Interview by Katherine Long
Jen Bryz-Gornia and Joe Denkenberger, parishioners of St. James Church in Syracuse, attended the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 22 to 25 as winners of a diocesan-sponsored contest. The couple, married nine years, also brought their sons, Wally, 3, and John, now 1, to Philly.
Two months after the meeting, the Sun caught up with the family to see how the experience changed them and what that means for their future. (This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.)
Sun: What did you take home from the conference?
Joe: I took home the importance of family. Especially the importance of my role as a father to [our children] and as a husband to my wife. That’s something I felt strongly about anyway, but it really reinforced it.
Jen: I echo that for myself. We applied for the contest because family is important to us and it sounded like an amazing opportunity — and it was. It was an amazing experience both from the side of hearing these amazing international keynote speakers firsthand to meeting the people, the friends that we made. But the family part of [the meeting] helped to validate my feelings on it and [its] importance in our lives, but really in society’s life.
Sun: How are you incorporating those takeaways now that you’re home?
Joe: We’ve been working harder to reinforce faith as a normal part of the day. We try to do that anyway, but it’s something I want to try harder to do. Wally is starting to say our prayers before dinner now, which is fun. We’re trying to be as involved as we can with the parish, and [I’m] trying to get more involved to grow my own participation with other people in the parish.
Jen: One of the things that I took home — I love it, because when I heard it, I said, ‘Thank you for saying this!’ In a family panel this one gentleman said, ‘We try on a daily basis, we try hard on a daily basis, and we fail regularly.’ And it’s okay to fail regularly! It means you are trying and you’re caring.
Sun: How has your family life changed since the conference?
Joe: I’ve tried to slow down. It’s easy to feel hurried — I’ve gotta get the kids to bed, I’ve gotta get everything done, I’ve gotta get out the door to work — I’ve tried to just slow down and appreciate life and not push things. When you do hurry you have a tendency to lose your cool and not be as calm, and that’s not the kind of father I want to be. I don’t think it’s very supportive [to my wife] either.
Jen: We’ve had a lot of transition since coming back from our visit to Philadelphia. I started work, where I hadn’t been working [outside the home] for a year and a half, and it’s a fulltime job, which puts the children into daycare — so it’s like a fulltime job for them too. They weren’t used to getting up and getting ready and to work everyday, so that’s been challenging. Consequently it’s been a little stressful on me emotionally and physically, so I rely a lot on Joe [as a] rock and strength. He’s calmed me down a lot.
Sun: Having experienced the World Meeting, what does the future hold for your family? What’s next?
Jen: Well… we did have our whole family there [in Philadelphia]…
Joe: We have a baby on the way.
Jen and Joe: Thanks! We’re really excited!
Sun: So, what does this mean for your family’s future?
Jen: It’s filled with a lot of unknowns right now, but we’re fully trusting. We’re not worried…. We had talked about having another child. It took us a long time to get pregnant with Wally and John and we had some miscarriages along the way. We just kind of offered it up to God. I didn’t think it would happen! It’s crazy exciting.
[Editor’s note: Baby Denkenberger is due to arrive in April.]
Sun: You’ve been working with your pastor, Father Chris Ballard, to find a way to share your experiences and insights from the meeting with your parish. What’s in the works?
Joe: There is going to be an evening where we’re going to present the key points that we brought home with us. The key point being the importance of family, not only in our own family, but in the parish and society in general.
Jen: [The focus will be how] the importance of family [is shown] through your actions and dedication to it. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who’d say family’s not important…. But it’s how you prioritize your family through your actions and your daily life. Then bringing the faith into it and normalizing faith in your daily activities.
The date for the Denkenbergers’ presentation is still being finalized. It will be open to all those interested. Watch the Sun for more details, and visit thecatholicsun.com for stories and video about the Denkenbergers, the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.