CHAMPION — After graduating from Kimberly High School in 2015, Chelsey Hare set herself on a gradual path to embrace her Catholic faith and make it the center of her life. The journey took a major step for Hare, 24, when she was named communications director at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in January.
“Growing up, I would say my faith was very much a cultural thing,” said Hare, who was born and raised in Darboy and attended Holy Spirit Parish with her parents, Jean and Erik Barnes, and brother Nick. “You went to church on Sunday with the family and it was actually something synonymous with Sunday brunch at my grandmother’s house.”
When she enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, things began to change, she said.
“I got a lot of questions on ‘Why are you Catholic?’” Hare told The Compass. “I really didn’t have a good answer for them and … there was that breaking point. I could have said, ‘I don’t know and this is too hard’ or you can make the choice to say, ‘I know this is true, but why?’ And so I dove into it. I did a lot of research on my own.”
In addition to a lot of research on the internet, Hare said she began listening to Relevant Radio. “That was a big instrument to my faith journey, as well as Catholic Answers,” she said.
At the same time she was forming her faith at college, she began to participate in FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
“Then I went to a SEEK conference in San Antonio in January 2017. That was also a big turning point,” said Hare.
SEEK is a weekend conference sponsored by FOCUS which provides young adults with opportunities to celebrate and learn more about their faith. It includes liturgies, prayer opportunities and presentations by nationally-acclaimed Catholic speakers.
“FOCUS does an excellent job of bringing the faith to young adults,” said Hare. “I just love what they are doing. So much so that I actually worked for an internship (with FOCUS) in Colorado in their marketing department.”
The internship took place in the summer of 2018, and it was the first opportunity for Hare to realize she could seamlessly mesh her faith life and her professional life.
“It was a beautiful experience and I think that whet my palate for working in a church setting because, wow, you can actually love what you are doing from a professional standpoint,” she said. “Marrying the two was something I wanted to find” as a career.
The “marriage” was put on hold when Hare accepted a position with Element, a full-service advertising agency based in De Pere and Neenah, upon graduating from UW-Eau Claire in 2019 with a degree in marketing analytics.
“I worked with a variety of clients within the marketing and public relations fields,” said Hare.
Last September, she learned that the shrine was looking for a communications director.
“I had a couple of Catholic job searches on my phone,” she said. “This one, I looked at the job requirements and thought, ‘This is everything I want to be doing.’ I just feel like, even with my experience now, I know I’m a little young, but it was everything I’ve had experience in, so it seems like a fit.”
Hare was familiar with the shrine and excited to apply for the position. She said she made visits to Champion on her own to visit and pray.
“It wasn’t until college that I started to pay attention to what the shrine offered here,” she said. “Every single time I was coming up this way, I would try to make a stop.”
One memorable visit took place in the summer of 2019, when she and her boyfriend (now husband) Jonathan made a brief pilgrimage to Champion.
“We got the chance to go down into the oratory,” she said. “It was one of the first times being there alone. Having that experience to just pray, even out loud, with Mary, feeling this peace and this affirmation that this is where I’m supposed to be in this moment, I think it put a little hunger in myself to get involved with the church.”
Chelsey and Jonathan were married Oct. 22, 2021, on the feast of St. John Paul II.
Hare said it is an exciting time to be working at the national shrine.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to just bring people closer to the shrine,” she said. “I think there is so much opportunity for people to become aware that this is the only (approved) Marian apparition site in the United States. What a unique site in the Green Bay Diocese. There are so many people who have the opportunity to learn what it is. So it’s just the simple hope for me to bring that message to every household, not only in the Green Bay Diocese, but to the world.”
Among the duties Hare will oversee include revamping the shrine’s website and updating materials that are distributed to pilgrims.
“I’m very cognizant that the impact (of the work) that we’re doing at the shrine is going to be built for generations upon generations,” she said. “So making sure that we have timeless materials to hand out that can be evolved over time is going to be a really cool experience to do.”
Hare said that the same joy she experienced while learning and deepening her faith in college is the joy she hopes others can feel when visiting the shrine.
“I think there is so much opportunity to share the joy of the Catholic Church and to share a brilliant future for the Catholic Church,” she said. “My personalized mission — not only working at the shrine, but within parish life and as a Catholic — is just to bring that joy and be a witness to joy for the Catholic Church.”