Sr. Lucina Halbur: Service Is My Way of Doing God’s Work

Sister Lucina Halbur, CSA, has served people in need since the day she joined the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes, always seeking out ways to improve service to the poor and bridge gaps in care. Her service at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Milwaukee began in 1987 as a psychiatric nurse in Service Empowerment Transformation Ministry, Inc., (SET) a community-based health and human services agency that supported people with social and economic disadvantages.

During her time there, she utilized her nursing skills, but also her administrative skills, serving as president and CEO for 14 years before retiring in October of 2008. In her final annual report as president, this is how she described SET’s ministry outreach efforts: “To walk hand-in-hand to bridge the gap between hope and hopelessness … [providing] stability and focus, when it is easy to get lost in the maze, to find everyday needs such as nutritious food, health care, employment, [and] housing.” More than just lip-service, Sister Lucina’s efforts were recognized with awards from throughout the country and she received a Health Care Hero Award from a local business news publication.

It is no wonder then that Sister Mary Jo Schmidt, SDS, who was running the St. Rose of Lima Food Pantry at the time, sought out Sister Lucina to join the volunteers at the food pantry. When Sister Mary Jo could no longer serve, she handed over the reins to Sister Lucina, whose work at SET had shown how she valued the dignity of every person and also how exceptionally capable she was at administration.

Despite being retired, Sister Lucina was happy to take on a leadership role once again. “What I’ve noticed among retired religious is an unwillingness to quit. I came to be of service, and I want to do that as long as I am physically and mentally able,” said Sister Lucina. Now, she has begun her own succession planning with the current volunteers, but she doesn’t see herself going anywhere anytime too soon.

The St. Rose of Lima Food Pantry serves families in extreme poverty, many who have exceptional needs for the gifts it provides. The panty is open twice per month from 4:30-6:30 p.m. On those days, Sister Lucina is on site by 8 a.m. to ensure everything is ready to go. While the pantry obviously offers food, primarily as a supplement to Wisconsin’s FoodShare program, it also provides a community space in the neighborhood and guidance to additional resources. Often serving more than 40 households in two hours, the pantry is a busy place, but the numbers don’t hinder the ability for Sister Lucina to create bonds with the clientele. They often chat about family lives and ask after neighbors who have stopped coming to the pantry.

Donations to the food pantry are sent through the basement window, down this re-purposed playground slide, straight into to big plastic tubs in the basement — a clever, time-saving solution!

Sister Lucina also regularly uses skills she learned as a psychiatric nurse when she is assisting those with mental health concerns or who are struggling with addictions.

Just like so many others, Sister Lucina relied on adaptability to continue serving the public for the past two years. Prior to the pandemic, guests were able to “shop” for exactly what they needed, but that required them to enter the building and walk up and down a narrow set of stairs.

When safety protocols necessitated the move to an upstairs garage bay, the allotted space did not allow for browsing, so guests are now provided with bags full of staple foods. Various other items are available and visible from the pick-up point, so guests can still get things specific to their household needs.

In addition to reducing illness transmissions, this change also helped remove a significant accessibility barrier, since the guests no longer need to go up and down the stairs. The volunteers are in a colder environment than they used to be, but they all agree that the changes were ultimately better for serving the community and will stay in place, even if they are no longer needed for social distancing.

Between pantry dates, Sister Lucina doesn’t rest. She is busy preparing bags of materials and working with other volunteers to sort incoming donations. She has also found herself assisting in two of the other services offered in the building – advising a community outreach group and tutoring English language learners.

Sister Lucina’s face glows with pride when she talks about a young Myanmar refugee who received his citizenship in June of 2021. She had been tutoring him in English, on-and-off as much as his demanding family life and job would allow, for the past five years, and she was thrilled to be a part of his citizenship journey.

With decades of service and expertise as a foundation, Sister Lucina still has plenty to offer the world. “Service is my way of doing God’s work … I ask myself, ‘What are the ways I can help?’”

— by Dusty Krikau