Jessica Gerhardt is a Catholic feminist, singer-songwriter, and ukuleleist with a passion for ministering to the marginalized, skeptical, and non-conformist. Her deeper personal conversion to faith took place, ironically, while attending one of the most atheist colleges in the country, and her background gives her a balanced worldview and well-rounded spirituality. With almost a decade of experience in youth ministry, she will say that if you had told her as a teen herself that she would grow up to work in youth ministry, she would have laughed in your face. Despite her initial reservations about this calling, Jessica found that her unconventional, vulnerable, and light-hearted approach to faith sharing endeared her to teens, parents, and adult core team members alike. In 2019, having worked in full-time parish ministry for over 8 years, Jessica discerned to step down from her role as a Director of Youth Ministry to pursue a career as a freelance musician, worship leader, artist, and speaker.
The daughter of a Catholic mother and Jewish father and affectionally called a “Cashew", she was baptized Catholic, but raised with Hanukkah alongside Christmas as a kid. Her parents instilled in her a spirit of marching to the beat of a different drummer, asking a lot of questions, and pursuing creative expression. Though she was reluctant about doing her Confirmation as a teen, she found a sense of community among her peers and got actively involved with youth ministry as a youth leader. Soon after being Confirmed, her parents marriage fell apart and her father moved away, leaving her, her mother, and her sister behind. While her youth group became a safe place where she felt supported and cared for in the aftermath, she still struggled with acting out as a way to cope from the pain from her father’s abandonment.
Ironically, it wasn’t until she attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon (who’s unofficial slogan is “Communism, Atheism, Free Love”) that her practice of her faith really deepened and she found that Jesus needed to be central in her life. At Reed she became a part of Reed’s Christian Community known as “Oh For Christ’s Sake”, studying scripture at Bible Study alongside deep-thinking, intellectual Christians. While she was one of the only Catholics in the small faith group, she regularly attended Mass at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, balancing her exposure to evangelical Christianity with her reception of the Sacraments. Being challenged about her Catholic faith from atheist and non-Catholic Christian peers alike gave her a crash course in apologetics. In her senior year of college she began reading CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, Scott Hahn, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, the Catechism, Doctors of the Church and mystics, and bombarding her seminarian and priest friends with questions, all while writing her senior thesis in social psychology on ambivalent sexism and the importance of privileged allies in confronting prejudice. Additionally she served as a mentor in Reed’s Peer Mentor Program, being paired with students from underrepresented backgrounds including students of color and LGBTQ students.
Jessica’s diverse experiences provided a helpful groundwork for her capacity to relate to and reach young people who look with skepticism upon many of the Catholic Church’s more challenging teachings. Additionally, having gone through painful family issues, followed by receiving healing from therapy and 12-step spirituality for the effects of family dysfunction in her life, enables her to meet young people going through similar adversities with powerful authenticity and empathy. Jessica has worked in a number of parishes with diverse demographics economically and culturally. While she can usually anticipate most teens’ questions because she’s asked them all herself, she finds that often it’s not answers that teens are looking for, but the chance to be heard, seen, known, and cared for - unconditionally.
- Sharing Your Gifts & Talents - How can we identify our gifts and talents and skills and passions? Following God doesn’t have to mean giving them up, on the contrary, it’s about inviting God to be a part of them and how we share them with the world. What is true humility? Neither being self-depricating or self-inflated. Standing in the truth of our abilities and who we are before God.
- Discernment of Spirits: Catholic “Defense Against The Dark Arts” - An intro to St. Ignatius’ rules for discernment of spirits using Harry Potter references. How can we distinguish between the voice of the false spirit and the Holy Spirit? How do we recognize when we are in consolation and desolation, and what to do we do when we experience them?
- Racism & Intersectionality - What is racism and why is it contrary to Church teaching? How does racism manifest in ways that are not always obvious, much like many venial sins?
- Good, Good Father: God As Our Loving Parent - How can we look to God as a loving Father (and Mother), even when our own parents fall short, and especially when they have failed us or aren’t a part of our lives? What does it mean to truly understand ourselves as Beloved children of God with whom God is well pleased?
- From Resenting to Befriending Mary - In this talk I share about how I overcame my initial struggles with projected ideals of femininity in Mary to seeing her as a unique, whole, authentic person, woman, and friend. What does holy femininity really look like? How was Mary feminist in many ways? I present Catholic feminism as a framework of upholding the dignity of both men and women equally as created in God’s image.
- How To Love Well: On Relationships, Sexuality, and Chastity - What is chastity? Why is it relevant today? What is God’s plan for the gift of our sexuality? What do we do with that gift in the meantime when we’re not yet called to marriage?
- LGBTQ & Catholic - What does the Church teach about same-sex attraction and gender identity? First and foremost, God loves you and makes no mistakes in how He created you. How can we turn our questions, desires, attractions, etc. over to God, trusting that he loves us, wants the best for us, and will guide us in it all?