By Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA
Special to The Witness
Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Kathy Stuttgen lives daily the Franciscan value of seeing the good in all. From her early days of ministry at Sacred Heart Parish in Oelwein, Iowa, to her current position at Mary, Mother of the Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin, she continues to reach out to homebound women and men. Aging is difficult in our culture; often the very pillars of the neighborhood find themselves forgotten and sometimes vulnerable. Sister Kathy has a passion for justice and to make sure no one slips through the cracks.
Word of mouth is how Sister Kathy discovers who is in need of help. Listening intently she often hears who has not been around lately or who may have been hospitalized. She does not always have a plan of who she will visit, most of the time she relies on her gut feeling and news she hears as she drives from house to house. There is always a reason a door goes unanswered, and she wants to know why. Neighbors recognize her car and share what they have seen, especially if an ambulance was at the house.
Before sharing Communion, she sits and listens to each person as they break open the stories of their lives. She is not rushed by a clock or worried about moving on; she takes time with each person as if he or she is the only one on her ever growing list. Families are grateful for her visits and often rely on her. Often when a family member contacts Sister Kathy to inform her that mom or dad has died, the family offers to donate furniture or medical equipment, knowing Sister Kathy will put it to good use.
Sister Kathy serves as a small moving company on a daily basis — her vehicle often full of walkers, wheelchairs, shower chairs and a variety of other equipment. Her office and home are often sanctuaries for such items that overflow from her car. Riding in her car, you’ll find yourself sitting next to a walker, shower chairs and a few extension grabbers. She knows she is doing God’s work as she will hear about a need for a wheeled walker and before she even thinks about where she will get one, it is waiting for her at the office or at her house (as people often drop off things even when she is not around). While sharing her story, she laughed and recalled something once heard: never ask for an elephant unless you really want one. She has experienced the provident hand of God and the generosity of others who believe in the value of helping others.
Sister Kathy is a woman on a mission. She serves as a voice for the forgotten and reminds everyone not to forget their aging relatives and neighbors. Everyone needs love and care. Can you spare a few moments of your life to listen to someone you know who is homebound or lonely? It’s not just an act of mercy; it is the call of the Gospel.
This article is part of a series in the Year of Mercy on vocations that is sponsored by the Dubuque Area Vocation Association.
Contributed photo. Sister Kathy Stuttgen (right) distributes the Eucharist to Bernadine Miller as part of her ministry to the homebound.