Denver, Colo., Apr 22, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Jenna Guizar grew up without any sisters.
But these days, Guizar relishes having a “sisterhood” of digital and physical communities of Catholic women around the world.
Guizar presides over a growing international women’s ministry, Blessed is She, which will mark its fifth year in September. The ministry began as a web-based devotional for Catholic women based on the day’s Mass readings.
“I loved what some of the Protestant women’s ministries were doing with Scripture study, inviting women to spend time daily in the Word. I wanted that for Catholic women, too,” Guizar, 35 and the mother of four daughters, explained.
“I saw an opening for this kind of content for women, and a hunger in the Church. I was hungry for it, too, and I didn’t see it happening in the Church, but I never thought of going elsewhere, I wanted to be fed in the Catholic Church.”
Now Guizar, along with a small staff and a national team of writers, whose contributions are vetted by theological editors, is feeding more than 60,000 women around the world with a daily email that delivers reflections on the Mass readings, along with a link to the readings themselves on the USCCB website.
On social media, tens of thousands follow along in regional Facebook groups, forming virtual communities that have morphed into hundreds of physical communities around the world.
On Blessed is She’s Instagram account, which has more than 100,000 followers, retreat director Beth Davis hosts a popular segment called ‘Teachable Tuesday,’ where she gives instruction different Catholic methods of prayer, wisdom from the lives of the saints, and deeper dives into Scripture.
Participants pop on at the beginning of the segment and announce their geographical locations: Ireland, Australia, Tanzania, Mexico, and the United States.
“Basically my whole adult life has been spent working for the Church,” says Davis, “but I’ve never experienced what we experience with these women every day, on retreats, on Instagram, in regional groups.
“There’s almost too much to choose from, she said, when asked for stories about her experience. “[We have] stories of women coming home to the Church, of becoming Catholic, of encountering Jesus for the first time in spite of years of knowing Him on an intellectual level.”
“What makes Blessed is She different is that it’s not about one person, there is no cult of personality. It’s all focused on Christ.” Davis explained, and Guizar agreed, when asked what she thought was driving the ministry’s growth.
“We’re just here walking alongside the women we serve, as women who are experiencing deeper conversion in their own lives,” added Guizar, explaining that she doesn’t see herself as doing anything extraordinary, apart from being available and willing to answer a need to which she herself felt drawn.
“My own personal, daily conversions happen in large part because of Blessed is She. I feel a great responsibility and honor to be given this ministry by the Lord. I feel a great responsibility to draw closer and closer to Him so that I can be the leader and woman He wants me to be,” Guizar said.
Guizar recalls one of the first times she realized Blessed is She might become something bigger than she’d envisioned:
“It was getting close to Advent during our first year, and I thought I’d like to make a little prayer journal and offer it to our subscribers. I had no idea whether it would sell, I just created it in a computer program and self-printed them. But we ended up with more than 800 presales. That’s probably the first time I started to realize this was going to be a lot bigger than me.”
Both Guizar and Davis said that working for the ministry has deepened their spiritual lives.
“I get to come to work every day with someone who prays with me, asks me about my prayer life, who really lives an example of personal holiness,” said Guizar of Davis, “it’s so good for me.”
She continued, “My spiritual life has changed dramatically through the discipline of prayer. I feel drawn to live a life of integrity. If I’m asking a woman to do something in her life, I better be doing it as well… like I have to be living this out in order to talk about it.”
Guizar recounts growing up in a dynamic youth group in the Diocese of Phoenix: “After youth group there was nothing to fill that void of community in my life as an adult. We had good friends and we had a good parish, but we didn’t feel like we were growing in our faith, and we didn’t feel like our relationships were really rooted in Christ.”
“I needed this community for my own conversion” Guizar said.
She recalls feeling a growing sense of isolation as a young mother, struggling to find her place in the Church.
“I wasn’t homeschooling my kids or doing liturgical crafts. I was fascinated by that experience when I read about it, but it wasn’t my life. I felt like I had more questions than answers. I didn’t have any wisdom or experience to offer.”
That’s when Guizar conceived of a daily Bible devotional modelled after some of the Protestant women’s ministries she admired. “I knew of all these Catholic bloggers, women with a deeper knowledge of Scripture and with more formation than me, so I reached out and invited them to contribute.”
That was back in the fall of 2014. The first Blessed is She devotion went out on September 1, 2014. By the end of the year, more than 200 women had signed up to receive the emails. By 2015, that number had increased to more than 2,000 women. And by early 2019, that number had risen to more than 60,000.
50% of Blessed is She participants are millennials – or younger – falling between the ages of 18 and 35. Women between 36 and 65 make up another 35% of the demographic.
Blessed is She brunches and retreats now make up a significant portion of the ministry’s focus, with more than 400 member-hosted brunches logged in 2018. So far in 2019, more than 500 women have attended a Blessed is She retreat somewhere in the US or abroad. Still to come this calendar year: retreats in Nashville, Texas, and Ireland.
If you ask for stories of how Blessed is She is impacting women’s lives, the answers come back to a common theme: community.
Oliva Spears, a Blessed is She writer who manages the site’s blog content recounts “dozens of messages” from women who are coming back to the Church through their involvement with Blessed is She:
“Faithful Catholic women who are lacking community in real life and who’ve felt like they’re the only Catholic left on the planet” are finding out they’re not alone, and being encouraged by other women who are following Christ.
Nell O’Leary, Blessed is She’s managing editor, remarks on the community built in the regional Facebook groups that becomes “real, in-the-flesh friendship.”
O’Leary said, “One older woman had prayed specifically for a young mom who was moving to her city to find the perfect house. When those two met at my Blessed Conversations group, they embraced like old friends. The bonds of sisterhood transcended age, location, and even the internet.”
Bonnie Engstrom, another contributing writer, told the story of re-watching an old ‘Teachable Tuesday’ recording on Instagram with her small group in her parish:
“Beth talked about how God’s not finished until He is finished. She specifically said that to older moms whose children have left the Church and there were so many grandma’s present who felt so reassured by that. These are women who are in church every day, praying for their children. They felt heard by God through Beth’s words.”
Guizar touched on the theme of community repeatedly in an interview with CNA, emphasizing its significance to the heart of the ministry.
“I want women to know that the Lord loves them right where they’re at, and that He wants to bring restoration and healing, that He will bring it.”
When asked about how her four young children fit into the mission, Guizar acknowledged the tension between being open to life and leading an international ministry,
“Mike [my husband] is great about it, he is always saying, ‘If the Lord wants it right now, it’s going to happen.’ We don’t shy away from having more kids, because we want more kids to know the Lord, to live as missionaries in a secular culture.”
Guizar says she doesn’t have a plan for Blessed is She, but is just trying to be faithful.
“The Lord gave me Blessed is She to save my soul every day,” she said. “I really believe it was as much for me as for the women who we serve.”
“I have no idea where Blessed is She will be in five years. I had dreams at the beginning that I think have evolved now, into an acknowledgement that even if I had a plan, He would surprise me anyway. So I’m just along for the ride.”
Editor’s note: In addition to her work at CNA, Jenny Uebbing is a periodic freelance contributor to Blessed is She.