By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Jeanette Roush-Krafka was in elementary school when she lost her mother, Cindy, to breast cancer. Cindy was the glue of the Roush family, which includes dad Bill and sister Elsabeth. “When (mom) passed, we lost our glue. It felt like a freefall.”
The faith community at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Iowa City was a constant source of strength and support for the Roush family as they learned to navigate life without Cindy. “They helped us through the most difficult time of our lives,” said now-Father Bill, who was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Davenport in 2015.
The family’s Catholic faith — and the faith community — “became our glue,” said Jeanette, now in her 30s. “St. Mary’s is like a second home and the parishioners are like family.”
Father Bill and Jeanette spoke about the importance of faith community during a “Faith Journeys” talk March 20 at St. Mary. Attendees included members of St. Mary Parish and of Holy Family Parish (Riverside, Richmond and Wellman), where Father Bill serves as pastor.
Father Bill was a Methodist when he met Cindy, a Catholic, at a fundraising event in the 1980s. She had a heart for service and regularly sent money to a Filipino family she met while serving in the Peace Corps. “She intrigued me from the very beginning.” They married and became active members of St. Mary. While Cindy was ill, Father Bill made the decision to convert to Catholicism.
Before and after Cindy’s passing on Nov. 2, 1997, parish members provided meals, prayed with the family weekly, shared concerns and offered to help “in any way they could,” Father Bill said. Jeanette added, “There was just an overwhelming feeling that if we needed anything, so many people were willing to help us out.”
Recognizing the importance of service and community, Father Bill became involved in hospitality ministry, religious education, the Knights of Columbus and Christian Experience Weekends (CEWs). “Being there in service to God and others … that’s how our cup can overflow.”
Longtime friend Dan Teets said he remembered Roush and his young daughters serving coffee and doughnuts after Mass at St. Mary. Their hospitality was a blessing, he said.
When Jeanette and Elsabeth left for college, Father Bill began to discern a call to the priesthood. Clergy and church friends provided a listening ear and supported him along the way. They, along with Jeanette and Elsabeth, helped Father Bill find the strength to say “yes” to God.
Jeanette said she missed her St. Mary family while attending the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, but she found sustenance at St. Stephen the Witness Catholic Student Center. It was “the community of my dreams,” she said.
After college, she followed her mother’s footsteps by joining the Peace Corps. “I wanted to understand the person my mother was and share that experience with her.” Serving in Mozambique was isolating at times but she found a faith community, this time with a group of missionaries from Arkansas. “I learned to love more deeply,” she said of her time there.
She returned to the Iowa City area with her husband, Ryan Roush-Krafka. Five-month-old daughter, Liv, was born on the anniversary of Cindy’s death. Like Jeanette, Ryan lost his mother at a young age and served in the Peace Corps. Though Liv doesn’t have any living grandmothers, she has “grandfathers and the faith community to compensate,” Jeanette said. Following Liv’s birth, parish friends showered the Roush-Krafkas with meals and gifts “as if we were their own flesh and blood. I’m looking forward to that community growing as (Liv) does.”
Jeanette serves as the parish’s newsletter editor and is hopeful that testimony-sharing events like Faith Journeys will continue to “help us get to know each other and bring us closer together.”