Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 5, 2004
Parish housekeeper hangs up her apron
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Everybody loves Maria Munarolo.
For 32 years, the delightful and endearing housekeeper and cook at St. Agnes Parish could be seen every Monday and Tuesday scurrying about the rectory and church cleaning and cooking or serving visitors with tea and one of her famous cakes.
Eleven pastors, 14 associate pastors and an untold number of parishioners have been touched by her smile, but after celebrating her 65th birthday March 11, Munarolo retired.
A hearty reception was held in her honour recently in the parish hall.
"Father (Tesfu Kelati) said I couldn't go because I knew everybody so well," Munarolo said with a jovial accent reminiscent of her native Italy.
"But I told him that we aren't here forever. It was time. I hated to retire, but life is so short and you never know how long you're going to live. But I told father I will help him out until he finds someone else."
No task left undone
Munarolo cleaned the rectory and the parish. She did the laundry and the cooking. She took the vestments to the dry cleaners, dashed out for a litre of milk if needed and tended the garden and flower beds.
"It might be a long time, but to me it seems like yesterday," she said. "The place, the people and the priests were all very nice. I liked to see everyone smile. I got along with everybody. The seniors, the CWL, everybody. I loved my job. I like to say, 'I always do my best and God will do the rest.'"
In Italy, Munarolo worked for a priest when she was 14 years old. The priest had a cousin who was sick. Her neighbour asked her if she wanted to work in the church and she agreed.
"I worked there and, on the weekends, I washed dishes in a restaurant. My husband keeps asking me why I didn't become a nun. I had that intention because my mother had a sister who was a nun and two nephews who were priests. In the old days, there were more people who became nuns and priests," she said.
Maria grew up in Casoni, north of Venice. In 1953 she moved to Mussolente. She came to Edmonton in 1960 after meeting Peter, who arrived from Italy in 1958 to work as a cabinetmaker. The pair linked up and were married. Their daughter Nadia was born in 1965.
"I married her quickly before she changed her mind," Peter said, laughing.
Nadia is proud of the faithful service her mother performed. Through the gratitude of others is how she sees the magnitude of her mother's achievements.
"Mom has made many life-long friends through working at the church," Nadia said. "There are many people who bring in a card and a cake for her birthday or anniversary. They want to do something for her because she has done so much for them for so long. But she is like that with everybody. She goes the extra mile for people."
Well known for asking the pastors "What you like Father, so I make for you?" what Maria did in two days would last the priest for a week.
"I was happy because they always appreciated what I did. I have many wonderful memories because every priest was different," she said. "Working in a church you experience many different things. I worked with my heart and I never expected anyone to tell me I was good."
Newman College president Jack Gallagher served as pastor at St. Agnes from 2001 to 2003. He says Munarolo was a delightful bundle of energy.
"She ran all morning and all afternoon," he said. "She is quite extraordinary. Maria was always looking for something extra to do. As soon as the snow was off the ground, she would take care of the garden. She was inexhaustible."
Melvina Grudecki has known Munarolo for more than 20 years. The archdiocese's human resources coordinator has worked with Maria for 10 years as a parish volunteer.
"Maria was always there to welcome me with her latest cake and tea," said Grudecki, who picks up Sunday collections every Monday. "She is so hospitable. We'll miss her terribly.
"Anything that needed to get done, before you knew it Maria was getting it done," Grudecki said. "We've always felt she did twice as much work as anyone else in the same amount of time."