My name is Jenny Ocegueda-Reynosa. I was born in Mexico, where we moved around a lot because of my dad’s work. We moved to the United States when I was 8 years old and moved to San Francisco because my dad had family there. I went to different schools there too. When I was 15, we moved from San Francisco to Ventura, in So. California because of my mom’s work. My parents wanted to get away from the big city to a small town. There I went to the Catholic high school, but I always felt left out by my classmates. Instead, I hung out with other new kids a year behind me. I joined the parish youth group that was begun in the summer when I first went to the school. That was a life-saver for me since I felt so excluded by others in my school.
I grew up always feeling awkward, less than and insecure. My dad and I didn’t get along and was always putting me down. His criticism affected me very much and made me feel like I was a mistake for having been born. He used to call me names and I “accepted” his opinion of me as if his words were true. Two years after I graduated from high school, I entered the convent and joined the Sisters of Notre Dame, whose Provincial House is in Thousand Oaks, CA. I loved being a sister and felt like I finally had found my place. Only after a month and a half, I found out that one of my best friends had been killed in a plane crash along with her father. I was not allowed to go to the services because at that time, we could only go to services for family members. It was one of the most difficult times for me and a hard choice to decide to still stay in the convent. At the end of that first year, I had the opportunity to choose my religious name and I chose Jennifer as a way to honor my friend who had died. It’s the name I kept after I left the convent (more on that later) after almost 16 years, because my original reason for choosing that name had not changed.
The Sisters of Notre Dame were primarily a teaching order and I had hoped to be able to teach high school, but was steered into elementary school. I taught primarily 3rd and 4th grades with a few courses in other years. I also taught music and the choir in all the schools I was in. However, I always felt inadequate as a teacher because I started teaching without any training at all (that’s how it was done then). I loved my kids, but always felt out of it as a teacher. Therefore, I used to get involved with youth groups or young adult groups, where I felt I could better related to them.
In my last school, I was involved in a Spanish young adult group where I got very involved in the pastoral leadership area. I loved it there and I felt like I could really contribute to the young people’s needs. I had many who would come and share their hurts and worries with me, and I felt like I was contributing. However, I also fell in love with someone whom I thought was being honest with me. Through discernment and with the approval and encouragement of my superiors, my principal, my confessor, spiritual director and some sisters, I left in 1993. I wanted to get married and have a family. However, it wasn’t going to be with the man who had actually proposed to me while in the convent because he “had never thought I would really leave,” and because “he had never taken me seriously.” I was crushed and suicidal for about a year, when I finally found a therapist who told me he was manipulating me. I then burned everything I had and began to pick up the pieces of my life in order to rebuild.
I have only ever worked for the church in some capacity or other. I have been a Director of Religious Education in a couple of parishes, a secretary in a parish or school, a youth minister, and for the last 14 years, I have been working in the Diaconate Formation department of the Los Angeles archdiocese. When I first started working there, I didn’t even know what a permanent deacon was. I was a facilitator for one specific year which taught Christology, Mariology, homiletics, church history and spirituality. From early on after I left the convent, I learned about Fr. Richard Rohr and I continue to follow his writings, which have greatly influenced my theology and spirituality. While I was teaching the year of formation that had Christology, I learned about the Franciscan focus of Christology, which says that Jesus came because he was always meant to come and not because we messed up and he needed to fix us. This focus of theology was very influential for me and has continued to greatly influence my present spirituality.
I have gotten a Master’s in Religious Studies, have learned about coaching, which I have focused on the spiritual life since that is what I know most and feel most comfortable in, and I am also a spiritual director. I love to give retreats, and have given them in diaconate formation as well as in other places. One of the facilitators, Dcn. Val, was part of the formation staff when I first began and was very influential in my life. In the diaconate formation program, I realized that there weren’t as many topics specifically for the women in the program. I was inspired to create a formation program that could be for the women, but couldn’t really be given in the actual program at that time because there were so many other topics that needed to be covered. I designed a two-year program that could possibly be given in parishes for both men and women, and that Val and I planned to give. Unfortunately, he got very ill and passed away in 2013. However, I did give my class presentations at a parish for 4 years.
That program is something that I have since begun to give in diaconate formation as part of the human component. For the past four years I have given my topics to both the English and Spanish classes. I have found that very rewarding and encouraging because the students have so often told me how much they have been helped by what I have given them. I think they sense that I really want to help them.
However, for the past three years, my new supervisor has more and more been becoming more disrespectful of my presence (since I’ve been there so long and know so much more than him), and the office environment has become less and less enjoyable to work in. I cannot leave as I need the job to provide for my family, but all the stress and negativity has very much dampened my joy and excitement about what I’m giving. I still get positive comments from the students and feel that I still am helping them, which is a great blessing. But definitely, a lot of the wind has gone out of my sails.
One of the surprises of life turned out that after I left the Sisters of Notre Dame, I continued to be in contact with them the whole time since I left. Three years ago, I was invited to consider becoming an Associate so in many ways I feel like I have come full circle. In October I will begin a leadership training course of one year with them to become part of the leadership team for the Associates. I am excited to be part of this because it will allow me to still contribute to them because they “are still my sisters.”
I am also part of the RCIA team at my parish, which is something I used to do as a DRE, but it’s been a long time. However, I’m enjoying the teaching. It turns out that I love teaching, but I think I was in the wrong age group. I especially love teaching about the faith, but in a way that helps others come to know how much they are truly loved and cherished by our good God.
Regarding my goal/s for this workshop, I want to be able to find my passion again for working with others to help them come to know God and the immense love God has for all of us. I feel that I have lost some of my spark and hope to be able to find it again.
I bring my experiences of hurt and healing, my failings and successes, my joys and sorrows, my spirituality and desire for continued growth so that if others can be helped in any way, they may drink deeply of whatever I may be able to offer.
In some ways, I feel very insecure and like I have very little to offer, but I offer my “littleness” and hope that God can bring good out of it. I want to be open and present to others and I promise that I will be as respectful and open to really hear you as much as I can. I promise my support and encouragement and honesty.
I would like to invite Joan of Arc and Hildegard of Bingen to accompany me on this journey. Joan was my patron said when I was in the convent and she still encourages me to try to be brave when I don’t feel it. Hildegard inspires me to allow God to love me into lovableness, even when I don’t feel it.
A book that has greatly influenced me is The Shack by Wm. Paul Young and also The Shack Revisited by C. Baxter Kruger. Those books have greatly shaped my understanding of the Trinity and their relationship to me personally, as well as with others. I continue to deepen my understanding and my openness to allow God to love me so that I may help others come to know that same gentle and passionate love God has for us.