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Wilma Mitchell, 95, works one day a week at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Parish in Florissant. Mitchell has served as a parish secretary since 1970, when she was hired at the former St. Thomas the Apostle in Florissant.
Wilma Mitchell, 95, works one day a week at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Parish in Florissant. Mitchell has served as a parish secretary since 1970, when she was hired at the former St. Thomas the Apostle in Florissant.
Photo Credit: Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne parish secretary Wilma Mitchell has loved every minute of her more than 50 years of service to the Church

There are countless behind-the-scenes tasks that come with running a parish.

Wilma Mitchell knows firsthand what has to be done: entering weekly offertory contributions and donations from special collections, maintaining the parish census and keeping sacramental records up to date. Answering the phones, greeting visitors and even some light cleaning duties are part of the gig, too.

Wilma Mitchell arrived at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Church where she works in the parish office one day a week.
Photo Credits: Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review
It’s not glamorous work, but it is essential to keeping a parish operating smoothly. Mitchell has been doing it for more than 50 years, beginning with her first secretary position at the former St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Florissant. Today, the 95-year-old continues her service to the Church, working one day a week at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Parish in Florissant.

“Jesus keeps wanting me to work for His Church,” Mitchell said. “I’ve loved every minute of it.”

In all, Mitchell has given 52 years of service to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, beginning at St. Thomas the Apostle in 1970, when founding pastor Father Francis Matyas hired her full time at the rate of $1 an hour.

Among the duties, Mitchell prepared the bulletin using an old printing machine in the basement, printing 300 copies every week, and stuffing bulletins with extra notices when needed.

“I ruined so many clothes with that ink,” she joked. “But I loved every minute of it.”

She also helped keep track of offertory contributions and recording sacraments, answered the phones and on occasion helped with cleaning and laundry. Mitchell served in that role for 35 years.

Wilma Mitchell has worked with the Archdiocese of St. Louis as a parish secretary at St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne and St. Justin Martyr parishes, beginning in 1970.
Photo Credits: Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review
“Father Matyas was a dear pastor,” Mitchell said, adding that she was the lector at his funeral Mass in 2009.

Mitchell also recalled working with another priest at St. Thomas the Apostle, then-Father Vincent Bommarito, who served his first pastorate there from 1994-99.

“He was such a delight to work for,” she said. “He’d park the car and come up the steps yelling, ‘Wilma!’ He would cook lunch for me, too — he was such a good cook, too. And we’re still friends.” With their birthdays only a few days apart, Mitchell still sends Msgr. Bommarito a card on his birthday and calls at the holidays.

Msgr. Bommarito, now pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Louis, described Mitchell as the heart of the parish. “Everybody knew her. She’d want to know about their whole history,” he said. “The best thing about Wilma was she is an incredible, kind and welcoming person,” and the first person a guest who is coming into the Catholic faith should meet, he added.

There’s only one thing that comes above her service to the Church — her grandchildren. “Her grandkids walk on water, right next to Jesus,” Msgr. Bommarito joked.

In 2005, St. Thomas the Apostle merged with St. Dismas and Our Lady of Fatima parishes to form St. Rose Philippine Duchesne. Mitchell continued working at St. Rose. The parish merger eventually led to a reduction in hours in 2008.

To help fill the gap, Father Joe Weber, who worked with Mitchell when he was associate pastor at St. Thomas in the 1980s, hired her at St. Justin Martyr in 2008 when he was pastor there. She worked there part time for 12 years until the pandemic in 2020.

Every Tuesday, Mitchell arrives early to get to her work. She stays until midday and then attends her regular eucharistic adoration time from noon-1 p.m. A former regular with the parish quilter’s group, Mitchell still helps organize the group’s finances.

Mitchell is the oldest of six children, and the last surviving sibling. She and her husband, Thomas, who died 17 years ago, would have marked their 75th wedding anniversary this year. Her two children are grown, and she’s been blessed with four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“God has been good to me,” she said.

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