Jennifer Melke Marks
This summer Dayton Associate Jennifer Melke Marks was welcomed as the new Northeast Associate Regional Representative joining six other reps divided amongst five geographic regions. Jennifer, who lives in Brookville, Ohio, with her husband, Chris, and their two dogs, made her commitment as an Associate in Mission in June 2010. “The Associate commitment celebration was a day that I will always treasure in my heart as being one of the most important and special in my life,” she says.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Arts and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry. I have taught both theology and art and worked in parish ministry for several years. Currently, I substitute teach and work at Carillon Historical Park, a 65-acre park and museum containing historic buildings and exhibits concerning the history of Dayton, Ohio.
I have a strong interest in social justice issues. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of serving on the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Social Action Commission and Catholic Relief Services Committee as well as other various social justice ministries. I continue to look for opportunities to engage in advocacy and education on social justice issues, especially on environmental sustainability.
I have also volunteered at various nonprofits, my favorite being We Care Arts in Kettering, a nonprofit serving persons with disabilities through art. After the pandemic I hope to become involved as a volunteer for the Marianist Environmental Education Center, a Marianist organization working to educate on sustainability through ecology-based simple living, social justice, and spirituality as well as the Mission of Mary Cooperative, an organization working towards sustainable urban development in Dayton.
In my spare time, I enjoy listening to my husband, who is a music teacher and musician, play the trumpet, keyboards, guitar, and other instruments both at home and out in public with his band. I also enjoy working on my artwork (drawing, painting, and printmaking), spending time with my husband, reading, snuggling with my dogs on the couch, attending my lay Marianist meetings, practicing yoga, and doing Zumba® workouts.
How did you meet the Sisters of Charity?
Lois Jean Goettke was my principal at Bishop Leibold School. She made such a positive impression on me. It was from her that I learned what religious life could be. In 2006 I began working at St. Brigid in Xenia as the coordinator of youth ministry. It was there that I really began to develop an interest in the Sisters of Charity. While at St. Brigid, I had the pleasure of working with and becoming friends with S. Cory Canon, a Greensburg Sister of Charity. It was a combination of our conversations together and working on the school’s Mother Seton committee that I became familiar with Mother Seton’s story and the mission and charism of the Sisters of Charity. I had also become friends with Sophie Henrichs (now Metzger), who at the time had begun the formation process with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. She invited me to my first Associate meeting. It was there that I met S. Fran Trampiets, who later became my companion for the Associate formation process.
What made you interested in becoming an Associate? What is so special about this Community?
The Sisters and Associates are such faith-filled, strong, intelligent, wise, and forward-thinking women. I knew when I met them that I wanted to be a part of this amazing group of women. I felt that I had found a home spiritually with the Sisters and Associates. These women are kindred spirits. I look up to them as role models as to what I hope to become one day.
The Sisters and Associates never fail to amaze and inspire me. I love listening to, as well as reading about, how the Sisters and other Associates minister to God’s people. It is exciting to see how they use their gifts and talents to serve others, especially the marginalized. So many bring such creativity, energy, determination, passion, and hard work in their service to others, which I think is a trademark of the Sisters of Charity beginning with Mother Seton herself!
I hold close to my heart the conversations and sharing of faith that comes out of the Associate meetings I have attended. It never fails that at every meeting Peter’s words from the Transfiguration always come to mind, “Lord, it is good that we are here!” How can I help but have those words come to mind when there is such a sense of the holy and sacred in our being together, women of different ages and backgrounds, sharing and encouraging one another on our journey as followers of Christ. I always walk away feeling refreshed, recharged, and supported as I go out into the world to live out the mission and charism of the Sisters of Charity and its Associates in my everyday life. What a blessing and what gratitude I have!
How do you stay connected to the Community?
I have been attending the monthly “Associate Share” Zoom meetings as well as S. Caroljean Willie’s EarthConnection presentations. In my personal prayer as well as my time spent at our Associate meetings, I am constantly being called back to a life of simplicity, charity, and humility. Oftentimes this is in small ways. For example, remembering to buy only what I need and reusing when possible. Or, it could be remembering to offer warmth, patience, and kindness in my daily interactions with others. At other times, it is something that requires more intentionality, commitment, and effort. For example, making time to forge meaningful relationships with others, especially those who are marginalized. I am always striving to live out more deeply the spirit and example of Mother Seton in my life in other ways as well. Her deep intimate love for God and knowing that God was present and active in her everyday life reminds me to reflect on where God was present during my day. Her love of nature reminds me that I constantly need to be looking for more ways that I can be a good steward of Earth and to deepen my ecological spirituality.
Tell us a little about your new role as a Regional Rep? What are you most excited about? What do you hope to bring to this role?
I am thrilled to be the new Regional Representative for the Associates in the Northeast. I will be an additional person for Associates to connect with and to deepen and foster their relationship as an Associate of the Sisters of Charity. One of the things that I have admired most about Mother Seton was the time and commitment she put into cultivating deep relationships, even to the point of writing letters well into the night to do so! I look forward to building authentic relationships and involvement within the Northeast Region of Associates. I also hope to bring my experience in ministry with faith formation into this role.