By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
EAST PLEASANT PLAIN — During Mass last month, members of Ss. Joseph & Cabrini Parish honored Shirley Van Dee for 10 years of serving as parish life coordinator, gifting her with kind words, a certificate and a reception.
“Thank you, Shirley, we are so blessed to have you be our go-to person for the parish,” longtime parishioner Kathryn Dickinson said during the Mass on Feb 4. “We are so grateful to you for coming into our lives 10 years ago to fill the position. You are a great community booster for Richland and the surrounding areas.”
But, in Van Dee’s mind, it wasn’t about her. “It’s not just my celebration. It’s the whole parish. It takes a whole parish to make things run smoothly.”
Bishop Emeritus Martin Amos appointed Van Dee to the post in January of 2008. He proposed the idea of having a Parish Life Coordinator for the East Pleasant Plain and Richland parishes — then separate — in response to the priest shortage. It was either that or close the parishes, Van Dee recalled. “Bishop offered to have a Parish Life Coordinator (PLC) come, or close the parish. So they chose a PLC, which was me.”
Although she was qualified, working as an insurance agent and office manager for 25 years and serving the Diocese of Davenport’s Ministry Formation Program as a volunteer facilitator, she was surprised to have been recommended. “I never thought I’d actually become a PLC. The idea that (the bishop) had confidence in me was overwhelming,” she told The Catholic Messenger at the time.
As PLC, Van Dee handles sacramental preparations, finances, meetings and secretarial work (with the help of a bookkeeper). She also leads prayer and preaches when a priest or deacon is not available. “We do everything priests do except the sacramental part,” she said of PLCs. Generally, the chaplain of the VA Medical Center in Iowa City drives down for Masses to serve as sacramental minister.
Initially, there were challenges. Six months into her tenure, the parishes merged, leading to more changes. But it brought out the best in her, and the parishioners. It was rewarding for her to be able to work with the parishes as they began to establish a singular identity. “They’ve done a very wonderful job,” she said.
It also took the parish some time to adjust to having a “woman in charge,” Van Dee said with a laugh. But it’s something they embrace. At the Mass honoring Van Dee, Dickinson chose to read the poem “God Created Woman.”
As with many rural communities, population remains an issue, but the 120 families in the parish persevere. “The families have stuck together,” Van Dee said.
So when members of the parish told Van Dee about their plans to honor her, she consented, with one condition: that everyone in the parish would have an opportunity to feel appreciated. In January, Van Dee wrote a note of gratitude in the parish bulletin. Together, on Feb. 4, Van Dee and the families of Ss. Joseph & Cabrini Parish enjoyed heart-shaped pastries and prizes at the post-Mass reception. “It was a neat party. It was so much fun,” commented Rosemary Pacha, president of the parish’s Altar and Rosary Society.
“I want the parishioners to know they are appreciated, as well as me,” Van Dee said.