Sr. Kathy Stuttgen, FSPA

The Stuttgen File

Stuttgen

On December 13, 2012, Kathy was named a recipient of the Iverson Freking Ecumenical Award presented by the Bethany St. Joseph Corporation. For that occasion, the biography below was written by Gale Bruessel:

With a personal motto of "Be where you need to be when you need to be there," Sr. Kathy Stuttgen's days are filled with mostly unplanned events leading her to those who need her. She states, "I can be driving down the street and think I need to stop and see someone and lo and behold, they need me! I can't explain it, it just is. I can be eating and all of a sudden in mid-sandwich, I get a call. Someone needs me and I just go." Her passion for the elderly in the La Crosse area has given her the opportunity and privilege to work with those who she feels are sometimes the voiceless in society.

Sr. Kathy, or "Stitch" as she is known, was raised in Colby, Wisconsin, along with 16 siblings, by their dairy farming parents, Nick and Hilda Stuttgen. Farm life suited her well. She speaks of her "homespun" family milking and raising crops. She states, "We were country folk, frugal and hardworking. We learned to pitch in when necessary. If there was a need, we showed up. We learned to help our neighbors. The church meant a lot to us as well, but we always had fun like playing baseball every possible afternoon." Her mother and most of her siblings still live in central Wisconsin while four siblings live in Janesville, Eau Claire and La Crosse.

Sr. Kathy graduated from high school and then, over 40 years ago, joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse. She attended Western Wisconsin Technical College and became an operating room technician. She worked at St. Francis Hospital for 7 years and then 5 years as a nursing assistant for St. Mary's Hospital in Sparta, WI. Sr. Kathy received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Ministry from Viterbo University in 1987, and then relocated to Oelwein, Iowa, to work as a hospital chaplain and parish visitor to the elderly. In 1992, she became a certified chaplain through the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. She served for 15 years as chaplain at Villa St. Joseph in La Crosse, a skilled nursing care facility for elderly sisters. In 2001, she was hired half-time by Mary, Mother of the Church Parish in La Crosse with the title of "Ministry with the Elderly." She continued these two ministries for 5 years but now works just at the parish.

The idea of being a caregiver was influenced by her parents who instilled a sense of wanting to help and to do something for those less fortunate. She thanks her sister, Delores, who lives with their 96 year old mother and has been a constant companion and caregiver for many years. Ever since the 5th grade, Sr. Kathy felt drawn to the women who taught her, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, and as a member she has continued to feel their support through the years.

Her sense of community leads her to say, "To make things happen, it takes a lot of people with different gifts brought together. Community only happens when people bring their gifts to the table." She chooses to be present and to be available. In her words, "Just be there!"

She volunteers for the St. Clare Mission, a clinic for the uninsured located in La Crosse. During clinic hours, she is a receptionist and during off hours, she distributes donated medical equipment such as commodes, shower chairs, walkers and canes. She states, "Health care costs are high and this helps people get the things they need without extra expense. Medical equipment often gets wasted and I see this as a way of recycling." She strongly encourages families to pass on medical equipment so that purchasing new items is not always required. People find out that she picks up and drops off equipment and they turn to her for help. She wonders sometimes how much more she can fit in her car, but is happy to share the bounty with those in need.

In her religious community she serves on the Mission Integration Committee which looks at the philosophy of FSPA goals and mission. She serves on the La Crosse County Aging Unit Caregivers Coalition and the Mayo Clinic Health System's Home Health Services Professional Advisory Committee. The latter involves the Hospice program, palliative care and medical equipment. She serves on the Catholic Charities Community Advisory Board and was proud and delighted to be a part of a Catholic Charities clean-up crew in 2011 when a tornado swept through La Crosse. Her work with the church's elderly includes bereavement presence, shopping for or with them, serving as advocate for court appearances, providing banking assistance, making hospital and nursing home visits, taking communion to shut-ins, and taking on the role of surrogate daughter when families are not in the local area. Her neighbors can attest to her mindfulness in helping to maintain their yards or other chores as needed.

Her hobbies include loving nature with hiking, walking and fishing. She is a people watcher, likes to do jigsaw puzzles and play card games such as Hands and Feet. An avid Packer Backer, Sunday afternoons become open house times on game days. Best of all, the elderly make her happy and she looks forward to opportunities to advocate for them. She cannot state enough, "The rewards you get out of helping others are more than you put in." So, for the peace of mind of all the elderly who know her, Sr. Kathy will continue to be present to them when she senses they need her help.

Updated 27 December 2014