Tag Archives: Authentic

In Memory of Joe Palmisano, SJ

joeyA Jesuit friend assured me that they only invite the most wise and experienced spiritual directors to serve on the 30-day retreat.  I’d had some not-so-great directors on shorter retreats, so my biggest concern about completing the Spiritual Exercises was whether or not I’d have a good spiritual director. If you have to maintain sacred silence for 30 days, at the very least, I wanted someone good!

One of the first people I met at Eastern Point Retreat House was Fr. Joe Palmisano, SJ, who was assigned to be my spiritual director. I soon learned that he was only 36 years old, he had been ordained maybe 3 years, and this was only his second time directing the Spiritual Exercises. This could not possibly bode well for my retreat!

But Joey had this bright smile and a way of putting people at ease. We quickly discovered that we had many things in common. Most significantly, we shared a connection with the people of Nicaragua. Joe had traveled there on a service trip during college, and as a campus minister I had taken many students on mission to Nicaragua. We both enjoyed simple things like fresh flowers and saltwater taffy. And Joe had a brain tumor. It was an unlikely connection, but my spiritual director back home had a son, Michael, who was struggling with the same thing.

Joseph Palmisano, SJ, died last week on Christmas Day at age 41. He was first diagnosed in 2008, and when I met him in summer 2011, he was in relatively good health. I knew that his condition had worsened in recent years, and he eventually moved to the Jesuit infirmary at Campion Center, in Weston, Mass. Our last email exchange was nearly a year ago.

The past few days have been a flood of memories.  I spent last night reading through my journal from the 30-day retreat, hoping to catch another glimpse of Joe. I am all at once sad, and grateful, and …. laughing! Even as I type this, I keep spontaneously spelling out the word J-O-Y instead of J-O-E.

Joey proved to be wise beyond years, compassionate, kind, an attentive listener, and very funny.  I could not have asked for a better director! While I’m sure there are many people who knew Joe much better than I ever will, I am grateful for the 30 days we spent together on the shores of Eastern Point.

As I read through my journal last night, what I actually discovered is that I wrote a lot about JESUS.  Encounters with Jesus in prayer, stories about Jesus in scripture, long walks with Jesus along the ocean, and encouragement from Joe to keep spending time with the Lord!

Without a doubt, Joe would insist on giving God all the credit for my experiences on retreat – and rightly so.  It is God who forgives. It is God who heals. It is God who transforms our hearts and brings new life.

However, in all my years of being on retreat, I’ve learned that a good spiritual director can make all the difference in revealing God’s presence.

Joey introduced me to authors and poems and saints who I still treasure – Mario Benedetti, Edith Stein, James Alison, T.S. Eliot, a reflection from Gertrude the Great, The Complete Psalms by Pamela Greenberg, and most profoundly, the writings of Walter Ciszek, SJ and St. Claude La Colombiere.


In our last email exchange, I sent Joe a picture of this Mary and Jesus icon that I purchased on vacation.  His reply, “OMG!!! She is beautiful!!!”

Joey held Pedro Arrupe as his patron saint for healing, and he had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother.  In our prayer space on retreat, he had an icon of Mary, and every week he would bring her fresh flowers. He especially loved orchids. Joe presided at Mass one day – I think it was the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – and he brought out all this gold fabric to decorate the altar.  I teased him about it later and he simply said, “Only the best for Our Lady!”  The year following retreat, I emailed Joe and asked for his prayers as I was leaving on another mission to trip to Nicaragua. He sent me a short note along with a photo – an icon of Mary next to an orchid plant.

There are so many conversations with Joe that I will treasure – stories that are much too personal to share or simply too difficult to put into words. I remember his patience with me when the graces of the retreat were slow to unfold. He delighted in the ways God revealed himself to each individual retreatant, especially in ways that took us both by surprise! One day, after a particularly difficult experience of reconciliation, Joey laid his hands on my head and prayed over me. It still brings me to tears.

We all need witnesses. We need mentors and guides. We need trustworthy companions to hear our stories and help us make sense of life.  I am so grateful to have Joey as a witness to the tremendous work that God was doing during that time.

Joey also stuttered. I usually forget that he stuttered, because after a while I hardly noticed. It is one of those qualities I truly appreciated about him. His speech impediment had a way of drawing people in. It forced me to slow down and pay attention to the present moment. It reminded me that we are all fragile, limited, imperfect human beings in need of God’s care.  And God uses all of what we have to offer – even our brokenness.

On the last day of the retreat, I asked Joe about what is real.  Are these mountain top experiences (like retreat) real or simply a figment of our imagination?  And how do you know that the Spiritual Exercises actually work?

He assured me that the spiritual life is real! Our experiences of God in prayer are real. Love and mercy and grace and forgiveness are real. And then he shared, quite personally (in details that I won’t reveal), of the ways he saw the graces of the Spiritual Exercises unfold in his own life.

The graces of the long retreat make us free and unafraid to be the man, the woman, the priest, the minister, the friend, the son or daughter, brother or sister whom God wants us to be. It was this heartfelt knowledge of God’s love that made Joey a friend to many and a most authentic soul in the world – even in the midst of a serious illness.

I am grateful to have met him when I did. When I count the spiritual mentors in my life – my spiritual director here in Chicago, the women in my prayer group, lay men and women with whom I have served, my best friends, and numerous priests who I have known as colleagues or confessors – Joe Palmisano will always be included in the litany of saints who have graced my life and brought me closer to God.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord
And let perpetual light shine upon him
May his soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed
Rest in peace.

Peace and Love,

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Playing Small Doesn’t Serve Anyone

Change the World - ChristinaNoelI was at an event last week, and I met a woman who looked incredibly familiar. We gave each other that knowing glance and simultaneously asked, “How do I know you?” It quickly became obvious that we share many acquaintances in common – for such a big city, the Catholic community in Chicago is a very small world! We have a number of similar interests, and as we played the name game, we naturally began talking about our careers.

I asked what kind of work she did, and there was a long pause followed by a deep sigh. It would be an understatement to say that she is not pleased with her current employer. We made light of challenging work situations, until she finally asked about me. And what do you do?  I laughed.

Typically in these types of settings, where networking opportunities are at a premium, I try to paint my situation in the best possible light. I usually say that I’m in transition between full-time jobs. I talk about freelance writing projects, working from home, and pursuing new full-time opportunities.

Until this point in the evening, it had been such a casual and candid conversation. So, I simply said, “Well, I’m actually unemployed!”  We both laughed!

Upon overhearing all of this self-deprecating banter, a mutual friend inserted herself into the conversation. “Hold on just a minute ladies! Let’s try this again. You two obviously don’t know each other very well!” She then proceeded to re-introduce us to one another.

She began, “First, I’d like to introduce my friend Beth, a two time author, who holds a M.Div. from Catholic Theological Union, and who is an amazing young adult minister. Second, I’d like to introduce my other friend, an inspiring individual who cares deeply about education, international development, and is the founder of her own non-profit organization.”

Wow!! If there was ever a moment where two women were caught in the act of selling themselves short, this was it!  If our mutual friend had not stepped into the conversation, I would have gone home early only knowing one more Millennial who is frustrated with her 9-to-5 office job. And she would have left only knowing me as one more Gen X-er in search of full-time work.

I used to keep a clip from Marianne Williamson’s book “A Return to Love” posted above my desk. I need this reminder, sometimes multiple times a day!

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?”

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

A while back, one of my best friends shared this article about how we introduce our friends at parties.  The author says it perfectly, “Introducing your friends for who they are rather than focusing on what they do will remind them they are loved before and beyond their titles. It’s an easy way to remind them that you see them for their hearts instead of their accomplishments.”

It’s hard to carry on a conversation without talking about the things that keep us busy for most of our waking hours! How do you introduce yourself without referencing your resume for talking points?  Several years ago I went away on a weekend retreat because I needed a couple of days of prayer with an intentional community of faith.  I was not going there looking to make friends or find a date or network over similar career paths. As a matter of fact, I made a point of not talking about my job or introducing myself by my role at work.

When people asked, “Where are you from?” I mentioned where I lived, how long I’ve been there, and why I loved my neighborhood. When people asked, “What do you do?” I told them about how much time I spend in my garden, my volunteer commitments, the ways I spoil my nieces and nephews, and my role on the condo association board.

I’m pretty sure it drove some people crazy! One person finally asked me point blank, “What kind of work do you do?” Sensing their frustration with my vague answers, I simply said, “I work really hard five days a week, and I’d rather spend my weekends not talking about my job.”

It takes a certain confidence to be the kind of person who always has something interesting to talk about. I can think of one friend in particular who does impeccable work, at a prestigious organization, and works with influential people every day. But she rarely talks about her job.

In addition to the work she gets paid to do – she is also an athlete, she travels, she loves the theatre, she belongs to a book club, she’s involved with her church, and many other things. There is always something else to talk about!

Isn’t it time that we start defining ourselves by our passions …. by the things that give us life and bring us joy … and not just the activities that help us pay the rent?  I was grateful to be reminded of this again last week.

I need to be more conscious of how I introduce myself, how I refer to my friends, and to keep a handful of questions in my back pocket that open up the conversation beyond the daily grind.  Playing small doesn’t serve anyone.

(Photo by Christina Noel photography)

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Wait…Wait…Don’t Tell Me

wwdtmEvery couple of months someone will stop and ask me if I work for National Public Radio. “Do you ever listen to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me? At the end of the show they list off the names of their producers, and I’m sure I heard your name! Are you a closet radio host?!  Are you side-lining for NPR?!”

It happened again a few weeks ago, and the conversation went like this:

Beth!  Are you working for NPR now?


Are you sure?  They said your name on the radio!

Yes, I’m sure.
I’m sure that I don’t work for NPR.
And I am certain that the person’s name you heard is not mine.

Let’s pause here for a moment and talk about the basics of German pronunciation.  My last name is KNOBBE, and it’s really not as difficult to pronounce as it looks.

Most people (with the exception of customs agents in the Frankfort airport) assume that the letter K is silent, like Knock or Knife or Knob.  That would be logical, but it’s wrong.  As I often explain, “It’s a German thing.”  My last name begins with a hard-K sound, like Kitchen, Keys, Kettle, or Kite.

Better yet, think about how you would pronounce conniption fit (which is how I react when telemarketers call), or the word sour kraut where you pronounce both the K and the R.  Those first few letters are rolled together into one sound.

In recent decades, people ask if I’m related to Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi from Star Wars.  I claim that he is my third cousin twice removed.  (Some people actually believe me!)  I’ve found this to be the most helpful and entertaining synonym! Which is often met with a shower of movie quotes:

It drives me crazy, but whatever it takes for people to remember and correctly pronounce my last name!

So, why do people seem to think that I’m the web-guru for National Public Radio’s hit show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”?  If you listen to the credits at the end of the show, host Peter Sagal thanks their web-guru Beth.  And apparently her last name sounds just like mine!

“She” is not me.  Her name is Beth Novey.  I know this.  It took me months of random google-searches and scouring the NPR website to find her.  (Beth, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.  Really, I’m not stalking you.  I’m just trying to set the record straight for my friends.)

I do not know the origins of Beth Novey’s last name, but I promise you that her name is pronounced exactly how it’s written: “no-vee”.  Which, in quick succession, sounds a lot like “no-bee” especially if you think the K in my last name is silent.

While I’m not sidelining at NPR, I am happy to report that there are many exciting developments on the job front.  Including two great offers to go back and teach high school again (thank you, but no…).  I am grateful and humbled by the people in my network who continue to call, check in, and forward my name for potential career opportunities.

I had a second-round job interview last week, and hope to have more details to share soon!  Unfortunately, it is not with National Public Radio.  Although, maybe the “Wait, Wait” team would like to invite me onto the show to play “Not My Job” and have me answer questions about what it’s like to be a Web Guru!

Believe it or not, my soon-to-be new employer has a lot in common with NPR – an amazing, national, non-profit organization, located on the east coast…

Wait …. Wait … Don’t Tell Me …

Stay tuned for more updates coming soon!

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An Abundant Single Life

I feel like I’ve spent more time this week talking about the single life project than actually writing about it!  I had a great conversation yesterday with a student who is doing on paper on the sociology of dating.  Earlier in the week, I gave a presentation with the Chicago Area Vocations Association (CAVA) on the vocation to the single life.  Interestingly, in both conversations, I referenced these three principles as keys to living an abundant single life:


It is enough to yourself and not someone else!  There is something very attractive about people who are comfortable in their own skin.  When we become who we are in the eyes of God, we become like no one else in the entire world. This humble confidence (to be who we are and not who we aren’t) gives us the courage to live fully as single people.


We live in such a noisy, busy world that many of us have an aversion to silence and an uneasiness being alone. Yet, there is a difference between being alone and being lonely.  Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone.  It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.”  Solitude is not about fleeing from the world, from our relationships, or our problems.  In the silence, when all else is stripped away, we are left with our whole selves.  All of the blessedness and the woundedness of our souls is there to behold.  A regular discipline of solitude exposes us to the mystery of God’s divine goodness, and it keeps us connected to God as our source of strength.


At some point, all of us ask the question, “Who do I want to be with?”  I hope we all experience the joy of falling in love. After all, it is our call as Christians to love one another!  We are all called to be in relationship, whether that is through the joy of good friendships, the companionship of a spouse, the loyalty we experience among our family, or the support of co-workers and community members.  How can I best share God’s love with others through the many relationships in my life?

What are your keys to living a happy and healthy single life?

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