Georgia Winfrey, Father Thomas Donohoe and assistant DRE Don Eckelkamp.
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CARLISLE -- Something impels Georgia Winfrey to instruct young people in the ways of God.
For over 40 years, Winfrey, 68, has been involved in religious education. Beginning in the 1960s, she became a teacher. Shortly after being widowed in 1991, she received her masters in religious education from Boston College and became the director of religious education first in St. Joseph Parish in Waltham, and later at St. Irene Parish in Carlisle, a position she still holds today.
At St. Irene’s, she is responsible for the faith development of over 400 students in grades K-8. She also supports close to 60 teachers.
“To me, there is nothing more important than bringing children close to God,” Winfrey said, speaking from her Boxborough home.
Perhaps what motivates her to teach children is her own childhood.
Raised in Oakland, Calif., Winfrey did not find religion until middle school.
Her father, who had left the Church years before, had not raised his family to be Catholic. Then, when Winfrey was 11, he reentered the Church, bringing his family with him.
“I was baptized when I was 11,” she recounted. “After that, I just fell in love with the Church -- I loved all the rituals and traditions of the Church. To me, it was wonderful.”
After being baptized, Winfrey attended parochial school through high school, and credits her Catholic education with “motivating” her to attend college.
It was at the University of California at Berkeley that she met her future husband, Richard Winfrey. The couple married and moved to Massachusetts, where they raised four children. Widowed after 32 years of marriage, Winfrey now has 13 grandchildren.
Reflecting on her life, Winfrey sees that her faith has carried her throughout her life, in both good times and in bad.
“My faith is my life,” she said pensively. “It’s who I am.”
“To me, faith is to have a relationship with God, it’s not just a religion -- although I take comfort in my religion as a Roman Catholic -- it is to have a solid relationship with God,” she said.
Winfrey praised her pastor, Father Thomas Donohoe, adding that he helps create a “warm and welcoming” parish community. In addition, she said, his homilies “are always fun, always excellent.”
“He is a very pastoral man,” she said. “People really like him, and it’s obvious that he loves being a priest.”