Deacon Vern Linzmeier lives mercy through visiting the sick of St. Bronislava Parish in Plover
When someone is homebound or ill, it can be hard to feel like an active member of the parish, especially if you can’t attend Mass. But Deacon Vern is on a mission to make each homebound member of his parish still feel welcome and included.
Deacon Vern serves St. Bronislava Parish in Plover and says that although he is extremely honored to serve at Mass, he feels his place is truly out working in the community.
“It’s an honor to be on the altar, but, for me, it’s a bigger ministry to be out in the community and out there for our congregation,” he says. “Really, it’s not just me doing this, but it’s a great privilege for deacons that we’re all out there hoping to bring a little comfort to those who may have been forgotten.”
Deacon Vern’s warmth and genuine charm put anyone at ease and you instantly feel like you have known each other for years. The ease and comfort between himself and those he visits are what makes his ministry successful.
“We talk about almost anything. It doesn’t have to be church-related, just conversation to let them know that someone cares about them and what they have to say,” he says. “I get very close to my homebound parishioners. They become like family to me.”
His interest in helping those who are sick and homebound developed even before he became a deacon; it really started when he took up a job as a cook in an assisted living facility.
“I took up a job in the kitchens and I would see families dropping off their families and then either visiting on occasion or not at all,” he says. “I understood that families think ‘well they’re better cared for here than what I could do’ and that’s fine, but I could tell some felt really forgotten.”
Deacon Vern used to talk with those living at the home and would learn their favorite meals and how to cook them so they would feel more comfortable and have something familiar.
“My ability was being able to connect with what they like and making something that’s special to them,” he says. “I connected to them and I really saw a ministry I was starting to fall in love with. I could be there when tough times hit, so not only was I helping them, but they really helped my formation and passion.”
Now, years later, Deacon Vern does about 15 home visits during the week and visits the hospitals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He never knows what he’s going to get when he visits someone, but he knows his efforts are appreciated.
“Just this week I went and saw two people that I had previously seen at the hospital, which happens a lot, and I get the ‘Oh we were expecting your visit’ as I walk in,” he said. “Even family will stop me and say, ‘Mom really appreciates your visits and she looks forward to it.’ It makes it feel like I’m doing something.”
There is no time limit when it comes to a visit from Deacon Vern, and he appreciates every minute of it.
“It can be a 15-minute visit or an hour, but you really can’t put a time frame on it. These people don’t have that connection with the parish, so that’s me, and I take it very seriously,” he says. “It’s really refreshing, and some of the stories I hear are just inspiring.”
Many think it’s the deacon who brings the faith during a visit, but Deacon Vern takes inspiration from those he visits to explore his own faith.
“It is absolutely overwhelming to hear about their prayer life,” he says. “Sometimes we sit and watch the TV Mass or EWTN or pray the rosary. It’s humbling and they really inspire me to increase my prayer life.”
Deacon Vern will admit that visiting those who are sick, especially the elderly, can be hard, because when you lose someone there is a loss felt constantly.
“They become family members, and it’s a void that I feel,” he says. “But what helps is that I can then turn around and help the families and be with them at the funeral. Through me, they are still connected to their loved ones, and my presence offers that connection the families need.”
Deacon Vern knows he sees God through his work, especially in the people he serves, but thinks that the work the deacons, and others who visit the sick, are doing is the work of Jesus himself and serving out his message of mercy.
“God is in the lives of the suffering, and Christ dealt with all those who had disease and illness. I see God in them because that’s who Christ worked with,” he says. “I’m not working miracles, but this is what God wants us to do. I can’t heal them physically, but I hope I can help heal them spiritually.”
During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Deacon Vern encourages everyone to reach out to a person who is sick or homebound and to realize that maybe you’re already doing it and don’t realize it.
“In this mercy year, [visiting the sick] is one of those works of mercy that, in many ways, the general public is doing and they just don’t realize it,” he says. “They’re going to see family, they send cards when someone is sick, so everybody does it, they just don’t make the connection. It’s our job this year to make them more aware and to do these works with more intention.”
BY MONICA ORGAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL LIEURANCE