Jenna Guizar, 29, is a fourth-generation Arizona native, which is virtually unheard of. But that’s not the only thing that makes her stand out. The wife, mother of four (one in heaven) and respiratory therapist is the founder of a new online community for Catholic women called “Blessed Is She,” which has grown amazingly fast since its launch in August 2014. The ministry’s central purpose is to help women to pray and gather together around the Word of God from a Catholic perspective in order to deepen their spiritual lives and sisterhood with other women. Guizar spoke to Aleteia’s Zoe Romanowsky about how Blessed Is She came about and why women of all ages are flocking to it.
I haven’t seen anything quite like Blessed Is She. What was your inspiration?
A huge inspiration for me were Protestant online communities that were making it easy for women to receive biblical verses in their inboxes, and reflections to go with them — this idea of daily receiving something that helps you dive into the Word on a daily basis. I was seeing really successful amazing Protestant communities being built online, and I wanted so badly for there to be a Catholic version, so Catholic women could feel at home in a place that takes both Tradition and Scripture together and helps them delve into the Word and the Catholic faith in one easy daily e-mail. I was seeing lives changed from this kind of thing and wanted that for Catholic women.
You’ve gathered a stable of writers, and the community is growing fast. How did (and do) you find your writers — and also your audience?
A few years back I was doing a lot of personal blogging and found a lot of Catholic women bloggers through that — these are the women I mostly reached out to at the very beginning. It was about 20 or so at the time, and I basically said, “Hey I want to launch this thing — I don’t know what it’s called, and I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but do you want to come along with me?” I got a few nos, but what was most surprising was the yeses I got, and that was confirmation for me to move forward, without even knowing what it was going to be. Because of the promotion and support from the team of women writers, who now span young, single women to grandmothers, were were able to grow right from the start. … The numbers are huge, I think, in terms of how long we’ve been around. The e-mail subscribers are what we most cherish — as it tells me it how many women want this and continue to want it. It’s grown to more than 10,000 subscribers so far.
You’ve got the daily devotional e-mails, a beautiful website, hand-lettered products, beautiful memes on your very active social media platforms. Who’s doing the work behind this?
I don’t know (laughs); I don’t know where the time comes from. We do have 40 writers now, so they take turns writing the reflections for the daily e-mail devotional. I’m the website person. I handle everything on the site, including all the images/memes we produce. We have a content editor and a designer extraordinaire who creates and lays out all the hand-lettering for our journals and any product we sell with hand-lettering. It’s mostly us three, but a lot of people fill in the the gaps. We also have a blog where we do lifestyle posts, in addition to our biblical reflections.
You said the community ranges in age and life circumstances. Did you anticipate this, or did you originally think this would be for women in a particular age demographic or group?
My goal from the very beginning has always been that it be for women of all ages. Eventually, when we move more into small groups and have curriculum for them, the dream in my head is that it be all ages because I really do believe that no matter the phase in life, there’s wisdom we can offer each other. I can learn as much from a grandmother as I can from a young 20-something. Our femininity never changes; I want to tap into that. We’re ultimately all daughters of God.
Does this ministry speak to women who may not know their faith, or may be Catholic and looking for greater spirituality but aren’t part of other Catholic circles?
I think so. On Instagram, we see this the most. People tag their friends who don’t know about us, and these women are coming back to say, “Oh my gosh, I never knew this space existed; I never knew that this group of Catholic women existed.” If you’re close to falling way from the church, or you don’t go to church anymore, or you find the Church isn’t alive where you physically live or who you’re around, you can see the Church is very much alive here, and that we’re striving to live lives of beauty. We welcome all women with open arms no matter where they are in their faith — we just want to walk with you.
From the first moment I saw your website and Instagram feed, I could tell you value beauty. Something fresh and beautiful has a lot of power to attract others.
Absolutely. A person I respect and love, Audrey Assad (the song-writer and musician), has spoken so much about creating beautiful things and how basically anytime you create something beautiful it turns people back to the Lord because he is beauty. That’s always been really important to me. … And we’re particular about wanting it to feel feminine — this is for women, after all.
When you look around, and you’re communicating with women in your community, what do they seem to need the most? What are they lacking or longing for?
As a society I think we are extremely lonely. We’re surrounded by people and social media, but inside we’re yearning for someone to know us, to know our faults and love us anyway. When I think of my relationships that are centered around the Lord, I think they see past my faults and they’re going to stick by my side through it all. Ultimately, our loneliness can only be healed by people in our lives who say this and continue to show up and be there for us.
You encourage local gatherings. What are they about, and how do they connect and support the online community?
I want to encourage women to move out of their comfort zone in terms of meeting other women. Whether it’s in opening up your home or being open to a new relationship, you can grow in a friendship with a woman you may not have met otherwise. I want to empower women to be able to do this, to say to them, Blessed Is She is a resource for you, we have a format for you. You don’t have to do the hard work of coming up with questions to open up the conversations, or what to discuss in a group. Blessed Is She will give you the tools to have small and large group discussions.
So the first thing we launched was the Blessed Brunch. They’ve been so successful and fun. We’ve had them in places like Poland, Spain, Australia, Canada, too. It’s a potluck brunch. You just have to agree to open your door, and we get the info up on our website where people can sign up and RSVP. They show up with a potluck item, enjoy food and coffee, and we provide some questions for the group to engage with each other.
How do you come up with your studies and resources?
We have quite a few theological writers, and some of them have reached out and offered to create studies for us. Since we’re in the infancy stage, we’re using the generosity of our writers who feel called to do this for us, and eventually, as we build, we will need to reach out further.
This is a lot of time an effort. Where do the financial resources come from for this? Is it a labor or love right now, or is there funding behind it?
This is all volunteer, which really shows shows how much the staff and all the writers believe in this ministry and community. Eventually, I would love to be able to pay everyone. That’s a total dream, and a definite goal of mine, to be able to support these women financially, have an actual staff and marketing person. We are DIYing our way through it all! And it has to be attributed to the Lord and what’s he’s doing.
You have beautiful products — can you tell me more about them?
We have specific seasonal journals — we come out with journals for Advent and Lent every year. This year, instead of a Lenten journal we did a Lenten workbook, so it was more actionable. We also have a regular daily journal — it’s beautiful and has wonderful hand-lettering and inspirational quotes. Then we’re launching these studies, which I’m really excited about.
And you have your first retreat coming up this month …
Yes, we have a Lenten retreat coming up on March 12 in Tempe, Arizona. It will be 160 of us. We had a lot more sign-ups than I anticipated, and I’m very excited about it. I’d love to do it annually and eventually in other parts of the country.
A lot is happening, and you’re not even two years old yet — what hopes do you have for Blessed Is She? Where do you want it to go?
In the next six months, I’d like to continue to foster small groups by connecting with those who have hosted or gone to a brunch and give them more resources. We’re also launching a new study for the Easter season called “On the Way: The Road to Pentecost,” diving into the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We’re going to support women in having small groups. Even if they can’t meet physically, helping them get them on the Internet and study the Word together, reflecting with each other on what they’re studying and reading.
Eventually, I would love to have Blessed Is She chapters. I don’t know what they would like like — whether more organic, or if we’d foster women leaders. What I like about Blessed Is She is that anyone can be part of it, there’s no special training or background required. So, I don’t know what the Lord is going to do — I wish I did! But we definitely want to continue to create studies and give women a reason to come together and grow their prayer life.
Do you relate to the word “innovator?”
I never thought of myself as that. I’ve always doubted whether I’m a creative person. But I’m really just being open to the vision the Lord is putting in front of me and putting on my heart, and I’m trying to be obedient to what I think he wants for this. I honestly don’t think any of this could exist from my own abilities at all — and again, the team is such a huge part of it — but all of it is the Lord guiding me and saying, okay, here’s what’s next.
One reason we are where we are is that we do listen to what people want. All of us are different, and we want different things, and it’s hard to please everyone, but we’re able to say, what do you want next as a woman in your hometown who wants fellowship? And to be able to say, okay, we’re going to make that happen. That’s the part that’s really fun — when we ask, What’s your dream? All right, let’s do it!
This is the sixth installment in Aleteia’s series on Catholic innovators. Be sure to check out Aleteia’s previous interviews with Bishop Christopher Coyne, Brandon Vogt, Lisa Hendey, Mary Rose Realy, Obl., OSB, and Daniel Mitsui.
Zoe Romanowsky is lifestyle editor and video content curator for Aleteia.