Danielle Freie spent a year letting God convince her to try something new.
She finally ran out of excuses.
“I always tell people to follow what the Lord tells them to do, but I had trouble doing that myself,” said Mrs. Freie, who is now the Jefferson City diocese’s wellness coordinator for priests.
“I needed to start listening to my own advice,” she said.
The St. Clement native and licensed practical nurse (LPN) became the diocese’s part-time wellness coordinator for priests last October and went full-time with the position Feb. 27.
“I’m here to serve the Lord,” she stated. “I do that by helping his priests. I want to be there for each and every one of them.”
“I help them advocate for themselves and get the best care for themselves,” she said.
A lifelong member of St. Clement Parish in St. Clement, Mrs. Freie previously worked for nine years for the Pike County Health Department.
“I loved the people and the community,” she recalled.
But once she read the want ad for the diocesan wellness coordinator, the Lord wouldn’t stop nudging her.
“He said, ‘Take care of my shepherds who take care of my sheep,’” she recalled.
“I kept telling him ‘I’m comfortable where I am,’” she said. “He kept telling me, ‘I need you to tend to my shepherds.’”
The invitations became louder and clearer.
“Every time I tried to come up with an excuse for why not to do it, I kept on hearing him say, ‘Take care of my shepherds,’” she said.
So, after “lots of prayers” and discussions with her husband and their two teenage children, she updated her resume and sent it in.
She got the job, started part-time on Oct. 24, 2022, and went full-time on Feb. 27 of this year.
“It’s so rewarding to be able to help God’s shepherds so they can tend to the sheep!” she said.
Driven to serve
Mrs. Freie is the youngest of her parents’ six children.
“And the only girl!” she noted.
She and her brothers went to public schools in Bowling Green.
She didn’t know what she wanted to be until she graduated from high school.
“I just had a deep conviction to help and serve,” she said.
Her grandmother, who’s now 93, was an LPN and didn’t retire until she was 80.
“I also have cousins who are RNs,” Mrs. Freie noted. “So, we have lots of nursing in our family.”
She studied nursing at Pike-Lincoln Technical Center in Eolia and began working as an LPN in 2005.
“I became what the Lord called me to be,” she stated. “I love helping people.”
Mrs. Freie met her husband, Chad Freie, on a blind date on Valentine’s Day in 2002.
“The Lord is amazing,” said Mrs. Freie. “He brought us together and brought us to church.”
Married in St. Clement Church in St. Clement, they “really came to faith” while Father William Peckman was their pastor there.
They have a son and a daughter, Deven and Darcci.
Mr. Freie was initiated into the Church in 2015. He is now discerning a possible calling to the Diaconate.
“So, the Lord puts you where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there,” said Mrs. Freie.
“Here to help”
Mrs. Freie and her family live in Middletown, about halfway between Bowling Green and Montgomery City and about 70 miles from Jefferson City.
She succeeds Karla Lang, who followed Kimie Bax, the diocese’s first wellness coordinator for priests. Mrs. Bax served from 2019-21.
Mrs. Freie’s primary role is to tend to the physical needs of priests who are ailing, to offer support and guidance for priests who are coping with chronic illness or personal crises, and to assist those who want to work on making healthier lifestyle choices.
“I want to help take care of every single priest,” she said. “I want to spend time with all of them. If they’re here serving, I want to see them.”
She provides all the priests an abundance of practical information about taking care of themselves so they can take care of others.
“It’s not all just physical,” said Mrs. Freie. “It’s also emotional, mental and spiritual.”
She visits priests in their parishes, in the hospital, or in short-term or long-term care facilities to assess any health and well-being needs they may have.
She is also available to accompany priests to doctor’s visits at their request.
“I want them to be comfortable and know that I am there for them,” she said.
No one is required to make use of these services, but she wants the priests to know that “I’m here to help if needed.”
Bishop W. Shawn Mc-Knight created the diocesan Priest Wellness Program in 2019 to be carried out under the supervision of the diocesan vicar for priests.
While most people retire at or near age 65, most priests of this diocese continue to fully function in their ministries past age 70. Many may continue serving in some capacity after retiring.
Some but not all priests have family living nearby.
The Priest Wellness Program’s purpose is to promote, support and advocate for the health and well-being of the priests through a three-dimensional approach: physical wellness, emotional wellness and professional wellness.
Priests of this diocese tend to be very busy and don’t always find time to care for themselves.
Some feel guilty for taking time to look after their own health and wellbeing.
“I think some of them think if they take care of themselves, they’re taking away from taking care of other people,” said Mrs. Freie.
“I can sort of relate to that,” she acknowledged. “As a nurse, I’m sometimes tempted to put myself last. And they’re under a lot more stress than I am, because they have a lot more people counting on them.”
Her schedule includes calling or emailing each of the priests at least once a month and regularly trying to set up a time to meet in person.
“I sit and listen to them and I let them tell me whatever they want to tell me,” she said. “I earn their trust by being there for them, and then I explain to them how important it is to take care of themselves.”
Everything they tell her is held in the strictest of confidence unless she has immediate concern for the priest’s safety and wellbeing.
She meets regularly with Father Christopher Cordes, diocesan vicar for priests, for discussions about helping the priests stay healthy.
“I’m very much about communication,” she said. “It’s very important.”
She sends the priests a monthly newsletter with helpful information, including practical ways to fight stress, knowing when to consult a healthcare professional, and frequent reminders to take care of themselves and advocate for their own health.
“And I like to make people smile, so I put a funny story at the end,” she noted.
The grace to listen
Spending a lot of time on the road gives Mrs. Freie plenty of time to pray.
“I like to pray the Rosary and ask our Lord to help me be a good listener and help the priests and just be there for them,” she said.
For her, being a good listener means being present and actively hearing without judging.
“You just sit there and let them talk,” she said.
She works around the priests’ schedules.
“That’s harder for some than it is for others,” she noted. “But the majority of them make the time.”
“If they just want to visit for an hour, I’m there for an hour,” she said. “Or even if it’s a half-hour. Whatever they need.”
She’s always amazed to discover how much concern the priests show for each other.
“I’m not allowed to tell anyone who I have or haven’t been to visit,” she noted. “But they’re quick to ask me how their fellow priests are doing.”
Mrs. Freie asks for prayers simply to continue following the Lord.
“I want to be able to keep asking him, ‘What do you want me to be doing today?’” she said.
She believes people can help their priests by praying for them daily, listening to them and “just being there for them.”
“It makes so much difference, knowing that people really care about them and appreciate them,” she said.
“Just asking them how they’re doing, and really listening to their answer and being willing to help them, so they know we’re all in this together,” she stated.