Brennyville caretaker retires from labor of love

By Kristi Anderson

The Visitor

Every parish has them — those people who go the extra mile, who put a little oomph in their ministry, who do that special something that makes parish life just a little bit better. 

The people of St. Elizabeth Church in Brennyville recognized one of their parishioners, Emil Broda, July 8 with a retirement celebration for his almost two decades of service. 

“Emil is the ‘hands’ of our parish in many ways,” said Liz Wojciechowski, who attends St. Elizabeth. “Whenever there is a need for something, whether it be setting up, a question on an event or a maintenance need, we call Emil.”  

In early July, Broda, 78, retired as the caretaker of the Brennyville church where he did everything from changing light bulbs in the chandeliers high on a ladder to shoveling snow in the bitter cold to signing checks as a trustee and trusted member of the parish for most of his adult life.

He was usually the first one there, turning on the lights, making sure the heat was turned on and the snow was cleared in the winter. His job as caretaker started with snow removal, then led to mowing the 6.7 acres of parish grounds which took about 16 hours, and soon turned into doing almost everything possible around the parish, he said.

Emil Broda tends to his parents’ grave in the St. Elizabeth Cemetery in Brennyville.

“It was something to pass time after I retired. I keep my own yard looking good so they asked me if I would do the church’s lawn. One thing led to another and pretty soon I was doing all kinds of things,” he said. 

Broda and his wife, Yvonne, lived in the area before moving to the Twin Cities where Emil worked as a machinist. They returned to Brennyville in 1970 and began farming. They had four daughters, two of whom passed away and have stones in the Brennyville cemetery Broda meticulously groomed.

“I enjoyed it, I enjoyed all the work I did,” he said. “Sometimes it was hard because I was real close with some of the people buried there. Especially [my friend] Adam Novak. Whenever I went past his grave, I would always stop the lawn mower and say hi.” 

Nearly every day for more than eight years, 86-year-old Jack Holewa has made his way the four miles from his home in rural Foley to the cemetery in Brennvyille where he prays the rosary beside his wife’s grave.

“I ain’t much of anything anymore but I can still pray for people,” Holewa said. “When I go to Marianne’s grave, sometimes I pray for her and sometimes I pray with her. I pray for all the holy souls in purgatory.”

Holewa’s daily pilgrimage to the cemetery is just one of the reasons Broda took great care in his work. He said he liked to keep it looking sharp for people like Holewa who come to the holy ground to remember their loved ones. 

“There were a lot of stones that were buried, covered up. I dug them out and leveled them. I always picked up the flowers and weed whipped and put them back. And I always used the vacuum system for the grass. People really appreciated that, not having grass on the stones,” Broda said.

Wojciechowski said Broda has been her go-to person whenever she has a question about parish life. 

“He has welcomed me and become a friend I can go to for anything,” she said. “He’s given us produce from his garden, gives warm hugs at random, is friendly and kind to the kids and is helpful in so many ways. He knows everything that has gone on in the parish, so when I have a question about how a program should run, or where to set things up, he’s there to help.

“Emil deserves to be acknowledged for his generosity, kindness and loving commitment to the church and the church family,” she added. 

Even though there are some tasks Broda is ready to pass on to others, he said he will miss the daily interactions he’s grown to love. 

“It’s been very important, very meaningful, this parish. I’ll probably sit down once in a while and say, ‘What did I quit for?’ We have some wonderful people here and I just wanted to satisfy everyone,” Broda said. “Hopefully, I did that.”

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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