Devoted parishioner continues service well into her senior years

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

SWANSEA — For 86-year-old Wanda Peloquin, volunteering at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Swansea isn’t just something she does to help out, it’s become an important part of her daily routine.

“I think it’s important to keep your body and mind active,” Peloquin recently told The Anchor. “Just sitting at home doesn’t do any good.”

When Peloquin’s husband passed away in 2006, she found she had even more time to devote to her parish. And she’s become something of a daily fixture at the church and rectory ever since.

“I never thought I’d be a widow all these years,” she said. “So I just found myself doing more (in the parish), because I am alone.”

Given that women generally outlive men by several years, it just seemed to make sense to Peloquin to step up and help out instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for herself.

“I never thought it would happen to me, but it did,” she said. “But I try to stay as active as I possibly can and as healthy as I can. Like everybody else at my age, I have aches and pains and arthritis and all those good things, but I try to get past them and keep moving.”

Despite being well into her golden years, Peloquin doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Among her many activities, she’s a daily communicant at St. Francis of Assisi, she’s a special minister of Holy Communion who brings the Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins in her parish, and she can be found counting money from Sunday collections and making deposits for the parish three weeks out of every month.

“I used to work as a bank teller and then I worked for the Town of Swansea as the tax collector,” the now-retired Peloquin said. “That’s my background.”

For Father Michael A. Ciryak, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Peloquin has been a great blessing.

“She’s been a part of everything here from the Catholic Charities Appeal to counting the candle money to filling out Sacramental records and answering phones,” Father Ciryak said. “So many people just go through the motions, but (Peloquin) is a very holy person who spends most her days here at the rectory working.”

Having first moved to Swansea in 1962, Peloquin originally joined the former St. Michael’s Parish and immediately became involved.

“I was very active with St. Michael’s Parish, too,” Peloquin said. “As a matter of fact, I received the Marian Medal from there in 1992 because of all the things I had been involved with; and I try to stay involved the same here at St. Francis of Assisi.”

Peloquin credits her great faith and dedication to the Church to her parents, who were always “very religious and very Spiritual,” she said.

“I grew up in a town called Dudley in central Massachusetts,” she explained. “We always belonged to the Polish parish there and at the Polish church, St. Joseph’s, we were always very active. Everything we did revolved around the church when we were kids and that just stayed with me. When I married, my husband was also very active in his church — it was a French church — and when we came to St. Michael’s we always stayed involved here.”

It’s clear that Peloquin learned a lot from her parents’ example.

“My parents were always very active and went to church, even though we lived in Dudley and our church was in Webster, which was three miles away,” she said. “During Lent I remember they always had the lamentations that they did every Wednesday and Sunday. We would go, even though we had to walk because my father never drove. It was just insane. And every night my father would teach us our prayers.”

That communal sense of belonging and social component of parish volunteer work has also been a Godsend to Peloquin in coping with the loss of her husband and not having her immediate family living in the area.

“I don’t think I could live without my faith,” she said. “That’s how I was brought up and raised at home. It wasn’t anything you thought about, it was just something you did like breathing and eating. And nobody ever complained — nobody ever rebelled. I think it just stayed with us.

“When my husband died and with my two daughters not living in the area, I just found that my religion was a great source of comfort and compassion for me.”

Thankfully, Peloquin was able to pass along that same example of faith and Spirituality to her own daughters, both of whom she said remain as active in their respective parishes as their mom.

“I have one daughter who lives in Holliston and she’s a young widow, but she remains very active in her parish, at St. Mary’s in Holliston,” Peloquin said. “I have another daughter who lives in Burlingame, Calif., and she’s very active in her church, Our Lady of the Angels.

“My two daughters are always going on retreats or to the shrine in Stockbridge. My oldest daughter will even be going to Fatima in October (for the 100th anniversary). My family stays as involved in the Catholic Church as I could possibly hope, and I’m glad for that.”

When she’s not attending daily Mass or helping out at the rectory, you can find Peloquin busy with other parish activities including being a lector on Tuesday and Thursday; attending weekly Prayer Group and Bible Study meetings on Tuesday night; and working with the Prayer Shawl Ministry, which provides knitted prayer shawls and lap robes to the sick and infirm.

“We give them to anybody who needs them — anyone who is sickly and needs the comfort of a blanket, we provide them,” Peloquin said. “After they are made, Father (Ciryak) blesses them and we attach a little prayer to them before we give them out. People are always happy to get them and we give them to men and women.”

For Peloquin, St. Francis of Assisi has become something more akin to an extended family than a simple group of parishioners.

“We have a great group of people — I don’t do all these things by myself,” she added. “We have a lot of help. Working together and in conjunction with other people, that’s how you get things done. It’s not just one person doing everything.”

And for those who just “go through the motions” as Father Ciryak put it and do little more than attend weekly Mass, Peloquin suggests they try one of the parish ministries on for size.

“I think if they would just try one of the many ministries that we have, they would find it enjoyable and maybe they might keep coming back,” she said. “If they don’t attend anything, then they’ll never actually know what takes place here (in the parish). There’s always something to do.”

Those are words of wisdom from a seasoned parishioner who still remains active at 86.

“I’m glad I’m still able to do it,” Peloquin added. “I take great comfort in my Church.”

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