“Measuring up” against Aunt Debbie was a cherished rite of passage for Debbie Hintz’s 20 nieces and nephews. On their birthdays, the kids would stand against a wall to compare their height against that of their aunt, watching themselves grow taller over the years.
But though they all eventually surpassed Aunt Debbie in physical stature, “They all agreed they could never come close to matching her in spiritual stature,” said Hintz’s friend, Fr. Joe Hornacek.
Hintz, who was well-known in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for her many years of service as a parish director and for her dedication to lay ministry, passed away on Friday, Oct. 23, at the age of 65, following a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia in February.
Until her retirement this year, Hintz served as the parish director of St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Milwaukee, a job to which she came in 2006. Prior to that, she was the pastoral associate at St. Matthias Parish in Milwaukee from 1993 to 2006, the pastoral associate at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in New Berlin from 1989-93 and the pastoral minister at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Milwaukee from 1980-88. Before her work in ministry, Hintz taught seventh and eighth grades for several years at St. Margaret Mary.
She was a 1977 graduate of Mount Mary College, where she studied elementary education, and a 1984 graduate of Boston College, where she earned her Master’s degree in pastoral ministry.
Friends and colleagues spoke of Hintz, who also authored three published books of prayer services, as a strong but humble leader, capable and kind, who was always cognizant of the needs and sensibilities of the communities she served.
“She was just such a good teacher and leader. There were so many good things about her,” said Fr. Dick Mirsberger, a longtime friend who first met Hintz when she was a senior at Mount Mary College. The two worked together at St. Margaret Mary and, later, at St. Catherine of Alexandria when Fr. Mirsberger was an assisting priest. “She had a deep faith and she loved people and wanted to share her love of God with people.”
“She was always calling us to refine our thoughts and strategies to offer paths for all those wanting to know Christ in their lives to a fuller extent than the present,” said Jeff Honore, who worked with Hintz for 13 years at St. Matthias.
Honore, who is now the director of pastoral music at Holy Apostles Parish in New Berlin, kept in touch with Hintz over the years. “She worked tirelessly to show in word and deed what a parish director could be in our archdiocese and the U.S.,” he said.
Last year, Hintz was invited to be the program coordinator of a national study of parish directors based at Cardinal Stritch University and funded by a Lilly Foundation grant. “Even from her hospital bed just weeks ago, she was participating by way of Zoom,” said Fr. Hornacek. “She wasn’t just one of our parish directors in the Milwaukee archdiocese — she was known (nationally) for being that kind of a pathfinder for lay ministry in the Church.”
Due to COVID-19, only close family was able to attend Hintz’s funeral, which was live-streamed. A memorial Mass is being planned for a later date, when a larger gathering will be possible.
“The parish is in grief, there’s no question about it. They never really formally said goodbye to her,” said Andy Kukec, director of liturgy and music at St. Catherine of Alexandria. “She was going to retire on Aug. 16 (her 65th birthday) and there would have been a farewell and everything, but she got sick, so there wasn’t. With COVID, we couldn’t really do what was being planned or thought of to say good-bye. So, they really have never had a chance to grieve that part of it; losing her as a parish director and then losing her physically.”
Hintz announced her cancer diagnosis to St. Catherine parishioners on the weekend of Feb. 23. Two weeks later in the parish bulletin, she wrote, “As I sat in the front row that Sunday, I watched so many of you come through the Communion line – people who have had their own health scares, those of you who have lost loved ones, others who are experiencing some type of chronic illness.”
“Without question, I knew I was not alone,” she continued. “God does not promise us lives that are easy, but God does promise to be with us always. God is present. One way I know that to be so very true is the support I am getting through our parish community. You are a gift to me. Your prayers and good wishes are not only making a huge difference for me, but they are a reminder to me once again that God is with me.”