APPLETON — As a student at the University of Minnesota, Fond du Lac native Jamie Sheridan discovered her talent for interviewing people. She earned a degree in English and had a focus in advanced editing. “I’ve loved writing my whole life,” she said. “I had a passion for editing and sharing people’s stories. My career in Minneapolis led me into marketing, advertising and the public relations industry.”
Sheridan, her husband, Bill, and their three children lived in Seattle for 15 years. While residing there she started a group for mothers with preschoolers. “I called it ‘Blossoming Moms’ and I got to create my own newspaper and a recipe club for those moms, created the logo, all of the branding. I was able to use my talents for the first time as a volunteer. It was the most rewarding project I had ever done,” said Sheridan.
“Then I started freelancing from home. I started a mom blog. A lot of the freelance work I was doing was pro bono starting out, just to help people get businesses up and running and helping friends,” she said. In 2017, Sheridan and her family moved back to Wisconsin. She continues to freelance, but also found her calling within their church community.
“When we started going to church here after we moved, I felt a very strong connection to this parish,” Sheridan said. “Every Sunday I kept thinking, ‘I wish I could work here. I wish I could help this parish grow and be the face of the new Catholicism — the face of what others need to see Catholicism has become.’ We are in dire need of rebranding, not just as a parish, but as a religion.”
When the position of part-time communications and marketing coordinator at St. Pius X became available, Sheridan applied and was hired. She started working for the parish in April of 2018. “Over the months I started thinking, ‘I really want to start some programs and events,’ but I was already spending more than part time at church,” she said. “I couldn’t bring all my ideas to the table at these meetings but I thought these are things that I need to start doing as a volunteer.”
With that in mind, Sheridan opted to leave her paid position and use her skills at St. Pius X as a volunteer. “I want to reach out to the other parishes as well,” she said. “Other parishes don’t have a marketing and communication person. We are lucky enough here to have that in our budget, but what if all the parishes were all on the same page? Imagine how much stronger we can be.”
The plan for Sheridan is to encourage and help other volunteers with marketable skills step forward to assist their parishes. “I started looking into what would it take to plant that seed and inspire each parish to either find out who in that small community is great at accounting, data base, web development or graphic design. How can we get people like me, who have a little bit of time, to offer their services to the church community?”
Sheridan’s plan fits in with Bishop David Ricken’s “Disciples on the Way” initiative for the diocese, which prepares Catholics as missionary disciples for the new evangelization. The initiative focuses on the four-step process of discovering Jesus, following Jesus, worshipping Jesus and sharing Jesus.
“It may require traveling around and stepping in for a week to train someone already on staff, or a parishioner who has the abilities, but it’s actually very easy to get that up and running,” said Sheridan. “To get that streamlined across parishes is very possible. We need to recognize that within our own diocese, each parish has its own brand.
She explained that some parishes appeal to young families, some appeal to more traditional Catholics and some to senior citizens. “We want to use that and retain that, but still market it to bring in other Catholics or bring someone in off the street that doesn’t know a thing about Catholicism. I think it’s hugely important,” said Sheridan.
She hopes to look to the past to improve future programs.
“It’s very important to me to recreate what all of our generations before us were doing right,” she said. “Whether that’s pancake breakfasts or longer donut Sundays, rosary societies, going on hikes, things that we can do to take what they did and make it appealing for all of our generations to interact together. What I’ve learned through my career in marketing and communications is it’s so important not miss somebody. If we miss the youth, my biggest concern is never getting them back.”
Parishes can learn from other denominations, Sheridan added. “If you look outside of our faith, there are other churches that are doing a fantastic job of retaining members and we can learn from them,” she said.
The goal for Sheridan is clear. “Five years from now I want to see people lingering after Masses, people having meals together, people connecting outside of Mass time, outside of faith formation, choosing to be together as a community,” she said. “I want to see the greater community connect through our common foundation.”