The Diocese of Orange relies on a number of women in leadership roles to coordinate its many ministries

By Malie Hudson     7/23/2018

Linda Ji and Penelope Hecker are the newest lay women taking up leadership roles in the ministry offices at the Diocese of Orange, joining Olivia Cornejo, director for the Institute of Pastoral Ministry; Norma Aguero, director of Child and Youth Protection; and Nancy Lopez, director of Catholic Deaf Community, among many other women of faith.  

Prior to starting her role last May as director of Pastoral Care for Families in All Stages, Linda Ji acted as Donor Services Coordinator at Orange Catholic Foundation where she assisted in the For Christ Forever Campaign that financially supports the renovation of Christ Cathedral, and grants for Catholic schools and education enhancements, to name a few. Although she spent the last five years in development, she has worked even longer in youth and young adult ministry. Returning to ministry wasn’t something she expected.  

“I approach my leadership role with humility,” said Ji. “I intentionally had gone in a different direction, but God called me back. Humility is being able to see myself before God and others … being honest with myself in terms of my strengths and gifts as well as my limitations. Remembering that really helps me to act and do what I can and what I am being called to do. To realize that I can’t do it by myself; I need to partner with others and rely on God.” 

In her new role, she is responsible for providing a wide range of training for pastoral care ministries and resources for families in all stages of life including marriage preparation, bereavement and grief support, divorced, separated, widowed, mental health and healing support for women who have had an abortion.  

Like the Office of Pastoral Care, several other ministry offices cover a wide range of critical services.  

Institute of Pastoral Ministry Director Olivia Cornejo juggles many elements in her department, mainly classes and certification programs that provide theological knowledge for catechists and leaders to effectively teach the message of the Church to their parishes. About 1,000 people attend classes every month.  

Director of Child and Youth Protection Director Norma Aguero’s office ensures that every employee and volunteer is fully vetted and trained. There are about 75,000 clergy, employees and volunteers. Aguero is also in charge of providing age-appropriate education programs for children in all Diocesan schools. All measures are dedicated to reducing sexual abuse.  

The model of the domestic Church is what Ji believes should be reflected in the larger Church, an example she believes is important for youth to see.  

“The family is led by a mother and father or a wife and husband. Even there you see both. So I think it’s only fitting that even in the larger Church we are able to see both,” she said. “It’s important that women are present in liturgy. We could be lectors or ministers of Holy Communion and also in the institutional Church, whether it’s a diocesan office or a parish, it’s important for all of us to see both men and women serving in the Church to acknowledge that God is giving gifts to women as well to build up the body of Christ.” 


Servant leadership 

In June, Penelope Hecker was promoted from her role in publicity and public relations to director for the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (ODCCW).  

“Every Catholic woman in the Diocese is a member,” said Hecker. “It’s the best kept secret in Orange County because O.C. is such a diverse place, we have so many different cultures but we are all one in the Catholic Church.” 

ODCCW hosts a general meeting that provides lunch and registration at a different church each month. Each general meeting also provides a guest speaker that focuses on spirituality, leadership and service. About 80 women attend the monthly meetings but Hecker wants to see even more women. One of her goals as the new director is to find ways to encourage more active membership.  

ODCCW also implements special projects requested by the bishop, collects donation items for charities and assists groups and organizations through legislation. 

“I approach my role as a servant. It is our gift that we have in being women in Christ, and as a person in the body of Christ, we are called to serve one another,” said Hecker.  

In her 12th year as director of Catholic Deaf Community, Nancy Lopez also approaches her leadership in a similar way.  

“I see my role as a servant leader. It’s a pleasure to serve those that seek help. Just to see them have the courage to ask for assistance takes a huge leap of faith. They completely depend on us to provide them with assistance with whatever their situation,” said Lopez, who assisted her deaf sister during her journey in receiving the sacraments. That experience led her to become involved in the deaf community and eventually to her current role.  

“As women, we bring a different perspective. Not only in the work place but also pastorally,” said Lopez. “I think that the woman perspective of being there to collaborate and bring in a different point of view makes a huge difference in being able to serve the people we are called to serve.”  

Her department serves over 800 families and provides American Sign Language interpretation services for sacramental preparation, religious education, Sunday liturgies, counseling and retreats, to name a few.