Young professionals around the world effectively and enthusiastically administer the Pilgrim Project. Our goal is to bring together people, cultures, and different generations to make outreach possible, and to help students grow and mature in their own personal faith. Here are their stories:
Chairman of the Pilgrim Project Board and Director of Strategic Initiatives
Shawn is a Legislative Assistant in the United States Senate, in Washington, DC, USA, where he has focused on policy issues relating to energy, environmental, natural resources, and education. In this role, Shawn has been involved with various legislative and U.S. policy initiatives, regulatory issues, the federal appropriations process, as well as stakeholder relations. Shawn is a native of North Dakota and holds a degree in Political Science and Economics from North Dakota State University. Go Bison!
Favorite Pilgrimage: Fatima
In 2014, I was fortunate to go on pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, with a group of students from Spain. Since the captivating events of 1917 when three young people experienced divine visions along a quiet Portuguese countryside, word has spread that something of lasting importance happened in Fatima. Those events have attracted millions of people who seek to encounter that grace and peace and, in turn, to bring those blessings back into their everyday lives. My journey was one of prayer and new friends, camaraderie and cultural excursions. We were able to learn about the local history as well as participate in service work at a center for persons with disabilities. One of the memorable moments consisted of a candle-lit nighttime procession of nearly a thousand people around the sanctuary square. We joined pilgrims from around the world in prayer and witnessed firsthand the universality of the Christian faith. Pilgrimage offers a time to pause and pray, to step back and reflect, to enter into silence as well as enjoy the company of others. The underscore the impact of discipleship and help us to better appreciate the gift of encounter. Pilgrimages are transformative, and they have taught a quiet wisdom that has helped strengthen my faith life.
President & Executive Director
James is an attorney in Washington, DC. He is a graduate of Georgetown Law and received his Masters in International Business from the University of Florida. James ran varsity track and field and cross-country for the Florida Gators and still enjoys frequent long runs around the monuments of the nation's capitol. James is originally from Florida and feels most at home in the water. He enjoys traveling the world, working with young people, and getting to know foreign cultures. When James is not working or on pilgrimage, you can usually find him enjoying good coffee, jazz, a book on history, or time on his paddle board.
Favorite Pilgrimage: Rome
Rome, Italy, is a birthplace. Rome largely represents the early days of the Christian faith, and in many respects, the beginning of the Pilgrim Project itself. During the summer of 2012, I was blessed with the opportunity to live and work in Rome, and the opportunity opened my eyes to the reality of my faith. For two months I pilgrimaged to many of the breath-taking, wondrous places of important religious significance. I explored dozens of historic churches, surveyed the never-ending Vatican Museums, and became lost in the miles of underground Catacombs – tunnels and chambers where the early Christians lived and worshiped in fear of persecution. I knelt before the obelisk at St. Peter's square, on the very grounds where many Christians died in the name of my faith. I celebrated the Eucharist with my family in the underground Clementine Chapel, directly below the St. Peter's Basilica Alter. Here, we worshipped mere feet from St. Peter's buried remains. Travels throughout Rome, and the rest of Italy, brought valuable lessons in faith, sacrifice, and prayer. Every day was inspirational as I enjoyed a much-welcomed breather from the normal stresses of school and work. I was able to refocus my ambitions and fine-tune my spiritual relationship with Christ. I saw the Church in a way that was real - tangible and visible, and I became motivated to inspire and transform other young people through pilgrimage.
Vice President and Director of Outreach
Stephanie Maloney is a lawyer in the Washington, DC office of Winston & Strawn LLP. She holds a J.D. from Notre Dame Law School, a Master of Theological Studies from Emory University, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola University Maryland. A native of Rhode Island, Stephanie enjoys participating in various religious and civic organizations, playing intramural softball, and spending time with her airedale terrier named Reagan.
Favorite Pilgrimage: Krakow
During the summer between my two years of graduate school, I was blessed to participate in the Tertio Millennio seminar program in Krakow, Poland. Drawing together American and Eastern European students, the seminar focused on now-Saint Pope John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, and explored the tension between our contemporary cultural climate and the Church’s social teaching. In addition to extended and rewarding conversation, the seminar included visits to Auschwitz, the Shrine of Saint Faustina, Częstochowa and the Jasna Gora monastery, and a walking tour that explored Karol Woytyla’s early life in Krakow. Even as the robust discussions of faithful resistance to secularism and destructive ideologies transformed my thinking, it was the excursions that provided an incomparable encounter with the reality of sacrificial love. Standing in the Auschwitz cell where Saint Maximilian Kolbe was martyred, witnessing the Black Madonna and the evidence of her miraculous healings, touching the doors of the small, humble church where then-Father Woytyla said his first Mass; such experiences inevitably instill a dynamic openness to God, His love, and the power of the Holy Spirit. The two weeks I spent in Poland magnified and enlivened the reality of God’s presence in my life, drawing me closer to Christ and shaping my spiritual journey in a powerful and permanent way.
Father Mark Thelen
Pilgrim Project Spiritual Director
Fr. Mark grew up in Michigan before entering the seminary. He has worked and studied in the U.S., Germany, Ireland, England, and Italy. At the Atheneum Regina Apostolorum in Rome, he received a License in Anthropology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology. During those eight years in Rome, amidst the faith, art, and history of the Eternal City, he came to appreciate the value and potential of pilgrimage and mission work, and he brought hundreds of pilgrims to the holy sites of Christianity. He currently works in Barcelona as a high school chaplain at Royal Monastery St. Isabel School and as director of the Regnum Christi center for young adults. When possible, he enjoys leading young people on pilgrimage throughout Spain, Italy, Croatia, Ireland, England, Portugal, India, and more. He also enjoys sports, running, hiking, praying.