Ithaca woman embraces new form of ministry - Catholic Courier
Ann Marie Eckert reads announcements at Christmas Mass at Ithaca’s St. Catherine of Siena Church. (Photo courtesy of Diane Duthie)

Ann Marie Eckert reads announcements at Christmas Mass at Ithaca’s St. Catherine of Siena Church. (Photo courtesy of Diane Duthie)

Ithaca woman embraces new form of ministry

As Ann Marie Eckert concludes three decades of ministry, her time at Ithaca’s St. Catherine of Siena Parish holds a special place in her heart.

“There was something really, powerfully wonderful about being in a parish and just getting to know everybody. It was an opportunity to walk with people through the good and the bad stuff, and see how people use their gifts,” said Eckert, who served for nine years as the parish’s pastoral associate.

Now she’s moved on to a new and highly personal ministry as primary caretaker for her parents.

Eckert has shouldered that responsibility full time since ceasing her duties at St. Catherine of Siena nearly a year ago. The parish threw her a sendoff party of appreciation May 14, a few weeks before she was to move back to her home city of Buffalo with her parents, Bud and Diane.

Balancing work and family

The three have lived in Eckert’s Ithaca home since her parents relocated from Buffalo after the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020. At first, Eckert attempted to balance caretaking with her full-time work at St. Catherine of Siena. But as her parents required more assistance, she took a leave from the parish in July 2021 before resigning in late October.

Eckert’s parents are in their late 80s. While her mother is in relatively good health, she said her father has spinal stenosis, which sharply limits his mobility, making him reliant on a wheelchair or Eckert’s physical assistance to get around. She and her parents will be moving to an accessible house currently being completed in Buffalo, not far from where she grew up.

A career in ministry

Eckert is a graduate of Buffalo’s Holy Angels Academy high school. She went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Buffalo State and her master’s degree from Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora near Buffalo. She worked in youth ministry for eight years in the Diocese of Buffalo before serving for three years as associate director of youth and young-adult ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Shen then logged 11 years with the former Center for Ministry Development, traveling the country to provide training for ministry with youth. Although Eckert said she loved that work, she embraced being in a parish setting when she arrived at St. Catherine of Siena in 2012.

Diversity in parish life

“I love the diversity, how there isn’t just one way that people are Catholic” in a parish community, she said. “Here are a thousand ways that people are expressing how God is in their lives.”

She expressed her gratefulness to the parish when she announced her resignation in the parish bulletin of Oct. 31, 2021.

“My faith is much more firmly rooted because of your faithfulness,” she wrote. “My spirit is stronger because I have walked with you through your life’s ups and downs, and you have walked with me. I see the world differently because you shared your stories, experiences, and insights with me.”

Eckert’s entire tenure at St. Catherine of Siena occurred under the leadership of Father Joseph Marcoux, pastor since 2010. She said turnover also was rare among the rest of the staff.

“We had amazing staff for years,” she stated. “One of the great joys of the experience was to just work with super-talented and really supportive colleagues. We were really a team. It’s hard to leave St. Catherine’s, the work that I did and the people I did it with.”

At peace with change

Yet Eckert is fully on board with the next step in her life.

“It’s a privileged moment to care for and offer something to your parents that I’m uniquely able to give at this moment,” she said, noting that her sister and brother have offered substantial support in caring for her parents. She’s also keeping her hand in ministry by working part time for EQ Saints, which offers youth-ministry resources and training. And she said she might eventually volunteer at her family’s home church of St. Joseph University Parish in Buffalo.

Although she’s undergoing a significant life change, Eckert said she never really struggled with her choice.

“I guess the reality is that I have, in my adult life, always sort of known I feel peace when I know the next thing I’m supposed to be doing,” she said. “I just talk these things through with God and feel peace.”

“Profiles in Faith” highlights Catholics in the Diocese of Rochester of all ages and walks of life who are role models for living the faith. To suggest someone to profile, email Newsroom@Catholic Courier.com.

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