Role Models

By Kate Dugan and Jennifer Owens 

photo courtesy of harshilshah100 via C.C. License at FlickrThroughout the month of August, we have been exploring broad questions about Catholic identity.  As we round the bend into the latter portion of the month, we will begin to focus more specifically on the ways Catholic role models function in the lives of young Catholic women.  

Theresa Thibodeaux is a young Catholic woman who coordinates young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  Before this particular job was a twinkle in her eye, she and Jen met as students in the Campus Ministry Office at Loyola Marymount University, where the two were student assistants.  Their friendship has continued to support their work since then, having worked at St. Joseph High School of Lakewood, CA, together, and subsequently moving across the country at the same time to pursue master's degrees on the East Coast.  Not only is Theresa a dear friend to Jen, but she is also one of Jen's Catholic role models.

There are roughly 300 local parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  Theresa's ministry throughout the archdiocese allows her to, as she describes, "be a resource for any of those parishes and local college communities that are looking to have intentional ministry for young adults" and to offer ministry to support those parishes that already do.  She also does this for parishes with monolingual Spanish Confirmation programs with teenagers.

We asked Theresa to describe some of the gifts and challenges of lay leadership.  First and foremost, she explains that she is blessed with a wonderful community of people to work with, and she loves that she is able to have faith be a center of their conversations together.  Another great joy for Theresa is the way her work enables her to accompany the people she meets along their faith journeys and "see them grow toward their fullest expressions of their best selves."  In addition, she gets to learn more about the church and continue to fall in love with it.  She has been surprised by young adults' "real hunger and desire for us to connect with God and to live lives that flow from God's will for them."

She is also very much aware of her hopes and visions for her work and "the reality of limited resources" -- a gap that can be frustrating.  It is tough to see a lack of monetary investment in lay leadership, on the whole, Theresa explains.  A further challenge is "balancing ministerial presence with administrative responsibilities."  It can also be difficult to nurture her personal spirituality, and to differentiate between the church as an institution and the church as a community.

Theresa offers these words of wisdom to other young women interested in ministry: education and personal formation are essential to this work.  They provide, Theresa explains, the background in theology necessary to properly address particular questions and realities and the prudence to do so appropriately.  Theresa also has found that a strong sense of self and of healthy work/life boundaries is important.