March 24-31, 2004
St. Augustine’s Treasure
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Kate Connor is the Recipient of This Year’s Sister Pat Geary Award
“Regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” — Philippians 2: 3-4
BALDWINSVILLE — The above scripture passage couldn’t fit Kate Connor’s personal beliefs any better. Connor has been a member of St. Augustine’s Parish for 36 years. She is also a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Warners. Connor joked that she enjoys being a member at both parishes, until it comes time for the HOPE Appeal –– she receives a pledge card from each parish. In addition to being actively involved in various ministries throughout the church, Connor has served as a representative and officer of the Diocesan Pastoral Council for the Western Region. These days, Connor spends most of her time coordinating the Bereavement Ministry at St. Augustine’s — a job that she has been doing for 10 years. Her dedication, commitment and compassion have won her the Sister Patricia Geary Christian Service Award. Connor is the fifth recipient of the award, which was established in memory of Sister Patricia Geary, CSJ, after her death in 1998.
Sister Pat served in the Albany and Syracuse Dioceses as an educator, administrator, pastoral associate, director of diocesan formation for ministry and superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph. She began her ministry at St. Augustine’s in 1990, where she quickly took a leadership role. Among her many accomplishments, Sister Pat instituted and revised the RCIA program, restructured the Pastoral Council and increased communication throughout the parish. Sister Pat encouraged all people to participate in the spiritual mission of the church. The award named in her memory is given to individuals who exemplify the values that were important to Sister Pat –– the Gospel mandate of Christian service to others, the social mission of the church, and a call to respect the dignity of all people. Connor was nominated for her inspiring and dedicated work with the families of the parish who have lost loved ones. Connor and more than 40 volunteers work together to organize and plan all of the necessary funeral arrangements. In addition to the bereavement committee, St. Augustine’s also has a Lazarus Committee and a Bethany Committee. The Lazarus Committee is made up of parish members who attend funerals and act as representatives of the parish. They serve as greeters and add their voices to the choir. The Bethany Committee (named for Mary and Martha) are called upon to cook and serve at funeral receptions.
Connor facilitates the ministries and said that she receives much more from the experience than she gives. “I get so much out of giving back,” said Connor. “I get to know the people I’m trying to help. When they call, I reach out my hand and walk with them through their journey.” Connor admitted that before she began this ministry she was very uncomfortable attending wakes and funerals. “If anyone ever told me a few years ago, that I’d be in charge of funerals, I would have thought they were crazy,” she said. Now Connor not only organizes all the tasks that need to be done, but also stands in at wake services and grave side services if the pastor is unavailable. “I look at it this way,” she said, “we are giving this person back to God. I leave that person for God to take care of. I take the family and take care of them.” The award was especially meaningful to Connor because she worked side by side with Sister Pat. “We went through Formation for Ministry together,” she said. “And then we worked together for eight years in the bereavement ministry.” Connor said that the most difficult task of the ministry is organizing the reception following the funeral. Before she and her group of volunteers start making calls to organize the menu, Connor calls the family to extend her condolences and offer her support. She also sends them a sympathy card, followed by two others –– after three months and again on the first anniversary of the death. She also makes a point of keeping in contact with family members after the funeral is over. “I’ve had people tell me that they received my call just when they needed it the most,” said Connor. “I let them know through a phone call or inviting them for a cup of coffee that my hand is still here if they need me.” Dan Ditz, supervisor of building and grounds and chair of the Sr. Pat Geary Service Award committee said that Connor has a unique relationship with the families she serves. “She also coordinates an All Souls Day Mass and invites all the families who have lost loved ones during the past year to attend the Mass,” said Ditz,
While Ditz said that Connor’s length of service and her close association with Sister Pat were factors in the committee’s decision, it was her compassion and dedication that won her the award. “She has struggled with many of her own serious health problems and yet she continues to minister to others,” said Ditz. Sister Rose Parkhurst, CSJ, was also on the selection committee. She, like the others, read the nameless applications and said each of the applicants was unique in his/her own way. “Kate goes beyond bereavement ministry in the way that she follows up with the families,” said Sister Rose. “For me it was a great thing to see how this woman, who had been mentored by Sister Pat and worked with her, was selected as a recipient of an award in her memory.” Sister Rose said that it was also moving to see how the parish community reacted to her win.
“When I saw Kate coming into church for the ceremony and how people greeted her, it was clear that it was their way of thanking her for all she has done. It was more of a personal sharing of gratitude, not only on the part of the parish and the Sisters of St. Joseph, but by the families who have been affected by her ministry,” said Sister Rose. “To walk this journey with so many during a such a difficult period of their lives is a gift,” she said.