A 35-Year Journey from Parish Staff to Volunteer

Who’s Making it Happen

Susan Laielli – Florida Catholic

To experience true energy and joy spend a few minutes with Diane Sochacki, a retired St. Catherine Parish office secretary and obvious jack-of-all trades after 35 years, who now serves as a volunteer, at 81-years young, because she can’t slow down.

It was the mid 1980’s when Sochacki and her husband moved to Sebring from Toledo, Ohio, and became members of St. Catherine Parish.  When registering her young family in the Parish office, she asked the secretary if they needed any volunteers.  The 70-year old woman told her, “No, we are fine.”  So, she never volunteered for anything.

The Pastor at the time, Father Jose Ruiz, caught up with Sochacki after Mass one day and asked why she never volunteered for anything.  Sheepishly, she replied, “I didn’t think you needed any help.”

Sochacki laughs when she remembers a parishioner telling her in front of the broccoli at a Sebring grocery store, that Father Ruiz really needed help with a lot of different things because his secretary became quite ill.

As a former executive secretary in Ohio, Sochacki would then spend the next 35 years as the St. Catherine Parish secretary, and the first face and welcoming committee of the Parish for families stopping in to register for baptisms, confirmations, marriages and funerals. She produced the weekly bulletin and embraced technology along each step of the way, from ledgers and adding machines, to computers and iPhones. Sochacki took many sick calls to help locate Father Ruiz, so he could go to hospitals and homes of the sick and dying.

It brought much sadness when Father Ruiz himself was eventually diagnosed with a fast-moving terminal cancer.

“Oh, that was hard,” she recalls. “Father didn’t want to tell people he had terminal cancer. He couldn’t say it. He couldn’t say he was going to die, so instead he’d say, ‘While I’m away’,” said Sochacki.

The Parish staff became instrumental in joining the Diocese of Venice to plan the memorial service for Father Ruiz and forced all to own up to the reality that Parish life must continue beyond Father Ruiz.

In 2003, Father Jose Gonzalez took over as Administrator, and eventually as Pastor of St. Catherine Parish, having previously served since 1994 in the Hispanic Apostolate in Avon Park, Sebring and Lake Placid. Having a right hand like Sochacki must have been priceless.

“Father Jose grew this Parish to include the school and added many different ministries and activities which were not here before,” added Sochacki.

The Parish has also become increasingly diverse with Filipino- and Indian-language prayer groups, Masses in English and Spanish, as well as religious education classes in English and Spanish, not to mention all the School activities occurring regularly. Now as a volunteer, Sochacki oversees Liturgical Ministries for the Parish.

“I like to say that Father Ruiz built the Parish, and Father Jose grew the Parish,” Sochacki said, smiling.

She was also responsible for learning, growing and using the new software for ministry scheduling for the Parish. Let’s hope Sochacki doesn’t forget to schedule in her own 50th Wedding Anniversary on August 25, 2020.

“I already attended the Anniversary Mass on February 1 at Epiphany Cathedral with Bishop Dewane. We were so excited to have our picture taken with him!” she giggles.