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An inside look at the life of 8 Catholic speakers

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You’ve seen them at your parish, on TV or YouTube, or heard their podcasts telling inspirational stories about their faith experiences.

Sometimes their names are recognizable, almost celebrity status, and sometimes you have never heard of them before. But there they are, explaining Scripture, sharing with people how to hear God’s voice, how to know Christ. They might sing and play guitar or crack jokes to make you comfortable. Maybe it’s a whole band.

They’re Catholic speakers, the organizers of youth conferences and marriage programs. They speak to men’s groups, women’s groups, young people, senior citizens and everyone in between.

Many of them are juggling their evangelization with other full-time jobs, or maybe this is their full-time career. They leave their families behind when they go on the road, or sometimes they travel as a couple to give their testimonies together.

They can grow weary from all the traveling and planning. They miss their spouses and children. They might even question their own worthiness and wonder why God called them, someone so ordinary, to spread his word. But they say yes because God did call them. So there they are in a nearby parish, on the road or in the studio, spreading the Good News.

Here are some of their stories.

Jon Leonetti: ‘God was calling me to this route’

Jon Leonetti tells the story about someone asking his wife, Teresa, how she could stay married to a man who travels seven months out of the year.

“Because he travels seven months out of the year,” she quipped.

It’s more like 80 days a year, he told Our Sunday Visitor, that he’s presenting about 25 parish programs and five or six men’s conferences in the United States and Canada. His wife’s sense of humor comes with the support she gives him for his mission to evangelize.

Leonetti, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with Teresa and their three children, ages 2, 6 and 9, has a master’s degree in moral theology and is a popular Catholic speaker, radio host and author of five books. The positive side to that heavy schedule is that his other job of coaching entrepreneurs is conducted from his home office.

“It certainly isn’t always easy to be away, but when I’m home, I’m home,” he said.

Leonetti aspired to vocation since the fifth grade, but something was missing when he entered seminary to become a diocesan priest. Being anchored to a parish wasn’t what he wanted, nor were the experiences of the religious orders that he also explored.

“It doesn’t take canonization to be a saint, and holiness isn’t something accidental that happens in one day.”

— Jon Leonetti

Meanwhile, he’d been presenting programs to church groups, and one speaking engagement led to another.

“I felt it in my bones that God was calling me to this route,” he said.

He left after three and a half years in the seminary, moved back home and set up a grilled cheese stand near a college campus. From 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., he sold sandwiches to students to support himself while he expanded his mission.

Leonetti’s main message in all of his endeavors is that we are all called to be saints, that there’s no other meaning or purpose in life except to become saints and to be in heaven with God for all eternity.

“It doesn’t take canonization to be a saint, and holiness isn’t something accidental that happens in one day,” he said. “Look at the lives of the apostles. They certainly didn’t get it right. They were broken and they were sinners, but they were crystal clear about the vision that was holiness and sanctity and heaven with Jesus Christ. The struggle to do this is real. We struggle with all the things that every one of us struggles with.”

He has his own challenges, he said, and one of them is letting go of control.

“For years, I thought that if God wanted to ride along, I kept him in the trunk, and now he’s in the passenger seat,” he said. “What I’m discerning is God’s will for me.”

His faith has grown through his ministry, and as a family man, he can understand what other spouses and parents are experiencing in their journeys.

“It’s helped me to understand that we’re all a mess and all in need of a savior, no matter how good we think everyone else has it,” he said, “Everyone is fighting the battle.”

Learn more about Jon Leonetti and his ministry at jonleonetti.com.


Maggie Craig: A ‘community everywhere I go’

Maggie Craig spends three out of four weeks a month on the road sharing her love for Jesus Christ. She’s gone so much, she said, that she has to have plastic plants in her Los Angeles apartment because real ones would never survive.

Her mission, though, is filled with life and growth — for her own faith and for her audiences across the country. Through Maggie Craig Ministries, she reaches out to young people “who are desperate for things but don’t want to admit it,” to senior citizens who are often surprised that the speaker is just 10 years out of high school, and all ages in between.

Craig was born in New Jersey and ended up in Ohio. She was raised in a Christian household filled with joy and love, but she wasn’t particularly raised Catholic, she said. While in high school, she found friendships and her faith in a local Catholic youth group. Through them, she heard about Franciscan University two hours away in Steubenville.

“I didn’t know much about their Catholic identity,” she said.

Once there, she studied theology so that she could learn more about God, and she began leading retreats, going to camps and conferences and fulfilling invitations to speak.

“My career was happening when I was falling in love with God.”

— Maggie Craig

“My career was happening when I was falling in love with God,” she said.

Craig received a master’s degree in theology from the university. She moved to Los Angeles when so many speaking invitations were coming from the West Coast.

She’s presented many programs to groups of all ages. Elderly people who are skeptical of listening to someone so young are impressed with her education, message and enthusiasm for her faith. Some young people who think that, at 28, she’s way too old, realize that her stories are also theirs, and she can be authentic when she tells them.

“I can’t talk to people about reconciliation without weeping,” she said. “That’s very real to me and keeps me accountable. When I give a talk on prayer and I missed morning prayer because I slept in, I have to practice what I preach. That makes it all real to me.”

When she speaks, she said, she tries to be super loving and relatable with humor.

“I try to win people over by telling a couple of stories, and making them feel comfortable,” she said. “If you tell a young person that they are in sin and need to change, they won’t listen to you. You can’t be using a megaphone on a street corner and telling them that they’re going to hell.”

Being on the road 75% of the time isn’t always easy. There are memorable accommodations when she’s invited to stay at convents and monasteries. But most of the time, she sleeps in hotels and lives out of suitcases. That doesn’t mean that she’s disconnected. No matter where she spends the nights, she loves meeting people and jumps right into their communities, like attending their Bible studies or other church activities while she’s there.

Maintaining friendships can be a challenge over distance and absence but, Craig said, “I have a lot of good friends who keep me accountable when I’m on the road. We can do FaceTime, so I really don’t feel lonely. God has provided me with community everywhere I go.”

More about Maggie Craig can be found at maggie-craig.com.


Chris and Linda Padgett: ‘We wanted to help families and marriages’

Linda Padgett can’t even count all the hurricanes she had to deal with alone when her family lived in Florida and her husband, Chris, was on the road.

First, he was with a Catholic band that booked a lot of gigs with youth events. Then, he went solo with his own music and evangelizing. As the couple’s life changed, so did his ministry when Linda came aboard with developing and presenting new programs with him.

“We wanted to zero in on things that were important to us,” Chris said. “We wanted to help families and marriages to get more into the faith life. But we needed to experience that ourselves for a while before starting to speak on it. By the time No. 7 of our children was coming, we thought that we had something to say about this.”

The Padgetts live in Constantia in central New York on a farm-like setting that they call Happy Place Homestead. The high school sweethearts have been married for 31 years and have nine children, ages 10 to 30.

“When you talk about ministry, there’s something about allowing Jesus to come into where you are, and ministry should be an overflow from that. How we love each other gives us a firm foundation to share something with others. We are trying to help couples find a balance in both masculinity and femininity and how it comes together in a marriage.”

— Chris Padgett

They went on the road together when their children were older, and they also present virtual programs. Their Center For Holy Marriages online courses provide resources and material for couples. They also offer events at Happy Place Homestead.

They present marriage retreats and the pre-Cana instructions for their home diocese of Syracuse, New York, and online retreats for the Diocese of Newark, New Jersey. In addition, Chris teaches online with the Catholic Distance University.

Linda spent most of their married life staying home to take care of the kids. There was all that laundry, too, and everything else that she had to do to hold down the fort when her husband was traveling around the country with his music and speaking engagements. It wasn’t always easy, but what she did in the background was crucial while Chris was expanding his ministry.

“I saw that as my role, and it was a valuable role, not a dismissive inferior role,” she said. “We always saw it as being unified. Unity was at the core of it.”

Chris recognized so much more.

“It’s the beauty of finding sanctity in doing the little things that nobody seems to know about or care about, or they take it for granted,” he said. “Linda was the master of that. Think about how many loads of laundry for nine kids. Think about her body as a gift in the children she bore and delivered. When you talk about ministry, there’s something about allowing Jesus to come into where you are, and ministry should be an overflow from that. How we love each other gives us a firm foundation to share something with others. We are trying to help couples find a balance in both masculinity and femininity and how it comes together in a marriage.”

Learn more at chrisandlindapadgett.com.


Aires Patulot: ‘I realized that God is everywhere’

Aires Patulot made up 20 years of excuses for why he couldn’t walk the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James’ network of trails across Europe that ends in Santiago, Spain.

“I was a college student and couldn’t afford it,” he said. “I needed a job. I got married and had kids. I didn’t have time. I think my wife, Aleah, got tired of hearing me complaining.”

She encouraged him to fulfill his dream, so he did. The power of silence in his 33-day solo pilgrimage enveloped him in the silence that is God’s language.

“I realized that God is everywhere,” he said. “Just being with myself and God was so holy.”

The other thing that had a great impact on him was when he was walking up a hill and came across a sign that was in both Spanish and English. It read, “Don’t you know that you were always on the way?”

It was a reminder, he said, that every part of his life has been touched by God and guided by God, and that, he said, “I have always been on the Camino.”

“It was in the back of mind that I was born in the Pacific Northwest, one of the typically most unchurched areas of the United States. Part of me said that this was always the place for me to do mission work, that mission is where your feet are, where God calls to me.”

— Aires Patulot

Patulot lives in Takoma, Washington, with his wife and four children. He’s the director of campus ministry at a Catholic high school and is a professional Catholic speaker, workshop leader, musician and vocalist, organizer of retreats and other programs. He also hosts the Fatherhood Arise Podcast and has videos on YouTube.

Like many people who end up in lay ministries, he had a lot of stopovers before he headed for where he was going.

He was raised in a casually practicing Catholic family. It wasn’t until he met other Catholic students who were passionate about their faith that he realized that something was missing.

“I wanted to find out what made them so happy and [why] I wasn’t, and why they could talk about their faith and I couldn’t,” he said.

He shifted gears in college to study theology at Seattle University, a Jesuit-run college. After graduation, he became a full-time missionary. He went to the Philippines, where his parents came from, where he built homes with former rebels in the sugar cane fields. He gave talks in mud huts in Ghana and led retreats across Europe. He discovered that there are still lepers in the world.

“I went as a missionary, but it was more of me learning the beauty of people who have experienced living their faith mixed with their culture,” he said. “For me, it was a coming home as well. It was in the back of mind that I was born in the Pacific Northwest, one of the typically most unchurched areas of the United States. Part of me said that this was always the place for me to do mission work, that mission is where your feet are, where God calls to me.”

Patulot travels around the region and beyond, and his podcasts reach countless more. His wife is very supportive, he said, and although she doesn’t travel with him, she’s joined him in the lighthearted podcasts “Pod I Want For Christmas,” where they review made-for-TV Christmas movies.

“I think that speaks about the importance of my vocation to marriage, that we find ways to connect with one another in the regular everyday business of life,” he said. “Although it can be hectic, we still find joy and laughter and love.”

Connect with Aires Patulot at calledtorise.org.


Alex Gotay: ‘I didn’t even know what Catholics believed’

Alex Gotay had many detours and challenges on his journey to become a Catholic youth minister with an international outreach. In fact, he didn’t have any interest in being a Catholic at all.

But that’s where he ended up, even though he once said, “OK, Lord, I’m done,” but the Lord wouldn’t let him quit.

Gotay’s father was an atheist, and Gotay was an agnostic. At age 21 or so, he decided to see what was out there as far as religion. Christianity made the most sense to him, so he became a nondenominational Protestant and eventually went to a seminary to train in youth ministry.

A turning point came when he tried to convert a Catholic who challenged him about Scripture.

“I didn’t even know what Catholics believed,” he said.

He began a search to learn more. Then when he and his wife, Jessica, were at a Christmas season service in a mega church, he didn’t like what the pastor was preaching.

“People were coming to me and asking me to speak. I said, ‘No, I’m good.’ Then after I opened my website, I was sitting with Jesus and I said, ‘OK, Lord, I’m good. I did my part. I’m done.'”

— Alex Gotay

“He was going over the Annunciation, and he made the comment that Mary was just used by God,” said Gotay, who lives in Houston. “That kind of alarmed me. I was doing a lot of studying, and I leaned over and said to Jessica, ‘Don’t pay attention to him.'”

His wife, a lapsed Catholic, began reading those Gospel verses that were being preached, then said, “No. Mary has to be more than something that was used.”

They got up and left and never went back. Two weeks later, Gotay was in RCIA. But his journey didn’t stop with his conversion. Among other degrees, he has master’s degrees in theological studies and philosophy and a doctorate in ministry. He’s a youth minister at a Catholic high school, has spoken and given programs locally and nationally, and has been on international radio stations and podcasts.

He travels across the country to speak at parishes, schools, retreats and youth events. The father of three sons, ages 13, 16 and 22, he easily relates to youth who are the focus of his ministry and who, he said, want to be loved and to believe in something bigger than themselves.

Gotay had no plans to take his ministry this far.

“People were coming to me and asking me to speak,” he said. “I said, ‘No, I’m good.’ Then after I opened my website, I was sitting with Jesus and I said, ‘OK, Lord, I’m good. I did my part. I’m done.'”

Jesus didn’t take no for an answer. The Lord wasn’t finished with the former agnostic, nondenominational, heavily tattooed Latino who holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He was called, and that was that.

“God has blessed me,” Gotay said.

More about Alex Gotay can be found at alexgotayjr.weebly.com.


Emily Jaminet and Michele Faehnle: ‘God wants us to stick together’

Emily Jaminet and Michele Faehnle became friends at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and when Jaminet later got married, Faehnle met her future husband at the reception. They ended up living a mile and half from each other in Columbus, Ohio, and on June 8, 2011, they both gave birth to daughters one hour apart in the same hospital.

Years later, they learned that June 8 is National Friendship Day.

“It was a God moment that helped us to inspire other women,” Jaminet said.

The two women have written four books together and share a ministry of speaking together. They also share the microphone, passing it from one to another, as a sign of supporting each other in their friendship.

As busy mothers and wives, keeping up with their shared and individual ministries has sometimes been a challenge.

“That’s why we wrote our first four books together,” Jaminet said. “Our children were still really young, so we felt like one of us could always cover speaking engagements or interviews, or do something for the work we were promoting.”

Jaminet and her husband, John, have seven children, ages 6 to 22.

“I juggle a very disciplined schedule,” she said. “I rise very early in the morning to get all my emails done, and do book writing early in the morning, too.”

“I rarely go out on my own now. … Sometimes I’m asked to do things by myself, and I ask if I can bring Emily, especially if the program is about our friendship. We complement each other so well. That’s the best version of our talk. God wants us to stick together.”

— Michele Faehnle

Faehnle and her husband, Matt, have four children, ages 8 to 18, and she also has a full-time job as a nurse at a Catholic school. During the pandemic, she headed a local COVID response team. Her ministry is part-time.

“I rarely go out on my own now,” she said. “I was going to do a big event by myself, and everything shut down for COVID. Sometimes I’m asked to do things by myself, and I ask if I can bring Emily, especially if the program is about our friendship. We complement each other so well. That’s the best version of our talk. God wants us to stick together.”

Their first book on spiritual friendship was a best-seller and their most popular on the speakers circuit. It’s been the theme of their Friendship By Candlelight Dinners that resonate with women who often let their busy lives take over their need for meaningful friendships.

Jaminet and Faehnle have juggled those same challenges of fulfilling those obligations, so they know what so many other women are seeking. They have grown in their faith while they share those experiences with others, and they are blessed with support from their husbands and families.

They have podcasts on their website, inspirethefaith.com, plus free resources, study guides and information about their books, such as “The Friendship Project” and “Divine Mercy for Moms.” They also have been featured on numerous radio and TV programs. They are also involved in a ministry that invites people to welcome the Sacred Heart of Jesus into their homes, which can be found at enthronements.com.

Be inspired by Emily Jaminet and Michele Faehnle by visiting inspirethefaith.com.

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

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