By Joe Lee
GLUCKSTADT – Pam Minninger, who retired as Lay Ecclesial Minister (LEM) at St. Joseph Church of Gluckstadt at the end of January, has never forgotten the time she spent as a young child with her maternal grandmother at bedtime.
“I remember spending summer weeks with her in her small home,” Minninger said. “I would sleep with her, and we would kneel together beside her bed to say our prayers. Then she would tuck me into bed and get back on her knees for more prayer. I would wake up a bit later and she would be sound asleep, still on her knees beside the bed.”
Originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, Minninger moved to Mississippi in 1975 when she married her husband, Kerry. Residents of Gluckstadt, the couple have two kids and a pair of preschool-age grandchildren.
A fixture at St. Joseph for well over a decade, Minninger was hired as pastoral associate in February 2005 and appointed as LEM by Bishop Joseph Latino in March 2006. A LEM in lieu of a full-time pastor is not uncommon in a very small parish – which St. Joseph was at the time of Minninger’s appointment – and in that role she was responsible for the administration, educational, sacramental and charitable activities of the parish.
“I worked very closely, first with Father Robert Olivier and then with Father Kevin Slattery, as Sacramental Ministers to make sure the sacraments were available to our parishioners,” she said. “We had approximately 90 families in our parish when I was appointed, but we began growing rapidly. We’re now at 700 families.
“In 2009 I appointed a building committee to work on design, financing and construction of a new church and education building. In September 2011, we moved into that new $3.1 million building. I am very proud of the fact that we paid off the note for our church in just over three years. We have an amazing parish family here at St. Joseph.”
Minninger’s presence and leadership have been felt on a diocesan level as well. She was the chairman of the continuing formation committee for many years and served more recently on the cathedraticum committee. She has worked with the vocations committee, interviewing candidates for the deacon-formation program. She is also a member of the ethics committee at St. Dominic Hospital.
“I worked with Pam fourteen years and have known her probably twenty-five,” said Father Slattery. “Pam, as the LEM, basically was the pastor at St. Joseph, and she’s a wonderful leader and great with people. As an administrator, she’s frugal and very good. She will be missed. But the parish has grown to the point where a full-time pastor is definitely needed.”
Though now officially retired, Minninger will continue with the administration and general work of the parish on a part-time basis until the new pastor is appointed and joins St. Joseph this summer. This means a transitional time for the parishioners, but they – like everyone else – are more than used to having to adapt after the last two years.
“When the churches shut down, we had people who were scared to death to be around anyone. We also had people thinking the pandemic was a bunch of baloney,” Minninger said. “It took a little while to get there, but people who needed to be in church in the early part of the pandemic could be there to worship, and those more cautious could be fed with spiritual communion through online services. Hopefully one of the blessings is that on a human level, I think we have re-learned how to take care of each other when we take the politics out of it.”
Minninger will also have more time in retirement to play with her granddaughters. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility for her to come full circle and nod off while saying prayers with them. She’ll also have time to reflect on the many meaningful moments she’s had while affiliated with St. Joseph.
“One of the most profound moments I ever had, where I felt God right in the middle of it, was when a parishioner called me, not ready and willing to let go of the love of his life. They had been married over fifty years, and she was dying,” Minninger said. “I went to see them, and he and I sat there and talked. I was there when she passed, and I stayed with him until the coroner arrived.
“I’ve been in the back of the church during weddings and seen the looks on the faces of family and friends as vows are exchanged. The sacramental moments and special times in the lives of people I’ve been privileged to be part of gives you goose bumps all over. God has been there also. That’s why I did it as long as I have.”