Editorial Note: This month, we want to hold up women working in the Church whose dedication to ministry and service of God and neighbor is nothing short of inspiring. We hope you'll be inspired by their stories too.
Not only does Venus Salinas Wozniak work full-time as a parish minister, but she also embodies the principles of Catholic Social Teaching in her daily life, serving those in need with love and zeal and providing a beautiful example of an integrated life of faith.
Can you describe the ministry you perform for the Church?
For eight years, I’ve worked full-time as Director of Faith Formation at St. Dennis Parish in Lockport, Illinois. I oversee the spiritual and catechetical formation of families with children ages 3–18. As part of my life in ministry, for the past four years, I’ve led the Diocese of Joliet–University Mission to the Philippines, which takes place during the first two weeks of the New Year. As part of the ministry of marriage, my husband and I founded and operate Nativity House, an intentional community, house of hospitality for expectant mothers, and Catholic Worker Farm. We began publishing a Catholic Worker newspaper called The Visitation in 2010, and began hospitality in April of 2015.
What brought you to your current ministry?
When I was fifteen, I was able to attend World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. It was then that I learned the meaning of “catholic.” I was standing in a field with 500,000 youth and young adults from all over the world celebrating Mass with Pope John Paul II. I will never forget the awesome realization of the communion of saints as all 500,000 of us sang the Gospel Acclamation, “Alleluia!” It was a little taste of heaven on earth. From that time on, I have carried with me the fact that I am part of something much larger. I suppose that is Part 1.
Part 2: I spent a year as a Jesuit Volunteer in Sacramento, California. This is where my husband Justin and I met. We were already largely formed in our Catholic faith, but this was when we were deeply formed in Catholic Social Teaching and the values of intentional community and living and working with the poor.
Both of these formative experiences created a longing in me to engage in the work of building God’s Kingdom, of bringing others to encounter Christ.
What are some of the gifts or graces that you’ve received in performing your ministry?
An outpouring of God’s love. When you say ‘yes’ to engaging God’s Kingdom here on earth, it requires an outpouring of your heart and soul. It can be overwhelming.
Is there an experience or memory that stands out as particularly formative for you?
At Nativity House, one of our goals is to gather community around our guest mothers. Frequently, they come to us having no support system, so this is really important. Our first guest mom was very shy and didn’t really have many experiences of family gatherings. We wanted to shower her with prayers and affirmation for her baby shower. We tried to keep it small and simple yet still honor her transformation into motherhood. It was truly a celebration of life; all that were gathered—friends of Nativity House, mothers of our staff, parish friends—were women intent on one thing: showering love. A few days after the party I received many messages and notes—everyone was touched in the same way; it was simply awe-invoking. It was an encounter of heaven on earth, God’s Kingdom!
What are some of the challenges you face in your ministry for the Church? What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your ministerial experience?
Parish work and living with and serving the poor requires just this: an outpouring of your heart and soul. We are living with and serving a broken humanity. And we are broken too! It can be exhausting and messy. We all struggle with this. What I have learned is that God has not intended for us to struggle alone.
It is when we withdraw into ourselves, or listen to the lie of loneliness, or think I am the only one who can do this work that we get overwhelmed by the task at hand. I have to remember that we are created to do it (whatever ‘it’ may be) together.
What advice would you offer to other people—women especially—who seek to serve in the Church?
Especially through my diocesan and parish work, I meet many women that are overwhelmed, exhausted, jaded. I have felt all of those. The bottom line is that I do what I do because I love Jesus and his people. In order to persevere, succeed, keep on keeping on in ministry, it is imperative that you have at least one person (but a community of persons is better) to pray with, I mean really pray with. People who know what you are struggling with and need prayer for, and people that you truly know and pray for. Because we cannot do anything good alone.