By Gordon Nary
Gordon: What prompted you to study Humanities at Ursuline College?
Jake: I knew I wanted to get into Mission work, but there isn’t a university around here that has a ‘degree in mission work’. Humanities was a great fit for me because it gave me a liberal arts education that allowed me to study many different cultures, their histories and traditions.
Gordon: What were your favorite courses and what impact did they have on your life?
Jake: There are two courses that stand out in my mind.: The history of violence in religion and women in Christian theology. Both courses were taught by a great professor who really challenged me in a number of ways, and I always appreciated that. Both courses challenged my view on the world and different religions and really caused me to educate myself on some key issues. The lasting impact has been that I always try to educate myself on a particular topic before I form an opinion based on misinformation or personal bias. I also always try to relate to or put myself in others’ shoes before making judgments, confronting issues etc. etc.
Gordon: What prompted you to join the staff St. Ambrose Parish?
Jake: I started out in the maintenance department my senior year of HS when Fr. Bob (the pastor) mentioned there was an opening. I went away for college for 2 years before transferring back home, but always kept working during the summer at the parish. I transferred home and started working full time on a number of different projects...
Gordon: How many parishioners does St. Ambrose serve?
Jake: St. Ambrose serves close to 15,000 parishioners.
Jake: St. Ambrose does have quite the number of different ministries and parish programs. There are a few ‘event’ type parish programs that have many volunteers – the parish festival will have over 800 volunteers over its four days. It’s a great ‘easy sell’ and first step to get parishioners involved and engaged in parish life. Many parishioners who started out working a few hours at the festival 5 years ago are now running different ministries at the parish.
Gordon: You have a variety of responsibilities at St Ambrose Parish, including oversight of your work at Mission Possible in the Dominican Republic. Could you provide an overview of St. Ambrose's participation in this important project?
Jake: Over the past 10 years, St. Ambrose has worked with a number of other area churches and organizations as a part of a larger organization called ‘Mission Possible’. Over the years, St. Ambrose has taken the lead in our mission communities in the Dominican Republic. We have two mission communities: One with 56 homes, a school, community center and clinic with over 350 residents. We are in the process of building a second community. It currently has 26 homes with over 110 people living in the community. It also has a church and community center. We do a number of educational and social projects in addition to the construction work we do.
Gordon: How many visits have you made to the Dominican Republic, and when did you start working there ? Jake: My first trip to the Dominican was in June 2007. It was on that trip I fell in love with the Dominican, its people and culture – and when I fell in love with mission work. Since then, I’ve made over 40 trips to DR. Gordon: You also manage The FEST at the Diocese of Cleveland which requires some exceptional marketing skills. Where did you learn your marketing skills?
Jake: We’ve had a great team of professionals around The FEST since the beginning. Local business people, presidents of companies, marketing managers and many more! By working with them, I’ve learned a lot. Nothing more important though than grass roots marketing.
Gordon: You have several major Community Partners featured on your parish website. What is required to be a Community Partner?
Jake: We developed the Community Partners Program a few years ago when we realized we were soliciting sponsors for different events and activities throughout the year. With this in mind, we bundled everything together into this program. It’s cleaner and easier for our partners and is more impactful for them. There are many different ways to be a Community Partner, depending on the situation and company.
Gordon: We have seen reports of an increasing number of all Christians including Catholics leaving their churches, especially younger members What, in you opinion, can churches do to combat this exodus?
Jake: In my opinion, the key thing is to meet people where they are for some, that’s through sports, others through the arts, others education and others through prayer and reflection. Unfortunately, young people are most interested in ‘how will this help me?’ If we can get the message of Christ to them in a way that will be most impactful and inspiring for them, I believe we can begin to turn the tide of people leaving the church.
Gordon: Possibly the best way of closing this interview is with this photo of you and one of the children that you and your colleagues have helped in the Dominican Republic.