Two missionaries for Brew City Catholic, an archdiocesan organization developed to inspire adults in their 20s and 30s to grow closer to Jesus and invite others to walk with them, have been called to religious life.
In its fifth year, Brew City Catholic is a missionary program where missionaries fully fundraise their salaries and work with college students by sharing the Gospel through example, peer mentorship and their campus presence.
Through their experience with Brew City Catholic, Emily Snider and John Lesniewski, both 25, developed a stronger faith life while ministering to college students. On Aug. 29, Snider entered the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in Minnesota and Liesnewski entered Saint Francis de Sales Seminary on Aug. 15.
Snider had never thought about becoming a religious sister, but everything changed after she volunteered as a missionary for Totus Tuus the summer prior to her senior year in college.
The Iowa native graduated from Gladbrook Reinbeck, a public high school in Reinbeck, Iowa, attended two years of college in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and transferred to Illinois Wesleyan University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology.
“After that summer, I was going to daily Mass and praying regularly, and thought that maybe I could be called to enter religious life,” she said. “I was somewhat attracted to the idea of following Christ that radically, because it made sense with the way I viewed my life as an athlete.”
Snider was a busy athlete in high school; she and her brother, Kyle, each played four sports and club soccer was a large part of her life.
Following graduation, Snider signed up with Brew City Catholic and served as a missionary for three years. Her role was to walk with college students in their faith and to receive ongoing formation herself.
“Each day consisted of prayer together as a community, daily Mass, one-on-one meetings with students, discussing scripture and prayer, Bible studies and other large group events,” she said. “During my second and third missionary years, I was living in a Catholic Women’s household where missionaries lived in an intentional community with several students. In the household, we prayed together, received formation and hosted events.”
The consistent formation provided Snider the opportunity to understand the Catholic Faith and learn what living an intentional life of prayer looks like. While living in community with other missionaries can be challenging, she said it was a great opportunity for growth in holiness.
“Being formed on how to walk with students and investing in their lives has taught me so much about how to love and what it looks like to walk with others on their journey of faith,” Snider said.
When Snider told family and friends of her decision to join the Handmaids, none of them were surprised, and agreed that with her personality and prayer life, it made sense.
“My family, although they weren’t super surprised, have been concerned about whether it is the right thing for me. My relationships with my family and friends will change, and that has made it challenging for everyone,” she said. “I would encourage the Brew City Catholic Missionary Project to anyone, but especially those who are discerning a vocation to religious life or the priesthood. Living and praying in community and having regular formation provides an environment well fit for discernment. In addition, the program offers flexibility to visit religious communities to continue to discern in a way that other secular jobs aren’t able to accommodate.”
Lesniewski agreed and said he had learned of another missionary group, FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), while involved with youth ministry in Florida, when he attended Ave Maria University. After graduation, as he was searching for some type of missionary program, he learned of Brew City Catholic and felt more attracted to the layout of this program over FOCUS.
“It was just an hour from my home in the Rockford Diocese and was a great place to discern religious life, grow in relationship with God, have a holy hour each day, attend daily Mass and work with a team at UW-Whitewater, where I began serving,” he said. “They offered really good formation and I learned a lot from my team, and the priests involved with the program.”
The examples of Fr. Enrique Hernandez, Fr. Luke Strand and Fr. John Burns provided Lesniewski with examples of living out the priesthood in an authentic way.
“I met many great priests and enjoyed being around them,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic sent Lesniewski home for the duration of the semester, so he moved to the JPII House of Discernment for a couple of months with some of the seminarians.
“I have been growing in knowledge and faith, and deepening my relationship with Christ each day,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if I should stay in Rockford and go to seminary there, but I talked with Fr. Luke and decided to make this diocese my home. My family will be moving up there in a few years anyway.”
A home-schooled student, Lesniewski first began thinking of a religious vocation to the priesthood after attending a St. Andrew dinner and kept the thought in the back of his mind for years. After becoming a Brew City Missionary, he knew where God was calling him.
“Since then, I have always tried to practice and live out my faith, which is why I guess, my decision was not a surprise to them,” he said. “My friends and my family all said that they could see me as a priest. I am excited to continue to grow in my faith in the seminary.”
For more information on Brew City Catholic:
Associate Director of the Brew City Catholic Missionary Project
3501 South Lake Drive, PO Box 070912, Milwaukee