SAN DIEGO — There’s just something different about the diocesan Pastoral Center.
That’s what Grace Bunge has come to discover.
“The atmosphere here is awesome,” she told The Southern Cross around noon on a Wednesday, after she had concluded her work for the week as a volunteer in the diocesan Office for Liturgy and Spirituality.
“I thank God that I’m here,” said Bunge, 69, a member of St. Kieran Parish in El Cajon. “It’s just such a beautiful place and beautiful people.”
In July 2014, she retired after 30 years in the professionally fulfilling, but often stressful world of the aerospace industry.
She has a simple explanation for the difference between her former workplace and her present one.
“God is here,” she said of the Pastoral Center, acknowledging that while He is omnipresent, she can sense Him especially in the diocesan employees she has come to know.
Bunge began volunteering for the Diocese of San Diego at the invitation of her daughter, Lisa Vaca, an administrative assistant in the diocesan Office for Evangelization and Catechetical Ministry, who told her that her office had a heavy workload and that the diocese was in need of volunteers.
After initially working alongside her daughter, Bunge moved on to volunteer in the diocesan Office for Marriage and Family Life, which has since been revamped and reestablished as the Office for Family Life and Spirituality. She then transferred to the Office for Liturgy and Spirituality, where she assists its director, Noreen McInnes, with a variety of tasks.
Bunge recalled that McInnes had humorously described her volunteer responsibilities as “doing the Lord’s laundry.” And folding, starching and ironing altar cloths and steaming liturgical vestments have certainly been part of Bunge’s job, as well as polishing the Eucharistic vessels. Among other things, she has also helped with the set-up for Masses celebrated in the Pastoral Center’s chapel and with making a complete inventory of the Liturgical Office’s library.
“We are truly blessed to have Grace on our team,” said McInnes. “As a retiree, she has many skills and gives her time and treasure generously to the Church. “We always look forward to seeing Grace on Wednesdays,” she continued. “She always serves with a smile on her face and such joy in her heart that she lifts up everyone she encounters.”
Though her volunteer commitment is officially only from 10 a.m.-noon on Wednesdays, Bunge often gladly stays to finish up a project — “Whatever it takes,” she said — and is open to volunteering on other days to staff major diocesan functions.
This includes volunteering at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, which she has done annually. That massive diocesan liturgy, which is held during Lent and brings together about 1,000 people who will be entering the Catholic Church at the subsequent Easter Vigil, is among the highlights of Bunge’s volunteer service.
For her, the Rite of Election is a reminder of her own spiritual journey as a revert to Catholicism. Baptized as a baby in Buffalo, N.Y., Bunge began attending St. Kieran Parish in El Cajon in the late 1950s. Her father, who was in the U.S. Navy, had been stationed in the San Diego area. However, during her teenage years, her family stopped attending Mass. She was fine with that at the time, she said, because it meant she would “get Sundays free.”
However, later in life, as a single mother struggling to raise her four children while working two jobs, she felt drawn back to the Church of her youth. But she “just didn’t know where to start.” One of Bunge’s daughters introduced her to a St. Kieran’s parishioner who would become her sponsor through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process. At age 45, Bunge was confirmed by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, who at the time was auxiliary bishop of San Diego and pastor of St. Kieran Parish.
Today, when asked what Catholicism means to her, she answers succinctly, “Everything.” “Every time I walk up to take Communion, I thank God that I’m back,” she said. “I just feel like I’m home.”