If I see "2016, you suck" one more time on Twitter or Facebook, I may throw my computer or phone across the room... Sure, politically, things are at best iffy. And yes, a number of wonderful people left this world (we will miss you forever, Alan Rickman). Could I have maybe stuck to my resolutions from last year a little longer? Most definitely. Can't we all, though?
But to merely write off 2016 as one that was awful and terrible and needs to be forgotten would make me very sad...2016 wasn't all that bad for me...
In 2016, I logged 76,552 miles in flight with a few thousand driven as well. I spoke to over 30,000 people at 36 different events. I slept in over 40 hotel rooms, ate in easily 100+ restaurants, drank countless cups of coffee, typed thousands of words as I sat in the window seat, and met some of the finest, kindest, and holiest people in this world. It’s been a very good year of ministry, coupled with the fact that I married my best friend, continued teaching in my favorite classroom, and logged a number of comfy hours on my couch.
At the suggestion of my friend and mentor, I decided to make a “best of” list of the things I’ve experienced in ministry this year. It’s certainly not an exhaustive reflection on the amazing things I’ve gotten to do with so many incredible people, but it is a nice smattering of moments that have stood out to me while I’ve logged these miles and spread the Gospel.
Best Meal: Clam Chowder in Boston from Atlantic Fish Co.
I was only in Boston for one night, so I asked the concierge where I should go, and ordered some in and had it delivered. The clam chowder certainly didn’t disappoint, and neither did that night’s Game of Thrones episode.
Best Burger: Bacon Cheeseburger in Nashville from Acme
Juicy and crisp all at the same time, which I didn't think was possible. It also wins because of the company I kept while eating it...here's looking at you, Robert Feduccia.
Best Pizza: Mozzarella in Nashville from DeSano Pizza Bakery
Like you're eating in Naples...but you're in Music City with nothing but wonderful people and friends in ministry.
Best Dessert: Brownie with homemade vanilla ice-cream at Highland, Table in Shreveport, LA
I’m the first to say that northern Louisiana isn’t really known for their food…that’s more southern Louisiana’s claim to fame. The best brownie I have ever had was from this tiny, hipster-esque restaurant off the main drag in Shreveport. Warm and gooey, with ice-cream that rivals gelato from Rome, I can still taste it when I think about it...
Best Drink: Lagavulin in an Irish pub in Toronto
“Clear alchols are for rich women on diets.”-Ron Swanson. Since I am neither rich nor on a diet, I tried Swanson’s signature drink at a bar in Toronto, at the encouragement of a priest friend. It did not disappoint.
Best Donut: Hurts Donut in Springfield, MO
Reese's Pieces Donut...Everything I imagined, and more.
Best Cup of Coffee: Tim Horton’s
I’d move to Canada just for Timmy’s Ice-Caps. Easy. Too bad Canada has winter like 6 months out of the year...
Best Book read on a plane: “On Writing” by Stephen King
At the suggestion of my fellow writing pal, I picked this book up and couldn’t put it down. It reminded me why I like to write and why I need to make time to write more.
Best Show watched on a plane: The People v. OJ Simpson from FX
I’m a sucker for a good crime drama, and 3 episodes in and this show had me hooked. I downloaded the series to my iPad and went to town.
Best Movie watched on a plane: Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens
If Star Wars is being shown on a plane, I’m going to watch it, regardless of how much I need to get done. The Force was strong on that flight to California.
Best Airport: CLT – Charlotte
Rocking Chairs and pet therapy dogs. Enough said.
Best Souvenir: Chicago Cubs hat
If you’re in Chicago while the Cubs are the closest they’ve ever been to the World Series in 108 years, you buy a Cubs hat. You then wear that hat throughout the World Series and for weeks thereafter.
Best Hotel: Springhill Suites by Marriott in Nashville
Downtown with easy access to cool restaurants and bar, but the best part…You can get Netflix on the TV. Game. Changer.
Best App 1: Omnifocus
Go read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and then buy and download OmniFocus. It’s easily the quickest and most efficient method to organizing projects, calendars, and to-do lists.
Best App, 2: Evernote
I can’t function without it now, and I don’t know how I survived before it.
Best Conversation: The Angels in Anaheim
One of the toughest aspects of being on the road so much is that many of my friends aren’t in my hometown…the people I love to hang out with are often thousands of miles away. What a gift, then, to get to spend some time with Jackie and Bobby when I had a bit of free time at LA Congress. Two adorable children and a tour of their beautiful home totally helped shoot this conversation to the top.
Best “big” Crowd 1: Holy Fire Chicago
I will never forget the stadium of middle-schoolers sitting in total silence in front of the Blessed Sacrament before making a public profession of Faith. Simply beautiful.
Best “big” Crowd 2: LA City of Saints
This crowd of 2,000 on UCLA’s campus chanted my husband’s name after I told them the story of how we met. He was the most popular guy there, and he never said a word.
Best “small” Crowd: University of Louisiana 501 Night
These college students were small but mighty, and weren’t afraid to worship, ask questions, and stay engaged for the entire evening.
Best Heckling: Trump supporter in New Hampshire
I made a joke an audience member didn’t like, they stormed out and then proceeded to also heckle me on Twitter. Good times.
Best Planned Event: Loyola Sacred Heart School in Montana
Most events are planned by adults in an office or around a conference room table, but this particular event was planned single-handedly by a high school senior as a gift to her school. Tommy and I were able to go up to Montana and be with this school community and witness the amazing creativity and leadership of a young woman who will certainly have an impact on ministry in this country for years to come.
Best Diocese: Arlington, VA
I cannot get over my love for this diocese near the nation’s capital. The people there are orthodox, hard working, kind, funny, creative, and have a beautiful vision for evangelization. I was blessed to do another event with them this past summer and still think about all the amazing moments from that week together.
Best Parish 1: Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Jonesville, VA.
While working with the Diocese of Richmond, VA for their summer Work Camp, I had the privilege to visit a tiny parish of 25 registered parishioners. You read that right: 25 parishioners, not 25 families. Arguably the smallest parish in America, with some of the holiest people I’ve ever met, this tiny Church on a hill that looked out over the mountains of Lee County, Virginia was so peaceful and beautiful.
Best Parish 2: Blessed Trinity in New Orleans, LA
Tommy and I were blessed to visit our friend Fr. Daniel Green at this parish on my birthday. This is a dominantly African American parish, and we were 2 of the only 10 white people in the entire building, and I have never felt more welcome in my life. Fr. Daniel had the congregation sing "Happy Birthday" to me and they prayed over us as we set off for the rest of our road-trip to EWTN in Alabama.
Best Youth Minister (female) 1: Georgie Clemens in Chapel Hill, NC
Calm. Cool. Collected. Hilarious. Prayerful. Chill. Her raport with the teens, her peace surrounding everything we had planned, and her friendship since rocketed Georgie to the top of my list.
Best Youth Minister (male): Pat Sprankle in Baltimore, MD
You know when you meet someone who knows a ton of people you also know, but even if you didn’t have all those mutual friends, you’d still be friends? That’s Pat Sprankle, and now being able to claim him as “my own friend” and not just “a friend of my other friends” is certainly a gift.
Best Ministry Pal: Mike Patin
Mike and I live an hour away from each other, and yet it takes doing gigs in California for us to hang out. Anytime spent with my Goose is good time, and his wisdom and insight remains the best mentoring I’ve ever had.
Best Challenge: Hosting DYC in Owensboro, KY
While I pride myself on organization and making sure I know the ins and outs of an event, for some reason I had no knowledge of the fact that I’d be emceeing a DYC that I thought I was only keynoting. Thank God for the Holy Spirit and an easy to win over crowd.
Best Fan-Girl Moment: Cardinal Dolan in New York & Cardinal Cupich in Chicago
I made two Cardinals laugh this year. Cardinal Dolan slapped me on the shoulder and left a bruise (he’s really strong) and Cardinal Cupich gave me a hug.
Best Brainstorming: Steubenville Theme Team
I’m still not sure how I was able to be in a room-full of people listening to the promptings of the Spirit and crafting a conference that will affect over 50,000 people, but I’ll certainly never forget the time spent there.
Best Adventure: Zip lining at Catholic Youth Camp in Iowa
Helmets + harnesses + screaming at the top of my lungs while flying through the air = Adventure
Best Injury: Horseback riding at Catholic Youth Camp in Iowa
The horse’s name was Diablo, he slammed me into a tree, and I had a disgusting scrape on my leg for a few weeks. The scar is even cooler.
Best Surprise: Seeing my college roommate’s mom
The Catholic world is really small, so it’s no surprise that my freshman year roommate’s mom was at Steubenville Mid-America and came up after one of my talks to give me a hug.
Best On-Stage Moment: Playing “Will it Smoothie”
The Diocese of Arlington isn’t afraid to do out-of-the-box, crazy stuff, and WorkCamp 2016 was no exception. Fr. Bresnehan and I dumped all the lunch and dinner time ingredients into a blender and, well, smoothied it. The results were…tantalizing.
Best "On Screen" Moment: Filming "Room 24" series for Catholic TV
They created a background that looked like my book cover. It was easily the most fun I've ever had in front of a camera.
Best Nickname given: Katie “Parmesan” at L.A. Youth Day
So a group of girls come up to me asking for a picture after my talk, and immediately start giggling. When I ask them why, they proceed to tell me that “Prejean” (pronounced “Pray-John) has become “Parmesan” (like the cheese) in their minds. There’s a #katieparmesan hashtag and everything, apparently…
Best "moment of pride": Selling a copy of "Room 24" to my 2nd Grade Teacher
My first book was released in January and the local Catholic bookstore hosted a book signing. My 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Tartamella, came and purchased her own copy and asked me to sign it for her. She is easily the best teacher I've ever had, and handing her a copy of the thing I'm most proud of was an amazing moment.
Best Ministry Moment of the Year: Karaoke/Talent Show with Teens Undivided
A group of high school boys who wanted nothing to do with a weekend retreat at the start were staying up til 1 a.m. on the last night just to sing old Country songs and hang out together. The community formed on that retreat was one of the strongest I’ve ever seen and the graces from the weekend were overflowing. It was a wonderful moment to have, especially since my time as the youth minister at the parish ended in June.
Best Moment of the Year: Walking down the aisle to my grinning groom
I don't think I have to explain that one at all...
2016 was a good year. I can only hope and pray 2017 is even better.