By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
Domestic Church Media, Catholic media apostolate in Ewing, hosted special guests July 16 when Johnnette Benkovic Williams, founder and president of the Catholic apostolate Women of Grace, and her husband, Jack Williams, general manager for EWTN radio, joined Jim Manfredonia, DCM founder and CEO, for a broadcast of Benkovic Williams' “Women of Grace Live” radio program.
The show, which airs live Monday through Saturday on EWTN station affiliates, can be heard on DCM at 11 a.m.
During the live broadcast – aired on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – Benkovic Williams focused on the impact of Catholic radio and its dedicated participants.
“It’s so interesting how God calls people into the apostolate of Catholic radio,” she said. “I have a feeling that Our Lady on her feast day may well be prompting you to begin this glorious apostolic outreach of Catholic radio... so Jim, share your story!”
“Jack and I were talking before the program,” Manfredonia responded, “and it’s a matter of prayer, discernment, spiritual direction, where does the Lord want you to go – and to not be afraid ... Mother Angelica said to me, ‘If God is calling you ... don’t be afraid to take the risk, God will take care of you ... and pray to Our Lady of Good Remedy – she will help you.’”
Benkovic Williams agreed, saying that the DCM story points to the truth of the adage, “God doesn’t choose the qualified, he qualifies the ones that he chooses.”
“If God’s calling you to a work for him,” she continued, “just say yes, give your fiat. God fertilizes the fiat – isn’t that what happened at the Annunciation?”
For more than three decades, Benkovic Williams has been a presence in Catholic radio and television, with shows produced and syndicated through EWTN for 30 of those years. What began as a 12-minute spot – “Living His Life Abundantly” – on a local Catholic short-wave radio station in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla., grew to three 13-week series, and ultimately an invitation from Mother Angelica, EWTN foundress, to host a regular TV show, and subsequently the radio show that evolved into a live call-in program, “Women of Grace.”
“That confirmed for me that this outreach ministry to women was abundantly important,” said Benkovic Williams, citing Edith Stein, the Discalced Carmelite nun who became St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, as an inspiration.
In fact, St. Teresa is the inspiration for the newest branch of the Women of Grace ministry, the Benedicta Leadership Institute for Women – a partnership that began a year ago with Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Cromwell, Conn., which provides certification in Catholic women’s leadership.
Six three-credit courses at the 500 level are available online to both undergraduate and graduate students through Holy Apostles, and go toward the aforementioned certification, an undergraduate degree from Holy Apostles or a master’s degree in pastoral studies.
The listeners who call in to the Women of Grace programs, Benkovic Williams attested, have questions that are wide-ranging.
“They most frequently come from wounds of the heart,” she said, “from troubled marriages, same-sex attractions in families and the way to deal with that reality, and general questions about what the Church teaches.
“What they’re most looking for is clarity,” she continued. “We live in a relativistic culture, where there is no longer a sense of sin and what is morally right and what is morally wrong.”
“Our mission [at Women of Grace] – through a program of study, conferences, retreats and leadership seminars – is to transform the world one woman at a time,” she noted.
Life & Suffering
Transformation is something with which Benkovic Williams is acutely familiar; her life journey encompasses discernment, heartbreak and hope.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pa., she was a Catholic who left the faith for about 10 years, returning in 1981 through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Following her reversion she began to feel a pull to evangelize through Catholic media – which came as a complete surprise, as she had no background in TV or radio, and was working as an insurance agent.
Tragedy struck her family, when in March 2004, she and then-husband Anthony received an early morning visit from the Florida Highway Patrol, informing them that their son Simon, 25, was killed in an automobile accident – just weeks after returning from Iraq, having served in the First Infantry Division of the U.S. Army.
“A few days after, [Franciscan Friar of the Renewal] Father Andrew Apostoli called me,” Benkovic Williams recalled. “And he said something very profound: ‘Johnnette, I know you will understand what I am about to say – When God calls us to a great mission, he entrusts us with a great cross.’”
Just 51 weeks later, Anthony was struck with a grand mal seizure, which led to the diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. “We had only just learned to breathe deeply again,” Benkovic Williams said. She returned to the words of Father Apostoli, using them as inspiration to keep going.
“When Father God sees fit to give us a portion of the Cross that his own Son carried, by way of suffering,” she said, “it is a blessed opportunity to enter more deeply in union with him, and to see the way in which we become sanctified in the process of embracing that cross, and to recognize the glorious ways God manifests himself through our crosses to others.”
In both cases, Benkovic Williams saw the blessings God can bring forth from suffering.
“I have lived to see the truth of Romans 8:28 – that God works all things to the good for those who are called according to his purposes,” she continued. “I personally don’t believe God gives us suffering just for ourselves, nor does he give us joy just for ourselves – they’re meant to be shared.”
Her marriage to Williams May 25 was something Benkovic Williams did not anticipate – but which she readily describes as divinely inspired.
Having met Williams several years ago while he was station manager for a Catholic radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, she met him in person professionally when he became EWTN affiliates manager.
When Jack’s wife, Susie, died of pancreatic cancer in 2016, Benkovic found herself praying for him and his children. “Catholic media is a small family, and we care about each other deeply,” she said.
In August 2017, Williams invited her to critique a program that was new to the EWTN lineup. After receiving her critique, they began to talk on a personal level about their earlier associations with the charismatic spiritual expression of faith.
“It soon seemed to us that God was asking us to explore on a deeper level this friendship we were building,” Benkovic Williams said.
With several spiritual confirmations of the direction in which God was leading them, the couple were married seven weeks ago by Father of Mercy Wade Menezes, a frequent Women of Grace contributor, and five other priests, two of whom are Friars of the Eternal Word from EWTN.
“I was a confirmed widow... and would be until I went home to be with God,” Benkovic Williams recalled. “But, you know, God has other plans sometimes.”