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Church champion's career spans four decades

After 39 years of working in the St. Bridget's church office, Pat Lubich retired at the end of March.1 / 2
<i>Debbie Griffin photo </i> Now-retired employee of St. Bridget Catholic Church Pat Lubich stands with the Rev. Fr. Gerald Harris and Business Administrator Ric Johnson.2 / 2

Pat Lubich said her titles and duties changed many times during the 39 years she worked at St. Bridget Catholic Church. She retired from the job March 31. Lubich remembers starting the job Dec. 13, 1971, at age 18.

"I've been a member here for life," she says about her hometown church.

As a teenager, she'd attended religious education at Tom O'Connell's house, who sat on the St. Bridget Parish School board. Lubich also babysat for Bob and Adorene Stuhl, who were also closely involved with the church and school.

"When the topic came up of needing someone at the school," said Lubich, "they knew me."

She started as a part-time employee , working half of it for the school and half for the church, "And they shared a typewriter," said Lubich.

Not too long after starting the job, she moved to full-time employment as the church secretary. Other official titles included office manager, bookkeeper and financial administrative assistant.

The list of unofficial titles should also include chief organizer, counselor, wedding planner, keeper of the sacramental records, and the list could go on.

Lubich served alongside four different pastors during her years at St. B's: Fr. Dennis Meulmans 1971-1985; Fr. Daniel Dahlberg 1985-1994; Fr. James Powers 1994-1996; and Fr. Gerald Harris 1996-present.

Lubich said the church community had about 700-800 families when she started.

Upon her departure, the families numbered 1,600-1,700. She clarifies that those numbers represent "family units," not individual parishioners.

As the church grew, so did its need for more space. Lubich said it was not feasible to remodel or expand the original church built in 1892.

"It had a really bad sag in the roof," she recalls.

St. B's built a new church in 1984 then added to that a big fellowship-hall addition in 2006. Lubich said she wasn't heavily involved in all the construction work but admits for her the improvements meant a lot of moving.

"And moving and moving and moving and moving," she smiled.

While construction crews worked on the heavy-duty task of moving the (yellow) rectory house and pouring a basement in its new location, Lubich moved her office into the basement of the old church. When that job was finished, she moved back to the rectory-house offices.

When the time came to build the addition, she again moved the church offices into the "old convent" that has since been razed to create a playground. When the addition was finished, Lubich moved the church office again.

Diverse duties

Asked about her biggest joys and challenges of the job, Lubich said, "I think a good thing was the variety of work."

She tended to a wide range of tasks: Greeting people, keeping books, coordinating deliveries and other correspondence, keeping vital sacramental records and sometimes counseling people when the priest was out, for example, someone how had a death in the family.

Lubich says she worked with many brides and mothers of the bride on weddings. They usually had lots of questions about their big, important day.

"I just took my job as ministry," she said, adding that being in it only for the money would have been the wrong reason.

She remembers the church adding another part-time office person in 1985 then making that a full-time position in the early 1990s. Looking around the St. B's office now reveals all the modern equipment it takes to run a successful non-profit organization, but Lubich recalls that in 1971, there was no copier, no computers, no fax machine.

"We shared a copier with our school," she said.

The former church employee says one thing that didn't change much in her years with the church: Catholicism itself.

With a little prodding, she admits she won't miss compiling and submitting St. B's annual report to the Diocese of Superior. It must include accurate counts of all kinds of statistical information including births, deaths and confirmations plus other numbers and information.

Lubich said since the report was due shortly after the first of the year, she inevitably ended up working on it right around the busy Christmas season.

Scaling back, stepping down

Lubich said, "In 2008, I was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer."

She completed treatment for what doctors called a rare kind of cancer in early 2009 then returned to work in March. In July 2010, her physicians told her she had a recurrence of the cancer.

She used the remainder of her paid time off but is still undergoing cancer treatments that doctors say could continue for "a while."

Lubich says physicians will "watch" her disease using a tumor marker and CAT scans.

She decided in March to retire and cheerfully tells what great support she has had from her large family and many friends.

Between the draining treatments, the retired church champion spends time reading, knitting, crocheting, and sometimes, napping.

"And I do hope to be able to do some volunteer work in the future," she said.

Lubich beams as she tells how St. B's held receptions after each Mass the last weekend in March and also hosted a lunch honoring Lubich that Sunday.

A "Team Lubich" attended the Relay For Life fundraising event that same weekend, sporting teal -- the color for ovarian cancer -- and raising funds in her honor for the American Cancer Society.

Her Relay team sold teal-colored paper hands on which people wrote a personal message, which they presented her at the Sunday luncheon.

She describes the surprise Teal Glove Dance video, which was shown at the Relay event and at her reception lunch. Lubich said she adores it and has watched it multiple times.

Many loved ones collaborated to produce the video, and Lubich was amazed that nobody leaked a word about it. Co-workers, friends, family and church members, as well as people from around town -- the bank, library, police department and grocery store -- "star" in the production waving teal hands and acting a bit silly.

Lubich says it's posted on the website Enter in the search bar "Teal Glove Dance."

The church champion said it was also deeply meaningful when she was presented during Mass with a letter of honor and appreciation from Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Superior, Most Rev. Peter Christensen. After it was presented, Lubich said the congregation paid her a high compliment with a standing ovation.

"It was really an exciting and fun weekend," she said.