Germaine was struck by a car and killed in front of the parish moments after leaving the rectory where she continued two work. She was 82 years old.
Fr. Perrone speaks about Germaine in his weekly column, and what she meant to the parish, and rectory staff:
“Germai.......ne!! Germai.......ne!! “Yea. I’ll be right there.”
It might almost have passed for the opening of a comedy routine: I yelling her name down the clothes chute (our old rectory still has one) and she answering from her laundry room ‘office’ in the basement. How many times a day I would call on her for something, I can’t say. She was needed for just about every task I can think of.
This past Monday evening our faithful, indispensably helpful housekeeper, Germaine Wisniewski, was struck down with a violent and fatal blow on Gratiot Avenue from a speeding car manned by an unlicensed driver while she attempted to cross the street. I, with Frs. Bustamante and White, had just gone out the rectory side door when we saw traffic backed up on Gratiot and heard someone say that somebody had been struck down in an accident. Only a second later a voice blurted out, “I think it’s Germaine!” I bolted towards the scene of the accident, in front of the convent, to find there...I can hardly even write about it now without tears...our Germaine, motionless, lying on the blacktop beside a small pool of blood. Fr. John ran to the sacristy to get the holy oils for the sick. I knelt down beside her calling her name, pronouncing the words of absolution. I could scarcely believe the witness of my eyes. She had left the rectory only minutes before, having done the usual Monday laundry. Now she was here, flung on the street like some stray animal hit by a passing car. When the oils were handed to me I said the form for the anointing and imparted the Church’s final gift to the dying–the plenary indulgence that remits all punishments due to sin. Meanwhile, police had traffic halted and held the handcuffed driver in custody. An EMS vehicle finally arrived and took her body away. I was to learn later that, despite appearances, she had still been alive until a short time after she arrived at the hospital. Fr. John and Phyllis Bausano went to the hospital where they met Germaine’s sister and nephew. I stayed behind, walking about dazed for a while, and then entered the church to pray in silence. I couldn’t get into my emotional system what my mind told me had happened. Our Germaine was dead.
I can’t adequately put into words, especially in this small space, all that Germaine meant to us and all that she did for us. I’m going to give it a feeble try anyway. Here’s a short list: she did the laundry and the ironing; she washed cassocks, albs, purificators and hand towels for Mass; she laundered servers’ vestments and gloves; did housecleaning of the three-storied rectory (basement and attic included), scouring toilets and showers, and scrubbing floors on her hands and knees; she set the table, washed and put away the dishes, washed rectory windows and curtains; watered, weeded and fed the garden, and planted flowers; mended vestments and our clothes; cooked on occasion; purchased things for the rectory; and...how many other things I can’t think of? She was only 82 years old.
Germaine, you see, had been hired on to work only from 9:00 until 2:00. The truth was that she hardly ever left the rectory until closer to 8:00 p.m., as on the day she died. I suppose this was more her home than the one she slept in. This was not just her work; it was her life. And in doing it she always aimed to please. She was never one to pity herself. She never wanted to be babied and never let on if she was feeling sick. She worked here everyday except Sunday.
Some of you may remember seeing her in a cameo appearance a couple years back as Mother Teresa in a skit put on for the parish’s 175th Jubilee. She was amazingly convincing in that role. Germaine had a wonderful sense of humor and would instantly spring into song at the least hint of a pop tune. She knew them all (the old ‘standards’ of popular music). I imagine that in her time she once could dance up a frenzied polka, though by the time she had come to us her dancing years were long past.
Needless to add, Germaine was a regular at Mass, often coming to the 7:30 a.m. daily Mass, after which she sprang right to work, emptying baskets and filling humidifiers in the wintertime before settling down to her by then cold piece of toast and tepid cup of coffee. Her holy cards next to the iron in the basement told the story of the many little prayers she must have said quietly everyday.
With all that she did, it would take a good four persons to replace her, not that this is the reason we are mourning her death. She was simply part of the rectory family, someone whom I imagined would always be there. Not only was she helpful, but she had a cheerful, dynamic personality. I especially liked those stock phrases and slogans that she frequently used, to which I would often make responses of similar kind of my own. If I would express some preference for her to do something or other, she might snap back, “You drive a hard bargain.” Or, if someone of the rectory staff happened to come in the door, she would pipe up with, “Look who the wind blew in.” She had many other such one-liners that only she could get away with because we all knew she meant no harm. She was without doubt a tough willed person. How else could she have driven her aging body to such superhuman lengths of endurance? She was simply one of a kind.
We will all miss Germaine. I doubt we’ll ever find another like her. But it’s not just her utility that we will miss. We will miss her. Our rectory life will not be the same without her.
I hope that she will soon be enjoying a much deserved rest from all her labors, rest in that place we all hope one day to enjoy. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I can’t thing of anyone for whom those words seem more appropriate than for Germaine Wisniewski.
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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!