Jennifer Williams is the Web editor for the Catholic Review.


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October 2013

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Thanks, Rita! It was a fun and random opportunity that really added some joy to my day.


Love this one, Jenn! What a fun event! And the video is adorable.



Faith Inspiration Uncategorized
Be Inspired

Thumbs up for Pope Francis

You often hear from business experts and successful people that image is everything and attitude matters.

Pope Francis, the world’s 266th pontiff, may not lead a Fortune 500 company, but the former Buenos Aires prelate is in the business of building up the Catholic Church and spreading the Gospel message.

It’s estimated that roughly one in six people around the world have no religious affiliation. Yet somehow, people are paying attention to Pope Francis. He has been dubbed “the people’s pope,” and Time Magazine named him its person of the year.

Leaders say this faithful Jesuit pope carries the same message and adherence to church teaching as his predecessors, so why is he different? What has he done to make people stop and pay attention – to thrust the Catholic Church into a positive limelight?

The 77-year-old pope certainly has some eloquent analogies that can roll off his tongue in Spanish, Italian, Portuquese, French, German, Ukrainian or Latin. But prose alone won’t land you on the cover of a magazine.

By now we have probably seen hundreds of photos of the faithful leader kissing the heads of babies, reaching out to touch those who are sick and showing his humility by washing the feet of inmates or driving off in a Ford Focus.

Pope Francis waves from a Ford Focus car as he leaves a Marian prayer service near the Spanish Steps in Rome Dec. 8, 2013, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

While these are all meaningful, there’s something else the pope has been doing that I think perfectly depicts his simplicity, his efforts to reach out to everyone, his positive outlook and his showing that he is one of us and he is with us.

It’s the thumbs up.

If you look at Catholic News Service photos since the pope celebrated his inaugural Mass nearly a year ago, there are a minimum of a dozen pictures of the pope giving a thumbs up.

And it’s not just any thumbs up. It’s a wholehearted, all out gesture, accompanied by a broad smile and wide eyes. Sometimes – it’s even a double thumbs up.

He did it before his March 19, 2013 inaugural Mass.

Pope Francis gives a thumbs up as he makes his way around St. Peter's Square before his Mass of inauguration March 19, 2013 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales)

He did it after celebrating Palm Sunday Mass.

Pope Francis gives a thumbs up as he leaves St. Peter's Square after celebrating Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican March 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

He’s done it at his general audiences and he even did it as he met with patients, family and staff at St. Francis of Assisi Hospital in Rio de Janeiro in July.

Pope Francis gives a thumbs up as he meets with patients, family and staff at St. Francis of Assisi Hospital in Rio de Janeiro July 24, 2013. The pope addressed a group of recovering drug addicts offering them a message of compassion and hope as well as a call to self-determination. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

He’s done it for young people in Italy and most recently at the Vatican Jan. 29.

Pope Francis gives two thumbs up as he leaves his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 12, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

Pope Francis gives the thumbs up during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Jan. 29. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Image and attitude do matter – and when you’re humble and down-to-earth enough to offer an enthusiastic thumbs up time and time again, I think that positive outlook resonates with people. The gesture is simple, but in a world with school shootings, riots, wars, typhoons, etc., it’s a simple and genuine sign of hope.





February 28, 2014 05:04
By Jennifer Williams

How judging a dog show taught me some new tricks

Sometimes your career can carry you into unexpected territory. That’s what happened to me Oct. 25 when I served as a judge for the Oak Crest Canine Cup III as the Oak Crest retirement community in Parkville.

Although I have a love for our canine friends, I don’t actually own a dog, and I suspect it was my blog on the death of my cat and getting back on track after the loss that inspired Public Affairs Manager Jeff Getek to invite me to this warm and fuzzy opportunity.

My fellow esteemed judges, Gary Hibbs, executive director of Oak Crest, and Danielle Singley, home team program manager for the Baltimore Department of Aging, and I used a four-paw scoring system in the contest, with four paws being the highest mark.

As I returned to the office after this less than two-hour event, it occurred to me that I give “four paws” to shaking things up at work. Here are the “tricks” I learned from judging a dog show.

  • 1.       It’s fun. It was so enjoyable to get out of the office on a beautiful morning and to see the joy of the employees and senior residents as they interacted with their dogs.
  • 2.       It’s a wonderful networking opportunity. In addition to my fellow judges, I also met Chris Giesler, sales director at Erickson, and several lovely residents of Oak Crest.
  • 3.       It’s refreshing and energizing to try new opportunities. The room was filled with so much laughter as we judged for best-dressed, best kiss, best trick and best in show. Watching dogs such as “Raven” flip a dog treat from his nose to his mouth was so lighthearted, it made me momentarily forget about any stress or pressure in my life.
  • 4.       An opportunity such as a judging a dog show really reminds you of the simpler things in life. The connection between a human and his or her pet is so basic – filled with love, commitment and trust. Knowing some dogs such as a poodle, “Suzie,” also serve as therapy dogs for the senior residents is humbling and touching. “This little doggie can really put a smile on their faces,” said her owner, Flo Trimble.
  • 5.       Witnessing the enthusiasm in that room affected my mood and even followed me back to the workplace as I continued my day. It’s even still present today, as I write this blog post.
Catherine Cohen and her dog, "Zoey," won for Best Kiss in the Oak Crest Canine Cup III Oct. 25. 

So I encourage you, every so often, shake things up at work. Whether you go volunteer in the community, take some time to work a trade show, switch roles with someone at work, or even go to a different zip code for a working lunch, step outside the box every so often.

To close, I’ll leave you with this video of German shepherd “Zoey,” also a volunteer dog, and her owner, Catherine.

Cuteness alert*** The pair won for best kiss.



October 28, 2013 02:19
By Jennifer Williams

In a slump? Get back on track

Anyone can fall into a slump. Personal life issues, struggles with a career, or in my case, saying goodbye to a longtime pet, can cause this sudden sadness and lack of energy and motivation.

Working out, particularly running, is my thing. But for five days I did nothing. And that nothing came with a heavy topping of pizza and ice cream.

So, how did I snap myself out of this spiral of gloom?

Well watching the movie “Eat Pray Love” (more than once I might add) as I nestled myself into the sofa, did teach me something. During Liz’s (played by Julia Roberts) travels to India she befriends Robert, who tells her “You’re going to have to learn to select your thoughts the same way you select your clothes every day.”

I do respect the power of positive thinking and an “attitude of gratitude.” But even those uplifting thoughts weren’t propelling me from my spot on the couch when I got home from work.

Then yesterday I received an email pitch from the public affairs manager at Oak Crest, a retirement community in Parkville, that did change my outlook.

In this email, Jeff Getek pitched a story about residents who were being honored for their particular commitment and dedication to fitness. One resident, 89-year-old Sid George, was recognized for completing 3,042 workouts. (Six other residents were also honored for more than 2,000 workouts.) As soon as I read that email, I knew I was going to the gym. If Sid George could do it, so could I.

Sid George during his early morning workout at the Oak Crest fitness center.
(Courtesy Jeff Getek)

Turns out Sid really is quite serious about fitness. He works out for 90 minutes, four times a week, beginning at 6 a.m. He served in the United States Marine Corps in both World War II and the Korean War, so staying in shape has been part of his life for a long time. Thanks for the inspiration, Sid!

Life isn’t always a bed of roses. Here are some tips for when you find yourself in a little slump.

1.       Exercise. The president of Sony TV wakes up at 4 a.m. to do Pilates. Not feeling that level of motivation? Try taking a 10-minute walk with a co-worker. It will get you away from your desk and boost your spirits.

2.      Spend time with family, close friends and neighbors. These people are your support system. They will offer the cards, kind words, jokes, dinner and laughter that will get you moving again.

3.      Pray. As Mahatma Gandhi says, “Prayer is not an old woman's idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.”

4.      Think positive thoughts. In baseball, it is recommended that to get yourself out of a slump, you need to visualize yourself hitting the ball. So clear your head of any negativity and envision yourself doing positive things. You can't always control what happens to you in life, but you can control how you react. Try to stay positive.

5.      Think of others. Take the focus off yourself and think about helping someone in need, cleaning up a local park or even just offering a listening ear to a friend. Giving to others has a funny way of making you feel good. 

What is your inspiration when you hit a rut?

August 15, 2013 07:10
By Jennifer Williams

A cat’s funeral and chocolate lava cake

I woke up Tuesday, Aug. 6 with a sense of dread. I’d spent the night before pouring my heart out to my sick cat, Payton, telling him what a loyal and wonderful cat he had been.

I know he’s a cat, but just in case he understood, I wanted him to know what he’d meant to me in the last 11.5 years of my life.

He’d been suffering from severe arthritis, significant weight loss and senility, and a neighbor confirmed what I already knew – it was time.

So on this particular morning, after a night intermingled with my tears and Payton’s purring (yes he still purred through it all), I stood in front of my closet and pondered, “What do you wear to a cat’s funeral?”

Payton and his sister Phoebe were a gift to me – two tiny, adorable orange tabby bundles of joy that I fell in love with on the spot. Turns out they were the kind of gift that kept on giving – from the laughter they brought as curious kittens to the loyalty they demonstrated by running to my front glass door each evening as I returned from work.

“Boy and Girl,” as I affectionately dubbed them, offered purrs, headbutts and snuggles when I was almost engaged, but wasn’t, and the six heartbreaking months that followed. They were there when I left the county and transitioned to the city about seven years ago – a solid source of comfort in my otherwise changing life. They’ve been there for all the laughter that has ensued from hanging out with the neighbors and soaked up the sun with me on gorgeous spring days on my back patio. They’ve left plenty of hairballs yet shared a multitude of purrs.

Payton was particularly clever … having discovered that if he opened up my jewelry box using his claws, then snagged a necklace and dropped it on the floor, I was bound to finally get up and feed him his breakfast. Either that or he’d stand on his hind legs and slam my bedroom door shut and then look at me with that “Well now you need to get up and let me out look.”

Everything felt empty after I said goodbye. I looked at the tattered blue collar that no longer held my cat, the empty carrier in the back seat of the car – and I cried for the loss of my friend. As tears plopped onto the yellow skirt I chose to wear, I reminded myself that I wanted to be happy for the life he lived and the joy he brought to me.

I got home and discovered a card from neighbors in the mailbox. Others came over to talk to me about the day. On Facebook, people offered kind and supportive messages. Another neighbor made dinner, even offering a chocolate lava cake with raspberries for dessert. As I finished that chocolate cake and went home to snuggle with Phoebe, I realized that while days such as this are never easy, and my life was a little bit empty, it was also very full.

August 07, 2013 09:12
By Jennifer Williams

It’s not all about you

A former co-worker and I had a running joke. When one of us complained about stuff or spoke of being really excited about something, the other would lean over and chime in, “Umm, it’s not all about you.”

Even though we were kidding around, the truth is that life is definitely not about any one person.

I’ve been so inspired lately by friends giving back to the community. A big group of friends participated in or donated to the March of Dimes March for Babies this past weekend, a friend ran the half marathon for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital April 27 and another is running to raise money for ALS research at Johns Hopkins this weekend.

Today, my friend Leigh organized a small group of us to volunteer to serve breakfast at the Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore. I’ve always admired Leigh’s sense of enthusiasm and her leadership when it comes to rallying, organizing and giving back. We brought our assigned breakfast food and came in and prepared sausage, scrambled eggs, pancakes, biscuits and gravy and pastries … all with a sense of camaraderie.

Every person who ate was so courteous and thankful, and we were particularly charmed by one young man, Zeq, whose story you can find on his Facebook page.

As we were standing in the kitchen, another friend commented that your problems suddenly don’t seem so significant when you hear about the situations some people are facing, such as trying to raise $15,000 for a therapy dog so your child can attend school.

I’m often in awe of people who dedicate so much of their time to volunteering, and I hope to follow in the footsteps of people like Leigh, who always seem to do so with such boundless energy.

It reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books, “tuesdays with Morrie.”

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” – Mitch Albom

So as you go through this week and those to come, try to do something to give back. And remember that it's not all about you.

May 03, 2013 09:46
By Jennifer Williams

Why your attitude at work is everything

I’ve read inspirational blogs or articles from life coaches that say when it comes to success - just as important as talent, smarts and having the right people in your corner - is attitude.

Positive people put forth a more attractive energy and according to research, seem to stay healthier, have better relationships and do well in their careers.

What I like about this approach is that it applies to all levels of people and all arenas of work. Whether you’re a sanitation worker or a CEO, your attitude can contribute to the level of success you enjoy in your career. The level of energy and enthusiasm you put into your work can directly impact your own career and also inspire those around you.

If you’re looking for a little motivation/inspiration to help your attitude, check out this story by Dave Kerpen, chairman of Likeable Media and see how he transformed a seemingly mundane job into one worthy of celebrity status.

April 30, 2013 02:00
By Jennifer Williams

How Boston Magazine ties it all together

In the media industry, creativity is paramount. Successfully executing/packaging creative thoughts, messages, ideas and stories is what we strive to do.

This week, CRMedia launched a Mother’s Day contest inviting people to nominate a deserving mom in their life to win a bouquet of flowers. To complement our promotional campaign we produced a 30-second video spot. Thirty seconds may not seem like much, but to produce a video of that length required writing copy, collecting photos for B-roll, having our art director design images, recording voice overs, selecting background music and then having our photographer artistically package it together .

That experience is why I have so much appreciation for what Boston Magazine did with its latest issue. The staff at the publication was tremendously affected by what happened in their city and they knew they had a huge challenge ahead of them to completely scrap their existing cover and feature story and replace them with something truly meaningful.

And they did it.

In just three days, staffers came up with the powerful concept of collecting 120 pairs of running shoes worn in the marathon and telling the stories of those runners. Everyone on staff chipped in to solicit shoes, interview all 120 runners and even drive the shoes to New York for a photo shoot. What evolved is moving and inspiring.

Read this blog by the editor to find out how and why they did it. What do you think?

April 26, 2013 12:01
By Jennifer Williams

Hallowed roads

David Stevenson was on a bus on the way to his hotel when the bombs went off in Boston.

An avid runner, Stevenson had completed the 26.2-mile trek in 3 hours and 14 minutes.

His feet had already pounded down the streets of Boston and across the finish line. The 37-year-old had already flashed a jubilant smile as he and a friend posed for a picture with a bottle of champagne.

The 1993 John Carroll graduate was looking forward to attending the post-race celebration with friends later that night.

That all changed when he heard the tragic news, and Stevenson instead spent the remainder of his day in his hotel room watching the news and attempting to reach out to friends and family.

Prior to the race, someone had posted a note of congratulations and good luck on Stevenson’s Facebook page. It was addressed to a group who would be running the marathon and it said: “It’s a gift to be running on those hallowed roads.”

Those words struck me as particularly poignant. They are just roads – pavement after all. But thinking of all they have absorbed – the hopes, dreams and determination of hundreds of thousands of runners – and now the blood, tears and anguish of those involved in the tragedy – I feel they are hallowed roads indeed.

Runners such as Stevenson know the Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest and most prestigious annual marathon.

“It is the ultimate focus of many a runner to achieve a BQ (Boston Qualifier) and truly earn the opportunity to run these streets on the third Monday in April,” Stevenson said in a written message to The Catholic Review. “It is the only race where you absolutely must qualify. Individuals are often overcome with emotion just knowing that they have finally achieved this goal through tremendous hard work and sacrifice.”

Stevenson was quick to point out that “Nothing will change that.” He was also quick to say that the tragedy will not tear people apart.

“I feel for those who had their dream of running down Boylston Street to the finish line shattered,” he said. “For many it was likely a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am heartbroken for those who had their lives altered, ruined, or taken away from them. The perpetrators of this disgusting act and others like it think they can bring us down and tear us apart. They have yet to realize that it only serves to bolster our unity.”

Adidas has announced it will donate all proceeds from the sale

of its new “Boston stands as one” T-shirt to The One Fund,

which was established to aid victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

April 18, 2013 02:19
By Jennifer Williams

Memories and lessons from Mary Corey

Before I came to the Catholic Review and worked under the immensely insightful direction of the late writer and editor Christopher Gaul, I had another mentor.

Baltimore Sun editor Mary Corey spoke on a career panel at what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University. I was a senior, and it was her alma mater. Afterward, I scheduled a day to shadow Mary in her job as features editor for the Baltimore Sun. Impressed with her and my experience there, I took to writing letters and making phone calls to try and secure an internship at the newspaper. Much to my delight - after numerous phone calls - I was finally granted permission to work with Mary. I was 22 at the time, and she was 36.

I can still picture my work area on the fifth floor, where I was stationed near food editor Suzanne Loudermilk, the copyeditors and sports reporters.

For me, it was an internship dream come true. Under Mary’s watchful eye, I had the opportunity to craft stories on topics ranging from a twist on traditional prom attire to Maryland wineries to landscape architecture.

Her voice may have been soft spoken, but Mary’s message was strong. She expected the best out of me and pored over my copy line by line, asking questions and making suggestions.

Occasionally I would write articles for the food section, and Suzanne was the same way. I’ll never forget that after interviewing Kevin Atticks, a journalism teacher at Loyola University who had recently written “Discovering Maryland Wineries,” they both had the same question.

I had written that Atticks adjusted his glasses. “What type of glasses were they?” they wanted to know. I paused to think and recalled, “They were wire-rimmed glasses.” Then one of them asked, “silver, gold, brown?” I remember feeling as though I had let them down when I didn’t know the answer, but it was an invaluable teaching moment for me. Pay attention to detail.

About a year later, I did a freelance piece for the Sun on a local candy maker. In addition to the sights and smells of the shop, I of course noted the owner’s blue eyes and gray wire-rimmed glasses.

One of the more interesting articles Mary had me do was to track down the origins of the popular Baz Luhrmann song, “Wear Sunscreen.” (Did I mention this was 1999?)

Turns out, it was a mock graduation speech written by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, that just happened to become one the most requested songs on alternative radio stations.

At Mary’s suggestion, I compared the words to the lyrics of “Desiderata.”

At the end of the article, I wrote “Desiderata advises: ‘If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.’

Or, as Schmich counsels, ‘Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.’ ”

I was stunned when I read that Mary died Feb. 26, at the age of 49, following a battle with breast cancer.

Comments I read about her on Twitter and following a Baltimore Sun article included, “Mary was a class act all the way,” and “What a loss of a shining star.”

After my internship was complete, Mary forged ahead in her career, becoming the first woman to lead the Sun’s newsroom.

For Mary, the race was great indeed.



February 27, 2013 02:08
By Jennifer Williams

Pumpkin finds his ‘forever home’


My Aunt Cheryl has developed an increasingly huge soft spot for animals and has been serving as a foster parent to a menagerie of creatures.

It’s no easy feat, considering many of the animals must be bottle fed and require hourly care. And with no mother cat to care for kittens, it often requires quite a bit of cleaning as well.

But my aunt (and my uncle too), seem blissfully content caring for these creatures.

In late October, my aunt brought a box with one tiny kitten to a family reunion. As the tiny tan and white kitty stumbled weakly around on his heated blanket looking for just the right spot to nestle in, I asked “Will he live?” My aunt said she didn’t know and that only time would tell.

Well after months of tediously tending to the kitty, my aunt just reported that “Pumpkin” not only survived, but was recently adopted into his “forever home.”

So a big thank you to all those who open their homes and hearts to animals in need.

Speaking of which, when I interviewed Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker in early October, he told me that his family had two pugs growing up and that at any time they usually had four cats. Justin spoke with particular pride about his cat, which was rescued from flood waters.

“Mom took him to the shelter and they said they were going to put him down, so I actually named him after my friend who passed away,” Tucker said. “Andrew is a good little tailless cat.”

With a big grin, Tucker spoke about Andrew’s agility when it comes to scaling great heights. “He’s got some pretty serious hops,” he said.

Hopefully Pumpkin will as well. Check out some pics of Pumpkin's progress.

Also see: Ravens Justin Tucker big on football and faith


January 28, 2013 03:37
By Jennifer Williams

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