The Missionaries of the Word became a religious community officially recognized by the church May 1 when Peggy Duemling professed final vows and became Mother Catherine. In addition, two postulants became novices during a Mass and ceremony at St. Pius X Church, Appleton, in the Green Bay Diocese.Peggy Duemling, now Mother Catherine, entered the Missionaries of Charity order at age 25 and occasionally served as a driver for Mother Teresa. She’s pictured here with Mother Teresa in an undated photo. (Submitted photo courtesy Mother Catherine)

Postulants are candidates seeking admission to a religious community; novices are formally admitted to a religious community in preparation for religious life.

The community is a public association of the faithful, according to canon law. The women are called sisters when they become novices and were given habits as part of their reception ceremony. The community has a postulant and has had inquiries from other young women wanting to join.

For Mother Catherine, this new “adventure” was the culmination of a journey that began more than 25 years ago. 

“I used to be with the Missionaries of Charity order,” she said. “I was with them for 10 years. The year before I was to take final vows, they sent me home because I have asthma.”

Yet, she felt strongly that she had a calling to religious life. She was in the Milwaukee Archdiocese at the time. She earned a master’s degree in education and worked as a principal in Menomonee Falls.

“I always felt there was something in my heart. I needed more,” she said. 

The archbishop (Timothy Dolan, at that time) and her spiritual director encouraged her to pray about it and to follow the charism (gift) she felt in her heart.

That was 2008 and Pope Benedict XVI had announced new evangelization efforts. 

“My spiritual director and the archbishop encouraged me to go up to the Green Bay Diocese and work with Fr. Quinn (Mann) in his ministry with youth,” she said.

“It was so clear in my heart. This is where I belong,” Mother Catherine said. “In 2008, I met Bishop (David) Ricken. We’ve been discerning since then.” 

Mother Catherine, formerly Peggy Duemling, left, professed final vows and became Mother Catherine and two women, Anya Gladamus and Sarah Schueller, were welcomed as aspirants, the first step in religious life during a ceremony at St. Pius X Church in Appleton May 1. (Green Bay Compass photo by Dick Meyer)She took private vows at that time, but the bishop continued to encourage her to pray about what her true calling is.

“In 2010, he said he thought there was something here and asked me to draw up a rule” for a new religious community. , she said.

She worked with a canon lawyer, while continuing to work with the Catholic Youth Expeditions (CYE) in Appleton and at St. Joseph’s Formation Center in Baileys Harbor.

“It took a while and there were different tests the bishop put me through. For example, he said, ‘If three women come before Sept. 8, we’ll move ahead.’ That happened and they have been with me since 2012.”

They completed the process as outlined by canon law and after more prayer, Bishop Ricken approved the new association.

“That’s the first stage – Public Association of the Faithful – to becoming a diocesan order,” she said. “We need 40 members to become an order.” 

The community has the same stages as other religious orders. Women spend four to six months as aspirants; one and half years as a postulant and two years as a novice. Twelve months of those two years are designated the canonical year during which more time is devoted to silence and prayer than ministry.

The novices will begin that year in October.

“We want them to ease out of ministry and then ease back into it,” she said. “They need to develop the ebb and flow into prayer and work.”

Mother Catherine, 51, came from a pontifical order. A pontifical order is under the direction of Rome; a diocesan order is under the bishop.

“It’s so different coming from an established order where everything is carved out for you,” she said.

“I have an adventurous spirit,” she said. “I knew when I left the Missionaries of Charity that God had a plan for me.”

A group of Missionaries of Charity sisters, with whom she goes back 25 years, attended the May 1 ceremony. 

“The American sister who put the habit on me was my closest friend. The closest Missionaries of Charity house is in Chicago and she is the mother superior. Things have a way of working out. She is being transferred far away, but she was able to come to this before leaving.”

When she took her vows, she was given the name Mother Catherine after Catherine of Siena and Catherine Laboure, who was a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and gave the church the miraculous medal after having a vision of Mary.

The new sisters live at St. Joseph’s Formation Center and are continuing their ministry with the youth. 

“It is a relational ministry,” the new superior said, noting they will work with parishes as well as the center and the CYE. “We include everyone, though there is a special emphasis on the youth.

“We work with the youth because we lose them between the ages of 14 and 30. We build relationships with them to bring them to the Lord,” she said. 

The sisters teach them to be disciples. 

“Once you meet the Lord, you want to bring others there. That’s the simple part of the Gospel – discipleship,” she said.

St. Joseph’s Formation Center will serve as the novitiate for the novices. The center, which once belonged to the Sacred Heart Fathers, has been renovated and “one little area has been turned into a convent,” she said.

Their chaplain is Fr. Tom Farrell, pastor of St. Pius X Parish. Fr. Mann is the founder of their ministry.

“We are a contemplative, active order,” she said, explaining that in addition to ministry, prayer and contemplation are part of their daily lives.

“We belong to the church,” Mother Catherine said. “We truly want to support the parishes. We will serve where we are needed or where we are invited.”