Faith is Payant’s guiding light

By Lisa Haefs | For the Compass | June 30, 2021

‘The Lord has a plan and I’m open to it,’ says Antigo native

Your Catholic Neighbor: Ellie Payant (Submitted photo | For The Compass)

ANTIGO — Ellie Payant believes in a constant “renewal of the mind.”

At age 24, the Antigo woman has been a mentor, teacher, missionary and soon, once again, a student as she continues to follow the winding path she believes God has chosen for her.

“I never plan too far ahead,” Payant said. “I’m gaining a suitcase of experiences, focused on being faith-based, intentional and compassionate.”

She said she lives by the words of Rom 12:2, which speak of the need to focus not on worldly things, but on the renewal of the mind and the acceptance of God’s will for her life.

One of four children born to Paul and Shelly Payant of Antigo, she attended All Saints Catholic School and St. John the Evangelist Parish, where she was confirmed.

“My parents have always led by example,” she said. “Faith was always a part of life growing up.”

That only deepened as she continued at Antigo High School, joining and later leading various faith-based organizations.

“I always loved being Catholic, but high school is where I realized what an important part of my life it was,” she said.

She moved on to the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, also home to a vibrant Catholic community. College, and being away from home for the first time, can be transformational, she admitted, but not always in a positive manner. Payant managed the minefield of young adulthood by choosing carefully.

“I was active in the St. Paul’s Outreach and, by my junior year, I was leading programs,” she said. “I like to be surrounded by other people of faith and they became my network of friends.”

Payant graduated with a bachelor’s degree in family social sciences, but wasn’t ready to pursue a career. Instead, she wanted to travel and volunteer, immersing herself in the culture and new experiences offered by living abroad. But, she said she wanted to do it mindfully, forsaking the usual “tourist” label.

The opportunity presented itself when she received a phone call from a family friend, Brian Prunty, of the Antigo-based Living Waters International.

Founded by Prunty, as well as his wife, Karen, and Mary and Stephen Zimmerman, Living Waters International works to procure funds for Catholic missionary and international development projects in Africa and India. With total 2020 revenue topping $1.6 million, the organization supports everything from student sponsorship and seminarian assistance to constructing formation houses, schools and churches. 

Payant’s family first became involved with Living Waters International while she was in school by sponsoring a student overseas.

“Brian said he had heard I wanted to do missionary work,” Payant said. “I was thrilled to have such a wonderful organization to guide my volunteer work in Africa. It was an amazingly comfortable fit.”

But first, Payant spent the summer of 2019 in northern Spain walking the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, a 500-mile pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. A major route for medieval Christians, people have been walking the trails since the Middle Ages to foster spiritual growth.

The next six months were spent in Arusha, Tanzania, helping in a clinic and primary school while living with the Carmelite Sisters at the Lumen Christi Institute.

“My time there was difficult. I encountered many challenges, both emotionally as well as spiritually,” Payant admitted. “It was a wonderful experience to be with the people there, but also to grow and learn in my own life. I have so many incredible memories and life lessons from my time there.”

After returning to the United States, Payant participated in a contributors’ meeting and talked to young people about the opportunities offered by and through Living Waters International. The Pruntys were impressed by her remarks and invited her to join the board of directors. “I was very honored by the request,” she said. “I saw firsthand the importance of the work they do and wanted to be a part of that if I could.”

Payant currently works as a preschool teacher at a childcare center in the Twin Cities. But, inspired by her work in Tanzania, she has chosen to turn the page on a new chapter: social work. In fall, she will attend graduate school at Colorado State University, working toward a master’s degree in social work. 

“In Tanzania, I saw how difficult it was for people who didn’t have access to resources or programs,” she said. “I gained a deeper appreciation for the work social workers do and want to continue serving those in need.”

That latest “renewal of the mind” reflects one of her favorite quotes from St. Teresa of Kolkata: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

“I have a wandering heart,” Payant said. “All of the experiences I have had are shaping me into the person I’m becoming. The Lord has a plan and I am open to it.”

Name: Ellie Payant
Age: 24
Parish: St. John the Evangelist, Antigo
Favorite saint: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
Words to live by: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

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