Victim Assistance Coordinator Interview: Wendy (Krisak) Kalamar, Diocese of Allentown

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Do you have a family? Where did you go to school?

I grew up in Bethlehem, PA and although I had a 14-year stint living in Emmaus (only about 30 minutes from my childhood home), I recently ended up back in Bethlehem. I am the youngest of three girls. My mom, sisters, and I would joke with my dad that he did not have it easy with four girls in the house…even our family dog was a girl! I am very blessed to still have my parents with me. My mom is 82 and my dad is 93 and they still live in the family home that I grew up in. My parents raised us to value and cherish our faith, but it wasn’t really until I got a little older that I truly began to see my faith unfold.

I went to a small private four-year Catholic college called Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales—which is known now as DeSales University. I studied Psychology and Criminal Justice with the hopes of one day being a forensic psychologist. Back then, this field was not as popular as it is now, and there were really not many graduate program opportunities. In fact, the main program was in New York City…and city life was not for me. I shifted my focus to counseling psychology and decided to pursue a master’s degree in marital and family therapy from Kutztown University. After finishing my degree and doing some mobile therapy work, I ended up back at my alma mater, DeSales, to become the assistant director of counseling. I work there to this day as the Assistant Dean of Students for wellness.

In August of 2020, I married my husband, Brian. I have a 21-year-old stepson, Matthew, who is in his senior year at Gettysburg College. We live in Bethlehem. As you can see by the date…we had a Covid wedding. Some people feel bad for us that we “missed out,” but truth be told, we would do it the same way again in a heartbeat! With being unable to have a reception and all the hoopla that comes with a wedding, we were able to really focus on the most important part of the day…our vows in church.  We loved it! Brian converted to Catholicism the year we got married. Receiving the Eucharist with my husband on our wedding day was the greatest wedding gift!

How long have you been a VAC? What drew you to this work?

In 2012, I was approached by the diocese to interview for this position. I really did not know much about it at the time. I had several meetings with key individuals including the bishop, the vicar general, the retiring VAC, etc. The more I came to understand the role, the more I knew that God was calling me to it.  Years prior to this, I was on the adult retreat team for my parish. The diocesan attorney and his wife made the retreat that year. We got to know each other a little bit at that time. When the VAC position was coming open, he remembered me and thought that I might be a good person to interview for the position.  He gave my name to the bishop, and after several meeting and interviews, I was selected.  It is so beautiful to me how God puts us in each others’ paths to do His work.

A funny story about my interview process was the day I had my first interview with the bishop.  When I came home, I called my parents to tell them about my interview and my dad asked, “Did you call him ‘Your Excellency’?”  All of the sudden my stomach dropped and I sheepishly said, “No.”  I was certain that I blew the whole thing! Thankfully, that was not a dealbreaker for our bishop…and he laughed when I told him that story a few months later.

Do you have other roles at the diocese? What are they?

I do not have any other specific roles with the diocese per se; however, along with my role as VAC, I do trainings for Protecting God’s Children and for Mandated Reporter. I have provided workshops for the priest convocation and for several parishes’ youth groups. I am very active in my own parish: I serve as a Eucharistic Minister in which, prior to COVID, I brought communion to the patients in our local hospital.  I am also involved with the adult retreat program and with my husband, volunteer for our yearly fundraiser.

What personal quality do you think is indispensable for a VAC?

Empathic listening! Listening, of course, is always important; however, to listen empathically allows me to make a more emotional connection to the individual.   remember my training in graduate school when one of my faculty members was talking to us about how to work with clients who are experiencing things we never had experienced. Our question was, “How can we be authentic and understand what they are going through when we may never have gone through it ourselves?” This is the day I learned the most valuable lesson…he shared with us that we may never understand what they are going through…and it is not what they are dealing with that we will connect with them on—rather, it is the feelings they are experiencing that will connect us. When I sit down and talk to the individuals, I not only ask them to share their experience, but also what they are feeling. I may not have faced the same trauma they have, but when they tell me that they felt afraid, sad, lonely, anxious, helpless, confused, ashamed, etc., I can relate to that and share in those emotions with them.

How do you take care of your own faith and mental health while doing this work?

This is a really good question and not always an easy one. First and foremost, I pray. There is nothing formal about my prayer, though. Sometimes it is a simple, “Jesus, please be with me.” There are times when I am hearing something that tests my faith on multiple levels. It is in these times that I just ask God to please help me feel peace. Through some of my own trials in life, I have learned that God does have a plan for me and that with time, this plan will be revealed. I do my best to remember that every day.

For my mental health, I spend as much time as a I can with my family and friends. My husband and I love to take walks, explore new places, and cook together (which leads to eating good meals, too, of course!)

What would you want people to understand about your role?

I want people to understand how truly beautiful I feel my ministry, my vocation, as VAC is for me.  Beautiful might be a strange word for people to associate with clergy abuse. The media tends to highlight only the ugly. For me, it is the most precious privilege to have the victim survivors share their stories with me. When I work with the victim survivors, I want them to know that God loves them. God is with them in the good times and God is with them in the bad times. God is always there. In my role, I want to walk the journey with the victim survivor to the light of hope.

Can you share a sign of hope from your work?

Every time I sit down with Bishop Alfred Schlert and a victim survivor, I feel hope. I can’t really explain it, but it is just a strong feeling. The Holy Spirit truly guides these pastoral meetings. Bishop Schlert is a humble and kind man. He has a calming spirit. There have been so many times that we have all come together for one of these meetings and you can just feel the anxiety and fear at the beginning. However, by the end, through the intercession of the Holy Spirit and the gentle heart of the bishop, we all leave with a sense of hope.