EUGENE — Caitlin Breitenstein is all in.
At 28, she’s a member of St. Paul Parish here, where she grew up. She has led vacation Bible school, confirmation class, youth group sessions and a cooking camp. She’s a eucharistic minister. She and husband Eric host a faith-sharing group for Lent and she coordinates weddings.
Breitenstein teaches at the parish school, where she and Eric graduated 14 years ago. They intend to have their toddler, Ian, enroll there — “of course.” In addition to many duties as a learning specialist, Caitlin teaches an elective class on Thai cooking, plus some math and American Sign Language.
“I’m pretty sure I spend more time at my parish than at my home,” she says.
Though burnout is something to watch for, parishes rely on super-members like Breitenstein, especially in an era when parishes have one priest — if they’re lucky.
Father David Brown, pastor of St. Paul, wishes he had more time to visit the school. But with a large parish physical plant, hiring, frequent funerals and many other duties, he’s in a pinch. That’s why he’s so grateful that faith-filled and cheerful people like Breitenstein are on the scene all day.
“She’s a terrific person and a terrific teacher,” Father Brown says. “She’s always full of enthusiasm and always happy and has a wonderful outlook on life. She has been blessed by God in many ways and she passes that on to others.”
Father Brown, aware he can be in only one place at a time, has been trying to encourage lay leadership. For example, he turned over a Divine Mercy Chaplet to parishioners this fall.
Breitenstein fits the trend.
How is a parishioner like her developed? It seems to be about Catholic formation and relationships.
St. Paul Parish is set in an upper-middle class neighborhood. The church is large and gently modern, with natural light, white paint and wood. Trees and grass in the sprawling schoolyard are visible through clear church windows. During Mass, parents seek to comfort antsy children in the pews and encourage them to listen.
It was in this nurturing Catholic environment that Caitlin Delegato and Eric Breitenstein met in first grade and became friends.
They went on to Marist, where they continued a Catholic formation. Caitlin studied at Gonzaga as an undergraduate and University of Oregon for graduate school, traveling to eight different nations along the way.
When they started dating, Caitlin said she would not make any commitments before a two-year courtship. On the very day that two years elapsed, Eric brought her into the classroom where they met at St. Paul. There, in front of the chalkboard, he proposed. They wed in 2011 and their marriage has been based at the parish ever since.
“It’s just home,” Caitlin says. “There is this really big family feeling here. We wanted to return to our roots.”
Breitenstein has two brothers with special needs. They couldn’t attend St. Paul because there were no provisions for them. Part of her return is a calling to fix that oversight. With support from parish and school leaders, she now sees to it that students with learning differences feel like part of the St. Paul family. She has seen promising developments in Catholic schools all over the Archdiocese of Portland.
Being a St. Paul graduate gives her more credibility with students, who are impressed that she knows amazing facts about the school, including a door hidden behind a refrigerator.
Breitenstein says much of her will to spend time at St. Paul comes from the good relationship between the school and the church. Parishioners are mentors in math and reading. Others lead the annual basketball tournament.
She is energized by wanting to create a good environment for her son, Ian. Her goals — including offering him an international viewpoint — also help current students and parishioners.
Breitenstein does not need to keep deciding whether to be Catholic. She’s done that. Now it’s in her bones, she says.
The family lives 20 minutes away. They could choose a closer parish, but are oriented on St. Paul.
“God always points me here,” Breitenstein says.