Jen Bryz-Gornia and Joe Denkenberger, parishioners of St. James Church in Syracuse, have been selected to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 22 to 25 as winners of a diocesan-sponsored contest. The couple, who just celebrated their ninth wedding anniversary, will also bring their two sons, Wally, 3, and John, nearly 10 months, to Philly.

For the first installment in our of “faces of our family” series, the Sun and Syracuse Catholic Television visited the Denkenbergers at their home and got to know them a little better. Excerpts from our conversation appear below; see more at and

Sun: What motivated you to enter the World Meeting of Families contest? What are you hoping to get out of the experience?

Jen: “Our family is the most important thing to us. We find great purpose in each other as a family, as a husband and wife, and then the children that we’re blessed to have and care for and guide. Anything we can do to strengthen our role as parents for them as young human beings, and being good people, and having a strong family unit for ourselves — raising them in that is really important to us. So I’m hoping to get that out of the meeting — and ways that we can not just support ourselves, but help influence and support others too.”

Sun: How does faith take shape in your home and in your family?

Joe: “We always say grace before every meal. That’s something we try to keep as a very regular tradition. And having at least one meal together every day…. I also try to pray with Wally at night before bed.”

Jen: “I always pray every night before bed, so I like to do that with my kids every night before bed…. [When Wally was a baby] I would sing to him the Our Father and the Hail Mary. I didn’t really know many nursery songs, but I knew the prayers! It’s something a nice woman at our church had suggested.”

Sun: You both come from different faith traditions. Can you tell us a little about that?

Joe: “I was raised in a Protestant family. We discussed faith and talked about God and religion was a part of life, but I wasn’t an avid churchgoer. It was pretty infrequent that we went to church. It’s been something that Jen and I have actually worked on quite a bit. It’s never been something that she’s pushed me at so much, or kind of said, ‘You have to go to church with me,’ but it was more of an encouragement. It’s grown to be something that I appreciate and I find a lot of meaning in and I get a lot of strength from.”

Jen: “I grew up with faith every day of my life. Going to Catholic school was a really nice blessing and benefit. I’m happy to have it. I didn’t always appreciate it necessarily at the time as a child, but looking back, it’s beautiful. So we did go to church every Sunday. I found a lot of my faith through my experiences and people I’d meet — certain teachers and certain friends, and a lot though my grandmother.”

Sun: What makes you the “every family”? What do you share in common with our greater diocesan family?

Jen: “I feel like there’s never enough time. I just saw online yesterday that Pope Francis had shared a nice, special blurb over social media about family and how beautiful family is and how amazing parents are for creating 48 hours in 24 hours. It was touching to see him proclaim that. And it’s so true.”

Sun: Describe your family in one word.

Jen: “The word ‘fun’ came to my mind.”

Joe: “I’d say ‘strong.’”

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