by Joe Bollig
LEAWOOD — Michael Bartkoski’s “second career” as a barnstorming eucharistic minister to the sick and homebound began in the most innocuous way — as a favor to a friend.
Bartkoski, an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, was approached for a favor six years ago.
“A friend asked me to take holy Communion to an old high school buddy who had a stroke,” said Bartkoski. “I took holy Communion to him one day, and the next day, and when he moved to another facility — the one I’m currently at doing most of my ministry.”
One day, a person at the facility came up to him and said, “Mike, I’ve found another Catholic for you.”
“I didn’t know I lost any,” Bartkoski responded.
But the staff at the facility kept feeding him names until he was taking Communion to anywhere from 15-25 people nearly every day except Saturdays.
Thus Bartkoski discovered one of the great truths of Catholic lay ministry: Sometimes you don’t find the ministry — the ministry finds you.
Bartkoski takes the Eucharist to individuals at two Brookdale Senior Care facilities in Overland Park, to Villa St. Joseph in Overland Park once a month on a Thursday, to a woman at Delmar Gardens senior care facility in Overland Park, and to a few other homebound individuals.
“The vast majority [of them] are extremely appreciative,” he said. “I don’t spend a lot of time talking with them, but I chitchat and listen. Some don’t say a lot, depending on how they’re feeling.”
Even individuals in the memory care unit, who appear to have largely retreated inwardly, perk up when Bartkoski kneels beside them or makes the sign of the cross.
“When you make the sign of the cross and pray, they all do it,” he said. “They take the Eucharist and go back to being who they are. They’re wired for God and they don’t forget it. It’s been a blessing.”
Family members, if they’re present, are happy that their relatives — often faithful Catholics their entire life — are receiving the spiritual benefits of the Eucharist.
“The hospice chaplain, if he has a Catholic, will let me know if someone needs to be anointed, and I’ll get a priest from Nativity to come over,” he said. “I also let the residents know that I can arrange a visit from a priest or for reconciliation.”
He has also brought ashes on Ash Wednesdays. If he’s asked, he will pray with non-Catholics, too.
The majority of Catholics he visits are there on a temporary basis, but some in assisted living, hospice and memory care will be at the facility for the remainder of their lives.
Why does he do it? Because God wants him to, he said.
“I think God looks to see what skills you have,” said Bartkoski. “This is where he led me, and that’s the best I can tell you. It wasn’t anything I planned.”
“Six years ago, if anyone told me I’d be doing this, I’d have told them they were nuts,” Bartkoski continued.
“For whatever reason, I said ‘yes’ to this,” he added.