Mary Allison volunteers her time to the homebound parishioners of St. Joseph Parish in Menomonie. For Mary Allison, visiting the sick is not a job or a chore, it is a joyful experience.
Through her work as secretary for St. Joseph Parish in Menomonie, Mary has the opportunity to work with the sick in several different ways. She visits people in their homes, provides a monthly Communion service at an assisted living facility and plans a yearly healing Mass for the parish.
By Mary Kay McPartlin
Photography by Michael Lieurance
“I try to see a variety of people. I do it through work,” Mary says. “I have always enjoyed being with older people.”
Caring for the sick was one of Jesus’ commands to his disciples and is part of the Corporal Works of Mercy. As a cradle Catholic, Mary is aware of Jesus’ desire for his followers to show reverence and love to the elderly and those who are struggling with illness. She follows Christ’s lead, and her service is rooted in the understanding of how valuable these people are to the St. Joseph community and what joy they bring to her daily life.
Mary’s home life also brings her closer to people who are often the forgotten members of society. “I spend a great portion of time with my mother,” says Mary. “She’s in a care facility. There are other people in the facility that I do see and engage with as well. I’ve always been drawn to being with people. It gives me great joy.”
For Mary, ministering to the sick goes beyond just bringing the Eucharist or praying with people. Ministry also means bringing the outside world to people who can’t go and do what they used to do.
During Lent, her ministry even included sharing the moments of the season.
“I tried to take fish fries to people who couldn’t get out,” Mary says.
Every year in October, St. Joseph parish offers a healing Mass and anointing of the sick for parishioners. Invitations are sent to those who are 80 or older, and Mass is followed by a meal of soup and sandwiches. The special Mass is a beloved tradition in the parish.
“We’ve been offering the anointing Mass for at least seven years,” says Mary. “The people who come are so faithful. I am so struck by their great, strong faith. Also many who are invited and attend the Mass are the same people who go out and help others through the homebound ministry. There’s just something about being present with all of these people. You get to know the people really well. You know about them and their history. It’s such a great community of people. There are fabulous role models here for me. I feel very blessed to be part of St. Joseph’s.”
Each year, the anointing Mass is bittersweet for Mary as she notices that faces from previous years are now missing. It is a time for her to reflect on the faithful parishioners who have died, but are not forgotten.
Mary is quick to point out she is only one of many people in the parish who care for people often not seen by society. “I’m so impressed with the amount of people who are in this ministry and are so generous with their time,” she says. “Father talked about what we need to remember this week in his homily. We all belong to God. Each person, no matter who they are, is very important in His eyes. Sometimes I’m sure people feel they don’t have that importance. I see all the people that work in these care facilities, and how they are working with people who need the utmost of care. They treat them with great dignity.”
The people Mary encounters in her home visits and her time spent at care facilities bring Christ into her life. A connection grows through prayers, the daily readings and the gift of the Eucharist. Mary’s relationship with them deepens through personal stories shared, which are valuable as well as uplifting.
“I feel very humbled. It’s just an honor that they are letting me be with them,” says Mary. “They are neat and important people.”
Mary’s faith has always been rooted in doing good works. During her years living in larger cities, she was active in Stephen Ministry. The purpose of Stephen Ministry is to provide one-on-one care to a person experiencing a difficult time in his or her life.
Through conversation, the touch of a hand, a hug and a smile, Mary has learned both she and the people she visits will grow in joy and love. Visiting the sick and homebound are ways she can share her love of Christ and her Catholic faith.
“I was a really lucky kid. I just loved life,” Mary says. “Growing up was great. There was something about the older people. We lived next door to my grandma and grandpa. I had a lot of love growing up.”
The world can be a challenging place, but faith keeps Mary grounded and with a positive attitude in her daily life. Sharing faith with others helps it to grow, she believes.
“You just have to make the best of things,” says Mary. “Why not just be happy? Life is great. Faith is a whole package. I’m just really very happy in my life and my ability to be here at St. Joe’s and to work with people every day that I love. There’s something about the job of being in a school parish. You see Christ in people all the time. You’re meeting with the kids and seeing people come through the front door. There’s really nothing quite like it.”
For Mary, the work she does for her parish is a joyful service, something any person can do and many parishioners at St. Joseph do on a regular basis.
“I don’t feel like I am any better than anyone else here,” Mary says. “Visiting the sick is part of my day. I’m just blessed and happy. God has just been so good to me. It makes me very happy and very joyful.”