“I do the same things a pastor does, except the sacramental work, which obviously I can’t do,” Hintz said in an interview with your Catholic Herald. “So, it really is across the board. Anything related to parish life I have to, in some way, be involved.” Hintz can call upon Fr. Kenneth Knippel, the supervising priest appointed by the archdiocese to provide support and guidance. Assisting priests, Frs. Joseph Hornacek, who recently replaced Jesuit Fr. Michael Kurimay, and Richard Mirsberger, who has been there for two years, celebrate the three weekend Masses and provide sacramental ministries involved in parish life – weddings, funerals, baptisms and pastoral work that Hintz is unable to perform.
Parish is ‘glad to have her’
Winnifred Glasshof, a member of the parish for more than 40 years, said Hintz, who’s one of eight parish directors in the Milwaukee Archdiocese, has been a blessing.
“You just feel comfortable and confident with her, you know, she’s up here every Sunday morning, greeting the people when they come in,” Winnifred said. “She knows what’s going on. She gets the job done. If you have to call her about something, you’re going to get a call back, you know, within a very short time … I feel very blessed. I really do. She’s done a lot for this church, and I don’t know how others do it, but we certainly feel glad to have her here.”
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The parish is blessed to have assisting priests, too, said Winnifred. But Hintz is needed to coordinate the priests’ schedules and keep the parish organized. When Winnifred and her husband, Millard, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, she said Hintz took care of all the details.
“Leave it to Debbie to get it all taken care of and all done, and she showed up for our party…” she said. “I have little patience with people that don’t do their job – oh, she more than does her job, really.”
Hintz fulfilled the archdiocesan requirements of having a master’s degree in an area of church ministry and five years of experience in parish ministry: she earned a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Boston College, and a degree in elementary education and a minor in theology from Mount Mary College. Hintz also had 29 years of experience: she taught seventh and eighth grade for three years at St. Margaret Mary Parish, Milwaukee, before becoming pastoral minister, staying a total of 11 and a half years; was pastoral associate for four and a half years at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, New Berlin; and worked at St. Matthias, Milwaukee for 13 years.
Adjusted to ‘being person in charge’
Her combination of experiences prepared her.
“It was more an adjustment to being the person in charge, you know, the person leading the parish,” she said.
Back in the office after the service, Hintz put on her reading glasses and listened to her voicemails, jotting down names and numbers, and returning the calls.
“Would you be able to do a funeral at 1 o’ clock on Saturday?” she asked one of the priests.
She made another call before stepping through her office doorway to where the parish administrative assistant, Gail Anshus, sat at her desk and asked Anshus to make additional phone calls.
Returning to her tidy desk, she made plans to meet with a couple who missed the annual parish picnic July 25 because of health problems. She also inquired whether another parishioner wanted to be anointed, and checked in with a family whose daughter died over the weekend.
After Hintz returned phone calls, she replied to e-mails, deleting a few and quickly responding to others, answering the calls that Anshus forwarded to her in between. By 10:15, she was proofing the bulletin for the weekend Masses.
“Gail, could you copy that text and e-mail it to me for the parish directory?” she asked loud enough so Anshus could hear from her desk in the hall outside Hintz’s office.
Hintz tries to maintain a 43 to 45 hour a week schedule, but sometimes it’s out of her control.
“It can range the gamut from doing Communion services and meeting with a family to prepare for a funeral at the more spiritual end of things, to working with the school,” she said, explaining that the past year was intense because St. Catherine’s school merged with Our Lady of Good Hope and St. Bernadette parish schools, both in Milwaukee, to form the east and west campuses of Northwest Catholic.
Assists with school, too
Hintz oversees the school as the parish director-designate.
“The fact that this was the first year of a new school, there was just still a lot to figure out,” she said. “I was very grateful that it was a relatively smooth transition – there wasn’t a lot of anger in our parishes.”
When one of the principals died unexpectedly in November, Hintz helped the school through the grief process, searched for an interim principal and attended meetings with the school advisory board, pastors, principals and school business manager, all of whom she meets with on a regular basis “to stay on top of things.”
When that’s not keeping her busy, she has human concerns, stewardship, parish life and parish council meetings to attend; she returns phone calls and is the parish representative and decision-maker; she meets with the ecumenical group each month; is present at the three weekend Masses to greet people at the beginning and end; makes announcements during Mass and is involved in baptismal rituals or special blessings; writes a weekly bulletin column; and attends diocesan meetings every six to eight weeks with Bishop Richard J. Sklba, the other archdiocesan parish directors, Fr. Patrick Heppe, vicar for clergy; Rick Tank, human resources; and Mark Kemmeter, parish mission coordinator.
Bishop is support for parish directors
Bishop Sklba, who in his role as vicar general works with priests as well as parish directors because of their similar roles, said in an e-mail interview with your Catholic Herald the initial meetings were “to make sure that their questions were suitably explored and that he appreciated the challenges of the pastoral role.”
While the parish directors help establish agendas covering aspects like administration, liturgical practice, stewardship and corporate structures, the bishop brings together experts to help answer questions and make connections with archdiocesan officers.
“The meetings provide information, coordination and mutual support for the individuals appointed to that ministry,” said Bishop Sklba, who draws knowledge from his 50 years of priesthood and 30 years of episcopal ministry.
Hintz was selected as a parish director, Bishop Sklba said, because of her “prior good and very successful experience in the parish educational ministry at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Milwaukee and her fine work and experience as pastoral associate at St. Matthias,” which gave her what she would need at St. Catherine, where the demographic area was changing, but was also stable and would maybe be open to the new model.
Hintz said the meetings are a support system that allow the parish directors to network and are beneficial because they know they have the support of the archdiocese.
“I’d have to say Bishop Sklba has been extremely supportive of us and he’s so very affirming. He probably does all of our installations, just like a pastor is installed, so are we, which I think is great because it gives people the sense that you know this is supported, the diocese is behind it – this is the person who will be leading the parish,” she said.
“All in all, he’s not only a support to us but just a firm believer that this is a very viable model of parish leadership today. To have that kind of support from him I think means a lot to all of us in this position,” she added.
More phone calls were followed by the visit to see Barbara Hacker at Trinity Village, which is one of two nursing homes – the other is Golden Living-Bradley – where Hintz visits parishioners. Hintz took bites of her sandwich in between answering e-mails before a deacon arrived for a 12:30 meeting.
Reflecting on the archdiocese’s assessment process that she went through in 1994, Hintz knew this was her calling.
“Even back then, I knew I felt this is really what I really wanted to do, and it hasn’t proven me wrong,” She said. “I go home sometimes, even after a difficult day and say, ‘You know, even with all the stuff I had to deal with today, I still like doing what I’m doing.’”
Positive reactions to reappointment
When she announced her reappointment at Mass, “one woman came to me and said, ‘I have to tell you I was so angry when we didn’t get a pastor, but now that I see the work that you do and that you’re dedicated to what you do, I’m so happy you’re here and I’m happy that you’re staying for another four years.’… just the people’s support of me I think is, I mean it’s nice to hear…. I’m glad they’re happy with the arrangement that we’ve got.”
Anshus, who started last September, said she’s impressed by Hintz and her work.
“What impresses me about Debbie, first of all, she’s a listener,” she said. “She’s an excellent listener and she’s a people supporter. …She’s here to serve the people, and she does an excellent job.”
Priests are irreplaceable, Anshus said, “there’s no doubt about that with the sacraments and ministries involved,” but parish directors are “wonderful evolutions” and necessary to the church. “I hope that people continue to support them because they’re – they are us – we are all in this together.”