Body of Christ

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in southeastern Wisconsin, in a small town in the Lake Geneva area called Williams Bay, but my parents are both from Chicago and all of my extended family was still in Chicago, so we would go see them pretty much every weekend. My mom was the youngest of six — a big Irish Catholic family — and my dad was the oldest of three, and they grew up on the same street in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago. It was always standard practice that two of my siblings would be with my dad at my grandparents, and two of my siblings would be with my mom at my aunt’s — and then throughout the course of the weekend, we would just walk the six blocks and switch houses.

You didn’t originally plan to go into ministry. Where did you first feel called to this kind of work?
After grad school, I started working with the Nehemiah Project, which is a transitional living home for boys aged 13 to 18 on 25th and Vliet in Milwaukee. They partnered with Dr. Bob Enright (of the University of Wisconsin-Madison) to start a program called the Forgiveness Institute. I got to teach the principles of forgiveness specifically to this population of boys.

What happened there to really pique your interest in ministry?
We really didn’t talk about faith at all because Nehemiah House had a contract with Milwaukee County and was licensed by the state. What I could tell them was that if you forgive someone, you could have an increased spiritual benefit. But as a program coordinator, I would have after-school office hours if any of the residents wanted to come into my office and chat. And I loved it, because by the end of my time at Nehemiah, two kids had asked me for a Bible and one asked for a Quran. It just goes to show that God works in every single human being, whether they have formal catechesis or not. There’s that desire to know God, if you just have the opportunity to talk about it in a safe space. For me, that’s really where I started to get the inkling of wanting to be able to work with marginalized and vulnerable populations — but also to have the ability to speak openly about faith.

What was it like growing up in a mix of rural and urban settings?
When we would go to Chicago on the weekends, we would see individuals who were homeless and people who struggled, and we would talk about it. My parents would always give money or snacks we had in the car to the people who were in need. But then, during the week, we lived in Williams Bay, surrounded by a farming community. It was not uncommon for some of my friends to be up at 4 a.m. milking cows before school.

How did those influences shape your view of ministry, and of church?
Growing up, the church was kind of like home base. We went there when we celebrated things, and we went there when we grieved things. My family found and built a supportive community around the church, and I saw how important that community was, especially when I worked in the Diocese of Youngstown. I lived out on almost 30 acres, and at times, it was very isolating. If a person was not intentional about creating and fostering supportive relationships with others, when life’s challenges naturally happened, you could see how a person floundered very easily. But when someone has the space to be able to talk about life, and all of its joys and struggles, they are able to really open up and support one another through those moments, and that’s the beauty of being church.

Do you have any hobbies?
I love to run, but when you have small kids, it’s really hard to do. I’d love to be able to get back to it. I ran the Chicago marathon twice — it was a bucket list item for me. I don’t know if I have it in me to run another marathon, but maybe a half marathon. I also love indoor plants — any kind of greenery and life, I just find it very calming. I have about 30 houseplants. My kids just laugh when I come home with another one.