Woman to Know: Sara Perla

Meet Sara Perla, host, USCCB “Made for Love” podcast

Mention the “USCCB” (the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), and the image that likely comes to mind is a roomful of cardinals and bishops. But behind the scenes at the USCCB are hundreds of vital staff members who do the hard work of researching, drafting, and implementing the policy decisions of the conference of bishops—policies that influence ordinary Catholics on issues from immigration to education to marriage.

One of these dedicated—and creative— staff members is Sara Perla, a program specialist for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage (under the Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth Committee). Truly an inspiring woman, Sara is also the host (and chief innovator) of the excellent new USCCB podcast, “Made for Love.”

Officially, the podcast explores the Church’s teachings on marriage, sexuality, with a particular focus on the four themes of the Marriage: Unique for a Reason project — sexual difference, children, religious liberty, and the common good. Actually, it’s an adventure in storytelling – a walk with real people through the challenges, sorrows, and joys of marriage and family, accompanied by the wisdom of faith. I predict – you’ll become regular listeners in no time!

I caught up with Sara recently and hope you enjoy getting to know this “Inspiring Woman”! (Our conversation is below.)

CWF: Sara, you’ve been part of the USCCB staff for four years – how did that come about?

SP: My path led me to the USCCB twice; first, it funded my graduate studies, and then it appeared as the best way to combine my education and zeal with a living wage. I had been teaching high school theology for six years, and besides the emotional toll that took, I realized that as a single woman, I could never buy a house or move forward in other ways if I stayed teaching.

CWF: Tell us a bit about the podcast, and how that came about.

SP: My current project, the Made for Love podcast, feels (if it’s not too cheesy to say) like what God made me to do! It combines so many things that are meaningful to me: God and his mysterious plan, people and their quirks and journeys, music, storytelling, and writing. I have enjoyed listening to podcasts from NPR and APM for years, and have always wished that there was a Catholic version, where we could tell our stories to the world. As they say, your calling is where your passion and the world’s need meet!

CWF: What are your hopes for the podcast, in terms of impact?

SP: The “Made for Love” podcast is a way to make all the Church’s teachings on love, sexuality, the family, etc. concrete for people. It is meant to show that it is possible to live the truth, and that doing so, while it may entail struggle, is worth it in the end. I see it as one way to combat the trend (which is not new) of believing that Church teaching is an “ideal” that “regular people” can’t follow. On the contrary, Church teaching, especially on sexuality, is the way to be happy and fulfilled. It’s not external to us but rather confirms who we are made to be. By interviewing “regular people” who are nonetheless trying to follow the Lord, I hope that the podcast will encourage all of us in the Church as well as make us more understandable to others outside her.

CWF: I love that idea – we all need a positive vision, a sense of where we’re going, and witnesses who’ve walked those paths before us. You’re in a position to see not only the challenges the Church faces, but also the good things happening. Can you share some of those?

SP: There are many good things happening in the Church today! For example, last week was the FOCUS conference in Chicago, where 8,000 young people came together to pray, learn, and grow in the faith. While conferences are only one way of reaching people, I can say that my experience as a 16-year-old at diocesan work camp changed the shape of my life, and these programs are well worth doing.

In addition, I find the bishops I work with, on the committee and subcommittee, are receptive to the laity (and to women in particular) and committed to leading as servants. I am not sure that this was quite as evident to me the first time I worked for the Conference (in 2005). And I know that the U.S. is far ahead of much of the rest of the Church in this regard. I think the Catholic Women’s Forum and some of the events our members are involved with have strengthened the bishops’ respect for what women bring to the conversation.  

CWF: We live in a culture that, in many respects, has lost its way—as a young woman, what’s your perspective on “the times”?

SP: When I think about being a Catholic woman today, and compare it to 100 years ago, despite the mess in the culture right now, I still wouldn’t go back. It’s somewhat easy for us to lament the loss of a marriage culture and cultural support for healthy sexual mores (and I lament this too!) but it’s also the case that there were women in abusive marriages who were trapped in their marriages with nowhere to go and no way to support their children if they left, and women who were forced to give up their babies because they were pregnant out of wedlock. Women who didn’t marry were often limited to living with their parents for the rest of their lives. So, basically, I’m extremely grateful to be living in our time and happy to be working toward an ever fuller expression of the truth!

CWF: What keeps you going, spiritually?

SP: I’ve made a new commitment to a weekly holy hour at the adoration chapel near my home. The USCCB has daily Mass, so I am able to receive Jesus every day, and I pray the rosary and divine mercy chaplet every day, but sometimes my more “real” prayer life is just crying and asking questions until I fall asleep!

CWF: I can relate to that! Sara, give us a “fun fact” that most people don’t know about you.

SP: I am a baker! I had my own baking business for about 9 months, called “Austentatious Desserts” (all the treats were named after Austen characters for various reasons, the best being the Elizabeth Bennet brown butter sea salt chocolate chip cookies). I am obsessed with the “Great British Baking Show” and like to try new recipes and new techniques when I can.

I was also a flute performance major when I began college, and music is still important to me.

CWF: Final word?

SP: If anyone wants to set me up with a 30- or 40-something Catholic man (single, widower, annulled, whatever) with a sense of humor, please do!

Editor’s Note: In our “Women to Know” series, we introduce you to Catholic women who inspire us with their leadership and their witness to a flourishing Catholic life. To propose a “Woman to Know,” please contact Mary Hasson at mhasson@eppc.org