Comforting and nurturing to show the love of God

Weston Kenney |

Debbie Gartner doesn't want anyone to feel invisible.

That's why she'll drop everything late at night to keep vigil with dying Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioners, write letters or scour St. Louis for obscure supplies -- like chef's coats and size 16 shoes -- for the homeless men at Sts. Peter and Paul Shelter.

This labor often is only visible to those receiving its fruits, so Father Brad Modde, former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in St. Louis, nominated Gartner for a Catholic Women's Award, which she will receive Aug. 2.

The Catholic Women's Award is opened annually to one woman from each parish in the archdiocese, nominated by the pastor or parish council. The theme for the award this year is comforter/nurturer; its model is Mary Magdalene.

Gartner "was just very hands-on" in her work comforting the dying and nurturing the homeless, said Father Modde, now pastor at St. Simon the Apostle Parish. "She was very conscious of involving people in her ministry ... to allow other people to show the love of God."

Father Modde accompanied Gartner, Immaculate Heart of Mary's pastoral associate for seniors, on visits to nursing homes that house elderly parishioners and discovered that her visits, at around 45 minutes, long outlasted his own.

"I quickly learned that I had to block out chunks of time if I went with Debbie, because she took the time to really speak with the people, listen to them," Father Modde said.

Gartner said that when she visits the nursing homes, she sees cards in the parishioners' rooms from the Immaculate Heart of Mary card-writing ministry, which she began.

"I tell the parishioners, 'You're amazing,'" she said. "They set them out and they want people to know that their parish is still thinking of them."

Gartner also is perceptive to the needs of the elderly. She recounted the story of one woman who told her she feared dying alone, and how, as the woman was dying on a cold December night, she and Father Modde dashed to the hospice to stay with her.

She said she told the woman, "You are going to leave this earth the way you have lived in it, trusting in God and letting Him love you. ... If you just let Jesus love you, you don't have to be afraid."

"We all felt that she just had that sense of peace, and that was so important, especially knowing she was always afraid of being alone," Gartner recalled.

Modde added: "It was because Debbie had the gift of staying with her that she knew, hey, she doesn't want to die alone. It really was just a moving experience to be there with her."

Gartner also co-coordinates the parish's service at Sts. Peter and Paul men's shelter in St. Louis, where the Immaculate Heart parishioners serve dinner, play games with the men and donate supplies.

"People are so amazingly generous and I get the blessing of sharing it with the men, the blessing of seeing their faces and letting them know that they are loved, and that's very important to me," Garner shared.

Father Modde wrote in Gartner's nomination that she connects the men at the shelter with hard-to-find supplies they need, like a chef's coat which Father Modde's brother provided.

With the coat, Modde said, the man was able to get a job as a chef and find housing.

"Seeing the things that these women do and do for no other reason than because this is the way they're led to live, it's very encouraging," said Jo Ann Owings, program coordinator for the Catholic Women's Awards. "It's one of the few ways that we can acknowledge the things that women do, and many, many times it's behind the scenes. It's something that isn't big and showy."

Father Modde said: "It needs to be celebrated in our Church. And we all need to be reminded, 'hey, we're called to do that too.'"

2015 Catholic Women's Awards

Marge Aylward — St. Anselm
Jane Bier — Immaculate Conception, Dardenne
Judy Brouk — St. Anthony of Padua, High Ridge
Sr. Elsy Joyce Chencheril, SMMI — St. Matthias the Apostle
Cindy Coffelt — St. Catherine of Alexandria, Coffman
Lucy Corbett — St. James the Greater
Donna Dittmer — Our Lady of the Holy Cross
Rita Eggert — St. Ann, Clover Bottom
Alice Elbert — St. Gertrude, Krakow
Betty Eschelbach — Epiphany
Catherine Frankenberg — St. Francis Borgia
Debbie Gartner — Immaculate Heart of Mary
Mary Lou Goedeker — Our Lady of Sorrows
Carole Haislip — Immaculate Conception, Maplewood
Joan Hasser — Sts. Peter and Paul
Leslie Hernandez — St. Joseph, Manchester
Agnes Hinkebein — St. Joseph, Farmington
Mary Ann Huber — Assumption, O'Fallon
Agatha Ijei — St. Alban Roe
Ruth Jones — St. Alphonsus Ligouri Church (Rock)
Carol Kehrman — Mary, Mother of the Church
Mary Janet Kinsella — Church of the Little Flower
Jean Kleypas — Our Lady of Guadalupe
Linda Kohnen — St. Francis of Assisi, Oakville
Sr. Sandra Krupp, ASCJ — St. Ambrose
Jackie Macher — All Saints, St. Peters
Leigh Manalang — St. Stephen Protomartyr
Katie Moran — Holy Name of Jesus
Yvonne Morrison — St. Clare of Assisi
Margaret (Peg) Murphy — St. Matthew the Apostle
Helen Ruth Nolkemper — Immaculate Heart of Mary,
New Melle
Elaine Pinar — St. Vincent de Paul, Perryville
Christina Proehl — St. Michael the Archangel
Lorraine Siebert — Assumption, Mattese
Miriam Sieve — Immaculate Conception, Union
Beth Smith — St. Cletus
Stella Smith — St. Robert Bellarmine
Virginia Timm — St. Francis Xavier (College) Church
Diane Trice — Visitation/St. Ann Shrine
Rose Vierdag — Sacred Heart, Florissant
Diane Weber — Ste. Genevieve, Ste. Genevieve
Cathy White, RN — St. Margaret of Scotland
Mary Ann Zimmerman — Mary Queen of Peace 

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