Grief support ministry helped widow find ‘new life’

Mary Catherine Pfaadt, front row second from left, and members of On With Life were photographed at an event in 1991. The grief support group met monthly up until March when they disbanded due to dwindling membership and the lockdown brought about by the pandemic. (Photo Special to The Record)

Mary Catherine Pfaadt said On With Life, a ministry which provided peer support to widowed individuals, helped her to find a new life following the death of her husband.

On With Life was a ministry supported by the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Family Ministries Office. It was established in 1983 to provide peer support to individuals of all faith traditions as they worked through the grieving process and adjusted to life without their spouse, according to information from the office. The group was started by individuals from various parishes seeking support following the death of their spouse.

Pfaadt, who’d served as one of the group’s leaders, said the dwindling number of members and the lockdown brought about by the pandemic caused the group to disband earlier in the year. Up until then, the group had met monthly at Mary Queen of Peace Church on Dixie Highway.

Pfaadt and her husband had been married for 27 years and had raised three children when he died in 1984. A few months following his death, a friend invited Pfaadt to attend an On With Life meeting.

“I’d cry and cry and say ‘I’ll never go back,’ ” she said in a recent interview.

But Pfaadt’s friend kept inviting. The group, up to 80 individuals at times, met twice monthly at the old St. Pius X and St. Denis churches back then. Pfaadt kept going to meetings and eventually became close with the other members, she said.

“We all had lost our mate and we just bonded. It helped with the grief a great deal,” said Pfaadt, who is now 83-years-old. “I found a new life.”

She became one of the group’s leaders who coordinated meetings and activities and did so until the group disbanded. Looking back, Pfaadt said she is glad her friend insisted and invited her to be a part of the group.

“It’s very important to be around those who can understand how you’re feeling,” she said.

During meetings, members shared in small groups their grief journey and how they were coping. They also traveled and took part in activities such as Christmas parties, dinners and picnics. They held a Mass each year at the old St. Helen Church, now Mary Queen of Peace, to commemorate the group’s anniversary.

“We became close, we did activities together…going out to eat, taking trips. It was a big part of our lives. The activities kept us going,” said Pfaadt.

Sue Brodfehrer, who served in the Family Ministries Office for more than 20 years, worked along with Pfaadt and other group leaders over the years. Brodfehrer said the office offered tangible support such as publishing and mailing the group’s newsletter, but for the most part they provided “guidance” and “spiritual support.”

The group was always self-contained, but the office was “always present in case they needed support,” said Brodfehrer in a recent interview.

Brodfehrer said Pfaadt was a “pivotal person” and that with the help of others she “held the ministry together,” especially in the later years. Pfaadt said she remained a part of the group for so many years, because “I felt like I was helping others that were hurting.”

Grief support, such as that which On With Life offered, is an important ministry of the church, said Brodfehrer.

“It’s part of Jesus Christ’s calling to us to be present to the living. We have a responsibility to be with those who are hurting and grieving a loss,” said Brodfehrer. “Even though we believe that the deceased is with God and we talk about them being in a better place, those left behind aren’t in a better place … the pain, hurt and many times the faith questions can’t be answered.”

It’s not an easy ministry and it’s one that requires the minister to reflect on their own mortality, said Brodfehrer. But Pfaadt, she noted, did it with “grace.”

“She’s a very graced woman. She has gifted people all these years with her presence. She’s an extraordinary giver of care to so many people for so many years,” said Brodfehrer.

The Family Ministries Office currently sponsors GriefShare, a 13-week grief support program. GriefShare was piloted at St. Thomas More, 6105 S. Third St., last year and is now available in various parishes, both in-person and in a virtual format, said Denise Puckett, who serves as the family services project coordinator in the Family Ministries Office. For more information on GriefShare and to find out which parishes have adopted the program, contact Puckett at 636-0296.

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