Fangirling

I just finished reading Jennifer Fulwiler’s new book One Beautiful Dream.

Do you love reading a book that makes you laugh, cry, and feel like you could conquer the world once you finish it?  Then this is it!  As a Catholic working mother, this book spoke directly to my heart and the inner struggle to balance work and life.  I’ve always felt like I could be Wonder Woman – the woman who can do it all.  I didn’t understand why I couldn’t have both my career and my family life.  Why in Catholic circles are moms shamed for going to work?  Why in worldly circles are women shamed for wanting to be a mother?  Why are they RIDICULED if they want more than two kids??

Jennifer’s book breaks the glass ceiling for me and so many other women.  She is a mother of six.  Yes SIX children, with the same husband.  I’d love for her husband to write a book next so I could read his POV!  The lessons that Jennifer shares from her own lived experiences are incredible and relevant to anyone trying to discern God’s will for their life.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. More people = More fun     Jennifer refused to believe the culture of death that says that one’s freedom is taken away from having a large family.  She also realized over time that inviting more and more relationships into your life was generous and rewarding.  For example, the positive interaction with her extended family was important to her success and happiness as well as neighbors, other families at church etc.  Each of these played like a symphony in her beautiful dream.  When I think about parishes and schools, I think about the many impediments to creating fellowship and more people, more fun.  The teachers saying their class sizes are TOO BIG which then in turn declines enrollment.  The pastor saying there is NO SPACE for coffee and donuts after Mass which then causes everyone to head straight to their cars and not meet one another.  Or from personal experience, when the usher reminds you that you are LATE to Mass and can’t sit in the choir loft because the sound of your baby carries through the church.  This mentality of less people = less problems is a cancer to our society and to our church.  Time for a reset!
  2. Be good at not having it all     When you accept a culture of life mentality, that often brings with it a tighter budget.  Jennifer spoke about choosing the smaller house, the used cars etc. and doing it with great joy!  The story about her broken car door and climbing out her driver side window and toppling onto her lawn while the neighbors watched was definitely one of those Laugh Out Loud moments!!  But Jennifer was careful to say that while you can’t have it all, you have to be GOOD at it and the same goes for a parish or school.  For example, a non-profit institution does not have the expendable income of a Fortune 500 company.  So what can you do?  The Dollar Store is your best friend!  Buy a bunch of black picture frames and print some shots of happy, smiling parishioners and students.  This can brighten up your office/hallway in a jiffy.  And do you know what people love?  Gratitude!  Affirmation!  The Dollar Store also sells greeting cards, often with spiritual themes.  A hand-written note from a school/parish leader goes a lot farther than a glossy perfectly designed brochure.  Just skip Target. 
  3. The Resistance is Real      This is more true than we want to admit.  Jennifer spoke about The Resistance holding women back from fulfilling their dreams and their God-given potential.  This resistance is felt in so many veins – culturally, personally, and ultimately spiritually.  The devil wants nothing more than for us to go to hell.  The devil wants nothing more than for us to FAIL.  As we are all reeling from the abuse of clerical power and sexual offenses being revealed in the church, Bishop Barron recently wrote about the McCarrick Mess and says nothing more than this is the devil’s great accomplishment against the American Church.  Do not be fooled when you feel burnt out, or there is a struggle of relationships that is tearing down your parish/school program…this is the work of the evil one.  However, he can be renounced.  I’ve recently been praying the St. Michael prayer with my 3 year old daughter before bed, and I have to admit I felt a little strange the first time saying it.  I was thinking this is some intense stuff for her….”all the evil spirits prowling about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”  But let’s be real if we don’t address it and call it out by name, we will be deceived.  St. Michael, pray for us.
  4. Intimate service to others      Jennifer was visiting her doctor’s office when the nurse asked her if she was ‘done’ having kids.  Jennifer said she didn’t know how to answer the question saying, “I thought that intimate service to others was only something you do for a few years when the kids are young.  Now I saw it as the very foundation of a rich, fulfilling life.”  So good.  I agree with her 100% because I thought the same thing.  I thought I would regain my freedom once my kids grow up and are in school full-time.  When we brought our oldest home from the hospital, I remember rocking her while she was screaming inconsolably and thinking, “She’ll be in high school soon, right?  And this will all be over.”  What a new mom I was!  Another Wonder Woman and hero of mine, Helen Alvare, said in a podcast with Leah Darrow recently that the secret for her balance of work and motherhood was that she took the more demanding job when her children were young.  Then, when they were school-age she found a more flexible career so that she could be more present to them in those coming of age years of conscience formation.  She found it to be so important to be the one to pick her children up from school and be the one who answered their questions and heard their reactions.  Whoa.  I had never, ever heard this before.  This intimate service to others is a life-long gift and one to be embraced.  The mission of the Church is to serve the human person from womb to the tomb, literally, from infant baptism to the rite of burial.  It is beautiful to see a parish and a Catholic school in intimate service to others in all aspects of their lives.  We see the greatest parent satisfaction and testimonials after a family has been cared for in a time of need.  Spiritual bouquets, meal trains, prayer chains are all intimate means of serving others.  When the pastor stands at the back of Mass and asks how your chemo treatments are coming along, this is intimate service.  When the principal throws a bridal/baby shower for an employee, this is intimate service.  Accompaniment is what we are all yearning for, and no one does it better than the Church!  And women, break that glass ceiling!

 

 

 

HV50

Marking the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, now is a time to celebrate the beauty of our bodies!  I believe that God imprinted a guide in our bodies to fertility and the dignity that we have as humans to unite with Him in the gift of the creation of life.

I strongly recommend sifting through the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Fertility Awareness page.  There are many resources available including videos showcasing the different methods of Natural Family Planning.  Join in the movement and go natural!  This is a healthy lifestyle and a beautiful one.  I am honored to have been featured in the video discussing the Sympto-Hormonal Method.  Watch below and share your thoughts with me!

Drain the Swamp

It seems that everywhere we turn, there is another scandal erupting that involves the Catholic Church.  Most recently, the uncovering of the abuse at the hands of Cardinal McCarrick is rocking our Greater MD/DC area.  Yesterday, I read an article about a bishop in PA who is removing the names of every bishop since 1947 from buildings because they failed to root out child sexual abuse.  Bold move.

And just this morning, I read an article detailing the abuse experienced by a former college roommate of mine who was raped by a priest in a most grotesque and spiritually invasive manner.  I was shocked and disgusted all at the same time.  Turning to prayer, I opened up my Magnificat and who would have thought that today is St. John Vianney’s feast day.  This patron saint of priests said himself, “Ah, my brethren, how small is the number of those who get to heaven, for it only consists of those, who, without ceasing, courageously fight the devil and his servants and who despise the world and its ridicule!”

All difficult pills to swallow.  It hurts when the abuse starts to creep closer and closer to home.  I’m choosing to reflect and hold onto this vision…..

A priest friend of mine told me once that in our lifetime there would no longer be local Catholic churches in every neighborhood.  There would no longer be a cafeteria option of which parish or school fits your personality, your lifestyle choices, or even your ethnicity.  Instead, the Catholics will become scarce.  The Church will be pruned.  And what will result is a group of BELIEVERS.  These are not cultural Catholics.  They are not coming to Mass out of obligation.  Instead, they are worshipping out of pure faith, pure trust in Christ, and pure abandonment.

He said to me, “Wouldn’t you rather go to Mass in Ravens stadium with one good priest saying the holy liturgy, surrounded by thousands of believers who have traveled for many miles to worship the one, true God?”

My answer is YES!

The priesthood is being pruned.  The Church is being pruned.  Drain the swamp!  At the same time, I need to be willing to be cleansed myself as do all lay Catholics.  Be ready to put your faith to the test, even in the deepest and most intimate places.  Ultimately, are your desires God’s desires?

Recently, Father Michael White pastor of Church of the Nativity and my first employer tweeted out an article entitled, “Church Attendance is Dying.”  He chose to highlight a line from the article that says,
“In the future church only the engaged will attend because only the engaged will remain.”

My response is “BRING IT ON!”

Just in a meeting this week with a local pastor and business manager, old baggage was brought up about the closure of a local high school and the sadness and difficulty surrounding that decision.  And the pastor’s bold and unapologetic response was, “You do know that school had decades of sexual abuse covered up.  At some point, the Lord stops blessing a place ridden with evil.”  AMEN!  Damn straight!!

The boldness of the Holy Spirit is required today such as the bishop of Harrisburg, my former college roommate, and this local pastor who all made a bold move with the grace of the Holy Spirit to shed light on evil.  Choosing the truth over secrecy and deception.  Let us all be inspired to do the same.

 

Is the Holy Spirit present?

Your Catholic organization will fail if you don’t invite the Holy Spirit to get involved.  One of the most important litmus tests for me is to walk into a church, a school, a parish center, a youth room etc. and gauge a sense of the Spirit moving.

You might ask how something like this can be measured.  How can you objectively analyze this?  I find it to be pretty simple.  Does the leadership of the organization begin a meeting with prayer?  Does the staff exhibit joy?  Joy extends beyond common courtesy or positive customer service.  Joy is an experience of Christ’s love and a contentment that all rests in His care.  You can even go as simple as this:  Do people want to be there?

The Holy Spirit’s presence is contagious.  It spreads quickly.  It continues to fill men and women with life and a desire to grow in holiness.  If your parish has invited the Holy Spirit into its midst, it will be evident.  If your school has allowed the Holy Spirit to engage with its community, it will be clear.  For example, church work is not the highest paying profession or the greatest resume builder; however, does your organization have any staff members who are excellent and would be exceptional in the corporate world?  These persons are usually characterized by an attractive personality, hard work ethic, adaptability, creativity…..and you look at them and think….they chose to work HERE?!?!  I will bet you that person chose to work in that institution because of the mission, because of the greater purpose, because of the satisfying effects of working in a place filled with the fruits of the Holy Spirit!

And ya know what?  The Holy Spirit breeds success!  If the mission of your organization is to bring others to Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit best be there!  A first step is to begin with an invitation.  Ask the Holy Spirit to come into your own life and then to inspire the faithful.

Veni, Sancte, Spiritu.  Come Holy Spirit.  

A strongly recommend reading the book “Once I Was Blind But Now I See” written by a local Catholic man.  This testimonial gives witness to the work of the Holy Spirit in lives and how profoundly the Holy Spirit can change any person’s situation.  Also, pray with this song.  It’s amazing.

 

 

Why the woman at Mass was cursing up a storm

This past weekend, my family was at the beach.  We always frequent the same Catholic parish while on vacation.  The church is usually crowded and my daughter especially loves the Catholic trinkets gift shop in the back.  This church can easily be identified by flipping through the pages of the bulletin and reading about the many active organizations they have:  Knights of Columbus, Ladies of Charity, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Sons and Daughters of Ireland…..

Catch my drift?  Being a beach town, the parish is filled with the local retirement community.  As I’m walking into Mass, I hear a woman muttering under her breath.  She is walking alone and carrying a cup of coffee and her rosary.  Her muttering gets louder and louder as we approach the church doors.  I can’t help myself but to glance over in her direction and listen more intently as I catch her saying, “This is so $%*&$% ridiculous.  I can’t $#%^$ take it.  This is torture!”  Attempting to cover my child’s ears and quickly hustle into church, I hear the usher at the front doors apologizing that worshipers can only enter through the middle doors due to new Diocesan policy.

It later came to our attention that the Diocese was implementing a safety policy to prevent active shooter scenarios.  NOW it all made sense!!  The elderly parishioner’s torture wasn’t going to Mass, but it was having to enter the center doors rather than the multiple side entrances that used to be available.  What torture!

Resistance to change is rampant in church culture.  I witnessed this perfect example and was utterly shocked in the moment.  I couldn’t get over why this woman was swearing like a pirate on the church steps while the pastor was in earshot (probably intentional).  Why did she go in?  Why does she keep dragging herself to Mass if she is so offended by the new policies in place?  And why did she have a coffee in hand?!?

Not being a member of this diocese, I don’t know how the policy was rolled out or how it affects the various details of the parish life; however, what I do know is that I want to feel safe going to Mass.  I am all in favor of having one entrance to a church where a team of ushers are greeting each and every person walking in.  I am all in favor of my children growing up with this being “normal” so that they know their leaders, pastors and principals, place safety as a top priority.  The security in our parishes and schools must be excellent.  It’s not longer an after thought, it’s an expectation.  Time to change and quit complaining about it!

Mission and Vision Statements

Mission Statement of Catholic Excellence

Stick with the classics: beauty, truth, and goodness.

Blend in the advances of 21st century technology.

Surround yourself with Catholic excellence!

 Vision Statement of Catholic Excellence

Your floundering Catholic institution can be saved.  Are you building community that turns its eyes towards the common goal of heaven?  Whether a school, a parish, or a charity organization, surrounding your members by all that is excellent and filled with beauty, truth, and goodness will create an irresistible environment of intentional disciples.  Catholic Excellence seeks to support Catholic institutions in their role serving the Church through best practices, everyday advice, and spiritual nourishment.  Transform your deepest desires to getting yourself and your entire community to heaven.

Be not afraid.  Supporting an institution that has existed for over 2,000 years and founded by Christ Himself can be a daunting task.  And especially when it comes to implementing change.  How many Catholic churches or schools have you encountered with ineffective leaders, dwindling attendance, and stale messaging?  Probably more than you want to admit.

The vision of Catholic Excellence is to form a parish and school community as a hub for evangelization, as the place where people encounter Christ.  It should be a no-brainer for Catholics to send their children to their local Catholic school.  It should be a no-brainer for a man or woman to contact their parish priest if they need support in a time of crisis.  Mass on Sunday should be the most anticipated event of the week.  Trust, transparency, and truth are what this world needs.  And we can do it.  Be not afraid.

“Get them to love you, and they’ll follow you anywhere.” ~ St. John Bosco, patron saint of youth

 

Why I left and where I’m going

I most recently served as the Assistant Principal at St. Stephen School in Kingsville, Maryland. I resigned from the position in March of 2018 to allow time for a replacement to be hired while I finished wrapping up the school year. I would like to reflect on my time at St. Stephen and share the good news of my recent employment.

While at St. Stephen, I steamrolled my way through the key aspects of advancement: enrollment, marketing, development, and finance.  Bringing all my experience from my previous position as Director of Enrollment Management for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, I knew the urgency of implementing necessary change as well as inspiring others with the beauty of Catholic faith and culture.  It wasn’t easy to bring new initiatives to an institution that had been doing things the same way for decades. Also, since this was my home parish there was a challenge in working with the community that I not only grew up with but was still in my backyard.  I lived and worshipped in the same five mile radius for over 30 years and now worked there too!

Below are my top three moments from my time at SSS:

  1. Hosting the 85th Anniversary Gala One of my first self-assigned tasks was to read the entire history book of St. Stephen parish which had recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. I soon came to realize that the school was going to hit 85 years on September 8, 2016 just a few short months after I began my position. To capitalize on the event and invite alumni to engage back into the school, I launched an 85th anniversary planning committee. Ten wonderful women joined me in creatively planning celebrations throughout the school year which culminated in the sold-out Gala on May 20, 2017! Everyone in attendance was shocked at the transformation of the gymnasium into a gorgeous venue including a memory lane that honored ten VIPs. Parishioners, Staff, Faculty, Alumni, and Community Members danced the night away and as one colleague reflected, “It was so meaningful to watch these folks come here to celebrate a place so dear to them for so long.” I will never forget this night and especially when the table holding the 200 rented china plates broke!!  ACK!   
  2. Reaching Maximum Capacity for Enrollment I set for myself a goal of filling every seat in every class. And I did it. The school had a somewhat healthy enrollment of 313 students when I arrived, but I had seen too many Catholic schools close in the past few years and knew that unless we made instrumental changes, the same fate would come along for us. By implementing 21st century practices such as online applications and enrollment, a social media presence, digital advertising, and various other new endeavors, the tide quickly turned.  We opened the school for the 2016-2017 school year with 325 students. Then in 2017-2018, we opened with 348 students and now look forward to the 2018-2019 school year with an estimated student body of 361. The most astounding accomplishment was the “talk” on the street about St. Stephen.  Students had been traditionally exiting the school at PreK4 and 5th grade for either public or other private schools. This had to change.  So while attracting new families to our school through marketing, the greatest challenge was retaining the current families and promoting a culture and a spirit at St. Stephen that made everyone proud of their school. Through a new website, promotional video, and branding, we told the story of our beautiful school in a modern and exciting way. We weren’t a second choice anymore, we are the first choice. This past admissions season was bitter sweet because we had waiting lists in almost every grade level; however, we had to turn away parishioners for the first time in over 20 years. Our theme, “A Piece of Heaven in 21087”, caught on and families and community members truly embraced the beauty of our tight-knit, rural school and the gift of Catholic education. 
  3. A Healthy School = More Programs Building enrollment, reaching alumni, inspiring spirit all result in an irresistible environment. When people believe in your mission, they donate more funds, they volunteer more hours, they offer their gifts and talents. But one of the hardest parts of the job, and one that is most hidden, is tracking down the dollars and cents. I was always told that if you look at a budget, you will know the mission of an organization. It quickly became clear that the budget was mostly dependent upon tuition dollars which is the case in most Catholic elementary schools. As an advancement department of one, I worked intentionally to apply for grants, collect delinquent bills, move as much money online as possible for faster and more accurate accounting, engage support for HSA and Fathers’ Club fundraisers, and increase the Annual Appeal goal. My purpose was to move the pendulum away from tuition dependency to other sources of income outside of the parents. My fear was always that we would have to increase tuition which in turn would drive away our families, decrease enrollment, and then close the school (which I had seen happen countless times). I am very proud of multiple programs and new hires that resulted from our sustainable and healthy budget. Most notably, I can’t wait to see the new Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program begin in the 2018-2019 school year under the direction of an incredibly talented and holy woman. This program teaches our youngest children ages 3-5 about their Good Shepherd, Christ, and invites them into a personal relationship with Him which is celebrated most deeply in the Mass. Bringing young families back to the Catholic Church and to Mass will be the greatest gift for our parish. 

But why did I leave?

I know this has been a question of many. And while I can’t share every piece of my heart, I will share three short answers:

  1. I reached all my goals and always crave a challenge.  
  2. My husband encouraged me to take a leap of faith.
  3. Having enrolled my daughter in the rising PreK3 class, I felt conflicted in a role of leadership while also being a mom.

Farewell St. Stephen! It has been such a pleasure serving this blessed school. I look forward to being a parent in the Fall of 2018 and putting in my volunteer hours!

I am excited to announce that I have accepted a position at the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the Department of Development. My title as Regional Development Director means that I will be serving schools and parishes in promoting their mission and raising funds to support their great work. I am most grateful for the flexibility that has been offered to me as a working mother. I hope to use this website as a platform to share my experiences, successes, and failures in the effort to assist others working in the vineyard of the Lord. Diocesan work is tough, but rewarding and I am proud to be a part of the team in the Premier See!

“Here’s a picture of what God can do with a woman who will say yes even when it looks messy, even when it looks hard, and even when it’s so different from the picture you had in your head. ” ~ One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler