Melissa Fordyce

If there is one thing I’ve learned on my faith journey, it’s that Catholic leaders come in all different shapes, sizes, faces, ages and from lots of different places and points along the way to salvation.

I’ve been grateful that I’ve never had to look too far or too hard to find these inspirational individuals. Perhaps that’s been a matter of professional course for me — I spent seven years working for Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI). It would make sense that I would find Catholic leaders there. But when I left CLI in 2014, I had wondered if I would be blessed enough to find that same connectivity to exceptional Catholic individuals.

By that time, I had come to rely heavily on their influence. The saints are wonderful sources of inspiration, but as I’ve written before, today’s Catholic leaders are our modern-day saints. They are the living examples of how to navigate a complex society with Christ at the center.

They have been a guiding light in times of darkness when I had closed myself off to God’s grace. And they were and continue to be my fuel to forge ahead in my faith when it would sometimes be easier to give up.

So, five years ago, I walk in to Presby’s Inspired Life, a nonprofit organization serving older adults in the Philadelphia region, to start my new job and here comes Judee Bavaria. An exuberant, prayer card-carrying, saint-loving, wear-my-faith-on-my-sleeve Catholic. She also happened to be Presby’s CEO. Insert a momentary sigh of relief and glance up to heaven to say: “Thank you, Lord, for knowing what I needed.”

It was evident that her leadership was guided by Christian values and principals — hospitality, inclusiveness, love of neighbor and love, above all else, of God. She embraced her faith as her most prized possession and boy, did she ever love to share it! Her office was an instant conversation starter — prayer cards, plaques, pictures of churches, temples and faith leaders at every turn.

We talked often and intently about the state of the church and our childhood faith experiences. We exchanged articles, quotes and daily doses of motivation. It enriched and enlivened my faith and I felt better for it.

Judee created an office culture that didn’t force one to compartmentalize work and faith, but rather to embrace it as the driving force to do the job better.

In June of this year, Judee announced her retirement. Last week, Presby honored Judee for her 20 years of inspired service to the organization and her more than 30 cumulative years of dedication to the field of aging services, particularly her tireless efforts in the area of senior affordable housing. An honor well deserved, no doubt.

So out she walks, an exuberant, prayer card-carrying, saint-loving, wear-my-faith-on-my-sleeve Catholic. She is no longer Presby’s CEO, but she remains a Catholic leader and an example for me and so many others. Insert an enduring level of gratitude and glance up to heaven to say: “Thank you, Lord, for knowing what this world needed….”

Judee Bavaria, Catholic leader.