In Your Midst

The Pew Next to You

April 2009

Meet Michele Ferguson, Christa Galioto, and Tom Tamada


           Michele Ferguson and Christa Galioto are two parishioners who keep the spirit of Christmas alive all year round.  As members of the St. James Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, gift giving is what they do week in and week out!

           Michele and Christa go out each week to visit people in their homes in need of assistance from SVDP. They have been doing this together for over 17 years.

           Michele and her husband Ken moved here from Long Island in 1990. When filling out a registration card at St. James Cathedral, Michele checked off St. Vincent de Paul Society as a program she would be interested in volunteering in.  Soon, a call came the St. Vincent DePaul office and Michele had an unexpected new career. She had been working from home as a technical editor, but had her afternoons free. After going out on a few home visits, she knew she was hooked.  I asked her what she meant. “A sense of doing something that was important for someone else. It’s rewarding,” she said.

           Christa and her husband Tom arrived in Seattle not long after the Fergusons. Tom had retired from the Air Force. They had met in Christa’s hometown of Ulm, Germany. Tom’s Air Force career kept them in Europe where they raised their children, Andrew and Annette. They lived a year in Dayton, Ohio before following Andrew and his family to Seattle. They settled in an apartment just a few blocks from the Cathedral. They soon met a condo neighbor, Jeanne Murray, a very active member of SVDP. Jeanne wasted no time in inviting Christa and Tom to consider volunteering. They did, and continue to do so today.

           Michele explained how the St. James Conference of St. Vincent DePaul Society operates and what volunteers do. The main aim of the program is to assist people in remaining in their homes. They provide assistance for utility bills, rent, some furniture (mostly beds and mattresses) and occasionally some medical aid and food. In cases of domestic violence, they will assist in finding secure housing and help.

           Persons seeking assistance have to live in the geographical boundaries of St. James Parish. As this area is so dense in population, there are two conferences in the parish, the St. James Conference and the Blessed Rosalie Rendu Conference. Those asking for help do not need to be Catholic.  The only requirement is that they live at an address within the boundaries. All requests are made by phone through a central routing office. The requests are sorted out and sent by e-mail to the correct conference throughout the city. When Christa and Michele receive an assignment, they contact the persons or family and make an appointment to meet them in their homes.  The home visits are important for several reasons. Personal contact is made which is beneficial to the recipient as well as the team. It verifies that the situation is indeed what had been described by phone. And the team can work with the people to see if further assistance can be provided by other agencies.

           Michele does much more than home visits. She helps at the central office in sorting out the phone calls, faxes, e-mails and does the same for the St. James Conference.

           When Michele is away on vacation, Christa and her husband Tom make the weekly home visits together. Tom also keeps busy as the treasurer of the conference.

           So when Father Ryan reminds us on the third Sunday of the month that “the ushers will be at the doors today to accept any contributions you are able to make for the St. Vincent de Paul Society,“ think of Michele and Christa!

           Tom Tamada has a special spot reserved for him every week at the 10:00am Mass.  There’s not much of a view, but you can hear every word, clear as a bell!

           Tom is a one-of-a-kind volunteer:  he records the Sunday 10:00am Mass for the homebound.  More than twenty years ago, Sister Anne Herkenrath approached Tom for help with this vital yet little-known service for parishioners who, because of age or illness, are unable to join the community for Sunday Mass. 

           In those twenty years, technology has changed a lot.  Tom has seamlessly made the transition from cassette tape to CD and has been through countless upgrades of the Cathedral’s sound system.  In his years of ministry, he has helped hundreds of homebound parishioners feel connected with their community as they are able to experience the Sunday liturgy—the power of the word, the preaching, and the music.

           Tom’s ministry begins about 9:30am each Sunday morning.  He sets up the sound board and connects it to the Cathedral’s complex sound system, effortlessly finding his way through a daunting array of cables and plugs.  Each track on the sound board corresponds to one of the Cathedral’s microphones—the ambo, the altar, the presider’s microphone, the cantor’s microphone are all recorded on separate tracks.  Additional microphones record the organ and choir in the East Apse.  Throughout the Mass, Tom monitors the recording, jotting down notes on his Order of Celebration about timings and places where he’ll need to make cuts or adjustments.

           The real work begins when Mass is over.  First Tom must edit the recording to fit on a standard CD (while Mass may run short or long, the CD cannot be more than 74 minutes!).  Once these adjustments are made, he listens to the entire recording again, mastering it in ’real time.’  Only then is it time to transfer the recording to a CD which can be duplicated for our homebound parishioners.  The whole process takes about four hours!          

           Tom  is very quiet about his ministry.  “It’s a very interesting job,” he says.  “It requires you to listen very closely and think about how you want the finished product to sound.  I like the challenge, and I like the fact that I am contributing something useful to the parish—the shut-ins are able to feel connected to the Cathedral community.  Those two things make it feel worthwhile to me.” 

           And for those who love the Cathedral but can’t take their place in the pew, his ministry means a lot.  Bob Taylor receives the CD each week at home.  “Thank you so much for sending me the CD,” he writes.  “While it wasn’t quite like being in St. James, I still felt a part of the great cathedral.  I would close my eyes and visualize the organ behind the section we usually sit in, singing with the members of the parish. (I don’t sing well, but in the cathedral with all the great voices we have, no one really hears me, except my wife.  I remember once in grade school our music teacher asked if I could sing B-flat.  I told him, ‘I can sing flat in any key!’)  It was also great hearing Father Ryan’s homily again.

           “One thing I can do at home that I can't do in church is that at home I can actually whistle to the hymns!”

           Thank you, Tom!


—Joan McDonell is a Marriage Tribunal Advocate and a regular volunteer at the Parish Office.

Back to the December 2008 Issue of In Your Midst

Back To In Your Midst Page