Location: Milwaukee, WI
Job Title: Co-founder & Associate Director
Organization: Eden Invitation
Education: University of Wisconsin – Madison
Degree: BA in Social Welfare; Minors in Gender & Women’s Studies and Entrepreneurship
Shannon Ochoa, GIVEN ’19
“The GIVEN Forum reminded me of the great diversity of women in the Church, as well as the interests and issues to be addressed and served. It was an opportunity to celebrate the unique gift of each person and to empower them in deeper discipleship with the Lord and in sharing the gift of who they are with the world.” – Shannon Ochoa
Please share a little about yourself – feel free to include a fun fact!
Over the past few years, the Lord has beautifully wrecked my life, taking me from confused Catholic to convicted campus minister to co-founder of a non-profit called Eden Invitation. Hailing from a Chicago suburb, I went to school at the University of Wisconsin where I studied Social Welfare, Gender & Women’s Studies, and Entrepreneurship. With a heart for college campus ministry, I spent time working for both the Evangelical Catholic and Brew City Catholic.
I consider myself a “momma bear” of sorts. Tough exterior – black-dominated wardrobe, tattoos, and piercings to prove it – paired with a protective, soft heart seeking to care for those around me. I draw a lot of inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi and the longing heart of Holden Caulfield. Though I will happily find a home in any Taco Bell, under a waterfall, or across the table from a stranger at a coffee shop, I ultimately find it in the heart of the Beloved.
Describe your professional work. How were you led to this? What are you passionate about?
I’m the associate director and co-founder of Eden Invitation. We’re a movement celebrating personal integration and promoting solidarity beyond the LGBT+ paradigm for young adults, Christian and Catholic, seeking to pursue a life of discipleship. We offer small groups, retreats, and online resources on sexual identity and the Christian life.
“We’re a movement celebrating personal integration and promoting solidarity beyond the LGBT+ paradigm for young adults, Christian and Catholic, seeking to pursue a life of discipleship.”
The work of Eden Invitation was born out of the experience of both my co-founder and myself. Growing up in the Church and experiencing same-sex desires, I longed for a space where I could know I was good, a space that was orthodox, but also unafraid amidst today’s climate to be open about these experiences. We wanted the work of Eden Invitation to be more than just witness, but wanted to provide concrete community and formation for ongoing discipleship for those with an SSA/LGBT experience.
“I’ve always been passionate about working with marginalized populations or those who may not be able to receive access to resources they need to flourish.”
I’ve always been passionate about working with marginalized populations or those who may not be able to receive access to resources they need to flourish. That’s what got me into social work in the first place! I’m also incredibly passionate about sharing God’s love for each and every unique and unrepeatable person, to remind them of their inherent dignity.
What are the personal strengths that you’ve been given and how do you utilize them?
The Lord has shaped me with an incredibly relational and empathic heart. A few of the greatest gifts He’s given me are the ability to listen and receive people well, to anticipate the needs of others, and the desire to understand the experience of another. I’ve always desired to understand the life context of other people, and I long to empathize as best I can. My initial interest in Gender & Women’s studies came from this place, but even as a little girl it was on my heart. I’d walk around the house with my eyes closed, using the rubber end of a golf club to serve as a white cane – just to understand what it would be like to experience blindness.
“A few of the greatest gifts He’s given me are the ability to listen and receive people well, to anticipate the needs of others, and the desire to understand the experience of the other.”
In my daily life and in work, these gifts have allowed people to feel seen. It’s been vital to the “intake call” aspect of our ministry where we’re often receiving some of the most challenging or vulnerable aspects of people’s lives and hearts. The Lord is continuously shaping me, but I’m forever grateful for these gifts.
Are there friends and mentors that you depend upon? How do they support you?
Some of the greatest mentors I’ve found have been both my therapist and spiritual director! The two of them together make an incredible team, giving me the freedom to be seen in my entirety, giving me the tools to grow in holiness and self-understanding, and they are genuinely wonderful human beings.
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?
Daily prayer with Scripture has been vital to my ongoing conversion and discipleship. It gives me the opportunity to see the concrete ways the Lord has moved and helps me integrate this into my life. Listening to worship music has also been huge in facilitating deeper intimacy with the Lord. The repetitive lines and rhythms constantly draw me into more contemplative prayer and give such a sense of delight in His goodness.
When it comes to particular prayers, I’ve always found Mother Teresa’s “I Thirst” prayer to be an incredible gift. It reminds me of the Lord’s hunger for us to be with Him, but also helps me to remember that we’re human and pilgrims on a journey when life gets tough.
Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?
“Take off your shoes, you are standing on Holy ground.” – Exodus 3:5
A long time ago, a dear friend of mine shared how powerful this passage was in her own life. The Lord spoke it over her as a way to encounter His children. Since then, I’ve taken this passage on as a life motto and mission, to treat all of His children as holy ground and to approach them with great reverence and sensitivity. This passage has also been recently challenging me to uncover what it means to receive myself as holy ground. I’m beginning to unpack what it means to hear the Lord speak that over me – to treat myself kindly, with patience, dignity, and necessary care.
What were your key takeaways from the GIVEN Forum?
It was such a gift and an honor to attend the GIVEN Forum. In this day and age, we can easily find ourselves apathetic to the world around us, whether it’s through self-isolation or mindless consumption. The GIVEN Forum was a complete counter to this idea. It was so refreshing, since you were surrounded by women filled with zeal for the Gospel and on mission.
“The GIVEN Forum reminded me of the great diversity of women in the Church, as well as the interests and issues to be addressed and served.”
The GIVEN Forum reminded me of the great diversity of women in the Church, as well as the interests and issues to be addressed and served. It was an opportunity to celebrate the unique gift of each person and to empower them in deeper discipleship with the Lord and in sharing the gift of who they are with the world.
What is your GIVEN action plan? Describe its mission, audience, and impact.
My action plan is called the Receptivity Training Model. Over the past 2.5 years since the start of Eden Invitation, we’ve had hundreds of people ‘come out’ to us, sharing their faith, SSA/LGBT experience, and looking for advice. Since our staff is currently limited in bandwidth due to size, we want to provide a training for people on the questions to ask, how to assess the needs and concerns of the individual, the resources that are available, and where to point each person next.
“We want to provide a training for people on the questions to ask, how to assess the needs and concerns of the individual, the resources that are available, and where to point each person next.”
Though we hope to train volunteers for various positions in our organization, the majority of our work is relationally-based, so this training would serve as a baseline training for anyone who volunteers with us for our intake calls, book club/small group leaders, retreats, etc. We want to begin by training and empowering disciples (in the way of Jesus) within our community first. The hope then would be to refine and provide it as a resource for the larger Church.