'Force for Good'

Embracing CFJ leadership role allows Peddicord to make tangible impact

January 15, 2024 at 7:00 a.m.
Center for FaithJustice volunteers arrive in at the Catholic Charities facility in McAllen, Texas, in April 2019. From left are Mary Vanderhoof, Rocky Balsamo, Stephanie Peddicord and Erin Dolan. Courtesy photo
Center for FaithJustice volunteers arrive in at the Catholic Charities facility in McAllen, Texas, in April 2019. From left are Mary Vanderhoof, Rocky Balsamo, Stephanie Peddicord and Erin Dolan. Courtesy photo

Carol L. Olivieri • Correspondent

For Stephanie Peddicord, life contains many “Holy Spirit moments.” They may only be obvious in hindsight but, looking back, Peddicord sees the reasons why one thing was chosen and not another, why she came in contact with someone at a time that seemed insignificant but later changed her life, or why a door was never opened.

Peddicord describes herself as a “cradle Catholic,” born and raised in central Massachusetts in the Diocese of Worcester. With her father being the chief financial officer of the Diocese, she had a great deal of contact and comfort with the ins and outs of Diocesan life. Majoring in Spanish at Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y., she was a “humanities geek” and was drawn to nonprofit work.

An Unexpected Path

At that time, the two main options were the Peace Corps or Teach for America. Peddicord applied to Teach for America. Being an excellent student, proficient in Spanish, and graduating in the top ranks of her class, Peddicord was confident she would be selected for this highly competitive program. She didn’t even make the interview. Time for a Holy Spirit moment. Her mother sat her down and told her God had a different plan for her.

Stephanie Peddicord takes a selfie at the border wall in Brownsville, Texas, during her November 2019 outreach trip. Courtesy photo

That plan was to work for Community Counselling Service, New York, (CCS Fundraising) directing or working on campaigns that raised hundreds of millions of dollars for nonprofit clients, including Catholic dioceses and parishes. Another Holy Spirit moment came as she met a coworker, Chad, who would become her husband. This year they will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary.

After she founded her own consulting company, the Center for FaithJustice (CFJ) in Lawrenceville became one of her clients. Another Holy Spirit moment came in 2015 when the CFJ board asked her to assume the leadership role. It was Holy Week. She resisted. She enjoyed consulting and liked focusing on many different things. This would be a change to a full-time role and limit the amount of time she had with her children. It would mean a pay cut. After discussing this with her husband, she told the board she would do it for 18 months. Instead of being a consultant for nonprofits, she would be doing the work she aspired to when she finished college. Peddicord did not envision that she would still be doing this in 2024.

Good WorX

At CFJ, Peddicord helps young people respond to the Biblical caution that “faith without good works is dead.”

“Service has always been my conduit to make my heart come alive,” Peddicord said. “I am an action-oriented person. I don’t hear God when sitting in silence. I hear God in service. I hear God at the border or in Appalachia.”

Through the programs of CFJ, youth are given opportunities to tune out the distractions, go to those on the margins, do service and hear the voice of God. To date, more than 7,500 youth have participated in CFJ from all dioceses of New Jersey as well as from Pennsylvania, New York, and even other states and countries.

“We just surpassed our 500-thousandth community service hour,” Peddicord said proudly. “There is a common narrative that young people today are too (Fill in the Blank: overscheduled, into online games or TikTok, into sports, isolated, competitive) – but this narrative is incomplete,” she said. “Take away the distractions and put them in meaningful relationships with caring adults and do real things. Open doors. They are ordinary people with a yearning for God, belonging, and connection but at the same time, they are also really creative, dynamic, and inspiring. All the pieces are there for them to do something extraordinary. Give them opportunities and get out of the way.”

CFJ programs provide young people with opportunities to perform direct service to those in need, guided by the principles of Catholic social teaching. One project, NeXt Level, is designed to be a transformative experience for parishes as youth lead campaigns focused on a specific need, with adult mentors to accompany them, rooted in the Catholic tradition of service and justice. This project is funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment. CFJ received this grant in 2018 and will share the results of five years of research later this year.


Stephanie Peddicord with her husband Chad and children Natalie, 14, and John, 10. Courtesy photo

The disaffiliation of young people from the Catholic Church has been measured by Pew Research. Seventy-nine percent of Catholics who leave the Church do so by age 23. To address this, CFJ received another grant from the Lilly Endowment in 2023 to expand its work to include families. “Family Matters: Empowering Catholic Caregivers as Protagonists in Domestic Faith Stories” aims to help parents and caregivers as they accompany children and adolescents in their faith life.


To the Margins

In the spring of 2019, as the migration crisis at the southern U.S. border grew worse, Peddicord and other CFJ volunteers traveled to McAllen, Texas, to serve at the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus and executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

The intention was to provide urgently needed volunteer staff and supplies in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by thousands of Central American refugees seeking safety and asylum in the United States. CFJ raised more than $15,000 from area donors to purchase necessities like clothing and toiletries.

“We were there for a week. On any given day we saw 1,100 migrants released from detention facilities with barely anything, just the clothes on their back,” said Peddicord. “Some had been in detention for a month or longer and hadn’t been able to shower … it was a refugee situation.”

Peddicord and CFJ volunteers have made three additional trips to the border since then, facing different challenges and U.S. policy changes each time.

Volunteer Matthew Greeley, who worked on CFJ events with Peddicord, joined her and other volunteers on a November 2019 border trip.

“Stephanie shared that she knew she and CFJ had to do something,” said Greeley, who at the time was associate director of communications for the Diocese and coordinator of Spanish language communications. He is currently campus minister in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville.

“She connected with dedicated friends and with Texas-based organizations to brainstorm what service we might be able to provide,” Greeley explained.

Her leadership, he said, shone throughout the experience.

“We were seeing shocking need and meeting people in the most vulnerable of circumstances,” he recalled, “and Stephanie responded to each with a generosity and creativity that continues to directly affect people’s lives. For example, she continues the friendship we formed with a migrant family that ended up in California, even though our trip was five years ago. Stephanie is a model of solidarity.”

Peddicord hopes to make another trip in 2024, as soon as her schedule will allow.

“A huge piece of why we go is to bear witness to it and spark awareness in others,” she said. “It’s still happening, conditions are just atrocious, and our faith really compels us to respond.”

Thanks to Peddicord’s leadership, Greeley said, “CFJ continues to be a force for good and one that stands with the marginalized. Her leadership has also inspired so many others, like me, to answer the call and do what we can to help those in most need … to welcome the stranger. I am grateful to call her friend.”

Leading by Example

When asked what her greatest gift is, Peddicord said: “Tenacity. You have to be bold and not easily dissuaded.”

This tenacity came to fruition in the first grant from the Lilly Endowment. CFJ is a very small organization, and it was the only Catholic entity and the only non-university to receive a grant from Lilly in 2018.

“Our faith is really challenging. Jesus said to leave everything behind and follow him,” Peddicord said. “Pope Francis has awakened us from our slumber and given us a whole new language. We have the navigational beacon of Pope Francis, who guides us to ask ourselves these questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is God’s plan for my life? God is calling us to extraordinary things. It can be terrifying, but it is a great gift. We’re bringing God into those spaces.”

While the focus of CFJ is youth, Peddicord said they are not alone in lacking vitality in their spiritual life; spiritual vitality also must be addressed in adults.

“Our faith is not just about attending Mass on Sunday and checking other boxes,” she said. “For all ages, you are the main character in your faith story. You need to hear God in this story, but it’s about you. Faith will accompany you, but it’s not a passive relationship. God will throw you the ball, but you have to be in the batter’s box.”

Someone who sees all the seemingly insurmountable problems in the world – poverty, food insecurity, conflict, climate change, etc. – and feels overwhelmed and incapable of making a difference must change the narrative, Peddicord said.

“We need to change the way we look at change and progress. You can’t do everything, and that’s OK. Pick one thing, and you can do it really well.”

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever.  Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE).  Thank you for your support.   



For Stephanie Peddicord, life contains many “Holy Spirit moments.” They may only be obvious in hindsight but, looking back, Peddicord sees the reasons why one thing was chosen and not another, why she came in contact with someone at a time that seemed insignificant but later changed her life, or why a door was never opened.

Peddicord describes herself as a “cradle Catholic,” born and raised in central Massachusetts in the Diocese of Worcester. With her father being the chief financial officer of the Diocese, she had a great deal of contact and comfort with the ins and outs of Diocesan life. Majoring in Spanish at Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y., she was a “humanities geek” and was drawn to nonprofit work.

An Unexpected Path

At that time, the two main options were the Peace Corps or Teach for America. Peddicord applied to Teach for America. Being an excellent student, proficient in Spanish, and graduating in the top ranks of her class, Peddicord was confident she would be selected for this highly competitive program. She didn’t even make the interview. Time for a Holy Spirit moment. Her mother sat her down and told her God had a different plan for her.

Stephanie Peddicord takes a selfie at the border wall in Brownsville, Texas, during her November 2019 outreach trip. Courtesy photo

That plan was to work for Community Counselling Service, New York, (CCS Fundraising) directing or working on campaigns that raised hundreds of millions of dollars for nonprofit clients, including Catholic dioceses and parishes. Another Holy Spirit moment came as she met a coworker, Chad, who would become her husband. This year they will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary.

After she founded her own consulting company, the Center for FaithJustice (CFJ) in Lawrenceville became one of her clients. Another Holy Spirit moment came in 2015 when the CFJ board asked her to assume the leadership role. It was Holy Week. She resisted. She enjoyed consulting and liked focusing on many different things. This would be a change to a full-time role and limit the amount of time she had with her children. It would mean a pay cut. After discussing this with her husband, she told the board she would do it for 18 months. Instead of being a consultant for nonprofits, she would be doing the work she aspired to when she finished college. Peddicord did not envision that she would still be doing this in 2024.

Good WorX

At CFJ, Peddicord helps young people respond to the Biblical caution that “faith without good works is dead.”

“Service has always been my conduit to make my heart come alive,” Peddicord said. “I am an action-oriented person. I don’t hear God when sitting in silence. I hear God in service. I hear God at the border or in Appalachia.”

Through the programs of CFJ, youth are given opportunities to tune out the distractions, go to those on the margins, do service and hear the voice of God. To date, more than 7,500 youth have participated in CFJ from all dioceses of New Jersey as well as from Pennsylvania, New York, and even other states and countries.

“We just surpassed our 500-thousandth community service hour,” Peddicord said proudly. “There is a common narrative that young people today are too (Fill in the Blank: overscheduled, into online games or TikTok, into sports, isolated, competitive) – but this narrative is incomplete,” she said. “Take away the distractions and put them in meaningful relationships with caring adults and do real things. Open doors. They are ordinary people with a yearning for God, belonging, and connection but at the same time, they are also really creative, dynamic, and inspiring. All the pieces are there for them to do something extraordinary. Give them opportunities and get out of the way.”

CFJ programs provide young people with opportunities to perform direct service to those in need, guided by the principles of Catholic social teaching. One project, NeXt Level, is designed to be a transformative experience for parishes as youth lead campaigns focused on a specific need, with adult mentors to accompany them, rooted in the Catholic tradition of service and justice. This project is funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment. CFJ received this grant in 2018 and will share the results of five years of research later this year.


Stephanie Peddicord with her husband Chad and children Natalie, 14, and John, 10. Courtesy photo

The disaffiliation of young people from the Catholic Church has been measured by Pew Research. Seventy-nine percent of Catholics who leave the Church do so by age 23. To address this, CFJ received another grant from the Lilly Endowment in 2023 to expand its work to include families. “Family Matters: Empowering Catholic Caregivers as Protagonists in Domestic Faith Stories” aims to help parents and caregivers as they accompany children and adolescents in their faith life.


To the Margins

In the spring of 2019, as the migration crisis at the southern U.S. border grew worse, Peddicord and other CFJ volunteers traveled to McAllen, Texas, to serve at the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus and executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

The intention was to provide urgently needed volunteer staff and supplies in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by thousands of Central American refugees seeking safety and asylum in the United States. CFJ raised more than $15,000 from area donors to purchase necessities like clothing and toiletries.

“We were there for a week. On any given day we saw 1,100 migrants released from detention facilities with barely anything, just the clothes on their back,” said Peddicord. “Some had been in detention for a month or longer and hadn’t been able to shower … it was a refugee situation.”

Peddicord and CFJ volunteers have made three additional trips to the border since then, facing different challenges and U.S. policy changes each time.

Volunteer Matthew Greeley, who worked on CFJ events with Peddicord, joined her and other volunteers on a November 2019 border trip.

“Stephanie shared that she knew she and CFJ had to do something,” said Greeley, who at the time was associate director of communications for the Diocese and coordinator of Spanish language communications. He is currently campus minister in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville.

“She connected with dedicated friends and with Texas-based organizations to brainstorm what service we might be able to provide,” Greeley explained.

Her leadership, he said, shone throughout the experience.

“We were seeing shocking need and meeting people in the most vulnerable of circumstances,” he recalled, “and Stephanie responded to each with a generosity and creativity that continues to directly affect people’s lives. For example, she continues the friendship we formed with a migrant family that ended up in California, even though our trip was five years ago. Stephanie is a model of solidarity.”

Peddicord hopes to make another trip in 2024, as soon as her schedule will allow.

“A huge piece of why we go is to bear witness to it and spark awareness in others,” she said. “It’s still happening, conditions are just atrocious, and our faith really compels us to respond.”

Thanks to Peddicord’s leadership, Greeley said, “CFJ continues to be a force for good and one that stands with the marginalized. Her leadership has also inspired so many others, like me, to answer the call and do what we can to help those in most need … to welcome the stranger. I am grateful to call her friend.”

Leading by Example

When asked what her greatest gift is, Peddicord said: “Tenacity. You have to be bold and not easily dissuaded.”

This tenacity came to fruition in the first grant from the Lilly Endowment. CFJ is a very small organization, and it was the only Catholic entity and the only non-university to receive a grant from Lilly in 2018.

“Our faith is really challenging. Jesus said to leave everything behind and follow him,” Peddicord said. “Pope Francis has awakened us from our slumber and given us a whole new language. We have the navigational beacon of Pope Francis, who guides us to ask ourselves these questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is God’s plan for my life? God is calling us to extraordinary things. It can be terrifying, but it is a great gift. We’re bringing God into those spaces.”

While the focus of CFJ is youth, Peddicord said they are not alone in lacking vitality in their spiritual life; spiritual vitality also must be addressed in adults.

“Our faith is not just about attending Mass on Sunday and checking other boxes,” she said. “For all ages, you are the main character in your faith story. You need to hear God in this story, but it’s about you. Faith will accompany you, but it’s not a passive relationship. God will throw you the ball, but you have to be in the batter’s box.”

Someone who sees all the seemingly insurmountable problems in the world – poverty, food insecurity, conflict, climate change, etc. – and feels overwhelmed and incapable of making a difference must change the narrative, Peddicord said.

“We need to change the way we look at change and progress. You can’t do everything, and that’s OK. Pick one thing, and you can do it really well.”

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever.  Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE).  Thank you for your support.   


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