Sue Sinclair entered the house in Oakville and headed to the back room where Tim and Carol Murray awaited. Sinclair was full of energy and smiles, looking a bit like an angel with white pants and a pale pink shirt to go with her blondish hair.
She has been called an angel in a sense; Sinclair is a volunteer with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish’s Needs and Services ministry. She helped the Murrays by giving Tim Murray — who has Alzheimer’s and can’t be left alone — a ride to a day club program. That enabled his wife, who called Sinclair “an angel in our lives,” to go for a walk and to the grocery store.
Carol Murray called the parish’s outreach a great gift. “As a caregiver, there’s so much involved, so many responsibilities. I couldn’t take care of myself if I didn’t have this program,” she said. “For people to open their hearts and to say yes, they’ll be God’s hands and feet, is just beautiful.”
She has the help twice a week, allowing her to go to an exercise class the other day. It became too much for her to get her husband to the car and took up a lot of time driving, so she realized she needed to reach out and ask for help.
In 2005, just after he was ordained, Deacon Bob Orr had a conversation with Msgr. Norb Ernst, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish, about where he could help. The parish pastor suggested that the new deacon organize the parish ministries to avoid duplication. One of the groups was the Needs and Services ministry, which had just formed.
When Deacon Orr called the archdiocese to ask for a similar model, he was told that St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s comprehensive approach was unique. Today several parishes, especially those with a parish nurse program, seek to address some of the needs of parishioners in a limited or similar way, but not necessarily so comprehensively.
The ministries served by the Needs and Services are Caregiver Relief and Meals; Communion to the Homebound; Home Maintenance and Repair; and Transportation. Each has a captain and there’s two case managers, both of whom are registered nurses. They have various protocols to follow depending on the needs.
It works smoothly. A parishioner calls the parish office, perhaps for a ride to church on Sunday, for example. Program coordinator Chris Konkel gets the request and forwards it to the transportation captain who finds out more about the need and sends an email to a list of volunteers. Another recent example of a need that was filled was a ride for a parishioner receiving daily cancer treatments. Also, an older woman who lives alone needed a toilet seat replaced and caulking. A member from the maintenance team did the work at no cost as a service of the parish. Anyone who calls who isn’t a parishioner is referred to an agency or group that can offer help.
Kim Martin serves as captain for the Caregiver Relief and Meals ministry, in which volunteers sit with loved ones of caregivers and also provide meals to families dealing with a serious illness or hospitalization. “It’s just a thing we do to help parishioners who need a little extra help,” Martin said.
A number of parishioners felt detached from their faith during the COVID-19 restrictions, Martin said. Her volunteers took on those cases and called them on a weekly basis. Volunteers prayed the Rosary with a woman who needed to stay indoors and dropped off the parish bulletin, magazines and puzzles on her doorstep. Volunteers also did grocery shopping for parishioners in need.
It’s been good for the volunteers, Martin said. “We all tend to get a little wrapped up with what’s going on in our own lives. And sometimes you don’t realize the struggles other people are having on a day-to-day basis, some things that we do without giving any thought. We’re happy to help.”
Parishioners come through
After a few years as coordinator, Deacon Orr saw a need for someone else to coordinate the ministries while he continued to oversee them in an advisory role. That’s when Chris Konkel offered to help, perhaps in home maintenance which fits his skill set.
“I’m going on and on about all these things I can do, fixing homes, plumbing, electrical,” Konkel recalled, “and he’s listening quietly and patiently. At the end of it, he said, ‘That sounds nice, but I have other plans for you. We’re looking for a coordinator, and I think you’re our guy.’”
The focus is parishioners helping parishioners. “There’s a lot of parishioners who want to volunteer. They feel good helping others who need it,” Konkel said.
Konkel recently assisted parishioner Sharon Jorgovan by moving some mattresses, a step needed because of her role in caring for a relative at her home. Jorgovan, thanking Konkel, said, “You hate to ask for help, but this time I thought I had to ask, I can’t do it.”
When COVID-19 restrictions began to ease, the volunteers visited cooped-up parishioners by sitting on porches socially distanced.
Carol Murray said it’s simple. “Our parish is built on love. People give and support. It’s just a beautiful parish.”
>> Faith helps
Carol Murray’s faith is at the top of her list every day. And it helps her cope.
Murray is the caregiver for her husband, Tim, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“I surrender every day to God, just ask Him to provide guidance and help me to listen to what He wants me to do. I’ve always said, ‘Lord, you told me if I gave my heart to you, you’d take care of me.’ And He does. I wish I could write down everything He’s done.”
She prays a surrender novena, submitting her problems, “and things just seems to work out,” she said. “I’m in awe of all of this and how God works. I have the faith of a child. It’s simple and trusting.”
The Needs and Services ministries of her parish has provided help just when she needed it. Murray is thrilled with the volunteers from the parish she’s met, which also helps her to keep a connection with the parish at a time when she’s not as involved as she was in the past. Her two boys and neighbors also are there for her when she needs help.
“I take care of everything I can possibly take care of. And when I can’t, I ask for help,” Murray said. “The first thing you have to do is reach out. If you don’t reach out, nobody’s going to know if you need help. Life can be better for you. I always say, He’s sending the boat, don’t be afraid to get in.”
As a retiree, she said, “you learn to appreciate the little things in life, the simple things, because when you’re working you don’t have the time.”
“For people to open their hearts and to say yes, they’ll be God’s hands and feet, is just beautiful.”