Sara Schultz (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Sara Schultz (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Each year, the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women solicits nominations for its Pax Christi award and selects a finalist from each deanery. This is the first of four articles featuring 2014 finalists, all of whom were recognized June 16-17 at the SDCCW convention in Cumberland.

Of the four finalists nominated for the SDCCW’s 2014 Pax Christi award, only Sara Schultz has the distinction of being a convert to Catholicism.

An Eau Claire native, she moved to Mellen in 1976 for a UW-Eau Claire college work study program.
“I do sometimes feel I fell in love with the northern Wisconsin area long before I met my husband, George Schultz,” she said.

The couple married in 1982. George was Catholic, but it would take more than a decade for his wife to share his faith.

Baptized and raised in the Congregational Church, she learned to be an active church member from her family.

“My mother’s family (the Woods) were very involved in church life, including church councils and fundraising, going back many generations, possibly as far back as New England in the 1700s,” she said. “My mother read the Bible and often quoted Scripture.”

Sara’s exploration of Catholicism began with an inspirational priest at Most Holy Rosary Parish, Mellen, and an invitation from a friend.

“Around 1995, my husband was very taken by both the new pastor at Most Holy Rosary, Fr. Jerry Hagen, and an outreach program the church parish was doing to bring non-active parishioners back into the fold,” she explained. “An old friend, Audrey Trnka, invited us in.”

The Schultzes decided to have their marriage blessed by Fr. Hagen. Sara entered the parish’s 1996-1997 RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program, and, at Fr. Hagen’s invitation, she became a member of the Catholic Church in March 1997.

Despite her Protestant roots, she felt comfortable in her new faith.

“Devotions that were not part of my religious upbringing, such as kneeling, the Virgin Mary, the transubstantiation and confession, all fell into place naturally for me, and then teaching catechism formed it all up beautifully,” she said.

Catechism classes turned out to be mutually educational for both Sara and her students.
“I knew barely anything, but teaching proved to be so wonderful … I recommend it to all to try it!” added Sara. “You learn so much about the faith and the prayers, etc.”

A couple of years later, she took on additional responsibilities at Most Holy Rosary.

“I became the religious education coordinator around 2000, when I felt the new priest, Fr. John Scheer, needed help … even though I was not perfect for the job, I did my best and we managed,” she said. “At that time I also became a lector, and I have enjoyed that immensely too … Sometimes when I am doing the readings, I feel I am no longer just me, but am filled with a wonderful spirit of love and joy.”

Sara delights in reading outside of church as well; for about 30 years, she was president of the Mellen Friends of the Library, which donated $60,000 for the opening of the new library five years ago.

Her work life has been varied. She was employed at Copper Falls State Park, the local newspaper and a veneer factory before serving as a clerk and postmaster at the Mellen Post Office for 25 years. She retired last month.

“The Pax Christi nomination was a total surprise, as I feel there are many other members of the church that have been there longer and done much more,” she said. “I felt quite humbled reading the biographies of the other nominees, and the visit to Cumberland (for the convention) was great. Thanks to all who did all the work there, and to my local friend who nominated me.”