HUNTINGTON — An Oct. 28 celebration of Sr. Paula Wellnitz, OLVM’s 70 years in consecrated religious life, had a bittersweet tone as the congregation of Mission San Rafael in Huntington heard that she will be moving to her congregation’s motherhouse in Indiana.
The event also recognized her 90th birthday, which will be in December.
Sr. Paula was “always looking for those who don’t have anybody, maybe, in their lives, or just need a little encouragement. She’s always there,” said Brigid Wickersham, who has known the Victory Noll sister since Sr. Paula arrived in the Huntington area in 1992.
At the age of 17, Sr. Paula originally didn’t consider consecrated life, but other people asked if she would because she attended daily Mass and prayed often, she said. However, she didn’t want to be a school teacher or work in a hospital – the jobs she knew consecrated religious women filled – and she didn’t think she could follow the regulations of religious orders, she said. Nevertheless, she asked God to show her his will, and told him that she would enter an order, figuring, “if I don’t get thrown out, it must be what God wanted.”
The missionary charism of the Victory Nolls suited her, she said. Their main purpose is religious education, and she enjoyed traveling the United States, sometimes teaching “under a tree or in a garage,” she said. Although she doesn’t think she was very good at working with people, “there are things that I have done that I think have been helpful to people,” she said, adding that she always asked God what he wanted and how she could do her tasks.
Over the years, Sr. Paula earned master’s degrees in religious education, and psychology/counseling. In Utah she worked for 4 Corners Mental Health.
At the Oct. 28 Mass, Fr. Rafael Murillo, who serves the mission, said Sr. Paula’s “life of service to God has been a joyful witness to all of us.”
One of the songs at the Mass, “The Servant Song” by Richard Gillard, was chosen because “the lyrics absolutely tell [Sr. Paula’s] story, how she’s lived her life for service to others and her love of God,” said Kathi Kearney Reaves, who was a lay associate Victory Noll for many years.
As the Mass ended, Terri Bennett paid tribute to Sr. Paula by giving a short history of her time in Utah. At Mission San Rafael, Sr. Paula was a lector, a Communion minister who also took communion to the homebound and taught classes in family life and faith. She also trained the altar servers, “but outreach, I really think, was her true calling. She loved to visit everyone,” Bennett said, and recalled being Sr. Paula’s partner about 20 years ago as they tried to visit every Catholic in Emery County.
In addition, Sr. Paula often called people if she didn’t see them at Mass, and “one of her main focuses also was on the Hispanic community,” Bennett said. “She was very responsible for getting our Hispanic community to come here at the mission.”
Sr. Paula also loved to attend the services of other faith communities, and was strong on social justice and environmental concerns, Bennett said, noting that after she retired Sr. Paula offered her home as a place for retreat and reflection for individuals or groups.
The hospitality after Mass was also important to Sr. Paula, Bennett said. “It was much more to Paula than just having coffee and donuts afterward. It was a time when she wanted everyone to sit around and visit as a community and get to know each other. … Paula lives her faith and the vows that she took.”
In her comments after the Mass, Sr. Paula said the only way she could have done what she did was with the help of the Holy Spirit, and thanked the congregation “for being who you are and for being here today and for all the help that you have given me through the years.”
Thanking the congregation for their presence, she asked that they give her greetings to those who couldn’t attend, “and say that I will be with you in prayer to anyone you know who may remember me.”