Sister Marie Lucek OP has worked for the parish of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in downtown Juneau for 12 years.
Nuns don’t exactly retire from their ministry — retirement-age sisters typically move on, she said, to do other work for the church — but Lucek is leaving Juneau, heading back to a sister house in Wisconsin to retire from her paid work.
She’ll continue with her ministry at her Order’s sister house, which houses about 150 nuns with a median age of 80 years old, she said.
But that’s not before having an impact on the Juneau community.
In her time here, Lucek volunteered as a chaplain at Bartlett Regional Hospital, helped with the rosary at the Juneau Pioneer Home and volunteered with the interfaith homeless aid program Family Promise.
She led worship services with Deacon Charles Rohrbacher when the priest was away and couldn’t conduct mass, and helped a few dozen Juneau adults start their “faith journeys” into the Catholic church.
On Tuesday outside downtown’s St. Ann’s Parish Hall, where Lucek was still cleaning out her office, it’s clear she’s well-liked. Before unlocking the door to the parish hall that morning, a passerby saw Lucek and crossed the street to wish her well in the next step of her ministry.
“It’s not about me,” Lucek told the Empire a few minutes later. “You help people walk on their faith journey.”
Lucek led the parish’s program for adults who want to enter the church. She’s one of the first church figures new adult parishioners meet when they start what Lucek called their “faith journeys.”
Starting that journey has to happen on someone else’s time, Lucek said. The work isn’t as much about recruitment as it is about support, she said.
“It’s not my program,” Lucek said. “It’s their path to god that they need to follow.”
She has helped about two dozen people enter the church, she said, and has led worship services in small towns outside of Juneau. Sometimes it’s the spouse of a parishioner who wants to join the church. Other times, it’s an adult with no family connection to the faith.
Either way, the work starts with a candle and a prayer, she said. Then, it progresses on the timeframe of the prospective church member.
She told the story of a woman married to a local Catholic for 50 years. The couple had raised children in the church the wife had never converted. Then, after her children had grown, Lucek helped the woman join the church.
“And that was her faith journey. She wasn’t ready. It seems strange that it took 50 years, but that’s OK, because God was working in her life,” Lucek said.
It’s been important to Lucek to put a female face in Catholic leadership in her time in Juneau, she said. Lucek has done that by leading worship services, which are sometimes done in lieu of mass, which only a priest can lead. Women aren’t allowed to become priests, she said. Leading worship services is one way to heighten the female profile in church leadership.
The OP after her name? It stands for Order of Preachers, and she enjoyed the chance to preach.
“I think it’s important for the people to see a woman leading a prayer,” Lucek said.
Outside of her official church capacity, Lucek said her volunteer work here has been met with tremendous community support. That’s not something she takes for granted.
“When there’s need, it’s amazing how people rise up to meet that need. It never ceases to amaze me,” she said.
Juneau’s isolation might be behind that, she said. Because locals can’t drive out, they know they’ll need to depend on one another in times of need.
“Juneauites know that they have to make and form their own community. They have to take care of one another. I think also, maybe the people who are attracted to a place like this are people who want that,” she said.
Though Lucek, 77, is leaving her paid ministry work, she’s not done helping the church where she can. At the Wisconsin sister home, there’s clerical work, help with health care and other jobs she’ll keep busy with.
Nuns start in a sister house and can choose to retire there, she explained. She plans on returning to Juneau to visit and will keep in touch with the friends she’s made here.
“It’s amazing, the community spirit here. I will miss that,” Lucek said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.