RACINE — Every year St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 1100 Erie St., recognizes someone who has gone above and beyond helping the community as the Person of the Year — this year the parish gave the award to a couple.
Don and Cheryl Mueller were recognized by St. Patrick parishioners for work they do with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other work within the parish.
“We don’t work as individuals, we work as a team,” Don said.
Don and Cheryl recruited parishioners from St. Richard’s and St. Edward’s Catholic churches to be part of the St. Vincent de Paul Society which gave the group new life.
“The Society of St. Vincent de Paul over the last several years has been resurrected not because of what we’ve done but by the help of God, and I’d like to emphasize that,” Don said. “The important thing is that the heart of the St. Vincent de Paul society is visiting the poor.”
Since October, Don estimates that there have been more than 100 visits to homes of the needy in Racine. Last year, he said, St. Vincent de Paul gave out more than $100,000 total in cash and donations to those who need it.
“The main thing is not what we can give people,” Don said. “It’s the fact that we’re there to listen to people in their need.”
Visits are arranged in advance and Don, Cheryl and other volunteers go to people’s homes to find the best way to help people.
“It’s our relationship with God and the support of the community that allows us to reach out and to be with others in their struggles,” Cheryl said.
Marriage and missionary work
Don and Cheryl have been married for 27 years. They said they feel that it was fate that brought them together.
In the late 1970s, Don was working for a religious organization in Colombia and studying in the seminary when he said he felt called to marriage.
But that marriage didn’t last. Don returned to the United States to be in charge of the World Mission Offices in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
In the 1980s, Cheryl worked for five years as a missionary in Nicaragua and returned to Wisconsin to work at Marquette University.
“(Don) had a gathering for returned missionaries and he somehow or another invited me,” Cheryl said. “And someone encouraged me to go so I went.”
The two hit it off at the gathering.
“Cheryl and I just connected,” Don said.
In 1992, they were married.
St. Patrick’s parishioners call the couple the “dynamic duo,” and each of them are regular volunteers at parish events.
Over the years, St. Patrick’s has received more and more Hispanic families, and Cheryl and Don’s ability to speak Spanish has come in handy.
“That’s kind of how we try to be bridges of our parish,” Cheryl said.
Don said their experience in Latin American countries helped shape who they are today.
“The two of us lived for five years in other countries,” Don said. “We were welcomed in Nicaragua and in Colombia and it really breaks our heart, it breaks our heart to see the attitude of so many in our country that say ‘No’ (to migrant people).”