For Molly Herrera, the new program director of young adult and campus ministry for the Archdiocese of Washington, ministry is not only the heart of her job, but at the heart of her own personal faith journey as well.

“One of my greatest joys is being able to accompany people and walk with people,” she said. “It comes from this inner part of my soul that is fulfilled by being able to walk with (others).”

Growing up in Bethesda, Maryland, Herrera attended grade school with her five siblings at St. Jane de Chantal School, the same parish that her father attended when he was young. She said her family’s deep Catholic history played a role in the foundation of the faith in her life.

“I come from this rich history of faith,” she said. “Both sets of my grandparents were very involved in the Church, and so my faith was passed down to me through my family.”

While she went through the process of learning about the faith in school, it was not until after her Confirmation that Herrera said she experienced Christ in a new way at an Encounter the Gospel of Life retreat, a Catholic service camp for youth held during the summer.

“It’s an incredible program where Catholic young people can be together, pray together and do service together,” Herrera said, adding that her experience at the camp was the first time that she encountered Christ’s love and “that feeling of joy and peace.”

“It was the first time I had really felt God’s presence in my life; it was so powerful for me,” she said.

In 2007, Herrera received the Catholic Youth Organization’s Outstanding Catholic Youth of the Year Award while she was a senior at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, where her mother had also attended high school.

Through little encounters with Christ that she experienced many times throughout the following years, Herrera said that she had “seen and experienced God in a way where I couldn’t un-know him.”

“I knew at that point without a doubt that God was real and present and Christ was present in my everyday life,” Herrera said.

It was her faith that guided her next steps in life, both throughout college and after, she said. With a psychology major and a Spanish minor from John Carroll University in Cleveland, Herrera spent her college days on the women’s soccer team and involved in campus ministry as well as the center for service and social action on campus. Through the John Carroll Immersion Program, she spent time in Nicaragua, Mexico, the Appalachia and Rwanda.

“It was through those experiences again that I had an encounter of seeing God through other people,” Herrera said. Based on these encounters and immersion experiences, Herrera said she began to discern a year of service before continuing her education in graduate school.

Joining the lay Catholic service program, Rostro de Cristo, Herrera spent the next year working at a street shelter for young boys and running a neighborhood afterschool program in Duran, Ecuador.

“I was supposed to be teaching English, but these boys had never been in a classroom in their life, and they didn’t know how to read or write in Spanish,” she said.

That year of service, Herrera said, had more impact than she could have ever imagined.

“We were called to see the face of Christ in every person that we met, to be with them in their suffering and to be with them in their joy,” she said. “That year absolutely changed the course of my life. It was those moments of conversion of heart (where) my heart was being converted little by little by Christ.”

She didn’t want her time there to end, so after more discernment Herrera returned to Ecuador for three more years teaching psychology, English and Spanish at a bilingual Catholic high school, Nuevo Mundo.

During her time in Ecuador, Herrera met her husband and they moved to the United States and got married in 2015. Herrera’s passion for ministry only continued to grow as she became the coordinator for youth ministry and young adult formation at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Gaithersburg, where she led grades seven through 12 in religious education, as well as youth ministry and young adult ministry at the parish.

“I never quite left ministry,” she said. “But I think it was at that point, I knew that I was called to do some kind of ministry in the Church for the rest of my life.”

Herrera joined the Archdiocese of Washington team this past spring, just as the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the United States and the face of ministry changed. Despite the uncertainty that lies ahead, she said “it’s been an incredible blessing and opportunity to reimagine and be creative about how we’re really planning to be with young adults in this really unique time in their lives and in our world.”

While archdiocesan young adult events are cancelled through the end of the year, Herrera said her team is working on continuing to cultivate community and ways for young adults to connect – even at a distance.

“All of our resources and efforts are going into a small group launch in the fall,” she said. “The idea and the dream of it is that any young adult in the Archdiocese of Washington can go to our website and find a young adult community that they feel they can connect with, can relate with, and can grow in faith with.”

The Office of Campus and Young Adult Ministry plans to launch 20 to 30 small groups, trying to focus on creating intentional small groups for communities who might not have had the opportunity to connect before, Herrera said.

“It’s been really life-giving to try to reimagine all the little pockets of community in our archdiocese because we have such a diverse population that we’re really trying to focus on reaching everyone in a different way,” she said.

Details on finding a small group later this fall will be available on DCCatholic’s social media pages.