Location: Fremont, CA

Job Title: Stay-at-Home Mom and Business Owner

Organization: Vines in Full Bloom

Education: UC Davis, undergrad | Pontifex University, MSA in progress

Degree: Communication | Masters: Theology of the Body and the New Evangelization

Ellen Holloway, GIVEN ’22

Please share a little about yourself – feel free to include a fun fact!
Hi! I’m Ellen Holloway. I live in the Bay Area of California with my husband and two kids. I’ve lived in California my whole life, and honestly can’t see myself living anywhere else. I host a podcast called Charting Toward Intimacy and I’m currently in a Master’s Degree program in Theology of the Body and the New Evangelization. My husband and I love to ballroom dance and we started dancing together soon after we started dating in high school. I love being in front of a crowd whether it’s giving a talk, leading a game show, or acting. Give me a microphone and you might not get it back. I also love a good family themed dress up for Halloween.

Describe your professional work/ministry/family life. How were you led to this? What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about helping lukewarm Catholics reinvigorate their faith and their love for Christ.

I do this primarily through marriage and family ministry. I work heavily in Natural Family Planning and Catholic Sexuality and encourage couples to embrace God’s design for marriage and intimacy. I became passionate about this topic because when my now husband and I were preparing for marriage, we had no idea what we were doing and did not receive proper formation about ultimately the whole point of marriage and marital intimacy. It took a lot of time, learning, and struggle for my husband and I to learn and embrace God’s plan for married love. I want to help others get out of that rut or (hopefully) avoid it altogether.

What are the personal strengths that you’ve been given and how do you utilize them?
One of my strengths that God has given me is the gift of public speaking. Since I was a kid, I was always confused why people got nervous before a presentation or the school play. Talking in front of a group of people is my comfort zone. While I’m a stay-at-home mom and don’t get as many opportunities as I would like to speak in front of others and share knowledge, I have been able to use this gift in the podcast I host. I also have the gift of leadership. I love leading and teaching others. I have been able to utilize this gift extensively as I have built this business through my action plan. I currently manage a team of 6 other women and lead and teach on a daily basis.

What women inspire you, and why? (living or deceased, Catholic or non-Catholic, canonized or not)
I am inspired by so many women. The first I want to mention is a woman named Joanne Main who passed away quite a few years ago. She was an incredible leader who taught me what true leadership looks likes. True leadership is when you have delegated and taught so well that if you can’t be present for an event you planned, it will still go off without a hitch.

Recently I have learned about St. Elizabeth of the Trinity and I am just amazed at her willingness to be patient in her calling. I often feel that I am called to things that are just not happening. St. Elizabeth felt very called to join the convent, but because of her family, remained in the world for many years before ultimately joining the convent. I admire her patience and willingness to accept that she might not ever receive that which she most deeply desired.

Prayer is essential for everyone, but especially for women who are active in the life and mission of the Church. Do you have any favorite devotions or prayers?
Spiritual reading and journalling are my preferred forms of prayer. I feel in spiritual reading I can receive so much from others who have walked the path of humanity and gained insight and wisdom from living holy lives.

I will also never pass up an opportunity to juggle my two little kids while we “say hi to Jesus” in our parish adoration chapel for all of 30 seconds before they start running around and screaming.

Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” St. Catherine of Siena

What were your key takeaways from the GIVEN Forum?
One of the biggest takeaways I had from the GIVEN Forum actually had nothing to do with any specific workshop or session, surprisingly. I brought my 9-month-old son with me to the forum. I was one of only two women who brought a baby, and it was overwhelming to say the least. There was so much incredible content and so many wonderful women that I wanted to meet and interact with, and yet, my primary vocation (my family) was sitting right on my lap the whole time.

I learned through this experience that if I am going to use the gifts that God has given to me to set the world on fire, I have to request and accept the help of others. I am a control freak, and I often think I should be able to do everything on my own. But at the Forum, I couldn’t do it all. It would have been impossible for me to attend everything and learn what God wanted to share with me without other women offering to hold my baby or take him for a stroller ride or feed him a cracker while I ran to the bathroom.

What was your GIVEN Action Plan? Describe its vision, mission, and audience.
My Action Plan was to build out NFP Basics. NFP Basics is an add-on module for marriage preparation programs that gives engaged couples a comprehensive introduction to Natural Family Planning, fertility science, and God’s design for sex. The program includes a live follow up session with each couple who completes the program to connect them with the resources they need for their next step.

The coaches who run these follow up sessions do anything from answering theological questions to helping couples select the method that will be the best fit and giving them contact info for instructors to recommending further reading and resources. The goal is to help these couples with whatever their next step is and to bridge the gap between learning about NFP to actually learning NFP.

Could you tell us a bit about what motivated or led you to develop this Action Plan? Was this something that you had on your heart prior to this past year or was it something you developed through the GIVEN program?
I had been giving the “NFP talk” at multiple marriage preparation retreats for quite a few years and in all that time I only ever had one couple contact me for follow up information. ONE couple. I realized that the issue was twofold. First off, no one wants to ask questions in a large group setting about a topic as personal as family planning. Second, every couple has a different situation and would benefit from different resources. Creating the individualized live follow up bridged the gap of couples learning about NFP and actually knowing how to take the next step.
The goal of NFP basics is to make a positive change in the next generation of married couples. Only 2% of Catholics are said to actually practice NFP, and I believe many of those 98% who don’t use NFP is because they either have no idea what the Church actually teaches or they have no idea how to get started. NFP Basics solves both of those problems.

How did you grow throughout this year as you worked with a mentor on your Action Plan? Were there any moments where you had doubts or felt like you had taken on too much of a challenge? If so, how did you overcome them?
About 4 months into my mentoring year, I had gotten the program set up into a scalable program that could be easily introduced into any parish or diocesan marriage preparation program. Then I got stuck. Suddenly I needed to hire additional coaches because if I was going to grow the program, I could not take on anymore of the one-on-one sessions. I was completely at a loss of how to hire, train, and manage another person, let alone how you handle taxes!

Not only did my mentor suggest resources to look into and directions to go, but I also was able to set up a meeting with someone else within the GIVEN network to ask questions and find out how to even build a company.

But it was more than that too. I honestly got a little scared. I wasn’t sure that I could do it. If it wasn’t for GIVEN, I likely would have left this program as a small program run through my home diocese. Because of GIVEN and my mentoring year, I was encouraged from all sides to keep going and strive for greatness in this project. Now at the end of my mentoring year, the program is running in 5 dioceses and I have 6 coaches working for me. I also have plans to expand into quite a few more dioceses in the coming months.

What were some of the fruits you saw from your Action Plan? What did you find most fulfilling in this process?
Several hundred couples have come through the program now and we have some really interesting and exciting statistics from exit surveys. But statistics aside, there is one couple who really sticks out to me. We’ll call them Gloria and Mike. Each couple completes a survey and one of the questions is “What is the most interesting thing you learned from the video?” Gloria answered that she had no idea about the church’s stance on birth control. When I see answers like that, I often gear up for a difficult session. Sometimes the couples are very attached to birth control and feel that the church is just “behind the times” and it’s my job in the session to share the truth with them in a charitable way.

When I got on the call with Gloria and Mike, I couldn’t even introduce myself before Gloria launched into sharing everything she had researched between watching the video and this meeting we were now in. She was floored that she had grown up Catholic and never learned the Church’s teaching. She had stopped using the pill a week prior, just days after she watched the video. She and her fiancé had committed to abstaining until the wedding and she wanted to get started learning NFP right away.

The video I filmed and the program I created in my little office that doubles as a playroom did that. My small bursts of work in between nap time and snack time and park playdates did that. Gloria and Mike were able to enter into their marriage with a whole new understanding of God’s plan for sexual love and marriage because of a video and a short meeting with me. God is so GOOD.

All the time, all the effort, all the expense. It was and will continue to be worth it just for those two.