Deb is happy to be a helper in her parish
Growing up, Deb Sundblad of Eau Claire lived in a house of two faiths. “My father was Lutheran and my mother was Catholic,” Deb says. “My mother made sure all 10 of us went to a Catholic school.”
In college, Deb went to the Newman Center, but gradually became an inactive Catholic like so many young adults. It took marriage and children to bring her back to church.
Deb’s Catholic Faith was still buried deep, and she felt called to bring it to her children through religious education and attending church. “We worked with the kids and had them going to classes,” Deb says. “I helped out there.
I figured if I’m going, I might as well help out.”
The family joined St. Olaf Parish in Eau Claire in 2003. One of Deb’s three children is autistic and diabetic, and Faith helped her navigate the challenges. “It kind of brought me back into the fold,” says Deb. “It helped to pray. Praying calmed me down. Then things started working out.”
A church volunteer fair introduced Deb to ways she could help at St. Olaf. “Through that, I started to help out, with what I felt comfortable doing,” she says.
Deb is not interested in being front and center with her service. Her preference is to be busy behind the scenes, and the best benefit has been building relationships within the parish.
“Volunteering helped me find another family. There’s a lot of wonderful people that I’ve worked with,” says Deb. “They give a different perspective. They made me feel welcome.”
As the fourth child of 10, Deb grew up as a helper and learned to be responsible at an early age. “I am very detailed-oriented,” she says. “I can do so many of the background things.”
St. Olaf is a stewardship parish. When the concept was presented to the parishioners, Deb took seriously the request for everyone to tithe three percent of their income, volunteer three hours a week to the parish and spend three hours a week in prayer.
“If I’m going to be serious about this, then I needed to see what I could do,” Deb says.
One area where Deb was called to serve was as sacristan at Mass. It may be work, but there are big benefits for her.
“Your commitment with the Mass is longer than normal,” says Deb. “You go in and you start getting the connection a lot sooner. Working as sacristan is one of those things that doesn’t take a lot of talent.”
Working as sacristan isn’t the only thing she does at Mass – Deb jumps in and lends a hand as needed. “I do just about everything else,” she says. “If I’m going to be there, I might as well be helpful. The end result is always wonderful.”
Within the parish, Deb has been part of many different activities, including the parish Soup Supper, New Parishioners Supper, Lend a Heart/Lend a Hand, the Summer Social and the parish blood drive. Christmas means Deb is working on St. Nick Night and the Sharing Tree—two activities she helped start back in 2008.
St. Olaf Parish works with the Chippewa Valley Spirit of Christmas to gather a list of requested gifts and ages of the people being helped. Parishioners buy the gifts and bring them to church, which are then delivered to Spirit of Christmas.
“It warms my heart, the generosity of people,” Deb says. “It is amazing how the community comes together, and they help people. Some of the gifts they donate are unbelievable. People are very generous.”
Volunteering helped me find another family. They give a different perspective. They made me feel welcome.
The event for 2020 had not been fully planned at press time for Catholic Life. Deb knows the pandemic is changing how many things happen within the parish, but believes the event is a necessary one for the community.
“This is something people look forward to. Families do it with their kids,” she says. “There are thoughts about doing something online.”
St. Nick Night was a holiday activity for families that Deb organizes at the parish. “The families did crafts, sang songs and got a cookie,” says Deb. “This year it’s kind of on hold. It was outreach to the community. Some people brought their grandkids. They always had a good time.”
Christmas is part of many of her happiest memories. “At Christmas, the tree was beautiful,” says Deb. “It was always a wonderful time. My mom would bake up a storm. To me, this a very exciting season, and the traditions should be passed on.”
Outside of Mass and the holidays, Deb is also called to be part of other ministries. When her work as accountant with a small company didn’t provide the social connections Deb wanted, she found them by joining the Council for Catholic Women in her parish.
“I decided I should get involved a little more. For me, joining the PCCW really helped,” Deb says. “The ladies there are very good and very, very nice. You get to know people.”
Deb has been treasurer, vice president and president of the PCCW. As part of the PCCW, Deb attended meetings twice a year at the deanery level of the women’s organization. Her skills were a valuable asset.
“I haven’t missed one meeting since it started,” says Deb. “The DCCW was looking for a treasurer. I had the background, so I did it.”
The PCCW holds a cookie walk every year at St. Olaf Parish to raise money to purchase the bread and wine for communion in the parish for the entire year. Deb is a part of that team as well. “You just do what you have to do,” she says.
“It always works out.”
Deb believes one of the most important ministries in the parish is to welcome young Catholic families every week. She remembers the stress of having young children and bringing them to Mass, and knows support and acceptance of children makes life much easier for the parents.
Seeing families with children at Mass every week is a joy for her and for older people in the parish. “They see them and enjoy that,” says Deb. “Kids at Mass shouldn’t be a penance. Children are our future and we have to encourage them in the Faith.”
Deb is happy to have found her helper niche at St. Olaf Parish and looks forward to the joy she continues to receive from her quiet focus on service.
Story by MARY KAY MCPARTLIN
Published December 2020 Catholic Life Issue