It’s hard to imagine Holy Family Parish in Fond du Lac without Gail Kraig. Not only has she been on staff at the parish since 2014 — first as the director of advancement and later as director of parish operations — but she and her husband Dr. Jeffrey Kraig have been active parishioners in the Fond du Lac Catholic community since they moved to town in 1977.
So luckily, Holy Family won’t have to imagine itself without Kraig. Just because she retired on Feb. 28 doesn’t mean she’s going anywhere.
“I’m going to stay on a committee or two here at the parish and do some volunteer work,” said Kraig, speaking with the Catholic Herald on her last day of work. “The ladies at the front desk know I’m here if they need someone to cover the phones. I’m just going to be having different opportunities, and a little bit less of a tight schedule.”
A more relaxed schedule will likely be a welcome change, as in her role she oversaw all operations at the largest parish in the archdiocese, which was formed in 2000 by the merging of the six Catholic parishes of Fond du Lac. Helping the parish’s roughly 15,000 members embrace the identity of their new faith community has been a large part of Kraig’s work since she came on staff.
But, it wasn’t a new challenge to Kraig, who has earned a reputation throughout her career for creative problem-solving.
“Number one, I would characterize Gail as an idea person — never thwarted by a stalemate,” said Jim Simon, a longtime Holy Family parishioner who worked with Kraig not just at the parish, but at St. Mary’s Springs and who has known her for over 40 years. “When getting people together for collaboration, sometimes it’s very difficult to break the ice and get things going. Gail is the kind of person that listens to the dialogue for some period of time and recognizes, this is a critical moment, we need to move forward, and how are we going to do that?”
Kraig started out teaching music at Presentation School and St. Mary and Joseph School in Fond du Lac, later teaching sixth grade at Fond du Lac Area Catholic Educational System (FACES). At St. Mary’s Springs High School, she served as the director of development and as a teacher in the theology department, as well as the cheerleading coach and director of the music liturgy choir. In 2002, she was hired to be the parish consultant for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for Dodge, Fond du Lac and Sheboygan counties. In 2008, she returned to the world of education to serve as principal of St. Mary School in West Bend.
“Gail’s students knew they were valued and respected by her,” said Mary Zunker, who taught alongside Kraig at St. Mary and St. Joseph and at FACES, and later worked with her at Holy Family. “Besides classwork, Gail had no problem getting students to come forward for any additional project she was beginning – and there were many of them.”
In 2010, Kraig joined the staff of Catholic East Elementary as principal; ever faithful to Fond du Lac, she happily signed up for a long commute into the Milwaukee area each day. “There just isn’t any easy way to get to the east side of Milwaukee from Fond du Lac,” she said with a laugh.
While at Catholic East, Kraig led the school toward significantly increased enrollment and financial donations — a feat which made Fr. Ryan Pruess hopeful he could convince her to join the staff of Holy Family in 2014.
“I happened to bump into her at a seminary function when she was still working at Catholic East, and we were looking for someone to work in stewardship and development,” said Fr. Pruess, who is now the pastor at Holy Family. “I knew she had experience in that area and I mentioned, ‘Would you mind helping me craft the job description?’”
Kraig agreed, and when the job description was completed, Fr. Pruess took her to lunch and asked her if she would be interested in filling the position herself. “I would be lying if I said I didn’t have ulterior motives asking her to help write the job description,” he said. “All the stars aligned.”
At Holy Family, Kraig spearheaded the effort to complete the parish’s stained glass window project, which had been in the works since 2005 but, following the death of Pastor Fr. Vic Capriolo in 2012, had all but stalled. With Kraig’s leadership, the parish succeeded in raising more than $700,000 in just over two years to commission artist Elizabeth Devereaux to complete the 1,200-square-foot window.
Kraig was also instrumental in implementing policies and procedures that reflected the mission of the parish in regards to its staff members. “She was a great advocate for her co-workers and the other employees. That’s one of the things that stands out most with me,” said Fr. Pruess.
“Gail led by example – dedicated, hard-working and aware that she was in service to the Lord,” said Zunker. “A small but especially significant initiative Gail pursued at our Holy Family Parish office is our daily staff prayer session where staff gather to support each other and our parish community in prayer.”
Looking to the future, Kraig said she hopes to spend more time with her two grown daughters and four grandchildren, and to get involved in a broader array of community projects.
Reflecting on her career in the Church, Kraig said that, ultimately, the work was about one thing — or rather, one person.
“Pragmatically, I was always in roles that require problem solving, fixing, changes of culture,” said Kraig. “But the underpinning mission was always to try to bring people closer to Jesus Christ.”