Catholic Herald staff
Mary Shafer, 2017 Pax Christi finalist from St. Patrick Parish, Hudson, is committed to active service in her church and community. Having witnessed her parents’ volunteerism, she has passed this on to her own children and grandchildren.
As a child, Mary – the sixth of 12 children – was immersed in awareness of others and the importance going outside of one’s self to help them.
Remembering family life, Shafer said, “It wasn’t all about you. You learned responsibility – if something needed to be done, you just did it. You didn’t wait to be asked, you didn’t question, you just did it.”
She added that fairness wasn’t in their vocabulary or thought process at home.
It was these ‘old-fashioned family values’ that Mary and her husband, Tim, handed down to their three sons along with the faith. Their sons, in turn, try to live them out in their own lives and families. All three have volunteered in some form of mentoring role.
Shafer finds being a grandmother another privileged path of transmission. The grandkids are always happy to go to church with her and have helped with clean up after funerals. She takes them with her to deliver meals to a homeless shelter twice a month.
Mary affirmed the importance of the grandparent-grandchild relationship and spending one-on-one time with each of them.
“My 8-year-old grandson even has a clown costume and has been in parades with me. When one is over, he asks, ‘when can we clown again, Grandma?’”
The clowning referred to is Mary’s involvement with the 3M Clown Club. Besides helping with her local community theatre, Shafer has been a part of the volunteer clown club for 27 years. The group assists with birthday parties at women’s shelters, visits nursing homes, appears in parades and performs for benefit events.
In particular, the nursing home visits affect her.
“It’s so heartwarming when you go into these nursing homes and you see someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and they get a smile on their face when they see these colorful people coming towards them,” she said.
Although a clown’s costume includes full makeup, when encountering the elderly, they leave some skin uncovered to have human touch with the residents. In Shafer’s experience, “I get more out of it than they do.”
She shared the story of a visit to the locked memory care unit, where residents don’t often lift their heads. The nurses commented on how the clowns entertained and engaged them, visible in their bright, smiling faces.
Admitting that the clowning is a level of commitment beyond making a donation to a food pantry, Mary also acknowledged she is, by nature, a shy person.
“The shyest of my siblings, I’ll help run any event behind the scenes, but I’m not comfortable speaking in front of others,” she added. However, “I’m willing to do the shows and skits – they call me the boss clown – getting the environment going, because I’m entertaining people and bringing them joy.”
Shafer’s participation in her parish Council of Catholic Women began through personal invitation. Soon asked to fill a vacant secretary role, her availability and responsiveness resulted in various other responsibilities at the local and diocesan council levels.
Mary confirmed the challenge of getting younger women involved with the council. Her parish’s CCW board is comprised of younger women whose new ideas and initiatives are welcomed. Current suggestions being implemented include greater use of technology and occasionally changing meeting venues to attract new women.
While appreciating past efforts, Mary said, “I’m really embracing this new generation coming through and their ideas, because they are our future. We need to adapt if we want to continue.”
Her husband suffered a stroke last year, inducting her into the new role of caretaker and therapy partner. He has regained most speech and fine motor skills, but for months Mary took on extra care for him.
His therapist finally told her, “You need to look in the mirror and say ‘No.’” Mary’s response was, “It’s not in my nature to say no!”
She admits although the many commitments can get overwhelming at times, she likes being active and truly enjoys helping others and bringing them joy. When pressed with the question of how she finds balance, Mary confessed she loves to spend quiet time reading mysteries.