Woman to Know: Katherine Meeks

Executive Director, Endow

Meet “Woman to Know” Katherine Anne Meeks, Executive Director, Endow

Women are at the heart of every family and community—and play a central role in the evangelizing mission of the Church. Over the past few decades, the number and influence of women’s initiatives in the Church has grown tremendously. These initiatives often find themselves changing over time, adapting to new opportunities and challenges. That certainly has been the story of ENDOW, a women’s initiative that has entered a new exciting phase in its mission under President Martha Reichert, and its new Executive Director, Katherine Meeks—and our latest “woman to know”!  Her story is fascinating, and inspiring for those of us whose lives don’t always follow a neat, linear path.

CWF:  Welcome, Katherine! Congratulations on becoming Executive Director at Endow!  As many of our readers know, ENDOW is a women’s ministry that envisions a world where all women discover their infinite value and dignity. With programs available from middle school to adulthood, Endow has small groups in more than 130 dioceses all over the country!

You are doing some really exciting work—and we’ll get to all that in a moment—but first, let’s start with your family!  Tell us about them.

KAM: I am married to my husband Matt Meeks. He was so not my plan or my timing, but he is the best gift God gave me and best “yes” I have ever made! I have one toddler, Ralph, who is 2 years old.

CWF: It sounds like there’s a story there, about how you two met…?

KAM: First, I never imagined getting married so young, I always thought I would have a later vocation particularly with my travels and love for my work in public health. I never imagined living in LA, let alone finding my husband and starting my family here! Secondly, Matt was discerning priesthood when I met him, and I had just gotten out of a relationship. He in fact had told Archbishop Gomez that very day he was going to enter seminary in the fall (this was June) and then met me that night. Neither of us were looking or planning on it, and then through building a friendship that started that night in downtown LA it was clear our paths to vocation was with each other, not the paths we made ourselves. It certainly caught us both by surprise, but that is when you know it is real. I walked into that restaurant planning on meeting some Hollywood exec and wanting to get it over with, and here in the middle of Los Angeles I sat down with one of the most faithful, interesting, Catholic men I had ever met, in the most unlikely of circumstances. Flash forward and all I can do is smile, because the best things of my life have always been contrary to my own ideas or plan, including my very job.

CWF: What has family life been like living in Los Angeles – a city that is so diverse?

KAM: Living in LA, the adventures never seem to run short! I love to cook, not just because I love food, but I love the culture, nostalgia, and humanity that comes with different cuisines. I’ll drive miles off my normal routine in Los Angeles to find the best Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall for homemade noodles, or nuac mam, or old school Italian markets, to not only find those unique ingredients but to hear the stories of the first generations behind the counter. It makes me feel alive.

CWF: What is your background? What prepared you to lead a huge women’s ministry like Endow?

KAM: My background, before working for Endow, is public health, actually. I always had a deep love for my faith, which was truly ignited when I was a teenager— I lost my 17-year-old brother, whom I loved deeply, in a tragic accident. I was given the grace, thankfully, to fall into God’s arms as a broken little girl and totally surrendered.

Since then, I felt God step in my life in a very significant way that is hard to articulate because my awareness has only increased as I have matured, but it is so clear he has been guiding my steps since and it only makes sense with the lens of faith. My path was not a traditional path that would point towards working for the Catholic Church.

CWF: I am intrigued—could you tell us the story of how you arrived at Endow?

KAM: I graduated college with a degree in Conflict Studies and Biology, lived in South Africa doing eugenics research, moved to California to work for TOMS shoes, the fastest growing social enterprise company at the time, which eventually led me to a job with DIGDEEP Water, a non-profit working with communities around the world to help them bring access to clean water. The short story is I knew I was being called to something different after three years at DIGDEEP but unsure what that was.

Archbishop Gomez and the President of Endow called me and asked me to come on board to Endow to help them with development and reach new audiences, primarily my generation and the Hispanic women of Los Angeles.

But, at the same time, I was recruited for a development job for a public health school for a major institution in Los Angeles. As a Catholic woman there are always ethical questions that come to mind related to public health, but throughout the interview process, reproductive and life issues were not part of the job description. I prayed so hard for clarity and at the end of the week, I showed up to take the public health job, thinking I had it right! It was the perfect trajectory, the next logical step in my career.

However, as I sat around the board table, filled with excitement, these mentors of mine offered me my potential dream job… with one small caveat, a new multi million dollar grant recently signed for reproductive health issues and population data analysis. I felt like I was being handed the golden ticket that came with a steep price I could not pay. “How could this be? I thought I had it all right!” In that very moment, I had a strength and clarity I had not had in a very long time. I turned down the job, walked out the door, and called the President of Endow in tears saying, “Sign me up.”

If only women around that board table knew their faith, and if only their minds were connected to the heart, based on love for Christ and the human person, then we would have a very different world. A very different perspective would go into making those big decisions that affect millions.  I cried because I was overwhelmed with the understanding of knowing where God wanted me. I think he walked me through that very interview to show my why this next job, although challenging, was so important. Here I am, four years later, following a very different plan than my own!

CWF: What an incredible journey! Sometimes we think we see the best path, and then the Lord suddenly shows us that He has something else in mind. Would you say your work is a calling? And how is it changing you?

KAM: I definitely feel it is a calling! I often hire the women who say, “I never thought I’d be here.” It means that they were chosen and they won’t run dry when days are hard, and their joy is radiant because it’s so much greater.

Personally, the Lord is only increasing my love for him through the joys, challenges, and uncertainties of running an organization for the Church. It’s been an adventure and all I can do is wake up every morning and say, “Whatever you want,” and it’s always a surprise! The connection is a constant game of trust, adventure, and prioritizing, but He never ceases to amaze me, as He reminds me of my own humanity and need for him. That’s when I realize this is his business and I need to be sharp enough to be aware of where He is guiding me. That’s the biggest lesson I am learning each day.

CWF: You must hear from a lot of women through your small group network. What are some of the struggles—and graces—that you’ve seen?

KAM: The most common thing I hear from women is a sense of loneliness and need for community. Secondly, I sense a real desire for truth and a simultaneous frustration–they are aware of their love for truth but don’t feel equipped to articulate it.  At Endow, we strive to build communities of women searching for the same answers. We create materials that are the best quality to help them dive into the rich teachings of the church, and they have a group of other modern Catholic women by their side to discuss it all. I’ve traveled to so many cities in the past few years meeting incredible women… but the culture they are in varies greatly. They may feel like women are forming communities, but without the formation they are craving. Or the faith may seem so over intellectualized, that they are losing heart. As women, we have to have both: We need to feed our hearts through good, healthy relationships based on the desire to live and know the truth of our faith. It is possible! We see the transformation all the time, and it often starts with a single invitation from a friend.

CWF: I think we’ve all felt that loneliness and desire for true relationships. How does Endow build this kind of community in small groups?

KAM: Endow is unique in the sense that we are both multi-generational and global. We have college-age women signing up for the same studies that grandmothers are using around the country. We have women from Hobart, Australia to Nairobi, Kenya leading Endow groups for women of all ages. We have worked hard to not only translate our materials into Spanish, but also to adapt our program culturally to the Hispanic women across our country.

We don’t try to do a ton of different projects. We focus on what we do well–small groups–and keep growing and learning about how the faith is lived out so authentically in so many corners of our world.

CWF: You have a two-year-old, and you’re doing all this. How do you do it?

KAM: The best advice I was given when trying to figure out how to “balance” work and family, is that “balance” does not exist. It comes down to priorities and taking a good look at how they shift each day, based on the needs of your time with God, family, and work. Based on prayer, every day is different and you’ll know what is the most important within that order. So, I wake up every day with a hot cup of coffee and time for prayer – and lay out what’s needed for that day, based on larger goals and adjust accordingly.

CWF: What has been your biggest challenge?

KAM: The biggest challenge is to balance continuity with innovation. We have to keep meeting these needs I just described, and yet we needed to re-fresh the organization. It has had great success, but it was time to re-think how to most effectively reach the modern Catholic women. It’s been a blast, but always challenging to make new changes, take new risks, hire new staff, modernize within orthodoxy, and expand to new audiences. When we take the time to step back, it’s truly amazing! God has truly guided us to where we are now. I am so deeply grateful for that awareness and our success.

CWF: You summed it up perfectly—“truly amazing!” Thanks so much for this conversation—and for all the work you do!