“Pilgrims on the Journey” is a feature that offers a sister the chance to share the inspiration of people she encounters in her ministry who illustrate Christ’s presence. This example comes from Sister Marilyn Mueth, who serves as a K-8 resource teacher at St. James Catholic School in Millstadt, Ill. An abbreviated version of this article appears in the Summer 2018 Ursulines Alive.
Pat and Mark Hogrebe became a part of my life in 1991, when in my first year as a teacher at St. James School, I had their oldest son, Paul, in the second-grade class. As the years progressed, I taught all four of their children: Paul, Luke, Nathaniel and Philip. In fact, when Luke was in second grade, they allowed the second-grade class to be present for Philip’s baptism during a school day.
As our friendship continued, our discussions became more and more focused on spiritual readings. Pat told me about her reflection on such classics as Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux. Later, Mark became a discussion leader of Scripture classes at St. James. They still attend daily Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville before they go to work. However, such luxuries have become of part of the past because of Pat’s work as executive director of the Belleville Council of St. Vincent de Paul in East St. Louis, Ill. Over the years, Mark also left the family business and became an education researcher in the department of education at Washington University in St. Louis.
Despite their extremely busy lives with St. Vincent de Paul, Pat still works in St. James parish by overseeing the basket stand for the summer festival and semi-annual bingos. She also works at St. Vincent de Paul fundraisers at St. James.
Pat oversees the St. Vincent de Paul outreach ministry, which includes such activities as supervising a nine-month renovation of the Cosgrove Soup Kitchen, which serves 250 people per week. The soup kitchen is the only facility in the East St. Louis area that offers a free noon meal six days a week, 52 weeks a year. The soup kitchen also tries to lessen spiritual poverty by addressing these needs with prayer services held by local pastors several times a week. Pat also coordinates with St. Elizabeth Hospital to have blood pressures taken and other volunteers to help with taxes, etc., at the soup kitchen.
Coordinating the Cosgrove Soup Bus is another responsibility. It delivers to an average of 80 people per night and serves more than 17,000 hot meals each year. This school bus has been renovated with small kitchenettes, running water, and heating and air conditioning that goes out into the neighborhoods to feed the hungry! During the summer heat, it provides a “cooling off” time for those who do not have air conditioning.
A third component of this outreach is the thrift shop, which has been providing low-cost clothing, household goods and other merchandise to more than 3,000 low-income people at very minimal cost. Customer dignity is preserved by allowing patrons to purchase needed merchandise at extremely discounted prices. It partners with Holy Angels Shelter to provide needed items for families leaving the shelter and setting up new households; provides funeral suits and dresses for those who cannot afford to purchase these items when a death occurs; helps when a fire or natural disaster strikes a family and they need emergency clothing and household supplies; and clothes the homeless. It provides vouchers for essential household goods for those getting established or re-established into an apartment or home.
Besides this work, there are the daily walk-ins who need immediate attention. Such examples are a widowed father with five boys ranging in age from 17-11. He is working but does not earn enough to cover living expenses. Pat helped him find housing, but the bureaucracy has not allowed it to come through as of it yet and the motel time is up. They need additional financial assistance. Then there are the many mentally ill homeless who are becoming a danger to themselves and need to be placed in nursing homes for their own safety. Many of the homeless are “good, normal people” who have had homes destroyed by fire and have no insurance, or lost their jobs through no fault of their own, but were living on a day-to-day basis with no savings for a “rainy day.”
Besides these events, Pat supervises 40-50 volunteers at a time to staff these outreach programs. There are only four paid members on staff. Many volunteers are retired people from the immediate Belleville area, including religious sisters from two local communities. However, DePaul University from Chicago sends students for an immersion experience to learn what it is like to be effective helpers in such an environment as East St. Louis. She also has first-time offenders from the court system who come on Saturday with an officer to do community service, so they can work off fines and keep an offense off their records.
Besides all this, Pat also goes to court to help some of the indigent people who have no one to defend them or to plea their cases for help and protection.
Pat is also responsible for presenting the Vincentian spirituality to volunteers and members of the organization. This is done with three breakfasts per year and one-hour retreat evenings or Saturday sessions in the parishes. The current subject is servant leadership. She can have as many as 20-100 present at these.
Mark is very involved with Pat’s outreach. He takes care of all computers, printers, technological setup and the St. Vincent de Paul website. He spends many weekends and evenings updating and setting up new hardware. He is also the only photographer they have. Besides this, he oversees such mundane work as assembling clothes racks for the clothing store and painting. Even at work, Pat is continually sending him such texts as “I need a copy of the Greyhound bus schedule for ___.” He locates it and sends it to her via email as she continues with her many other responsibilities.
Their four sons are all back in the area and help with every fundraiser, annual walk, holiday dinners, and many other activities, serving as bartenders, providing music, setup and organizational details. Paul, 34, is preparing to defend his doctoral dissertation in bioengineering. Luke, 33, is involved in computer technology. Nathaniel, 29, is working at a Washington University lab hoping to help find a cure for diabetes. Philip, 25, is completing a degree in mechanical engineering at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.
The Hogrebe parents are exemplary models of what Christian living is like in the 21st century. They have shown their sons how to be model workers in their careers of choice and in the Christian belief that we are to help and share with those who are not as fortunate. I am grateful to have known them as an educator and continue to cross paths with them now.