‘Church lady’ helps identify parish needs


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

OSKALOOSA — As a pastor serving parishes in different towns, Father John Spiegel has a general sense of the needs and traditions of his parishioners. However, when it comes to the details, sometimes longtime parishioners know best, and that’s where “Church Lady” Carolyn Dale comes in.

St. Mary Parish-Oskaloosa volunteer Carolyn Dale, front left, poses for a picture with family members during the Christmas season. Among other duties, Dale manages other volunteers in putting up and taking down liturgical decorations.

Dale, 80, has been a member of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa for nearly 60 years. She is the lead layperson for liturgy, funerals, homebound ministry, the parish center, kitchen, fellowship center and making sure the rectory is in good shape. Secretary Madonna Bowie describes her as a “well organized gal and, importantly, a delegator to help our church volunteers serve each other and the church.”

Whether the need is decorating the church appropriately for the liturgical season or organizing funeral dinners that are “well respected in the community and blessings to families,” Dale “keeps us all on task,” Bowie said.


Father Spiegel says Dale “engages the whole parish and in many ways is just a great boon to my ministry because she sees to all the details and (makes sure) things get done.”

Although Dale said she was always active in the parish in some form or another, she increased her involvement after retirement in 2003. In 2011, the Oskaloosa parish began sharing a pastor with St. Mary Parish in Pella, which is about 20 miles away. She said she understands that serving two parishes in different communities can be a challenge for priests, since they can’t devote 100 percent of their time to each “and we aren’t small parishes, either.” The Oskaloosa parish is home to about 350 families.

Father Spiegel said he feels spoiled by Dale’s ability to be his “eyes, hands and feet,” so to speak, and to identify ministry opportunities based on what she observes in the community. He appreciates having the ability to brainstorm with her.

“She can identify the needs of parishioners, and I’ll know to call or see them. When things drop between the cracks, she can tell me and we work with it.”

He said priests serving multiple parishes “sometimes don’t get those deep grassroots that connect you to the life of the community you’re at, so those who are connected provide a wonderful service. They are aware of things I wouldn’t be aware of.”

Recently, Dale suggested that the parish send cards to older residents to help them feel remembered and supported during the COVID-10 pandemic. “She finds out what needs to be done and that becomes her agenda,” Father Spiegel said. “We need those people who are faithful and connected.”

Dale makes clear that her involvement is not a one-woman-show. “I’m not indispensable by any means … I feel like I can call on many people to get things done that need to be done. We’ve got a good group of people who work well together and are willing to help if you ask. But, you have to ask!”

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