These Catholics took a leap of faith and turned their bold visions into action plans (and some early mornings)
Catholic deacon • Age: 60
Big, bold dream: To become a deacon.
Obstacles along the way: Family, my own business, my fears of inadequacy and possible self-delusion.
Impetus to finally take action: When my heart wasn’t in the right place, prayer got me where I needed to go. A weekend retreat made it clear that I had to begin the long process. The journey had been postponed already for more than 10 years.
Steps that got you there: Two years attending the archdiocesan catechetical institute, one year for the application process and its interviews, the aspirancy year, four years as a deacon candidate and then ordination. But before all of this, I had developed study habits from electrical school, which I attended every other Friday for five years. I learned to use every spare bit of time between classes to do homework. When we studied time management, one assignment suggested I make an inventory on how I spent my free time. With the findings – some of them shocking, the number of hours wasted! – I made adjustments: reducing time on entertainment and involvement in activities outside of work.
TOB principles that inspired you: No one should enter the diaconate as part of their career accomplishments. I was called to serve God’s people expecting nothing back but the increase of my love for him. And so, I was driven by love of God and neighbor. Strengthening my relationship with God provided ample inspiration.
Lessons learned along the way: How to become a better human being, husband and father, a better son and brother, a better neighbor, coworker and classmate. These have been priceless lessons. I am a fulfilled and happy person. I don’t waste time and energy on useless enterprises anymore. Everything in life has the potential to make you a saint – just go back to the basics and begin today.
Founder of Fructus, a Catholic farm-to-table network • Age: 40
Big, bold dream: To re-establish true, Catholic community. I want people to interact with institutions that serve God every day instead of just seeing fellow Catholics only at church on Sunday and maybe another event or two each week. I want your landlord to serve God. I want your employer to serve God. I want your grocer and your restaurant and your tailor to serve God.
Obstacles along the way: People don’t think this way anymore. Centuries ago, the famous Italian merchant Francesco Datini dedicated his business ledgers, without irony, “In the name of God and profit.” Even the most faithful people today usually separate God from the major areas of their lives.
Impetus to finally take action: My first dream involved housing. I read about the Minneapolis 2040 plan (a comprehensive community plan that will eliminate single-family housing) and realized there may be an opportunity to purchase housing at a lower rate and upgrade it into multi-unit homes. Then I could deed the properties to a Catholic organization to provide housing to those of lower income levels. So in 2019 I moved to Minneapolis and did just that.
Later I read about the struggles that farmers were having during the pandemic. As I waited for the housing project to come to fruition, I decided to develop a better way for Catholic farmers to find customers in the Twin Cities.
Steps that got you there: I met a farmer who was intrigued by the concept. This farmer and a few friends started a business, and I talked to everyone I knew at my parish to find customers. We started providing whatever was available – at that time, whole frozen chickens, quarters of cows, and eggs. Slowly we have added more customers and products, and this summer we mark our 3-year anniversary.
TOB principles that inspired you: A central concept of the theology of the body is human dignity. This underlies our concepts of respect for life, marriage and many more things. The farm-to-table network operates in a way that everyone is equal in dignity as recipients of the farm products. Everyone deserves wholesome food, and everyone gets their food delivered to their door. We have customers who cannot afford their own food and their purchases are covered by charitable donations. But instead of having to go to a store and present food stamps, they have the ability to order online and receive their deliveries with the same dignity as our wealthiest customers.
Lessons learned along the way: Most of my lessons are in perseverance. I’ve committed to waking up at 4 am every Saturday of the year, driving out to a few farms and driving back to the cities to deliver food. In just under three years, I have only taken off Holy Saturday, Christmas and one week when I was in a car accident on the way out to the farms.
For more than a year, I did all the deliveries myself, even if I was driving out to the farm to buy just 12 dozen eggs (about $20 at the time). Having established the business as stable and reliable, I now have volunteers to help me drive and world events (like the recent rise in egg prices) have driven many more customers. We now average $400 or so per week in deliveries to 15 or more customers.
FATHER JAMES M. PERKL
Acclaimed iconographer • Age: 64
Big, bold dream: To follow the Great Commission. When I was ordained a deacon in 1983 and a priest the following year, I was given the biggest dream of all: The Great Commission of Jesus to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Mt 28:19).
Obstacles along the way: In the 40 years since, every obstacle that I have encountered has been overcome in prayer. As St. John tells us in the words of Jesus, “I . . . pray that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us . . .” (Jn 17:21).
Impetus to finally take action: It is the Holy Spirit who inspires me to write icons. While my homilies may be heard in about seven minutes, it is wonderful to realize the icons will serve to proclaim the Good News for generations. The icons that invite contemplation have also been sold to provide food and drink to Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.
Steps that got you there: The writing of an icon follows the steps of creation, redemption and sanctification, so you could say that I am simply following the steps of Jesus. For example, the icon is painted with egg yoke mixed with the minerals of this world for the color. The egg, which contains life, when broken open is revealing Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb!
TOB principles that inspired you: The Re+Membering icon that I am painting now for the U.S. bishops’ Eucharistic Renewal efforts shows Jesus being scourged at the pillar. In the icon we see Jesus’ Body and Blood covering those scourging Him. Jesus looks at his crucifiers with love as He sees Himself in all. He desires those striking his Body to embrace him with love and so be Re+Membered to him, i.e., there is hope of conversion for all! Theology of the body also taught me to see Mary as the mother of the Church, as she is the mother of Jesus. My inspiration to write icons and pray the Rosary have become enriched by the Holy Spirit, as I work to embody within my person and my ordained priesthood the self-giving mysteries I am contemplating. The way I seek to embody the mysteries of Jesus’ life is by embracing Him through each moment of my life.
Lessons learned along the way: Writing icons has allowed me to gaze into the mystery of life, as I see Jesus’ life embodied so beautifully in the people I have served for 40 years. The paschal mystery has revealed to me, and I hope to many gazing into the icon, the sovereignty of God’s goodness and the awesome wonder we experience, receiving Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist at Mass.
Owner of The Olive Branch, a home-goods store • Age: 28
Big, bold dream: To open my very own brick and mortar shop.
Obstacles along the way: My own fears of failure, a lack of experience in accounting and finance, starting out in a time of transition away from pandemic life.
Impetus to finally take action: I experienced a moment of grace where I really understood that this desire of my heart was something to take seriously, something that Jesus would bless.
Steps that got you there: Throughout my life, my mom has been a constant witness to me of creating a beautiful home and welcoming others in. I spent a few years working as a product and brand photographer and fell in love with telling the stories of makers and their craft. I also worked for a small shop and learned everything from visual merchandising to web development. When I finally realized the desire to open my own shop, it was like seeing this thread throughout my life that had perfectly led me to and prepared me for this adventure. Once I found the right space, the door opened and I never looked back.
TOB principles that inspired you: In my exposure to TOB I have come to understand my desire for beauty even more. John Paul II says the body is a sign that I am made for communion, and ultimately communion with God, which has allowed me to understand that every instance of gathering can be a sign of this. Making a beautiful home through my feminine nature can become a way to receive the other and together to experience the communion that our bodies are a sign of.
Lessons learned along the way: So many! It sounds cliche, but seeing every failure as an opportunity to learn and grow has been essential. This mindset allows me to take risks and to keep evolving as both a person and a business. Also, I am not in this alone – even if it’s tempting to think that I am. When I’ve pushed myself to reach out to someone or to ask a question, I’ve always been grateful I did. Bringing others into the process has helped me see that this work is not just for me, it’s for the world!