By S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - As the new associate director for pro-life and family for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, Tom Venzor has found the role that is an ideal intersection of his interest and skills.
“I couldn’t ask for a more perfect job,” he said. “I really wanted to work in public policy.”
The Schuyler native has long been interested in pro-life issues. As a youth, he was very involved with Life Teen at Divine Mercy Parish, where the volunteer youth ministers inspired him greatly.
“My family had been cultivating my faith all these years but they brought me into a lived faith and into a community of teenagers who were seeking God as well,” he said.
While a junior at Doane College in Crete, he experienced a more profound conversion.
“I was intellectually stimulated by philosophy, which reinvigorated me and rooted me deeper in the faith,” he said. “It forced me to decide whether or not I was going to live for Christ and for the Church.”
During his senior year, he frequently met with the late Father Paul York and also began discussing philosophy with Father Jeffery Eickhoff at St. Gregory the Great Seminary. With these connections, Venzor said, “the thought of the priesthood became a very vivid, a very real possibility.”
The Archdiocese of Omaha sent him to Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo., where he remained one year.
“That year of seminary taught me what it meant to have a true daily habit of prayer,” Venzor reflected. “It was kind of an incubator of Catholicism for me.”
He moved on to attend the University of Nebraska School of Law. Meanwhile, he worked as a legislative page for the Nebraska legislature. He also got involved with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an organization focused on religious freedom. Venzor received an ADF Blackstone Fellowship.
“That was monumental for me,” he said.
He spent a summer with ADF, attending seminaries and working for the Legionaries for Christ in New York. During his third year of law school, he did some work for a law firm that specialized with public policy, as well as for Jim Cunningham, former director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
At graduation, Venzor was still discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood. He wasn’t ready to return to seminary, but a job offer at the state legislature didn’t seem right, either.
Venzor returned to Schuyler and divided his time between serving as youth director of his home parish and assisting Benedictine missionaries there. Then he returned to seminary studies, this time at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md.
“The Mount was incredible,” Venzor said. “I was surrounded with such great spiritual direction and such great spiritual brothers.”
The longer he remained in seminary, however, the more clear it became to Venzor that he was not being called to the priesthood as other men around him were.
He speculated that God sent him back to the seminary, “to fall in love with Him more and more, and to teach me to have the courage to trust Him and His plans.”
Venzor left the seminary with no idea what his career would be or should be, but he definitely had a good idea of with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life. After securing her parents’ blessing, he rekindled his relationship with Makayla, a woman he had dated during law school.
In time, he went to work for Nebraska Senator Lydia Brasch (District 16). Just months later, however, he learned that the Nebraska Catholic Conference was hiring a new pro-life director, since Greg Shleppenbach had become executive director.
“I really loved working for Senator Brasch. We were doing great work in her office, but I knew this was the place that intersected a lot of my interests from my previous experience,” Venzor said.
Plus, he couldn’t ask for better leadership.
“We have bishops who are in the fight, in the trenches with us. I am very thankful for that,” he said.
Venzor started his new position Sept. 14, and he and Makayla were married Oct. 3. The couple lives in St. Patrick Parish.
In his new role, Venzor is responsible for coordinating and directing pro-life programs in all three Nebraska dioceses. He will also assist with policy issues related to family, marriage and sexuality.
“I think the biggest challenge I will face is filling Greg’s shoes,” Venzor smiled. “Thanks be to God, Greg has left me with a legacy of great pro-life work and networks and programs.”
In addition to abortion, Venzor has a laundry list of pro-life issues that will keep him busy.
“When you look at St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, he has a list of those issues that touch on the Gospel of Life,” Venzor said.
Taking precedence for him now are areas like appropriate sex education for youth, pornography, capital punishment, embryonic stem-cell research and reproductive technologies. He plans to lend his expertise in public policy development while inspiring grass roots activism.
Each looks like an uphill battle in many ways, but Venzor said he is letting the Holy Father guide his efforts.
“Pope Francis often tells us to look to the elderly for their wisdom and the young for their hope,” he smiled.
He asked for prayers and patience from Nebraska Catholics as he serves them in his new role, but he asked that each person, “continue in their own communities, places of work and other associations to build this civilization of love and a pro-life culture wherever they are.”