by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When were you appointed Director of Missionary Discipleship for the Diocese of Winona-Rochester and what are your primary responsibilities?
Susan: I began work in this position in July of 2018. It's a new position in the diocese and my responsibilities are split between helping parishes brainstorm how to become more Great Commission focused, and creating evangelists from below by investing in the laity and initiatives of outreach and healing.
Gordon: Where did you study Theology and what your most challenging course? Why was it a challenge?
Susan: I graduated from Mary Washington College with a B.A. in Religion and American History, and earned my M.A. and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. Having grown up a cradle Catholic in the South, I was used to engaging ecumenically--there were so few Catholics in rural Virginia, the outreach was natural. And honestly, all of my courses were challenging...Vanderbilt was a real boot camp for method and analysis. But I realized late in the game I wasn't a good fit for the school. I had friends in arms and learned the theological method, but they were reading the liberal Protestant canon and were a lot less ecumenical than they thought. I went to the Collegium conference in the late 90s, on the Catholic intellectual life, and knew then I wanted to teach at a Catholic college or university. I began reading double time, what I had to read for my courses at Vanderbilt, and contemporary Catholic theologians as well. I guess it was one way to become rather well-read.
Gordon: You previously served as Chair in the Theology Department at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. What were your primary responsibilities?
Susan: Saint Mary's is a small Lasallian Catholic liberal arts university, and very student-focused. Over 18 years I taught general education courses in Scripture and theological anthropology, a theology course in the Honors Program, and upper-division courses in Christology and moral theology.
Gordon: Why are Catholics called to evangelize?
Susan: Sharing the gospel is part of the call given to us in our baptism. And I like to remind people that we tend to remember and cherish the last words of people we love and take them to heart. Well, the last words of Jesus before ascending to heaven were, according to Matthew 28 "Go and make disciples of all nations," or in Acts 1 "You will be my witnesses." His last words to us were to tell others in word and deed. It's a responsibility, sure, but it is much more of a joy. This is no burden. We're sharing the best news that ever was!
Gordon: What inspired you to write 101 Ways to Evangelize: Ideas for Helping Fearless, Fearful, and Flummoxed Catholics?
Susan: In my work for the diocese, I keep running into people who have caught the fire for evangelization, and know they should be doing more to share Jesus Christ to a world in need. But they literally have a hard time picturing it: what to do, how to do it. I decided to give them 101 quick snapshots of what Catholic evangelizing looks like. It was meant to be a very practical help and brainstorming tool.
Gordon: Before 101 Ways, you wrote another book. Why did you write Why You Shouldn't Kill Yourself: 5 Tricks of the Heart About Assisted Suicide?
Susan: In the general education course I was teaching, I always used euthanasia as a case study in testing a Christian understanding of human dignity. When I started that course 20 years ago, students thought I was nuts even talking about euthanasia as a real threat. They told me no one would really think this way. But 10 years ago, and then especially five years ago, things really changed. When I taught the case study, I realized the class was usually split 50/50 on this issue. I began digging into all the reasons students would give about supporting assisted suicide and strive to respond to them. Eventually, the result was this book, which is written to anyone who wants to engage the topic, but especially to people genuinely considering assisted suicide as a more dignified end to life. I do my best to convince them that arguments for assisted suicide are full of deceptions and lies about human dignity and that God has plans for their lives, even on their deathbeds.
Gordon: Any parting words?
Susan: Never be afraid to lean on Jesus Christ. His power and goodness are beyond our imagination. Sharing that truth with people is all evangelization really is, and it is genuine mercy in my life. There is nothing to be afraid of, in the end. Don't let fear rob you of the chance to share the gospel more freely. It is the fastest route to true joy.
Gordon: Thank you for a fascinating interview!