Good Samaritan: How did a cookbook lead to a ministry of presence in the Church, community?

Each month, The Central Minnesota Catholic will feature a story about a modern-day “Good Samaritan” from the diocese, someone who exhibits the work of the Gospel through their life and service. This initiative is in part to reflect the teachings of Pope Francis’ new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti.” This month’s Good Samaritan is Kathy Fischer, faith community nurse at St. Mary Parish in Alexandria. 

Sitting at the bedside of a dying man, Kathy Fischer heard him utter his last words to his wife.

“I love you,” he said, and took his last breath.

In her 16 years of serving as a faith community nurse at St. Mary’s in Alexandria, Kathy has witnessed many stories — too numerous to count — that have touched her life in a special way. Her work is often a ministry of presence spanning all ages of life, accompanying people during some of their most frightening and difficult moments as well as in times of great joy and celebration.

Kathy Fischer, a parishioner of St. Mary in Alexandria, holds the cookbook with the article that led her to parish community nursing. (photo by Dianne Towalski)

“Because of my ministry, I have the honor of being with families and individuals in very emotionally intimate moments in their lives,” Kathy said. “Being with a family before, sometimes at, and after a death always touches me. To be in the presence of such a moment and to be of support, in a small way, is very humbling.”

Kathy didn’t always know she wanted to be a faith community nurse, but she always wanted to help and serve, beginning with her career in the Army Nurse Corps for 16 years. She also taught a bachelor of science in nursing program for a year at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington.

“When I was in the Army, the concept of working together for a common goal and [knowing] that what we did was for something larger than ourselves resonated with me,” Kathy said. “A previous supervisor always said to not feel discouraged if you couldn’t change some of the larger issues in this world, but that we could all impact our sphere of influence, the world around us. Those wise individuals and my work situations have allowed me to continue to give back, so to speak, and in turn, has refreshed and enlivened my life, too.”

After her retirement from the Army and teaching, she and her husband, Kurt Hansberry, moved to Minnesota in 1986 with their three children. Before they left, a group of friends gave her a gift which later prompted a new adventure.

“A parting gift to us from a group of friends in Washington was a Pacific Northwest cookbook. About seven years later, I was looking for a recipe and came across an article about parish nursing that had been placed there by a friend. She had written a note on the article, ‘This is something you should consider.’”

Intrigued by the suggestion that had been hidden away all those years, Kathy set to work.

“I started researching what a parish nurse ministry involved, the role, educational background needed, etc. St. Mary’s parish nurse was considering retiring from the role so the timing was right,” she said.

Kathy attended a certification course at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph and began her ministry as a faith community nurse in September 2004.

“I view my role in a holistic sense, seeing to the needs of individuals as well as our faith community,” she said. “Health encompasses all facets of a person: bio-psycho-social and spiritual. My training as a nurse has allowed me to address not only physical needs, questions and concerns, but as a representative of the parish, to address their spiritual concerns as well.”

Kathy Fischer’s ministry of presence in her Church and community make her a modern-day Good Samaritan. (photo by Dianne Towalski)

Until COVID restrictions slowed down her ministry, Kathy also visited the homebound of the parish, conducted prayer services at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and visited the hospital and hospice clients. She also taught an exercise class twice a week called Faithfully Fit Forever — a class that includes prayer, walking, strength training and health education.

“All we do is connected to our faith, our spiritual self,” she said. “If we look at the world around us, those we interact with, problems we see and how we can change or impact them, we are looking through a lens of faith that requires and allows us to see all people as God’s children. Core beliefs of our faith regarding Catholic social teaching, the common good of and for all, and Jesus’ teaching of accepting all have been important faith touchstones for me.”

In addition to her ministry as a parish nurse, she also serves as a eucharistic minister and parish prayer leader.

“[So much of my] inspiration and encouragement comes from the many volunteers of our parish that I interact with or am aware of their good works, those acts that mostly go unnoticed but are so vital to the work we all accomplish here at St. Mary’s and in our community. Many of my programs would not exist without them,” Kathy said.

Beyond the parish walls, her service extends into the community, where she has served as board chair of the Alexandria Area YMCA, on the board of Knute Nelson Senior Living and as a member of Healthy Voices, Healthy Choices — a local coalition between the community, school district and public health with a goal to reduce underage substance use. She has also been a member of the board of Community Suicide and Education Group, facilitator of the local MS Support Group and also the Alexandria Area Grieving Parents Support Group.

In 2016, Kathy was instrumental in starting an advance care planning program called The Written Gift in Alexandria. It is a nonprofit organization that assists individuals in completing their advance directive for health care.

“If we look at the world around us, those we interact with, problems we see and how we can change or impact them, we are looking through a lens of faith that requires and allows us to see all people as God’s children.”

“My inspiration to give back comes from those I work with or minister to — many people of our parish and community go about daily performing acts of kindness, living out their faith without recognition. These people give me inspiration and encouragement to volunteer. And of course, the more you interact with others and form relationships, it is a continued impetus to give back,” she said. “I have had the true honor to witness fascinating lives of so many of our older parishioners, trials of life they have endured, but still positive in their outlook, grateful and of strong faith. Their resilience has been a life lesson for me.”

Kathy’s lifelong philosophy is: If you see a need and can help, why not help?

“Many years ago, an elderly neighbor told me, paraphrasing Luke 12:48, that I would be expected to do much in our community because I had something to offer — I have thought of that often,” she said.

Kathy said she gets more out of her ministry than she gives.

“I will always remember being with a wife as her husband died. His last words to her have always stayed with me,” she said. “I have the fortune of witnessing situations like this where what is truly important is crystallized. There are many reverent moments in my ministry where the Holy Spirit and grace from God allow me to be in situations and hopefully, to lend the support or listening presence needed.”

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DO YOU KNOW A “GOOD SAMARITAN”?
Email us at kbanders@ gw.stcdio.org and tell us about them!

To learn more about Pope Francis’ latest encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” visit https://bit. ly/2JKaJzp.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the associate editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

5 comments

Kathy,
Congrats on this well deserved honor. I am reading this in Arizona awaiting my Covid vaccine on Wednesday out here. You are a blessing to St.Mary’s and the Alexandria community.

Kathy, very much deserving to you. Giving and helping others gives you a good feeling. You do it because it give you a good feeling and not caring if you are given award. Congratulations to you for your work. Lois

Very deserving recognition Kathy! Congratulations! You are a pillar for St. Mary’s and the community as I know your service extends far beyond St. Mary’s! You are an amazing woman and I am proud to know you!

Kathy, You are indeed living out your life using the gifts given to you. One of those gifts as a faith community nurse is to see the gifts in others and help them see and use those gifts in your faith community and your beautiful Alexandria area community. You have been a gift to other Faith Community Nurses too, across the Diocese and the CentraCare areas, sharing your Tapestry in Faith training for lay members to enhance the FCN and church outreach to be visitors and callers and support for others in churches to name just one. PS, I did not know you were an Army Nurse! Thank you for your service.

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