St. John Church says thank-you for a life of service

January 03, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

She was there every day at St. John Catholic Church.

Before every service, Reba E. Poole, called Reba by everyone, would walk the aisles of the church like an inspector general making sure everything was in place.

Those who arrived early saw the petite gray-haired woman at the altar, smoothing the linens and rearranging the vessels.

She was the sacristan, a job she held at the Westminster parish for 30 years.

"I did anything they needed or anything that nobody else would do," she said with a laugh.

So when Ms. Poole, 69, decided last month that she "had to slow up some" and could no longer "see to everything at church," the parish of nearly 3,000 families did not let her go quietly.

The congregation said thank-you for all her acts of kindness at a Mass celebrated Dec. 18 by Bishop P. Francis Murphy, auxiliary of the Baltimore archdiocese.

The Rev. Arthur Valenzano, pastor at St. John, chose a verse from the Bible to describe Ms. Poole: "She acts humbly and walks justly in the Lord."

At the end of the service, Father Valenzano gave Ms. Poole $1,000 from the parish.

"I was surprised and I really didn't want anything," she said. "I told Father it was just too much."

Worshipers accustomed to her smile and spry steps saw tears streaming down her face as she walked slowly back down the center aisle amid a standing ovation.

"I don't like all the attention," she said. "I am not the type of person who wants thanks."

"I doubt that there is any other member of our parish who is so widely known simply by her first name and so deeply appreciated," Father Valenzano said. "She is the spirit of faithfulness and a witness who shares her good with others."

"I do it for the love of my Lord and for the love of my church," Ms. Poole said. "I love to do for people. I get a lot of appreciation."

As sacristan, Ms. Poole's work started early each day as she arrived to prepare the church for several Masses and made sure sufficient hymnals and missals filled each pew. She also laundered the altar linens and repaired vestments.

Before Mass, Ms. Poole stationed herself at the back of the church. She would help arrange the procession of servers and signal the organist to begin. Celebrants had everything necessary because of her attentiveness.

She often would ask a family arriving at the last minute to carry the offering to the altar.

No one said "no" to Reba.

Her earliest memories revolve around St. John. She recalls a childhood of services attended with her family in the old church on Main Street. Ms. Poole began cleaning that building and the rectory 50 years ago when she was a student at St. John's High School, the same school her six children attended later.

After her marriage failed, Ms. Poole cleaned houses for $1 an hour and raised her children alone.

To pay for their education at the parochial school, she ironed for the priests and nuns, cleaned the church buildings and cooked supper at the rectory every evening.

"They just took the work off my school bill for the children," she said. "And, they all liked my homemade cooking."

Long after her children had graduated, Ms. Poole still was cooking lunches in the school cafeteria. She retired from that job about 10 years ago. "I cooked for 17 years and didn't quit until I couldn't lift the pots anymore," she said.

Ms. Poole has relinquished most of her self-imposed duties to other volunteers. Instead of attending every Mass on the weekend, she comes to one as a worshiper. She acknowledges a little anxiety as she sits in her pew and lets others tend to the details.

"I see things I would like to get up and do," she said. "It takes my daughter to say, 'Mom, sit still,' to make me stay in my place."

One duty she won't relinquish is care of the altar linens. "It only takes three or four hours a week and I don't mind," Ms. Poole said. "After all, I have been doing the linens for 37 years."

In the spring, she may use the gift from her parish to pay for a few renovations on her Westminster home. She will keep busy with seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and her sewing and embroidery. "I am just now learning what retirement is all about," she said.

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