Julie Ricciardi, CEO, Walking With Purpose

A Spiritual Journey from Corporate Executive to Mission Driven Non-Profit Executive

I attended Boston College as a scholarship athlete and graduated with a double major in Theology and Economics. At the time, my father asked, “what will you do with that?” I ended up having an interesting professional life; first at Chase Manhattan Bank and then UPS. After several successful years in the Investment Trust division at Chase, I moved to UPS. In large part, I was trying to simplify my life. UPS corporate headquarters were in the town where I lived, so I eliminated a long daily commute. I had a wonderful career in the International Marketing group, expanding UPS’ presence around the world. Eventually, I got married and retired from UPS when I was pregnant with my second child. I was fortunate to take time to be a full-time mother.

The Need for a Life Change

My moment of transition came when my children were little, and I was feeling exhausted and spiritually empty. I was doing everything I thought I should be doing: immersing myself in my family and serving as President of a local food and clothing pantry. I felt I was doing things the Lord wanted me to, but felt discouraged and empty in my Catholic faith. My husband is not Catholic, but he had agreed to raise our children in the faith. We went to Sunday mass, which with all of the competing interests children have with sports and other activities, was an effort. But I found the Sunday mass experience to be less than satisfying and actually discouraging. It made it hard to be motivated about attending church and encouraging the children when I wasn’t happy with what I was receiving from the experience.

I didn’t feel nourished spiritually. I thought that attending mass and doing good works would be satisfying and fulfilling. Unfortunately this combination fell short of what I needed. What I really needed was a personal relationship with the Lord. The best way to get that is to understand scripture, which is his letter to us about how to live, love and be in relationships with each other. I had some exposure to scripture in college but hadn’t integrated it into my life because it was more of an academic experience.

spiritually driven: Julie Ricciardi with Lisa Brenninkmeyer.
Julie with Lisa Brenninkmeyer.

I started to pursue why I was so unhappy, and I had a strong feeling that if I left the Catholic church no one would notice. All my friends attended other churches with seemingly better music, childcare, youth programs and other offerings. I consulted a friend who is a priest and he advised: “instead of running away from the church, why don’t you press into it and see what’s there? When the Lord breaks our heart over something, he wants us to do something with it.” He also gave me a book called Holy Discontent which suggests that everyone’s heart breaks for something different. The challenge was to find what was breaking my heart and what the Lord wanted me to do about it.

My holy discontent was that there was something wrong when women like me, who were doing the right thing and wanting to feel connected to the Catholic community, were not feeling it. He also introduced me to Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Founder of Walking with Purpose. Lisa was coming from out of town to attend a retreat. When the day came, it was winter, a half hour drive and just inconvenient but I had promised the priest I would attend. I went in a bit skeptical and thought, “she better not be weird or ask me to do anything.”

There were about ten women in the room listening to Lisa who encouraged us to focus on a woman’s heart first. Meet women where they are in their relationships with the Lord. Everything she said sounded right to me. At the end of the talk I decided I wanted to buy one of her bible study programs. But, the only way was to distribute it to a parish-based program. Then I walked out and started to cry. The priest followed me out and I sobbed for five minutes.

The message was clear; the Lord wanted a real relationship with me and wanted me to draw close to him. He didn’t just want me – he wanted a lot of other women as well. I had hoped the Lord would give me something on a silver platter for free. I felt exhausted. But the Lord said “I see how much you’re carrying with family and responsibilities at the food pantry. You can carry a little more.”

Walking with Purpose

I brought Lisa’s program—Walking with Purpose– to St Mary’s Church in Greenwich with 36 women participating at the start. Father John Connor helped me get it started. It gave me a deeper understanding of scripture, a huge appreciation of sacraments and a better understanding of Jesus Christ. I began in 2008 as a volunteer putting in several hours a week. The idea behind the program is that when a woman is ready to do something to improve her own walk with Christ, she is ready to do it with others. None of us is meant to walk alone. The program grew to over 215 women in my church and attracted women from parishes across the area. It spread organically as women brought it to 8 other parishes in the area. We now have 1500 members in Fairfield County and over 25,000 in the country.

Julie Ricciardi at video shoot
Julie at video shoot.

Over the last 5 years, with growth of 70% a year, we have had to professionalize all areas of ministry—communications, bookkeeping, customer support. I was on the Board for 7 years and Lisa and I were co-chairs. Now, I’m the CEO and run the operations while Lisa writes all the materials for the ministry. It is a perfect social hybrid organization with both a strong social mission, enabling women to know Christ through scripture, and a powerful, self-supporting economic engine through the sales of the materials. It is a 501c3 non-profit organization with the benefit that a product supports operations. We don’t have to do a lot of fundraising. We work 100% remotely and have taken advantage of using technology for efficiency and connection.

spiritually driven: Julie Ricciardi at speaking engagement of Catholic women.
Julie at speaking engagement.

The ministry is also developing a new series for young adult women and middle school girls. Our middle school program, Blaze, speaks to girls who are bombarded with unhelpful media messages about their true worth and identity. Every week they will be introduced to a lie in our culture countered by biblical truth. The bible becomes relevant— a loving and affirming voice different from negative messages. A recent survey showed that many people leave the Catholic faith at age 13, so we are focusing on this important middle school demographic.

I never planned to be in women’s ministry and never dreamed this is the way the Lord would use me, but am grateful he’s working through me. I know he has a plan for my life and that it is good. I want to know what it is while I’m here. My advice to others is to be conscious and intentional about people with whom you are involved. Ask yourself if they are doing their best to live a life of holiness. Surround yourself with people a few steps ahead of you—not 50 miles ahead. In other words, don’t compare yourself to Mother Teresa but rather with someone who may go to mass a little more frequently than you do. If you focus on the dire, then things become more overwhelming. Rather, if you concentrate on small changes, they can really lead to profound change.

Link to Walking With Purpose.


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