“Gentle woman, quiet light, Morning star, so strong and bright…”
The words to “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman” lingered in Colleen Deitte’s mind after she finished playing the popular hymn on her flute during Mass in late October 2012 at St. Mary Church, Fond du Lac.
Burdening thoughts surrounding the death weeks earlier of Deitte’s 83-year-old grandmother, Rose, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, all but blocked words of the homily.
“My faith was very inspired by grandmother, who had a very large devotion to the Blessed Mother. Often I would go to her house and she would be praying the rosary,” said Deitte, 25, who, as a student at Fond du Lac’s Marian University, was often distracted by wondering if her grandmother was in heaven.
As Deitte lifted her stare from the flute to a statue of the Blessed Mother near the altar, her jaw dropped in shock.
“A vision of my grandmother appeared between myself and the Blessed Mother. I could see her so clearly. She wasn’t looking at me, but she was holding her rosary and praying. It was so powerful,” said Deitte. “I think she wanted to come tell me everything was OK. She was in her heavenly home.”
A great sense of relief flooded over Deitte, along with a renewed sense of vigor to complete her college work and pursue her dream of becoming a director of religious education.
“I know my grandmother is at my side as my guardian angel and cheerleader. I know she is watching me from heaven, wanting me to be successful,” she said. “It’s a story I’ll share as a religious educator.”
Deitte is in the vanguard of a phenomenon in the Catholic Church – young adults eyeing religion as a career, said Sister of St. Agnes Sr. Cyndi Nienhaus, assistant professor of religious education at Marian and Deitte’s primary religious class instructor.
Parish: Holy Family Catholic Community Parish, Fond du Lac
Occupation: Retail sales/volunteer religious educator
Favorite hobby: Painting/acrylics
Favorite church hymn: “On Eagle's Wings"
Favorite song: "Alive Again"; Matt Maher
Favorite quotation: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples." (Mother Teresa)
“Colleen represents a portion of a larger story going on in the Catholic Church,” Sr. Cyndi said. “People Colleen’s age are coming out of college and looking to church work as a viable career option. They are looking at it not so much for the paycheck, but as being a way to pass on their faith. Colleen is a very fine example of the very best of these young people coming into church work.”
A graduate of Marian with a major in music with an emphasis in liturgical music and minors in religious education and studio art, Deitte looks to the encounter with her grandmother as one of two pivotal points in her life.
“The other pivotal point was the day, as a college student, I woke up and said to myself, ‘Guess what? Your life is not about yourself, but about serving the church and other people.’ That was the day I discovered Jesus was at the center of my life. Encountering Jesus was the best discovery I ever made,” Deitte said.
Her Catholic faith was always a part of Deitte’s life.
“My parents were strong Catholics who felt it was very important for me and my three siblings to develop a relationship with the Lord,” said Deitte, who was involved in campus ministry at Marian and taught religious education classes at Holy Family Catholic Community Parish in Fond du Lac.
“I said yes to the Lord’s call and have been teaching ever since,” Deitte said.
While in college, Deitte volunteered about 15 hours a week teaching religious education, playing flute during Masses and putting some time in working at her parents’ business, Edith’s Bridal and Tuxedo, a family operation for 75 years.
Her perpetual smile and rapid-fire dialogue edged with eagerness, Deitte said she loves “spreading the faith to other people in the loudest way possible.”
“The young people of the church today struggle with seeking their faith. They have this idea in their heads that knowing Jesus is simply going to church and doing what their parents say, but there is something much deeper than that in the church,” she said.
Deitte said practicing and evangelizing faith is not only confined to the physical church.
“It’s what you do outside of Mass, too,” she said. “It’s having conversations with people and inspiring them to be good Catholics and good citizens and to be strong in their faith.”
Diane Michaelson, former director of Christian formation at Holy Family Parish, served as an inspiration for Deitte.
“Colleen is very strong in her faith. Colleen’s faith is her passion. She is consistent in her passion. Her enthusiasm has her willing to serve and stretch herself,” Michaelson said.
Michaelson said Deitte has always been dedicated to serving the catechetical programs at Holy Family’s youth center.
“Colleen has a great appreciation and heart for her students,” Michaelson said. “Colleen is a leader who is open about and has a willingness to speak about her faith.”
Deitte said she plans to pursue a master’s degree in religious education at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Minn.
“My dream job is to work with St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I would love to work near Cardinal Timothy Dolan, but I would be happy just about anywhere,” Deitte said.
Sr. Cyndi said Deitte “does bounce off the wall with her enthusiasm.
“She’s a happy person. Colleen represents God’s joy in a human being. She smiles all the time. That’s who she is,” Sr. Cyndi said. “She maintains a fine balance. She knows how to handle things and keep them in perspective.”
Deitte said she needs “the faith of Christ” whether conducting a choir before thousands or talking one-on-one as a youth minister.
“I think God has yet to show me all I can do. My faith has grown through college,” Deitte said. “I prayed a lot before becoming a youth minister and spent a lot of time before the Lord in Adoration. He really pushed me to go outside my comfort zone. He said ‘The church needs you and you have a calling to do that.’ I took a little leap of faith and said yes.”