The Department of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship welcomes a new Associate Director of Family Ministry. Get to know our new coworker in mission, Nicole Joyce, and what she brings to help unleash the Gospel in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
As the new Associate Director of Family Ministry, can you share a bit about how your personal family life has affected your journey as a missionary disciple?
I’ve been married for almost 18 years, and my husband is a convert to the Catholic faith. We have four children. My oldest son is 14 years old, and he is on the Autism spectrum. I also have a 12 year-old son, a 10 year-old son and a 7 year-old daughter. We have three cats and a dog, too!
I first got involved in family life ministry when we had two children, and were expecting our third. I had previously been attending a moms group at a neighboring church, and I found it to be supportive and welcoming in such a beautiful way, that I wanted to bring that ministry to my home parish. Since that first moms group, our oldest son has been diagnosed with Autism, and we’ve suffered the loss of three pregnancies.
The challenges that we’ve faced in raising our family have shaped the way I live as a missionary disciple. I’ve come to know the Lord as a God who meets me in my wounds, who walks with me in my struggles, strengthens me when I feel discouraged. I’ve come to understand that every missionary disciple’s journey is unique, and rarely moves in a straight line. This has shaped my personal prayer life, in that I am constantly asked to surrender my worries to the Lord, and to entrust my family to his care.
Tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to this new role at the Archdiocese of Detroit.
In 2012, I came to work for the Archdiocese of Detroit in the Safe Environments Office, while still volunteering at my home parish. I was in graduate school at Sacred Heart Major Seminary at the time, pursuing a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies. After my daughter was born, I left the office to stay home with my still young, but much bigger family, and graduated a few months later. I worked from home part-time teaching Natural Family Planning, volunteering in family life ministry, and as a catechist. I also taught Theology of the Body at a local Catholic school, and formation for our seminarians on NFP. In 2019, the summer before my daughter started kindergarten, I applied to work as the Natural Family Planning Coordinator and returned to the office. I worked with the marriage and family team developing new NFP programming, marriage preparation materials, and building relationships with parishes and clergy.
In 2021, I was asked to take on work in Family Support Ministry, which is a new initiative within Families of Parishes, designed to support families struggling in different circumstances, including some that are near and dear to my heart: families raising children with disabilities, families who have lost a loved one, and couples facing infertility. Earlier this year, when I was asked about stepping into the associate director role, my immediate response was to take it to prayer. In prayer and discernment, I felt the Lord calling me to minister out of my own experience, to serve families in the Archdiocese of Detroit, and to support parents in building up the domestic Church.
What experiences in your life have deepened your appreciation for the work you get to do as the Associate Director of Family Ministry?
In addition to raising my son with disabilities and suffering the loss of three pregnancies, we’ve also gone through a difficult period of underemployment. We struggled financially to make ends meet, and my husband and I worried how we would pay our bills and feed our family at the same time. We were very fortunate in our relationship, because we could have easily fallen to temptation in our despair. Instead, we leaned on each other, prayed perseveringly with each other and for each other, and poured our love into one another to be a source of strength. I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of praying as a couple and as a family, and how important it is for families to feel like they belong and are loved by their parish community.
Before I came to work for the Church the first time in 2011, my husband and I both worked in retail management. We were rarely home together on the same day or on a Sunday to attend Mass together. Our schedules were stressful, and our workdays were long. We are also a biracial family, because I’m Korean and my husband is half Italian. In many ways, our family life didn’t take the form of the majority population, due in part to our work in the service industry, and also to our cultural differences. I’m grateful for these experiences, because they remind me to minister to every type of family—not just the ones we read about in storybooks, or the ones we see in magazine ads. Family Ministry is for every family: small, large, blended, and broken. I’m honored to bring that perspective to what we do in our office. I love what I do in this job, because I know how wonderful the fruits of this labor can be.
What books, articles, letters, or other resources have profoundly affected the way you approach Family Ministry?
I love to read, so I have a pretty long list! The first two that come to mind right away are Familiaris consortio and Theology of the Body, both by now St. John Paul II.
Familiaris Consortio is a beautiful apostolic exhortation that draws a kind of road map, or master plan, for God’s design for the human family. In it, John Paul II says, “Thus, with love as its point of departure and making constant reference to it, the recent Synod emphasized four general tasks for the family: 1) forming a community of persons; 2) serving life; 3) participating in the development of society; 4) sharing in the life and mission of the Church” (17). These four “general tasks” envelop my vision for Family Ministry. The Office of Family Ministry will work to support, encourage, and empower parents in building authentic relationships with their children and with each other, to remain open to the gift of life and defend the unborn, to build up the Church and the world through Catholic social teaching, and to preach the Gospel in word and in deed within the context of family life.
Theology of the Body is a Christian anthropology that teaches us about our identities as whole persons, alive in Christ, beloved by the Lord, and created in order to love and be loved. Anyone who’s met me already knows that I’m passionate about raising our young people to know this truth, and how to apply it to their lives at every stage of development. John Paull II tells us that we can only know ourselves through a sincere gift of self. I feel deeply that families today thirst for this knowledge, and are drawn to this truth, but often find it challenging in the face of contemporary culture and all its empty promises. Family Ministry is about inviting families into a deeper relationship with Christ in a way that opens their hearts to receive God’s love, to resist worldly temptations, and to enter into relationships of authentic love and self-gift.
On a more practical note, I really appreciate the work of Rosalind Wiseman, who wrote Queen Bees & Wannabes and Masterminds & Wingmen. Her books, although not explicitly Catholic, speak to the social culture of our young people as they come up through middle school and high school, and how we can accompany and guide them in a way that facilitates independent thinking, positive self-image, and good decision making. She is also the founder of Cultures of Dignity and Owning Up, programs dedicated to teaching tweens and teens about every person’s human dignity and practical skills to uphold those values, like exercising assertiveness, resolving conflict, handling bullies, and gossip.
The first two works from St. John Paul II combined lay a foundation for Family Ministry that provides opportunity for personal encounter with Jesus, forms parents in their individual faith, equips parents to raise and educate their children, accompanies families on their journey as missionary disciples, and supports struggling families. Rosalind Wiseman’s work inspires and motivates me to make sure that our ministry to families with school-aged children also includes teaching real-world skills that help young people live as missionary disciples, interact with their peers and family members, and uphold the human dignity of every person. My goal for Family Ministry is to offer a holistic approach that includes spiritual formation as well as human and practical support and skills development. I want to build up the domestic Church from the inside out.
What are your goals for the Office of Family Ministry in your first year?
We have a lot planned in the next 12 months! We’ve already started work in marriage enrichment with initiatives like Together in Holiness, and marriage support ministry is growing with Marriage Coaching Ministry.
Two projects coming soon that I’m really excited about Teen STAR and Moral Milestones. Teen STAR is a curriculum for middle schoolers that integrates Theology of the Body, social-emotional education, and reproductive health. This program will be accompanied by Moral Milestones, which includes parent workshops and a searchable online catalog of resources for parents on how to talk with their kids and support them through different stages of physical, emotional, and spiritual development. We’re also working on formation for ministry to persons with disabilities, divorce recovery ministry, and grief support, among others.
Why do you think strong Family Ministry in families of parishes is so critical for the Archdiocese of Detroit, at this particular moment?
I think parish leaders all agree that families today are in crisis. Archbishop Vigneron notes this in Guidepost 7 of Unleash the Gospel when he says: “… It is impossible to overestimate the centrality of the family in the passing on of faith from one generation to the next. “The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought” (Ps 22:32). Yet we are all too aware that the family today is in crisis. We live in a society that devalues human life, rejects the plan of God for marriage, and redefines the family according to human ideas. Symptoms of the crisis include (but are not limited to) divorce, cohabitation, single parenthood, pornography, gender confusion, the isolation caused by individualism, a culture that views children and the elderly as burdens, and the stresses of modern life that prevent families from spending time together. Families today face unprecedented challenges, and for this reason our local Church must commit a major portion of her resources to supporting families and helping them live out their call to holiness.”
The need for Family Ministry is urgent. Families need guidance, encouragement, and support in the face of all the challenges the archbishop names above. The Families of Parishes structure offers a unique opportunity for parishes to collaborate and combine their ministry efforts to minister to families, both on an economy of scale and a wider range of resource offerings that a single parish may not be able to offer. We can’t wait for a better time of year, or a less stressful season to start ministering to families. Our families need to know they are loved, to experience a sense of belonging and support, and to be formed as missionary disciples to grow the Church.
How will a strong Family Ministry in our Archdiocese help to unleash the Gospel in southeast Michigan?
I’m going back to the pastoral letter again on this one, because Archbishop Vigneron tell us that “Families are at the very heart of archdiocesan efforts to unleash the Gospel, because they are the first and most important setting in which evangelization takes place” (Guidepost 7).
It is in the family that children learn to live the life of a missionary disciple. The domestic Church mirrors what the Church universal does on a larger scale. The archbishop calls family life a daily “liturgy” where we enter into prayer, sacrifice, acts of service, and forgiveness. Ministry to families in the Archdiocese of Detroit is how we will raise up new missionary disciples. It is helping family members first minister to each other; it is showing them how they model the sacraments within family life. This is their first witness, and from there, they move outward, serving the Church, their communities, and the world, as they grow in age, but also in faith and love. “In order to form healthy Christian families themselves, they need to see what it looks like; they need both teaching and models” (Marker 7.3). It’s our job in Family Ministry to model true Christian witness, accompany parents, and support families as they witness their faith.
How can parish leaders get in touch with you?
Parish leaders can email me at [email protected], or call me at (313) 237-5776. I’d love to hear what your family of about what’s working and how I can help.