarban said, but helped her decide she didn't want to become a nun. She did become a lay associate and has been one for more than 20 years.
Skarban is her mother's caregiver. Wilma lived with her and Sr. Suzanne in Belgium and even helped out in the school. Wilma is now a resident at St. Paul Home in Kaukauna.
Skarban serves as a volunteer for Sr. Suzanne's Heart to Heart Care ministry for the elderly and disabled, and the two women have a prayer shawl ministry.