The Sister/Associate relationship was established in 1972 so that individuals – lay women and men – could partner with the Sisters in responding to the Gospel in the spirit of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Close to 200 Associates reside throughout the US; in 2015 we will take the opportunity to get to know a few of them.
Associate Spotlight – Jennifer Melke-Marks
Interview by Megan Moore, Communications student intern
Associate Jennifer Melke-Marks
Where do you currently live?
My husband, Chris, and I live in Brookville, Ohio, with our two pugs.
Are you currently employed? If so, please describe your responsibilities and how long you have been there.
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in the Visual Arts and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry. I taught theology at Archbishop Alter High School [Kettering, Ohio] and then worked in parish ministry. After much prayer and thoughtful consideration, I resigned from my position in parish ministry after getting married in 2013 to discern where God is calling me to serve next. During this time I have been substitute teaching at local Catholic and public schools and teaching art, most recently at the Dayton Art Institute.
Tell us a little about yourself (i.e. hobbies, interests, volunteer activities).
I have a strong interest in social justice issues. I had the privilege of serving on the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Social Action Commission and Catholic Relief Services Committee for six years. I continue to look for opportunities to engage in advocacy and education on social justice issues. Over the years I have volunteered at various nonprofits, my favorite being We Care Arts in Kettering, a nonprofit serving persons with disabilities through art. Most recently I have been a volunteer for Dayton Circles® USA, a national campaign to inspire and equip families and communities to resolve poverty and thrive.
In my spare time, I enjoy listening to my husband, who is a music teacher and musician, play the trumpet, keyboards, guitar, and other instruments both at home and out in public with his band. I also enjoy working on my artwork (drawing, painting, and printmaking), spending time with my husband, reading, snuggling with my pugs on the couch, attending my lay Marianist meetings, and doing Zumba®.
How did you become acquainted with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati?
I had a couple of encounters with the Sisters of Charity before becoming an Associate. S. Lois Jean Goettke was my principal at Bishop Leibold School. She made such an impression on me! It was the first time I remember meeting a woman religious that wore “regular” clothing … and she played the guitar! She was so down-to-earth and approachable. I remember thinking that I wanted to be like her, although I never did learn how to play the guitar!
In 2006 I began working at St. Brigid in Xenia as the coordinator of youth ministry. It was there that I really began to develop an interest in the Sisters of Charity. While at St. Brigid, I had the pleasure of working with and becoming friends with S. Cory Canon, a Greensburg Sister of Charity. It was a combination of our conversations together and working on the school’s Mother Seton committee that I became familiar with Mother Seton’s story and the mission and charism of the Sisters of Charity. I had also become friends with Sophie Henrichs (now Metzger), who at the time had begun the formation process with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. She invited me to my first Associate meeting. It was there that I met S. Fran Trampiets, who later became my companion for the Associate formation process.
How long have you been an Associate?
I became an Associate in June 2010. The Associate commitment celebration was a day that I will always treasure in my heart as being one of the most important and special in my life. My dad raised my sisters and me in the Catholic tradition. He gave me the most important gift that a parent could give their child, the gift of faith. I was so happy that he could be there to celebrate that joyous day with me.
What compelled you to become an Associate of the Community?
I remember thinking of the Sisters and Associates, “Wow! These are such faith-filled, strong, intelligent, wise, amazing, and forward-thinking women! I want to be them! I have to be a part of this!” I felt that I had found a home spiritually with the Sisters of Charity. These women are kindred spirits. I look up to them as role models as to what I hope to become one day.
How have some of the Sisters or your fellow Associates touched your life?
The Sisters and Associates never fail to amaze and inspire me. I love listening to, as well as reading about, how the Sisters and other Associates minister to God’s people. It is exciting to see how they use their gifts and talents to serve others, especially the marginalized. So many bring such creativity, energy, determination, passion, and hard work in their service to others, which I think is a trademark of the Sisters of Charity beginning with Mother Seton herself!
I hold close to my heart the conversations and sharing of faith that comes out of our Associate meetings. It never fails that at every meeting Peter’s words from the Transfiguration always come to mind, “Lord, it is good that we are here!” How can I help but have those words come to mind when there is such a sense of the holy and sacred in our being together, women of different ages and backgrounds, sharing and encouraging one another on our journey as followers of Christ. I always walk away feeling refreshed, recharged, and supported as I go out into the world to live out the mission and charism of the Sisters of Charity and its Associates in my everyday life. What a blessing and what gratitude I have!
In what ways do you feel you carry out the spirit of Elizabeth Seton in your daily life?
In my personal prayer as well as my time spent at our Associate meetings, I am constantly being called back to a life of simplicity, charity, and humility. Oftentimes this is in small ways. For example, remembering to buy only what I need and reusing when possible. Or, it could be remembering to offer warmth, patience, and kindness in my daily interactions with others. At other times, it is something that requires more intentionality, commitment, and effort. For example, making time to forge meaningful relationships with others, especially those who are marginalized. My volunteer work with Circles® USA has been one such case. One of the things that I have admired most about Mother Seton was the time and commitment she put into cultivating deep relationships, even to the point of writing letters well into the night to do so!
I am always striving to live out more deeply the spirit and example of Mother Seton in my life in other ways as well. Her deep intimate love for God and knowing that God was present and active in her everyday life reminds me to reflect on where God was present during my day. Her love of nature reminds me that I constantly need to be looking for more ways that I can be a good steward of Earth and to deepen my ecological spirituality.
I feel the Chapter 2015 Directions captured so well the spirit of Mother Seton. I am looking forward to growing as a disciple of Christ and living out more faithfully the Gospel and the mission of the Sisters of Charity and Associates by focusing on the four areas of Spirituality, Margins, Relationships, and Creation/Earth over the next few years!