top of page
  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Julianne Stanz

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism

Dr. Knight: Please tell us about your religious formation in grade school, high school and college. Let us know how that time influenced your work today.

Julianne: I grew up in a small, picturesque village called Hacketstown nestled into foothills of the Wicklow Mountains on the southeast coast of Ireland. I received an excellent education from the Sisters of Mercy and went on to study theology, education and history through Mater Dei Institute, Dublin City University and Maynooth University. I am grateful to the Sisters of Mercy for their faithful witness to our Catholic faith, the warmth of their hospitality and the quality of the formation that they provided. In terms of my family life, from my Grandmother Hannah, who I called Nanny, I observed and learned the rhythm of prayer and the power that prayer holds to ground and shape our lives through joy and struggle. My Grandmother’s day was permeated with prayer—in particular, blessings, that uniquely Irish form of prayer that grounds even our mundane practices in gratitude. Every act she undertook, from making the bed to baking her soda bread, was grounded in the prayer. For the past 20 years, I have worked directly in or supported various parish ministries at the local, diocesan and national level. I have worked as a director of religious education, youth minister, adult faith formation director, young adult minister, new evangelization director and discipleship formation director. My work as a consultant to the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis and national speaker has given me a unique perspective on parish and diocesan life in the United States.

Dr. Knight: Your formation led you to marriage and parenthood. Please tell us what aspects of formation were most important to you.

Julianne: In addition to my formal studies, prayer and pilgrimage are two practices that ground me in God’s will for my life. Pilgrimage has always been a sacred practice of prayer and transformation in many cultures, including for the Irish. I undertook my first pilgrimage at the age of fifteen to Croagh Patrick, the mountain where St. Patrick spent 40 days and nights in prayer before he undertook his public ministry to the Irish. Croagh Patrick (taken from the Irish words CruachPhadraig which means “Patrick’s stack”) has been a site of pilgrimage for three thousand years. Nicknamed “The Reek” by locals, one million people climb Croagh Patrick annually, and the numbers continue to rise. On this mountain as a young person, I made a promise to God that I would go with a willing heart wherever he called me. After some prayer and discernment, this led to emigrating to America in 2001. Here in Wisconsin, I fell in love with and met my husband Wayne and we have three children together.

Dr. Knight: Your devotion to the Catholic Church was motivated by what variables?

Julianne: I want to see a Church fully alive, vibrant and joyful for my children and future generations. I love Jesus and I love his body, the Catholic Church and have a powerful desire to help all people to encounter Jesus and share their stories of how Jesus is moving in their lives with others. I also believe that the Catholic parish is the best nucleus by which we can help people to encounter and be nourished by Jesus Christ, to grow in friendship and solidarity with others and to be the change that our local communities badly needs. Parishes are not given to the Catholic Church just for themselves but are given to the world as a source of salt and light (Matthew 5:13). A place where people are invited, welcomed, nurtured and uplifted. A family of faith where people are not just formed but transformed and sent out to transform the world. A community where we can be challenged to grow, to step outside of our comfort zone and be sharpened as “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17). A place where we are called to enter the tomb of our own suffering and the suffering of others and reconcile it to the cross. A place where Good Friday gives way to Resurrection Sunday. A place where sinners can be made into saints by living out the call to holiness. It is my dream that our parishes grow to meet the opportunities that ministering to future generations entails. If we are going to renew our parishes, we must recover the sense of fire and energy that comes from a faith that is fully alive and in touch with the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Knight: What are the questions you ask yourself and others in regard to their understanding of the Catholic Church?

Julianne: Today the world is asking us the why and what questions- Why do you believe? Why should I believe? What difference has faith made to your life? What difference does Jesus make to my life? What difference could Jesus make to my life? People want to be noticed and loved. They want to feel like they belong and that means being cared for and caring about others in the community. It is not enough to tell people that they are loved St. John Bosco remarked, people must feel that they are loved. They can Google or search online the answers to the “what” and “how” questions of faith but they can only learn about a lived faith in relationship to others. I am genuinely a “people person” and am inspired by the witness of so many wonderful Catholics and parents all across the country who are on a mission to make Jesus known in their hearts, homes and the wider world.

Dr. Knight: What are the moral questions that are most important to your narrative?

Julianne: Today, we face a world that is less receptive to organized religion. When it comes to more difficult moral issues, many believe that the Catholic Church should offer no public commentary on the poor, on the misuse of resources, on systems that oppress others, on economic advancement on science, and the list goes on. This of course goes against the core of the Gospel message! Faith is certainly personal, but it is not meant to be kept private. We should not allow society, politics, or culture to set the agenda for how we teach our children about faith. But it does mean that we need to search for entry points into the lives of our children, particularly when it comes to moral issues. St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of this as “entering through their door but leaving through your own.” As parents, our task is to identify these doorways and introduce through them the light of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Knight: You state in your book:”74 percent of young people indicated they stopped identifying as Catholic between the ages of 10 and 20”. What’s happening to our young people?

Julianne: In a world where young people suffer from increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide, young people long for meaning, authenticity and community, just like the rest of us. They are hyper-connected and relationally disconnected. What I mean by this is that they are connected online, often being disrupted and distracted from the world around them. Yet they are relationally disconnected- they struggle to have conversations, to understand different viewpoints, to reach beyond themselves. Young people and young adults today have grown up during a time when the internet makes searching for the answers to questions much easier. With this ease of information, however, comes a proliferation of different opinions, and that makes curating accurate information, particularly when it comes to faith, even more critical. As a result of the ease with which we can search for questions, there is an important shift to be aware of when it comes to the types of questions to listen for as a parent. Young people can more easily search online than ever before to find answers to the simple what and how questions of faith, but they can learn about a lived faith only in relationship to others. The deeper, more existential questions cannot be satisfactorily answered online; it takes to people speaking heart to heart with each other to mediate these kinds of questions. ourselves.

Dr. Knight: The sections in your book called “Take It Home” provide strategies that will help Catholics with conversations with their kids. How will parents engage the children?

Julianne: Modern Catholic families are composed of people who are at all different stages of growth in faith, at all different stages and walks of life. There are blended families, families with no extended family or none close by, single-parent homes, and homes with “boomerang children” in which college-aged adults live at home because the cost of college or owning a home is so expensive. All of these are Catholic families. This book draws on a vast array of experiences from real-life Catholic parents and includes simple, practical, and “parent-tested” ways to share your faith. Great tips and ideas will be offered but so too will mistakes and failures. The “Take It Home” section provides parents an opportunity to slow down, to walk with their children’s questions and experiences in a very intentional way.

Dr. Knight: How are parents the most important influencers?

Julianne: Many parents, grandparents, and guardians mistakenly believe that they have little influence on the faith of their children. The research tells a different story. research continues to bear out that the single greatest influence on children’s faith is their parents or other significant adults in the role of parent or guardian or mentor. That might seem scary for us as parents, especially if we are unsure about certain aspects of our own faith, but it is true. Mistakenly, we often believe that we are just one factor among many, but Justin Bartkus and Christian Smith’s Report on American Catholic Religious Parenting, published in 2017, indicated thatparents are the most important factor in the faith development of their children. The authors of this study remarked on page eight of this study that “parents represent not simply an influence on the development of children’s religious worldviews, but the arch-influence over it.” As “arch-influencers,” then, we cannot underestimate our importance in influencing our children’s faith. You, the parent, matter. So does the presence of other adults in the lives of children: grandparents, aunts and uncles, close friends, other adults in the faith community, and godparents, for example. Each adult your child encounters can influence the development of their faith, whether we are conscious of it or not. As parents, we can become so caught up in the lives of our children that we forget about our own faith. We need to make sure that our own faith is as strong as it can be. If we want our children to have faith, then we must have faith ourselves. If we want to be able to answer our children’s questions, then we need to grow in our understanding of the Catholic faith no matter how much or how little education in faith we have received. We cannot lead our children to Jesus until we have gone to him ourselves. If we want our children to breathe into their faith, then we must make sure that our own oxygen supply is strong first. Putting on the oxygen mask of our faith is as simple as committing to continually learning and growing in our understanding of faith, cultivating a regular prayer life, going to Mass, receiving the sacraments regularly, and sharing our faith with others in word and deed. The health of our family is dependent on our own health as the two ebb and flow together. In addition, as we strengthen our own faith, we will be able to more fully withstand the barrage of questions that surely comes our way!

Dr. Knight: How do we help children to realize that Mass is the essence of our religion?

Julianne: It is important for families to prioritize attending Mass and to explain to their children why going to Mass is at the heart of our Catholic faith. Your own personal witness to why you attend Mass is likely to have the biggest impact upon your children. Every time we participate in the celebration of the Eucharist, we renew our belief in the truth that Christ gave his very life for each of us and that we are redeemed by his life, death, and resurrection. The Eucharist is the most powerful way in which Jesus Christ is present to us because he is fully present in the Eucharist. We call this the “Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist”. Many Catholics do not understand this teaching and so starting early with our children is a huge priority. One way to talk with children about this is to remind them of how they spend time with people they love and how this time at Mass is a time to spend in the presence of God who loves us. We should also be mindful about speaking of Mass attendance as “insurance” when it comes to social, emotional, and mental health issues. Having faith and going to Mass don’t mean that we won’t suffer or go through tough times, and we need to be honest with our children about this. Honesty can help avoid what is called moral therapeutic deism, whereby God is reduced to being a therapist and moral guide that we call upon when we are in difficulty instead of the One who is at the center of our lives. Having faith does not mean that we will not struggle, but it does mean that we will have a foundation for a relationship to sustain us as we endure life’s difficulties. If we truly want to live the Mass, then we must understand and participate in it.

Dr. Knight: What thoughts have you received from your focus group or people you have consulted about the book?

Julianne: I consulted a wide range of parents, grandparents, catechists and teachers along with elementary, middle school and high school students in the writing of this book to embody a full range of Catholic perspectives and experiences. Many parents shared their ideas, experiences, their joys and struggles with me and how they wished that they had a book like this earlier in their parenting. For the youth that I consulted, they shared which questions their parents could and could not answer and what it felt like when their parents did not talk with them about issues related to their faith. Both groups provided invaluable feedback for the writing of this project and I am indebted to all those who shared their wisdom with me.

Recent Posts

See All

Supreme Court Ethics Challenges

Articles and Commentaries Biden to push for Supreme Court ethics reform, term limits and amendment to overturn immunity ruling, sources say by MJ Lee and Devan Cole CNN

Catholic Medial

Articles and Commentaries Jesuit Conference Communications Staff Wins 15 Catholic Media Awards by The Jesuits


bottom of page