This is the third installment of our Women of Color in Catholic Media series highlighting the voices of talented women who work in media in the English-speaking world. Here they have the opportunity to share their experiences in Catholic and secular media, discuss their thoughts on race, and share their impressive creative content.
Professor Jaime Waters, associate professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University in Chicago, who has written for America Magazine, was our first featured guest. She spoke about the importance of equity in media. In our second interview, Preslaysa Williams, an award winning author, actress, and homeschooling mom, shared her experiences with Christian and Catholic media, and expressed her commitment to creating the diverse world she wants to see. (Look for her upcoming book online or at your local Target store soon!)
In this third interview, I spoke to Rachel Wong of the Feminine Genius Podcast. In a Zoom conversation, Rachel—a writer and speaker living in Vancouver, Canada—explained the origin of her podcast and how its name was influenced by Pope St. John Paul II. She also unpacked how her Catholic faith has deepened through highlighting the feminine ingenuity of her guests. I asked her to respond to the Gordon Conwell study on the global demographics of Christianity, which identified that today’s typical Christian is a woman of color (someone who is undeniably hard to find in Christian media). She also shared the story of her own foray into the world of podcasting and discussed race and diversity in the Church.
Though she is a lifelong Catholic, she experienced a radical encounter with Jesus when she was 20 years old. She now writes and speaks on the feminine genius, racial identity, the intersection of faith and mental health, and her personal faith journey. In addition to The Feminine Genius Podcast, she also co-hosts A Pondering Heart Podcast, which explores some of the deeper questions that young Catholics have about their faith. This is our interview.
[Regarding the Gordon Conwell Study] Were you aware of this global racial trend in Christianity before? Do you have any thoughts or reactions to this?
I did have an inkling maybe that the profile of Christian women would be as the study described. I think I first was made more aware of that reality when I was in Panama for World Youth Day back in 2019. Naturally, it’s a gathering of international folks and I saw way more people who looked like myself. I was surprised by this, actually, as were my peers, on that mission trip. There were a few white folks but mostly there were different ethnicities.
To see that much diversity was really overwhelming. I’m in Vancouver, Canada which is a diverse city and I don’t think that I’ve ever felt like a minority in the Church—I always felt it was quite balanced. But it was only when I started engaging with Catholic media that I started to realize that there was a bit of a difference there. My initial reaction from jumping into that world was that I stood out more.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and the factors that helped you ‘make it’ in media? Also, what challenges did you face?
I was raised in a very stable and loving home, born and raised Catholic. My sisters and I went to a Catholic elementary and high school. Actually my sisters and I were just talking about the fact that we have the additional certainty of graduating from university with virtually no debt. This comes from a combination of factors and privileges, to be sure, but I am so appalled when I hear stories about students in the United States and the amount of debt that is incurred. I know that this is a common story here in Canada. And so I recognize, with certainty, that because I graduated with no student debt, how lucky and beneficial and what a privilege that has been.
There was a period of time in my own life—I struggled with certain mental illnesses (have always done so and do to this day)—where while I was in high school I turned away from the faith. It wasn’t until the middle of my university degree that I met Catholic Christian Outreach, which is similar to FOCUS in the U.S. It was really there that I came to unite myself back to the faith—a reversion, as some folks say. I had the opportunity to take on the faith as my own.
How did you find yourself working in Catholic media, specifically?
It was a crazy journey! I studied communications and international studies at university, and I’ve always had a very keen interest in going into journalism. At one point, I joined a local cooperative radio station in Vancouver where I hosted a radio show for two years. From there I landed an internship producing radio with our National Canadian Broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and that is really what set me up to do media. I eventually had to step back and re-group because I didn’t see a future at CBC.
The Inspiration of Pope St. John Paul II
It was at World Youth Day, about five months after I left CBC that I experienced the first stirrings of starting something that involved talking to and amplifying the diversity of stories of Catholic women. I didn’t realize it was supposed to be a podcast until later when the Lord made it pretty explicit in his desire for me.
This calling aligned with a couple of things: at first when I started the podcast, it was more so to highlight the fact that there is no one ‘right’ way of being a Catholic woman. So the podcast is called The Feminine Genius Podcast, which is very much inspired by Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Women.
When I read that letter it really articulated a wound that I had had in my heart for a long time. I had struggled with feeling like I did not have anything tangible to provide or serve the Church with. I healed from this as it dawned on me, reading what John Paul II wrote, that the Lord can use me as I am; that I didn’t have to be anyone else, or I didn’t have to strive to be something that I’m not. I realized that if I felt this way, then were probably others who felt this way too.
There is a great paucity of women of color in current Catholic media. Do you have any thoughts or reactions to this? Have you ever reflected on this racial disparity?
For me, when I became more aware of the Catholic Media landscape – especially the Catholic women-in-podcasting landscape: I realized that while there were some creators and speakers of color, it was a fairly white space. Discovering this was interesting because in my podcast I emphasize this fact: that all women are needed and necessary. That is not a new idea but I couldn’t help but notice how— I don’t want to say I’m the only Asian-Canadian Catholic podcaster out there, I am absolutely not (Interviewer’s response: Aren’t you? Rachel: [laughs] No, really there are more!) — but I was so surprised at how few women of color Catholic podcasters there are out there. I’ve encountered a half Korean/half white podcaster and she and I have had extensive conversations about this topic of race. There are a number of Filipino Catholic podcasts, as well.
When you put it in definitive terms of my being the only Chinese Catholic Canadian podcaster – yeah I might be it. I don’t want to be the only one, but I might be! There are a number of us out there, but the problem is visibility. When I look at some of the larger podcasts for Catholic women or Catholic speakers out there—I don’t want to negate the necessity of what they do; they’re wonderful! But it is striking that all of the most well known ones are White. I haven’t seen any non-white podcasts come up and be as highly profiled as their white counterparts.
About The Feminine Genius Podcast
My tagline is “Celebrating the diversity of Catholic women, one story at a time.” In every episode I interview a different Catholic woman and a huge part of the conversation is that I ask women to share their faith journey. What I find so beautiful is that the way that God brings us back to Himself is always so uniquely personal. No one ever goes too far away from God where he can’t bring them back.
Additionally, we converse about the work that they do in the Church and how they serve it. It ties back to that original wound or idea that I struggled with when I felt I had no tangible ways or gifts to serve the church with. Many of my earlier guests (when I first started off, I kept it pretty small) were people that I knew. These were ordinary people and that was important for me: to show how this genius is lived out in everyday life . These women were busy serving their communities, in their homes, in being wonderful wives and daughters- and that is so important! It’s a great reminder to find that balance – to remember that it’s not that we always have to be “loud and out there.” People can serve just as well in their own homes, really taking after the example of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.
What’s been beautiful has been seeing and talking to a diverse array of women. I’ve interviewed medical professionals, scientists, artists, musicians, religious women, lay women and I feel privileged being able to explore the different ways they have been able to live out John Paul II’s description of the feminine genius. It’s also been wonderful to really gather what these women have learned in order to pass on hope and encouragement to other women listening, who may identify with them. I hope it provides useful insight.
In your opinion, Does Catholic media need to play “catch up” with regards to diversity in its ranks?
I don’t want to discredit the contributions of white women in any way, especially those that essentially set up the field of Catholic podcasting. Once I saw their podcasts existed, I was encouraged! Initially, I was concerned about being seen as stealing their audience, or coming after their content, or listeners.
But as audiences are diverse, so should media content be. The folks that I speak to might resonate more with me. I used to despise my own racial identity – because I felt like it would be easier if I wasn’t Chinese. But then I realized: maybe God made me this way for a specific purpose—to be someone that someone else can relate to. I realize that I will be able to speak to some but not all. My hope is that we collectively can catch everybody, so everyone has that person that resonates with them.
Subconsciously, from the get-go, I tried to amplify the stories of racialized women. Also I’ve been trying to be more aware of women with diverse abilities—or disabilities—as well. No matter how God made us, with impairments or not, regardless of our outward appearance, we all have value. It goes back to the dignity of human life that all of us inherently have. So I’ve taken myself to task to be more conscious of that as well.
It’s beautiful to see what folks like Leticia Ochoa Adams are doing to really amplify and really create a world that she both hopes to see which is more reflective of what we know the Church’s demographics to be. Thanks to Leticia’s site, Catholic Speakers of Color (CSOC) where I’m featured, almost every recent inquiry for me to speak since November of 2020 has come through there.
I’ve been floored and it’s been amazing! There are speakers listed on there that are so much more prolific than I am and I never would have thought I would have been included in a space like that. It’s a wonderful opportunity that I don’t take lightly. The fact that people are taking the time to seek speakers of color specifically is incredible—I am so grateful for that!
What are your thoughts on countering racism today in American and Canadian society?
I became more racially aware after the murder of George Floyd and after everything that was happening both in the United Stats and Canada as well (We have a big Black population up here.) But also, as a Chinese-Canadian and, of course, dealing with the impact of Covid, there has been an increase in a lot of anti-Asian sentiment as well.*
When I saw all of the violence and strife over the last year, it made me conscious that I have a lot more learning to do and the Church does too; there are ways that we can still be more charitable. Things like that have made me more aware of the racial realities that still exist in our world and our Church. This past year was probably the first time where I did not feel safe going out of my home. Coupled with Black Lives Matter, I felt like the world had reached a huge tipping point and that there was now a massive reckoning for racial injustice.
But what has come up for me on a positive note is that countering racism is a human dignity issue. All life is precious from conception to its natural end. We’re here on this earth to be good stewards, and to lift each other up is one of the most important things we can do. To ignore an entire population of peoples is detrimental. We are all members of the Body of Christ. When one part of the body suffers, we all do.
What are some words of encouragement you can give to women of color aspiring to any media?
I think it can be easy to feel discouraged whenever you want to start anything – a podcast, a business, an inspirational Instagram account – especially when you look at the landscape right now. Within Catholic media, it may seem really crowded and you may have doubts about what you can offer. And I think that that is exactly it: you offer yourself! We all have different experiences and backgrounds, diverse abilities, and a story that is uniquely your own.
I want to encourage everyone, especially as Catholics of color, to take that leap of faith and start small. That is the only way we grow. If you feel God calling you to start something, take courage in the fact that there is a community of folks ready to support you. The Catholic Speakers of Color site is a prime example! You have a voice and a light that the world is lacking. Seek support from others and bring your desires to the Lord. He patiently waited for me to figure things out over the course of five months. When you feel the call, don’t be afraid to answer: He won’t give you a mission that is too big or too burdensome for you.
For my journey with The Feminine Genius Podcast, the Lord made it really straightforward for me, such as getting me set up in a medium that I was already very interested in and had a working knowledge of. Even the name [of my podcast] was His doing: I wanted to come up with something creative or edgy, but He told me to keep it simple. Now, anyone who googles ‘feminine genius’ will come across the podcast at some point. I guess God is really tech savvy!
Any final thoughts, hopes, goals for your podcast?
My biggest hope for this podcast is for it to become a space where women can come to see that they too are needed and necessary by God. I think sometimes as women, we get caught up in comparison and worrying that we won’t be as good as someone else. I struggle with this immensely! But I keep coming back to St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he writes about all of us being the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). I’m not trying to be the only Catholic women’s interview-based podcast, because I can’t be. We need to work together and build up God’s kingdom together, and that only happens when we collaborate and recognize our gifts and shortcomings.
As of late, this part of St. Paul’s letter has really resonated when it comes to thinking about race relations. Hearing about the Atlanta shootings was especially difficult as an Asian woman. While this has been difficult, I believe that it’s also encouraged a wave of people coming together and taking a stand for human dignity. I am especially grateful for some of the friends, especially those who are people of color, who reached out to me to offer their support during that time.
I’m immensely grateful to Leticia Ochoa Adams for creating Catholic Speakers of Color and for believing in all of us and the value that we bring to the wider church. It is a joy and a privilege to be counted among so many inspiring and talented folks! ☼
Find Rachel’s excellent work here:
A podcast that celebrates women of God and their unique genius.
More about Rachel can be found here:
*Note: this interview took place before Atlanta Spa shootings and Rachel’s reaction to that tragedy was added later.
Marissa Nichols studied English Literature at both the University of San Francisco and Oxford University, England. In the past, she’s blogged, contributed to Catholicmom.com, and currently teaches English while editing for Where Peter Is. She left a theology masters in progress at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology to raise a growing family. Her family was featured in America Magazine, and her adult child of divorce story was featured in the book, Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak. When she isn’t editing and teaching, she’s volunteering at her local, non-profit pregnancy center which she also helped found.