Janelle Gergen

Catholic Media Blog,

Tell us about your background and how you ended up working in Catholic media.

After completing my undergraduate education at Minnesota State University, Mankato, I held a marketing position in student affairs/ health education, then a publishing job in the renewable energy sector. When the economy took a downturn in 2008/2009 and I had experienced a layoff, my pastor asked if I would take on a role at my parish doing a mix of youth ministry, sacrament prep, and safe environment. My husband and I had been active teaching religious education and volunteering in a variety of other ministries, so I accepted the full-time job. While in that position, the Diocese of Crookston consistently hired me for freelanced design and marketing projects. In 2014 they offered me a full-time job with Our Northland Diocese newspaper, which was my official start in Catholic media. I soon earned a graduate degree from Purdue with concentration in the areas of strategic communications, non-profit leadership, and crisis management. 

You are the communications director for the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, but you also serve as chancellor and chief operating officer. How do you juggle your many hats?

As the Diocese of Crookston is one of the smallest dioceses in the country, most diocesan positions are either part-time or mixed roles. I would say self-discipline, organization, and above all – a healthy prayer life – are keys to managing my workload. Also notable is that I have been able to partner with some great vendors to assist with communications efforts. FAITH Catholic Publishing provides editorial support, design/layout, and e-news publishing for our newspaper. They have been an integral staffing solution to keep the newspaper in print. Our webhost, Solutio, maintains web content. Meltwater assists with robust media intelligence. In a nutshell, I have created efficiencies over time by inviting outside entities to assist me amidst competing priorities. 

It has been a blessing that this fall I was able to hire a Communications Specialist, Tommy Turek, whose primary role is to help coordinate production of our newspaper and generate other content – written pieces, photography, video, and e-newsletters. Tommy is a new member of the Catholic Media Association and is looking forward to the 2024 Catholic Media Conference in Atlanta. I continue to oversee media relations and act as spokesperson for emergent issues, but the tactical work has been passed on to Tommy and it’s proving to be a successful team effort. 

What is it like working with Bishop Cozzens, the leader of the National Eucharistic Revival?

I feel extraordinarily blessed to be working with Bishop Andrew Cozzens. He is a deeply prayerful and integrated man whose joy-filled, humble leadership generates a lot of hope. At the start of the National Eucharistic Revival (NER), I experienced a twinge of discouragement because it seemed as though my workload would preclude my involvement in many of the planned NER initiatives. I questioned whether I would be able to contribute, and I (maybe selfishly) feared missing out. However, about six months ago, I experienced the grace of consolation when I realized my participation in the Revival is indeed tangible, but in ways mostly unseen and simply unique. God has positioned my life and ministry in a way that my contribution to the Revival is providing operative leadership for our diocesan staff and their ministries so Bishop Cozzens can, when necessary, attend to national work. I am also able to ensure media outlets from across the country have access to Bishop Cozzens. All in all, it is a holy labor working for Bishop Cozzens; I’m grateful for the opportunity and all that has been entrusted to me. 

What is a typical day like for you?

I’ve become increasingly agile as no two days are the same. Leadership in the Church certainly requires real responsivity to the needs of real people, either at the office or out in parishes and as much as I can plan and prepare for any of my days, things can change very quickly. However, most days begin with quiet personal prayer and then Mass, surrendering all to the Lord. I would say I spend three to four hours each day in scheduled meetings (sometimes more), and the rest of the time is spent preparing agendas, decrees, or correspondence for the bishop; processing incoming or outgoing suitability determinations for clergy; reviewing policy; responding to media requests; and attention is often given to special projects, such as the strategic visioning process the Diocese of Crookston has undertaken in 2023. 

What is your favorite part of the job?

Favorite days on the job for me are the ones that involve large diocesan events – Chrism Mass, ordinations, conferences, etc. After a lot of hard work planning and preparing, it is fulfilling to experience the clergy and faithful come together to worship, celebrate, or learn something new. The fellowship and joy are a lot of fun.

What is the hardest part?

The hardest days and/ or situations for me are the ones that involve allegations of misconduct or matters of disciplining personnel, stretching limited resources for mission (i.e. decision-making amidst budget shortfalls), or when we experience the death of one of our priests.

Why do you think Catholic media is important?

I think Catholic media is important – in all its forms – because it bridges communications (the art of informing) and evangelization (the art of inspiring). After an absolute personal encounter, Catholic media is the next best way to serve the Church’s mission as it has the potential to deliver the message of Jesus Christ with a broken, polarized world. What more does the world need?

Is there anything else you would like people to know about you?

More important than what I do for Bishop Cozzens and the Diocese of Crookston is that I am a wife of 19 years, and a mother to four.

I like coffee, exercise, podcasts, and queso and probably in that order. If God wills it, I would love to write a memoir and someday be published.

Article adapted from the December 2024 edition of the Catholic Journalist.