Please share a little about yourself – feel free to include a fun fact!
I am originally from Southern California and am a cradle Catholic. I went to Catholic schools and Universities. My extended family is from Iowa, so I consider myself a mid-westerner at heart. I moved to Cincinnati about two years ago to work for a religious congregation as a lay person. I love praise and worship music and sacred music. I am discerning a religious vocation, and two of my great aunts were actually Sisters! They were blood sisters and members of the same religious community, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in Cincinnati. Part of the reason I felt comfortable moving to Cincinnati was because of the community’s continued presence here. I now have an extended family at the provincial house and actually lived with them for about six months!
Describe your professional work. How were you led to this? What are you passionate about?
In my professional life, I minister for Glenmary Home Missioners, the only Catholic missionary society of men who minister exclusively in the United States. They bring Christ to the home missions of Appalachia and the South, where there are few Catholic churches and other resources. They consider the entire county population their parish, and help everyone in need regardless of background or creed. I work in their development office, primarily writing grants, helping to coordinate some events for donors, and managing the missionary cooperative plan season for the religious community. I was led to this because I previously worked for a secular disability services nonprofit, and wanted to return to a Catholic environment. I was also discerning a religious vocation. I answered a job advertisement offered by Glenmary, and it ended up being a perfect fit! I am most passionate about the right to life, disability rights, mental health advocacy, and promoting religious communities. In my spare time, I volunteer in each of these areas with different groups and nonprofits to address these needs.
What are the personal strengths that you’ve been given and how do you utilize them?
My primary strengths are: being well organized, reading comprehension, writing, listening, compassion, and empathy. I utilize them in my professional work by writing grants and thank you letters to donors. I have to be well organized to execute successful events and to coordinate a complicated mission appeal season across several dioceses in the United States. My listening, compassion, and empathy come into play when I interact with our donors, fellow staff, and Glenmary priests and brothers. Many times they just need a listening ear, encouragement, and the promise of prayer.
What women inspire you, and why?
The women who inspire me are:
Mother Teresa: For her willingness to leave her homeland, then leave her religious order to found the Missionaries of Charity, minister in destitute slums for many years, and her faithfulness to prayer. All while experiencing a profound sense of separation and silence from her Beloved, the Lord. Yet she never shared that pain with anyone, she always smiled, promised prayer, and encouraged others. She was a true light and strength for those in darkness.
“[S]he never shared that pain with anyone, she always smiled, promised prayer, and encouraged others. She was a true light and strength for those in darkness.”
Sister Maristella Eickman: She was one of my great-aunts who was a Franciscan Sister of the Poor. She was often misunderstood by her community and given menial work, even though she was intelligent and capable. She was often compared to her older sister, who was also in the same community and had roles of leadership in their health care ministry. Sister Maristella, or Grandma Sister as I called her, ministered quietly and faithfully on behalf of her community and her Beloved Spouse. I now consider her to be one of my most powerful intercessors and supporters. I loved her very much.
St. Dymphna: She is the patron saint of people who have a mental illness. She inspires me because I also have a mental health diagnosis, and she reminds me that I have dignity and capacity although others, even in the Church, may stigmatize mental health.
Are there friends and mentors that you depend upon? How do they support you?
I depend on two co-workers at work: Erin and Jamie. They are both mothers and are good friends. They help me process when things go wrong and I’m upset. They don’t give advice, but are willing to be present, listen, and give me a hug and encouragement when needed.
I’m also an Associate member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (this is a kind of membership for lay people who want to be more closely associated with a religious community). The Associates and Sisters are grouped into Mission Centres across the country. My mission center is in Southern California, and I continue to remain in touch with them via Zoom for our monthly meetings. The Sisters and the other Associates offer maternal, loving support, friendship, mentoring, and encouragement, especially when I needed it most early on in my mental health journey.
What is the best advice/encouragement you’ve received about vocational discernment?
Vocational discernment is a process and a journey, it doesn’t happen in a day. You must try to listen to the small, quiet voice of God whispering to you in your soul, and you can hear this most clearly when you try your best to be open to receiving His voice and conversation in prayer. Although there may be ups and downs in your vocation discernment journey, it doesn’t mean you are failing. Fear and trepidation about what God may be calling you to are very human feelings. But if you are willing to face the fears with the help of God, and take small steps into the unknown, you will be rewarded while also gaining more clarity in your vocational discernment.
“Vocational discernment is a process and a journey, it doesn’t happen in a day”
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?
I have Sister Maristella’s (my great-aunt) Divine Office that she prayed with daily. I also pray with it almost every day. It’s very moving to pray with something my great-aunt also prayed with daily for many years. I also love the rosary, and I pray along to recordings from the Dominicans of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and CMSWR.
Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?
A favorite inspirational quote of mine comes from Oprah Winfrey. She says,
” “Let your light shine. Shine within you so that it can shine on someone else. Let your light shine.””
What were your key takeaways from the 2016 GIVEN Forum?
That the Feminine Genius is an absolute necessity for the Church and the greater world. That Sisters and lay women can collaborate through their different expressions of spiritual motherhood to heal our world. That we each have a special and unique mission ordained by God. That we can and must take our Catholic faith into the fields of evangelization, into secular society.
“That the Feminine Genius is an absolute necessity for the Church and the greater world.”
What was your GIVEN action plan? Describe its mission, audience, and impact.
My action plan was three-fold: further my own vocation discernment, help fellow discerners, and respond to the need to destigmatize mental health in the Church and especially religious communities. I am furthering my own vocation discernment by participating in a vocation discernment training program through Franciscan University’s Catechetical Institute. I also manage an online vocation discernment group and am starting an in-person vocation discernment group in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. With regard to the third area, I wanted to respond to an article shared in the Institute on Religious Life magazine concerning religious vocations, mental health challenges, and other types of health challenges such as disabilities. I found that the article assumed that religious vocations and mental health diagnoses and other health conditions were not compatible with religious life. I am still working on responding to that article, as I’m taking time to educate myself about the intersection of the Catholic faith, mental health, disabilities, and religious communities through different webinars and inquiries with organizations, such as St. Luke’s Institute. I am also volunteering my services as a grant writer to assist Catholic Mental Health, Inc., a group founded by a fellow GIVEN 2019 participant!
“My action plan was three-fold: further my own vocation discernment, help fellow discerners, and respond to the need to destigmatize mental health in the Church and especially religious communities.”