Caldwell couple shines with ‘Light of Christ’
By Mary P. Walker
“Lumen Gentium,” a document of the Second Vatican Council, states that we are called to the “fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” It goes on to say that the faithful must follow Christ’s footsteps and “devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor.”
Those who know Joe and Donna Rychlik, parishioners of St. Mary Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Caldwell, see that example of Christian love. In fact, Joe received the diocesan Lumen Gentium award in 2008 in recognition for living his baptismal call in an extraordinary way.
Joe has always called the Caldwell area his home, and he loves his parish, his community and his Czech heritage. His family emigrated in the 1880s from Moravia, joining many other Czech settlers. These immigrants passed on a love for America and their Czech roots. Joe speaks fluent Czech, and writes an article each week for an American Czech newspaper.
Donna is originally from Athens, which is southeast of Dallas. After graduating from Texas Tech, she moved to the Caldwell area as an extension agent. At the time, she was not Catholic. Not only did Donna learn to love Caldwell and Joe’s Czech heritage, she also grew to love the Catholic Church.
“I was so happy when she decided that she wanted to join,” Joe said.
Donna taught home economics in Caldwell and was later a school librarian in Dime Box. Joe was a postal worker. Both are now retired, but certainly not idle. Today, as throughout the years, their love for God, each other and their neighbors manifests itself through service: within their parish, through civic leadership in Caldwell, and through countless acts of charity for their neighbors.
“They are good pillars of the church and the parish,” said Father Dimitrij Colankin, former pastor of St. Mary Parish, and now the pastor of St. Monica Parish in Cameron.
Donna has shared her faith by teaching in the religious education program and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program for those who want to join the Catholic Church. Together they provide the music ministry for the Saturday evening Mass. Joe sings, and Donna plays the piano and organ. When requested, Joe uses his Czech language skills to sing at funerals at St. Mary or at the Brethren or Lutheran churches, which also have many members of Czech heritage.
“Just to be with Joe and Donna, you see the Holy Spirit at work. It is fun to watch them work off each other, always focusing on others and not themselves,” said Jack Buckley, former president and CEO of St. Joseph Health System in Bryan. Buckley praised their volunteer work at the Burleson St. Joseph Manor. Joe was on the board of directors from 1999-2009 for the Manor.
Buckley especially admires the Rychliks’ concern for the spiritual care of the Manor’s residents. Joe, as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, brings the Eucharist to the residents, and they arrange for Mass at the Manor on First Fridays. They also organize parties and special events.
Civic responsibility is a cornerstone of their lives as well. Joe has been on the school board, and they are both active in the Czech Heritage Society of Texas and KJT Catholic Union of Texas. Thirty years ago, Joe and his late brother Bernard were instrumental in launching Caldwell’s annual Kolache Festival, which is a celebration of the area’s Czech heritage that draws thousands of visitors to the community.
“I just like seeing the Czech traditions being kept,” Joe said.
Kolaches come in many varieties, and Donna, who did not grow up eating fine Czech food, has achieved expert status in making this traditional treat.
“Donna can make kolaches with the best of them, and Joe can eat with the best of them,” said Deacon John Young of St. Mary Parish, who counts the Rychliks as dear friends.
In addition to leadership in the parish and community, the couple also visits the sick, elderly, homebound and those in nursing homes. When Joe walked a 12-mile route to deliver the mail, his caring presence became part of the daily lives of many people. Today, if an elderly person needs a ride to the doctor, they know whom to call.
“So many things I do at a moment’s notice,” Joe said.
The couple is also always willing to have fun.
“When you think about Joe and Donna, you think about dancing,” said Deacon Young, especially the polka. They also love their 1931 Model A Ford Victoria, which they share with others to bring joy and happy memories to the elderly and a fun history lesson to the youth.
“We are happy to live in Caldwell. It’s really a wonderful town,” Joe said.