HARTFORD — The Christian Women of St. Lawrence Parish, Hartford, will celebrate its 125th anniversary at each of the weekend Masses, Oct. 1 and 2.
The organization traces its roots to 1890 when mothers from the parish gathered to pray with and for one another. They formed the St. Elizabeth Society, also known as the Christian Mother’s Society, organized under the patronage of the Mother of God and St. Elizabeth. The women gathered to discuss the needs of the sanctuary, such as furnishings and were involved in other parish affairs. The first enrollment consisted of 82 members.
By 1996, the Christian Mothers/Women continued to expand its mission to “The Christian home education of their children – that they may be made aware of the dignity and responsibility in forming the hearts and minds of their children in a Christian way of life.” Membership at that time was 115.
In 2016, the Christian Women’s mission is to strengthen faith and relationship with Christ through spiritual growth and Christian support. Its 120 members look to share experiences, provide spiritual guidance and encouragement in the Catholic faith, build friendships and strengthen community.
One of few remaining
According to Jacquelyn Haas, chair of the celebration committee, their organization — one of few remaining Christian women organizations in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, she said — serves the needs of the parish and community with action and charity.[su_pullquote align=”right”]If you go:
“Looking back. Looking ahead. Looking above,” anniversary celebration, Oct. 1-2. St. Lawrence Parish Hwy 175, Hartford Mass times: Saturday: 4 p.m. Sunday: 9:45 a.m. [/su_pullquote]
“By fundraising with annual card parties, quilt raffles and bake sales, we are able to do God’s work of sponsoring the rosary on the radio and offering donations to Catholic schools, food pantries and organizations that care for the disabled, the pregnant and less fortunate,” said Haas. “Additionally, the Christian Women are able to uplift God’s young disciples through a St. Lawrence Scholarship and show genuine compassion for those who have lost a loved one, with a funeral luncheon.”
The women meet seven times a year and each of the themed meetings are unique, always beginning and ending with prayer. One of the more popular themes is the baby shower meeting, where members bring baby gifts for a local pregnancy help center, followed by trendy baby shower games with door prizes.
“Other times, we have an “ugly sweater” meeting or a special “salad share” meeting, where everyone brings their favorite salad, and we play trivia to test our memories while listening to beautiful piano music played by one of our parishioners,” explained Haas. “Some meetings, we have speakers from organizations doing wonderful community work or go on a pilgrimage and once a year, we have a celebratory meeting at a local restaurant where we share an Advent holiday meal together.”
Members vary in age
Members range in age from 32-year-old Monica Gehring, the mother of four boys, to 98-year-old Rose Ritger and Esther Kirsch, age 96.
“Esther sits in church to this day with her best friend and fellow Christian Women member, Ramona Pfeifer, who is 90-years-old,” said Haas. “The Christian Women are more than an organization to me; they are family. I trust them. I love them; and I thank God for them and their genuine friendship. Jesus taught us to build his Kingdom with relationships.”
Haas joked that one of the reasons for longevity of the group may be attributed to its successful matchmaking skills.
“Annette Krebs interviewed one of the very involved honorary members, Katie Pfeifer, who remembered the Christian Women’s Valentine’s Day from long ago,” said Hass. “She said, ‘The Young Ladies Sodality would make a basket of food and try to sell it to the young men. The man who bought the lady’s basket ate with her. My husband bought mine.’”
In the 1900s, the women would help the religious sisters. Ritger recalled her grandmother cooking in the basement of the convent in the 1920s.
Haas explained that for Christmas one year, the Christian Women bought the sisters a duck and ice cream for $3.80, and in 1965, purchased an automatic washing machine for $220 for them.
“For the St. Lawrence Parish, the Christian Women have helped nurture the inside and outside for the church and her families,” said Haas. “Some contributions include donating money toward the paving of the church parking lot and remodeling the church basement. They helped purchase the church furnace in 1970 and a new range for the kitchen, along with all the Melmac dishes still used today for our chili socials. In 1998, they purchased all the pew book holders and in 1989, they bought the $2,000 baptismal font still used for baptizing babies.”
Money raised through dinners, baked goods
To raise funds for the parish needs, the Christian Women have held dinners, such as a sauerkraut and spare rib dinner, chicken dinners and currently, guests travel miles for one of their famous tortes available at their annual chili social or fish fry.
“Although the Christian Women do many things, the one thing they may do best, besides making the famous tortes in honor of their patron saint of cooks, St. Lawrence, is to go about their work humbly and generously,” said Haas. “Most often Christian Women will show up with baked goods or donations in hand, serve, concentrating on working hard and departing quietly, with no recognition necessary.”
For Kim Ehrensberger, vice president of the organization, being a member is an opportunity to focus on the corporal works of mercy.
“With each organization that we help support, I feel the need to help them and not focus on myself,” she said. “I also learn about the needs of others in our community through the speakers that share their time and story about their organization at our meetings.”
One of the most memorable aspects and most fulfilling for Ehrensberger, who will become president of the group Oct. 11, is working on funeral luncheons.
“You do not realize how great this service is for families who are suffering with the loss of their loved one,” she said. “We are focused on helping others and not ourselves.”
Pallottine Fr. Davies Edassery, pastor, serves as spiritual director of the group.
“I extend all my support for their activities, give guidance, advise and offer encouragement on their initiatives and missions,” he said. “These women are proud to be members of St. Lawrence and they are bound together by faith and love. Their presence and activities add more life to the parish.”