In new book, deacon seeks to help people identify gifts

| January 10, 2018 | 2 Comments

Deacon Thom Winninger has built a career on purpose. A market strategy expert, he speaks to companies and groups across the country about understanding themselves in relation to those they serve. 

“If companies don’t purpose themselves at the highest need of their customers or patients or members, there’s no sustainability,” he said. “And I discovered that really is a truth of faith: If we’re so busy about what we do and not who we are that makes us what we do, then we’re going to miss it, because there’s something about each one of us that brings us to uniqueness.”

Living one’s purpose using their God-given gifts is the crux of Deacon Winninger’s new book, “Your True DNA: Discovering God’s Gift Within You” (St. Thomas Press 2017) — “DNA” meaning “Divine Natural Attribute.” The author of seven books, he has read popular books exploring purpose in one’s life, but was never satisfied with just self-awareness. He wanted a path, and he knew others wanted a path, too. The book, he said, is about discovering one’s call within a particular vocation.

“I am not defined by my work; I’m defined by who I am in my work,” he explained. 

“There’s a theological truth that came to me that says, ‘I cannot discover who I am in comparison with you. I can only discover myself in connection with God,’” he continued. “So, if I’m running around looking for role models, I’m probably going to miss myself. I’ve gotta be looking for God-things in my life, Christ-things in my life, encounters with Christ in my life, where whatever is happening is bigger than me.”  

Deacon Winninger, 69, who serves at Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, said the book is the product of what he describes as an “epiphany” he had before a presentation about 17 years ago. Before taking the stage, he questioned his own purpose in the world. Although he was a successful professional, he wasn’t gratified. 

Deacon Thom Winninger holds a copy of his new book, “Your True DNA: Discovering God’s Gift Within You,” in the pews of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, where he serves. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“All of a sudden, I arrived at the point where, there’s nothing more for me to do from a physical standpoint in my life,” said Deacon Winninger, who was 53 at the time. “I had accomplished what I thought I wanted. But there was no meaning, there was no fulfillment, and there was no joy.”

What followed was his enrollment at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul to earn a master’s degree in Catholic Studies. He was ordained a permanent deacon in 2006. 

With insights inspired by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and St. Ignatius of Loyola, the book is geared toward young adults who might not be in the place of life that they had imagined, and people 55 and older who need a “repurposing of a higher call” — often after retirement, Deacon Winninger said, adding that both segments are susceptible to wanting to know something bigger than them, and that “something” is God.

“I hope people come to the realization that God is in their life, and that will help them understand their life,” he said of the book’s readers. “I want people to get to know themselves well enough that they feel the meaning and the fulfillment and joy of having a purpose in his name, based on their gift.” 

He also hopes the book’s message will lead people to live virtuously. He points to when people come to him as a deacon for “practice confessions.”

“They’ll say, ‘I can’t quit doing this.’ That caught my attention,” he said. “So, you’re trying to quit sinning? I don’t think that’s the game. I think the game is to live in virtue and not worry about not sinning. … The intent is in the wrong place. Let’s pick out a virtue that you want to work on living.”

He said it’s a message that has resonated with Christians and non-Christians, but he doesn’t want the book dubbed a “Catholic book.” However, he calls it a “100 percent evangelization effort.” 

Deacon Winninger said that people who’ve read the book have approached him about a follow-up series to further “unpack” the message, but he doesn’t yet know what form that will take. For now, he directs people to his “Jesus Speaking” reflections on Our Lady of Lourdes’ website, 

The book is available for purchase at, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

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