HILTON HEAD—One Sunday in 1984, Maryjean Herberger put camellias from her yard in Mason jars and placed them on the makeshift altar at the Crazy Crab. The island restaurant was the first home of St. Francis by the Sea Church. She and her husband Bob had joined the fledgling parish shortly after it was founded.
Redemptorist Father Joseph Majewski, pastor at the time, was so pleased by the blooms he asked her to take over decorating the altar each week. That simple request turned into a 24-year commitment.
Mrs. Herberger led a dedicated group of volunteers who handled the floral arrangements and decorations not only for Sunday Mass, but for holidays, holy days and other events.
Whether the embellishments were poinsettias for Christmas or straw bales, pumpkins and sunflowers for autumn, she was the guiding hand behind it all.
For the first few years, Mrs. Herberger and the volunteers created their own arrangements, but as membership grew she realized it was time to enlist outside help. After researching florists on the island, she settled on Johnson’s Florist and Greenhouse to provide the flowers and plants.
Mrs. Herberger said it was a pleasure to select flowers and hues that corresponded to the season or the liturgical color. Blue flowers, for instance, were always suitable for a Mass dedicated to Mary.
Her eye for decoration even led to a unique shade of poinsettia for Christmas.
“Our carpeting is kind of copper colored, and red just wouldn’t look right against that, so each year we’d get a special pinkish-coral colored poinsettia,” Mrs. Herberger said.
She loved gardening, and after moving to Hilton Head, the Herbergers maintained a small vegetable garden on a plot in their community.
Mrs. Herberger said she was glad to combine her green thumb with dedication to her faith.
“I loved it from the beginning because I was making a commitment and doing something for the church,” she said.
She recently turned her duties over to another volunteer because arthritis has made it difficult for her to get around, but she still serves as a decorative consultant.
Her dedication won’t be forgotten, however.
“Maryjean’s special joyousness and kindness to all always made it a pleasure to work with her,” said St. Mary of Namur Sister Kathleen Kane, pastoral associate at St. Francis. “Her flock of faithful helpers year after year anticipated a phone call from ‘Miss Maryjean’ who guided them in their decorating.”
Sister Kathleen said Mrs. Herberger used her decorative touch on the outside of the church too. She helped develop and maintain a garden dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi at the entrance to the plaza surrounding the church, complete with a statue and birdbath.
The couple moved to Hilton Head from Rochester, N.Y., in 1984, shortly after Mr. Herberger retired from Eastman Kodak. Mrs. Herberger is a former teacher.
They have been married for 59 years and have five grown children and 14 grandchildren. Both are involved in church activities.
Mrs. Herberger was president of the women’s club and helped start a living rosary, which is held each October.
Mr. Herberger was an active member of the Knights of Columbus and parish council president. He belonged to the men’s club and is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion.
She said they aren’t as active as they once were, but still make it to Mass every Sunday and on holy days. Their home is only a mile from the church.
“I just don’t know what people do without faith, because you need it and the power of prayer in your life,” she said.
Like her flowers, Mrs. Herberger enjoys seeing her parish grow. St. Francis now has more than 1,900 households since the day when blooms in Mason jars graced the altar.
“We all love it here at St. Francis, and the flowers were the contribution I could make,” she said. “I’ve been honored to be able to contribute to my parish.”