Summoned to Sing

This article was posted on: April 25, 2022

Doris brings others to God through her music

In 1971, just after Doris (Weinfurter) Mielke graduated from college, she felt called to approach her pastor, Father James Ennis, about starting a folk music group to provide music at one of the Masses at her lifelong parish, St. Kilian in Blenker. Armed with her guitar, a handful of volunteers and father’s blessing, one unassuming Sunday Doris started a thriving ministry in the tiny country parish that has now spanned more than five decades and involved hundreds of youth, families and anyone willing to lift their voices or pick up an instrument.

Doris (center) at the group’s 50th-anniversary celebration in 2021. Ann (left) was her first guitar accompanist and Lori (right) was her first organ accompanist. Both were high schoolers at
the time.

Through the 50 years it’s been in existence, St. Kilian Parish’s folk music group didn’t just sing for Masses, they established a community and created bonds of friendship and camaraderie within the parish community. For Doris, the group became a second family and really encompassed her life in a positive way from the time she was a young woman until now, living out her retirement years. Aside from their weekly parish commitment, the group enjoyed many sing-a-longs at local nursing homes, holiday parties and camping trips.

The year 1971 was a busy one for Doris. Not only did she start the folk music group at her parish, she also joined six of her 10 Weinfurter siblings and a family friend to form the famed Central Wisconsin polka group, the Jolly 8, which has been providing music for local celebrations for nearly 30 years. The same year also brought the start of Doris’ career. Having graduated from college with a degree in elementary education, she began teaching in Marshfield, a position she held for 10 years until she married.

During one of the Jolly 8’s performances, this particular one in neighboring Milladore, Doris met Carl Mielke. The two shared a common enjoyment of square dancing and music and began dating. In 1980, they were married, surrounded by the voices and musical talents of the St. Kilian folk group. The couple moved to Carl’s family farm and took up farming full time. They have two children, Renee and Adam.

As their family grew, Doris and Carl involved their children in their commitments. They became members of the folk group. Doris also taught CCD for many years, teaching her students special songs for Christmas and class Masses. She always worked to make families and youth feel welcome, recognizing that when they became a part of the liturgical ministry, they felt a deeper connection to the parish and the Faith. Doris’ work with young people has been part of what has kept their pews (and especially the choir loft) full for Mass.

Doris gathered with a group of her family and friends to play music together.
Doris and Carl in their Junction City home standing by their wall of memories.

In the early days of the folk choir, Doris had a parent ask her every week after Mass if she would give her daughter guitar lessons. Having just picked up the instrument herself a few years prior after buying her roommate’s old guitar for $15 and teaching herself, she felt inadequate. But Doris finally agreed. Even today, she continues to generously offer guitar lessons to any parish children who want to learn and join her on Sundays.

Doris’ close friend and fellow parishioner, Judy Meyer, was integral in the workings of the folk group for 40 years. She served as the organist and pianist and, like Doris, gave music lessons to eager youth.

Doris explains that “through the years, the dynamic of St. Kilian’s folk group has been constantly evolving,” both in size and composition. But one constant has been Doris’ dedication to her musicians and to provide music for her beloved parish family. “The folk group has [been] and is a labor of love,” she shares. “As years go by, God has always provided players and singers. My prayer is that the words of our hymns will carry over to their lives and inspire our young and old to come closer to God.”

Snapshots of camping trips the folk group took in the early years.

“Our family feels at home at St. Kilian Parish,” Doris says. Even though her husband Carl comes from the Lutheran tradition, he sings with the folk group and has always been a part of their camaraderie. The Mielkes’ daughter Renee and her family live in nearby Stevens Point and remain parishioners at St. Kilian. Renee is a piano accompanist; her children sing and her husband, Sean, plays violin. When Doris and Carl’s son Adam comes to visit, he brings his guitar to Mass, and his family joins the chorus as well. It has truly become a family affair, not just for the Mielkes but for so many other Blenker families who have made a connection at their parish and through this music ministry, have come to love serving and singing under Doris’ direction.

Snapshots of camping trips the folk group took in the early years.

Last July, in conjunction with their parish picnic and celebration of their patron, the community of St. Kilian Parish honored Doris for her 50 years of service and for her continued leadership. Dozens of former singers and musicians came back to the parish to celebrate and sing together.

Father Murali Anand Rayappan, pastor of St. Kilian Parish, recognizes Doris’ commitment and heartily encourages her ministry, calling her “a lady of strong Faith and holiness by her humility and service to the mystical body of Christ. She is a replica of St. Cecilia in the parish.” Doris hopes to continue to bring music to the parish and inspire parishioners to join her for years to come!

Story and photography by Amy Eichsteadt
Published in the April 2022 Issue of Catholic Life Magazine
Featured photo: Singers and musicians from throughout the decades of Doris’ music ministry gather at a special 50th-anniversary celebration for the group during the annual parish picnic to make music and reminisce.

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