College graduates are routinely advised that their lives will be more productive and gratifying if they continue pursuing learning as they proceed through life. Brittany (Brasseur) Czekaj ’13 not only agreed, but she also helped create a pathway for new professional and personal development programming in her home state of Vermont.
After working in the for-profit sector for a few years after graduation, Czekaj joined the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, and eventually became a development and planned giving officer, a fundraising position for the diocese. Soon after she was hired, Czekaj came up with a new programming idea to help fill a gap in the diocese’s services, Vermont Catholic Professionals. The group would serve Catholics—and others with shared values—from the business and professional sectors. Its mission is “to encourage intellectual discussions, to foster professional and faith-based relationships and to inspire service and charity to the community in Vermont.”
Since late 2018, it has hosted networking events featuring regionally prominent individuals, such as a college president, the head of the leading statewide business group, a nonprofit executive in youth services, medical leaders, and others. Before COVID-19 emerged, the sessions were scheduled on weekdays starting at 8 a.m. so that participants could get to work afterward, but some people would always linger for conversation beyond 9:30 a.m.
Czekaj answered some questions about how the venture began and how it is progressing.
Q: How did you get the idea?
A: Vermont Catholic Professionals (VCP) started as an idea in early 2018, just six months after I started working for the Diocese of Burlington. During a monthly meeting with my manager, Ellen Kane, I discussed how I felt that there were ministries for youth, young adults, college students, and families; however, it seemed like those who are career-driven Catholics were not being engaged.
I told my manager that while attending Saint Leo, the College of Business would have nights where students could network with alumni who represented various businesses and industries. I loved the fact that we could join our Catholic faith, shared values, and professional focus, and feel that there is no substitute for this type of relationship cultivation.
Q: What did you need to do to get it going?
A: Firstly, I presented the idea to Bishop Christopher J. Coyne to be sure that he approved as it is a group through the Diocese of Burlington. Secondly, I formed a committee of various individuals in order to come up with a sound description and mission of the group and get ideas for promotion, logos, invitations, logistics, etc. We were lucky to start our group based on the generosity of the diocese so that we could host events in a proper space. We are grateful that after the first event, there was a great response of members and organizations that were eager to sponsor our group. Thanks to their generosity, we were able to host the in-person networking events and not pull from diocesan funds.
Q: How has the reception been, especially in a rural state with the population dispersed among mostly a few small cities and small towns? Were people hungry for something like this?
A: This group has been extremely well-received. Our initial goal was around 25 people, as we thought that would be successful due to the limited percentage of Catholics in our state. We ended up having 60 people from throughout the state in attendance at our first in-person networking breakfast and at each quarterly event following. There was a great desire for people to have a group like this, of like-minded individuals who share a passion for both their faith and career.
Q: COVID-19 threw in a big complication, and you adapted—how?
A: We plan all of our events a year at a time, so in January 2020 we had all of our in-person networking breakfasts planned. When COVID-19 hit, we adapted and overcame by transitioning to a virtual platform and hosting webinars, with a slightly different format. The silver lining of this change has been that people throughout the entire United States have been able to attend (including fellow Saint Leo University alumni).
Q: What have been some of the fruits of this journey?
A: Many great relationships have been formed: Several members have commented how they did not know that a certain person was within their industry, or didn’t realize that they were Catholic. Several job opportunities have arisen as a result of certain speakers or from the networking that has gone on at the beginning and end of the events. Due to our wide range of speakers, many have expressed how inspired they have been by the stories of the individuals, and that they are encouraged and motivated to persevere in faith and excel in their career.
While Spirit Magazine was in production, Brittany Czekaj accepted a position with a national Catholic organization, Leadership Roundtable, and will carry her commitment to professional development and lifelong learning into her new position. Vermont Catholic Professionals is continuing, with information available at vermontcatholic.org.