Anyone who has attended a Catholic funeral has seen them. They are the ladies who reliably show up to prepare and serve (and clean up after) the post-funeral meal, usually in the school lunchroom or the church basement.
Sometimes the job is handled by a parish bereavement committee, sometimes it is handled by the ladies sodality. Whatever the case, they bring a sense of peace of mind to the families of the deceased that is immeasurable.
One such group is the Our Lady of Good Counsel Sodality at St. Mary Parish in Belleville.
“We couldn’t do without them,” said Father Christopher Anyanwu, administrator of St. Mary Parish. “Everything they do they do with gladness and joy.”
For a time the parish did have to do without the funeral lunch ladies. About four years ago, the “dependable ladies” who had made up the bereavement committee for decades finally “aged out.” This was about the same time the school closed. With no lunch ladies the bereaved were forced to go elsewhere for a post-funeral get-together.
In June of this year, a new group of ladies decided it was time to step up to the plate.
“The ladies sodality was down to six members,” Dee Bayley said. “The chair, Rita Determan, asked me if I’d like to take over. I couldn’t say no.”
Within a few months their numbers had grown to 25. One of the first things the group did was resurrect the funeral lunches.
“When my mother died they had a lunch for us,” Theresa Miller Boll, one of the new bereavement committee members said. “It was such a surprise. It was so comforting and loving. I wanted to reciprocate. I know what a hard, stressful time it can be after the death of a loved one.”
Other funeral lunch ladies had similar stories.
“After my brother passed away in June, we knew he wanted something very simple,” Mary Smith said. “Nothing extravagant. And Dee called and asked if we would like a funeral luncheon at St. Mary’s and I said ‘Yes!’”
“It’s about going back to the Golden Rule,” said Therese Wright. “And it’s a time-honored tradition. If we didn’t do it, who would?”
Bayley said that the former lunch ladies still make dishes for the luncheons. By the time you add up the desserts, potato casserole, mostaccioli, pot luck potatoes, green bean casseroles, Jello salad and deviled eggs, it takes somewhere between a dozen and fifteen ladies to make a lunch happen.
Recently the Ladies Sodality has begun reaching out to younger women with evening wine-and-chocolate meetings. “They are extremely popular,” said Bayley.
When they are not making lunch, the ladies sodality stays busy writing thank you notes to vets at the VA hospitals, cross stitching cards for baptisms, making care packages for the parish’s college students, cleaning the church, and donating school books to Father Christopher’s parish in Africa and elsewhere.
Caption: From left, Mary Smith, Therese Wright, Theresa Boll, Judy Joergenson and Dee Bayley, of St. Mary Parish in Belleville, prepare and serve lunch after a recent funeral service.