A priest, SPO missionary and their parents reflect on vocation and effective evangelization

| Anne Fredrickson | August 9, 2018 | 0 Comments
Aimee Ellis and her brother, Father Joah Ellis, are both engaged in evangelization outreach.

Aimee Ellis and her brother, Father Joah Ellis, are both engaged in evangelization outreach. She’s a St. Paul’s Outreach missionary working in Florida, and he’s pastor of Our Lady of Peace in Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Evangelization” is a word that still makes some Catholics shrink back in their pews and bury their heads in their missals. But rather than hide from the call to spread the truth of Christ, the Ellis family has embraced it.

While they are called to live the mandate to evangelize differently, Father Joah Ellis, his sister Aimee and their parents, Dan and Carrie, all see evangelization as a core element in their vocations.

Evangelization, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “means bringing the Good News of Jesus into every human situation and seeking to convert individuals and society by the divine power of the Gospel itself.”

Following Jesus’ call to “go and make disciples of all nations,” members of the Ellis family share the love of Christ with others according to their different vocations — Dan and Carrie as a married couple and parents of five children, Father Ellis as a priest and pastor of Our Lady of Peace in Minneapolis, and Aimee as a lay missionary with St. Paul’s Outreach.

For Father Ellis, 31, evangelization is woven into all parts of his ministry as a parish priest.

“Evangelization in parish work is what we do already, if we’re aware of how we do it,” he said. “Many times, people come to prepare for sacraments like funerals and weddings and they haven’t been to church for a while, or have left deliberately, and we can use those opportunities to reach out to them. A lot of it is relationship and thinking about how we can establish relationship with the community.”

While Aimee’s vocation as a lay missionary working on a college campus at the University of Central Florida in Orlando is different from life in a parish, she shares Father Ellis’ mission of building relationships to spread the Gospel.

Aimee, 24, a chapter leader for St. Paul’s Outreach, supervises missionaries and ensures the vision of St. Paul’s Outreach — a national Catholic outreach to colleges that’s based in Inver Grove Heights — is being fulfilled at the university. The organization’s mission is to build communities that form college students to be lifelong, faithful Catholics. That is done by building relationships, starting with inviting students to small groups, hosting events, educating students with faith formation and providing opportunities for college students to live out their faith lives.

“Seeing the way the love of the Lord transforms people and brings them to peace and fulfillment, I can’t imagine not doing missionary work,” Aimee said.

Looking back, Aimee said she sees how God prepared her for her vocation.

“In my junior year of college, people had been telling me to become a missionary, but I’m the kind of person if you tell me to do something, it makes me not want to do it. No way, not doing it,” she said with a laugh.

But a speaker at a conference the summer before her senior year at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul compelled her to be open to the idea.

She was also inspired by an experience with a coworker while she was at St. Thomas. Aimee and the coworker, who was atheist, would often discuss social issues and hard teachings of the Catholic Church. When her coworker expected Aimee to hate a certain group of people, Aimee explained that the faith teaches instead to love all people and that everyone has a place in the Church.

“My coworker replied that if every Catholic responded with such love, she would convert tomorrow,” Aimee recalled. “I realized all [that] students are looking for is love. They don’t really need people to agree with them. I wanted to spread this message of love, and that was the first seeds of evangelization for me.”

Father Ellis’ path to his vocation was more gradual. Inspired by experienced priests including Father Bernard Reiser, Father Bill Baer and Father Tom Wilson, he always knew the priesthood was an option, although he admits not giving it real thought until his high school years.

“I first went to Team Vianney events [in St. Paul] for the pizza,” Father Ellis said, speaking of St. John Vianney College Seminary’s outreach to teenagers. “Father Baer did most of the talks, and he was dynamic. I saw these other guys and realized they’re not much older than I am, not much different than I am, and I thought I could do this. I got to see that priests are real human beings, and I needed to know that.”

Through entering St. John Vianney, participating in service and outreach opportunities, and entering the St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Father Ellis felt priesthood was what God was calling him to do.

“I had peace with each step,” he said.

Both Father Ellis and Aimee credit their parents with creating a home life that encouraged them in their love of the faith.

“Our parents really provided a solid base of loving the Lord with daily Mass, family prayer and homeschooling,” Aimee said. “My parents led me to my vocation and always showed me that the Lord has a plan for me and helped me be open to following that.”

Dan and Carrie, who live in St. Cloud and worship at St. Mary’s Cathedral there, raised their family in Blaine and attended Epiphany in Coon Rapids during that time. Father Ellis and Aimee are their first and third children; the others are Jared, 28; Tia, 22; and Tobias, 17.

Dan and Carrie emphasize that their family is not perfect, but they point to the importance of daily Mass as the foundation in their family’s faith life.

They try to “live our faith with excitement because the kingdom of heaven is celebration,” Dan said.

As the primary homeschool teacher, Carrie has been intentional about weaving the Catholic faith into every subject.

“I grew up with a separation of church and home,” she said. “We went to church on Sunday and that was separate from the rest of our week. We’ve [she and Dan] tried to bring the richness of the Catholic faith into our family life, celebrating the lives of the saints, feast days and solemnities of the liturgical year.”

In helping their children find their vocations, the Ellises prayed constantly.

“From early on, we prayed for our kids’ vocations,” Carrie said. “We never steered them except to be open to do God’s will and encourage them to explore what God is calling them to do. We just wanted them to listen to their call and embrace it.”

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