At the age of 16, Co. Carlow native Julianne Donlon Stanz climbed Croagh Patrick where she and her peers had a “transformative encounter with God”. She felt like God spoke to her, so she wanted to strengthen her relationship with the Lord.
During her education, Julianne realised she wanted to follow a path of faith ministry.
“I was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at St Leo’s in Carlow and they were just incredible women and I think that was probably one of the first times I had seen a lived faith expressed, you know in the character of their work and their ministry and that was eye-opening. Then I went to Mater Dei in Dublin and a priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin, Fr Eoin Cassidy, mentored me and just was a wonderful person,” Julianne says.
Julianne’s diocese works with a number of Catholic charities so they can reach out to all of God’s children and evangelise.”
Today, as the Director of Parish Life and Evangelisation at the Green Bay diocese in Wisconsin, Julianne carries out her Catholic duty of evangelisation, reaching out to all people in hopes of bringing them back to the Church.
“Evangelisation is the DNA of the Church and we exist in order to evangelise or share the Good News of Jesus Christ. I think a lot of Catholics think of evangelisation as problematising, but really its giving a name to our faith, and that name is Jesus Christ, and inviting others to reconsider or take a look at who Jesus Christ is and how the Catholic Church as a community of disciples can walk with somebody and see,” Julianne says.
“I think with evangelisation people are scared of it, but I think when you explain that it is really sharing who you are and how the Lord has touched your life, that is less scary for people and helps to build a bridge into a new experience, whether you experience heartache or grief or loneliness or addiction and how does the gospel speak to that experience.”
Because of the need to bring more people back to the Church, Julianne works to make her diocese an accepting community and show this to people who are sceptical about rejoining the Church.
“We do a lot of workshops around hospitality and helping our parish to become communities that are welcoming and ready to receive people,” she says.
Julianne’s diocese works with a number of Catholic charities so they can reach out to all of God’s children and evangelise. They work with people facing a myriad of issues like homelessness and divorce.
“We try to look at how we can serve our people and serve our parishes and help bring people to a place where they can be heard and to share their joys and also their heartaches,” Julianne says.
Coupled with evangelising people facing serious problems, Julianne reaches out to the youth and adult communities, encouraging them to come back to the Church through talks, seminars and retreats.
Of all groups though, Julianne says people who have had a negative experience with the Church are the most difficult to bring back to the faith.”
“We’re the co-founders of a seminar called the Catholic Evangelisation Studies Courses and we offer those throughout the year. So that’s one way we’re doing a lot of formation for discipleship,” she says. “To help parishes reach out, we also have an initiative in our area that’s centred on a process called Alpha and we use the Catholic version of Alpha as a programme that helps people understand who Jesus is and the call for us to grow a relationship with him.”
Through her 11 years at Green Bay, Julianne has evangelised many different groups of people. She stressed how some can be harder to bring back to the Church than others. Young adults who have past ties to the Church and have children are usually easier to bring back to the Church, but young adults without children can pose a more difficult task. Of all groups though, Julianne says people who have had a negative experience with the Church are the most difficult to bring back to the faith.
Our bishop himself has actually led listening sessions on the clergy sexual abuse crisis.”
Even though it is difficult to bring faith back into the lives of those who have been wounded by the Church, Julianne accepts the challenge and tries everything she can to support and mend the damage done.
“We have had a number of listening sessions throughout the diocese,” Julianne says. Our bishop himself has actually led listening sessions on the clergy sexual abuse crisis. We have invited people in to share their stories of faith and we asked the question of why they have left and how we can support them and what we need to do to change and so listening sessions going out equipping our parishes to ask the questions.”
Regardless of the group or age bracket, Julianne uses her strong faith and theological education to evangelise and show people the strength she has found in Jesus Christ.
For now, Julianne and the Diocese of Green Bay are “looking at renewal and revitalisation of our parishes in communities through missionary discipleship”.