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Dr. Karen Hollenbeck, a parishioner at St. Boniface Church in Fort Smith, pictured here at her home April 12, often wears a necklace of the Blessed Mother. Students at her public school asked about the necklace, giving her the opportunity to share her faith. (Grace Anne Hollenbeck) Entrepreneur Mike Rasmussen, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Conway, smiles inside the Catholic Campus Ministry building near the University of Central Arkansas campus April 12. Rasmussen, who served on the CCM capital campaign committee, donated and raised funds for the new ministry house, said forming spiritual habits in college can help professionals see their faith and work life as intertwined. (Aprille Hanson Spivey)

Faith at work: How professionals blend belief, career

Building up God’s kingdom can happen in small ways at the office and in our jobs

Published: May 6, 2024      
THV11 journalist Brooke Buckner, a parishioner at Christ the King Church in Little Rock, pictured here in 2023, followed in her father Ed Buckner’s footsteps and began working at the local news station in July 2022. Buckner said she recognizes God in her work through the stories she gets to tell. (Courtesy Brooke Buckner)

Dr. Karen Hollenbeck spent 19 years in Catholic schools, easily seeing God in her career. But in 2022, she left her job as principal of Trinity Catholic School in Fort Smith to became a public school counselor.

But there was “a tremendous amount” of guilt and doubt, as she grappled with, “‘Am I walking away from something I’m called to do?’”

However, God has given her moments of clarity, including when some students noticed and asked about her Blessed Mary necklace, allowing her to share her faith. 

“It was a goosebumps moment. I’m able to still have a testimony here, even if it’s not outright,” she said. “… (I am) just doing more of what I was called to do, just in a different place.” 

According to “Lumen Gentium” or “Light of the Nations,” a 1964 Vatican II document, those in secular work also have a vocation to build up the kingdom of God by making “Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity.” 

It’s one of the many reasons lay Catholics should live out their faith in their work, whether it means praying before a meeting, being helpful to coworkers or wearing a crucifix. 

“God wants to be involved in your work, no matter what it is. He can use your work to make himself known to you and to help you grow closer to him,” said Jeff Hines, director of the diocese’s Office of Faith Formation. “You do it by inviting him to do your work with you. It’s like a basketball player doing the sign of the cross before shooting a free throw. Jesus wants to be a basketball player. Combine prayer and work.” 


Spiritual habits

There are many ways to involve Christ in secular work, from forming prayerful habits to simply being kind to others. 

Michael Rasmussen, 62, has been a CPA for 37 years and has worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. 

“I was color blind, so numbers were black and white. It’s not a joke,” he said about why he chose to be a CPA. “By the time I got to college, I loved accounting. Colors wouldn’t change anything.” 

The married father of two and parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Conway received his theology degree in 2018 and has long championed Catholic Campus Ministry as the key for young people to stay connected to God as they move toward their careers. 

In Rasmussen’s final for his theology degree, he explained the “fork in the road” concept that most students face as pursuing a lucrative career or living out their faith. But the two can coexist. 

“Because of the way our society works, that (faith) is not a focus when you go from high school to higher education. It’s just not a focus; it’s not even not a focus but not promoted,” Rasmussen said, adding that being around other like-minded young Catholics can help college students form habits of integrating their faith and work. 

While it’s easy to chase money in business, he said it’s essential to focus on the gifts God gives us. He’ll often pray before a meeting and let the Holy Spirit guide his words. 

“I can’t tell you how many times I discern, pray and an event will happen,” he said, saying he’ll ask God, “‘Just tell me what to say.’ When I drive, the minute I jump in the car, I’ll say a rosary, at least one decade. By the time I get there, I’ve got at least something in my mind. Am I perfect? No. It’s a daily effort.” 

Broadcast journalist Brooke Buckner, 26, a married parishioner of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, said bringing Christ to others is a matter of just being herself. She followed her father’s example, Ed Buckner, the now-retired chief meteorologist at THV11, where she began working in July 2022. 

“I always try to be myself. My dad was a great example of being himself — he’s the same off-air as he is on-air. A lot of people in this business can get a big head. I don’t want to be that kind of person,” she said. “… I do think being myself is a reflection of my faith, in a way.” 

Buckner said heartwarming community stories are her favorite, seeing God in those she meets. 

“There’s some people I connect with right off the bat. I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel God in those moments. ‘I was meant to be here today and tell your story,’” she said, pointing to a woman she met in Sherwood last year who lost her home to a tornado. “... She really needed someone to lean on and listen to her. It was an honor to share her story.” 

Given the nature of the news industry, it has been tough to turn off her “news brain.” However, she said she’s gotten better at managing it. 

“There’s anxiety, stress and I’ve paused to myself and said, ‘Thank you, God, for placing me here in this moment. I just hope to do what you want me to do and help me tell this person’s story the best way possible,’” she said. 


Knowing your mission 

God might call some Catholics to leave a secular job and work for the Catholic Church or vice versa. But each has the same mission to spread God’s love. 

Hollenbeck, a parishioner at St. Boniface Church in Fort Smith, knew God was calling her to be an educator, but that hasn’t always meant staying at Catholic schools. It has evolved from educator to administrator to counseling.

“Work was faith and faith was work,” in Catholic education, she said. “… I had a hard time focusing on other things that were equally important. That is not healthy physically, mentally.” Her supportive family and pastors helped her work through those moments of stress. 

Today, Hollenbeck is a counselor at Park Elementary School in Fort Smith, a high-poverty school with a mix of various socioeconomics, race and ethnicity. Her mission to build up the kingdom of God didn’t stop.

“You pour your heart into it, and that’s beautiful. But the same can be done here also,” she said of her career transition. “I have different ways I can talk to the kids. Some (Catholic) students are so amazed when they see me in church. They expected to see me when I was at Trinity. But these kids don’t, and that’s a message on a totally different level.” 

Hollenbeck keeps her faith front and center, always praying before making a difficult phone call to a parent whose child is struggling. 

“I hope that people can look at me, even though they may not know I’m Catholic, but look at me and think, ‘That person is trying to follow Christ,’” she said. “... I think praying for balance is so important and just constant prayer: ‘Just let me be where you want me to be and I surrender myself to you.’ That prayer of surrender keeps me grounded.”  

Some Catholics might feel drawn to work for the Church, leaving behind a high-paying corporate job, thinking it’s where God wants them to be. But God wants to be with us now — a lesson Hines said he had to learn. Hines became associate director of the Office of Faith Formation at the Diocese of Little Rock in August 2021 and director a year later, but spent most of his career in a secular environment. 

“I worked in industry for 34 years as a computer programmer, project manager and eventually vice president of information technology for a multinational corporation. The entire time I was doing it, I had the feeling I was not doing what God wanted me to do,” Hines said. 

After his children graduated from college, he retired, earned a theology degree and taught at Trinity Catholic School for five years before working at the diocese. But his years in a secular career were not a waste to God. 

“I have learned that God wants to be in our work, no matter what it is. It’s easy now to see how faith and work are integrated, because I work in the Church now. However, a person does not have to work in the Church for faith and work to be integrated,” he said. “Rather than look for an off-ramp from your secular job, it might be better to invite God into your work and discover how Jesus redeems it, and how God wants to do the work with you.”

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