I’ve thought about how to start this post hundreds of times. But writing it feels surreal. It feels like I am about to tell you a story about someone else.
This is the first time I’m publicly sharing my story of sexual abuse by a Catholic Priest.
When The Anderson Report was released in 2019 I stared at the link for a few minutes before clicking on it. As tears welled up in my eyes, I scanned through the report with my now blurry vision to look for the name of the priest who continually molested me in the summer of 1981. The strong woman I am now tried to strengthen the young girl inside me who felt sadness, shame, and anxiety as she scrolled down to find out if he was listed. The first thing I noticed was the multitude of names. After what seemed like forever, there it was. His profile didn’t share a photo but I remember him well.
His name is on that list because in the summer of 2018 I finally found the courage to file a report with the Elmhurst, IL police department. My story is unique in that it quickly unfolded and by December it was reported on ABC News and in the Chicago Tribune.
The news coverage of sexual abuse in Hollywood and the Catholic Church has helped victims come forward because now they have a much better chance of being believed. I thank God for this shift and believe we are in a season where the truth will set the captives free.
I never wanted to tell my story publicly. I’m just now starting to unpack all the reasons why and I’m sure I’ll write more in the future as I figure it out.
But I’m feeling led by God to share my experience in order to help countless others who don’t feel they have a voice. I pray my words help you feel understood and seen. I hope it encourages you to find your #BraveToo. I hope my future blog posts or ministry helps you find healing, comfort, and strength. Much of what I do in ministry is to help people encounter the healing love of God. Without Him … I would not be able to share this today.
I also wrote a post about how to report abuse and what to expect from the process in Illinois. I wrote this because the fear of the unknown is a major hindrance to coming forward. I pray it provides clarity and some stability in your process.
I attended Visitation School and Church in Elmhurst IL. I enjoyed playing guitar, singing, and collecting stuffed animals. I had braces and did my best to feather my hair in a perfect Charlie’s Angels way. I got Teen Magazine and Tiger Beat and loved Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys books. I wasn’t thinking about boys … and I had never been kissed.
My Church started a youth group. We did lots of fun things and my parents allowed me to stay out later than my normal curfew because Father Mark Jendrysik was our chaperone. He was cool and made me laugh. As he drove us kids around, he made me feel special by inviting me to sit shotgun in the front seat of his car.
I had just finished 7th grade and was bullied in school by a boy who pointed out how my body was more mature than the other girls. He passed notes to the other boys about some fantasy where we made out behind the bushes on our walk home from school.
I was vulnerable and ripe for someone to step in and “protect me.”
One night Father Mark dropped off all the other kids at home before me. He leaned over to hug me goodbye and …. he did more than that. I can still see that moment like someone hit pause on the remote. I remember the smallest details. But I will spare you those.
I was molested that entire summer. But I didn’t know that was what it was for a long time.
It's hard to explain why I didn't know it was abuse … it's part of how they groom their victims. I knew it was wrong but felt I had to protect him. I didn’t want to get in trouble either.
I carried so much shame for making a man of God break his vow of chastity. Let me remind you, I had just turned 13. I wasn’t seductive … I couldn’t even tell you what that meant at the time. My parents monitored what we watched on TV and we had zero access to inappropriate dramas or comedies. Which wasn’t as hard as it is today — since we only had a few channels.
One day while he was driving me home, I told Father Mark he shouldn’t be a priest because he clearly liked women. He kicked me out of the car and told me to walk home.
I didn’t see him for a while after that. I thought it was over.
One day, I was sitting in the back of my 8th-grade class when Father Mark walked in. All the kids welcomed him and I sat frozen in my chair. He walked all the way to the back and stood behind me. He proceeded to massage my shoulders. All my friends turned around and stared at us. I was so embarrassed. After class, he followed me to my locker and told me he wanted to see me later. I told him to leave me alone. Later the kids asked me why I was yelling at Father Mark.
That Sunday night he showed up at youth group and again, I told him to leave me alone. The new youth group leader came over and asked me if he could have a moment to speak to Father Mark. I walked away and watched as the two men spoke. He left and I never saw him again.
I attended the Catholic Church and School through 12th grade. Once I got to college, I stopped going to church.
But in 2003 I had an experience with the purest of love … God began to reveal Himself to me through His son Jesus. I started serving in church ministry, speaking and writing about His goodness.
In 2009 I called Father Mark to confront him and to tell him I forgave him. That conversation was one of the most bizarre experiences. He said he remembered me like a first love. He talked about our “relationship” to help other priests. He hoped to see me again. I was shocked and out of righteous anger, I said, “It was not a relationship … I was 13 and you stole my innocence.”
I tried to report my abuser a few times but there wasn’t a precedent or support like there is today.
I reached out to SNAP in 2004 a couple of times and no one ever got back to me.
In 2005 as I went to my boss, who was also an elder at the church where I was on staff, and he suggested I move on. I interpreted it as he didn’t want the church (or maybe him) to have to deal with all that came with this kind of thing. I felt shame after telling him because I wasn’t supported. I know now that he had a legal obligation and should’ve helped me report it to the authorities. If I’d done it then, it would’ve fallen within the statute of limitations. It is a felony for a pastor in the church (or a therapist) to NOT report what you’ve said or cover it up.
As I tried to find out what to do on my own I would be overcome by fear, anxiety, shame, depression, and helplessness. In January of 2017, I tried again. The anxiety got so bad I could barely function. It's so hard to do anything logical when you have so many emotions getting in the way. I found some relief as I set aside time to worship each morning. I buried myself in work as a distraction. Finally, I spoke to my body and said out loud, “It's ok, I won't report him. It's safe. You don't need to worry. I will protect you.” The anxiety started to fade but I knew this was a bigger deal than I'd ever realized.
Then one night in August 2018 while watching the news, I was gripped by an announcement. In lieu of the investigation of Catholic priests in PA, the Attorney General of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, opened up a hotline for victims. (link to report and link to press release)
That began a series of emails and phone calls with the States Attorney office. After a couple of weeks, I was instructed to file a police report in the city the abuse occurred. Then I had to go back and do a recorded video interview with a detective. For some reason, I wanted to go alone. Looking back I think I needed to do it that way … this experience took so much of my strength away for so many years. I felt powerful going by myself. I didn't want anyone to pity me. I couldn't risk someone's comfort making me feel vulnerable. (This may not be the right choice for everyone.)
A month later I got the call … the police confronted him and he admitted it.
I was instructed to call the Catholic Dioceses Victim abuse hotline and tell them about the police findings. The woman was very kind on the phone. The next day she called me back to say they removed him from serving … pending an investigation.
On December 7th I received an email from the Illinois States Attorney:
I’m not sure if the Diocese has been in contact with you, but I wanted to let you know the Review Board substantiated your allegation against Mark Jendrysik and recommended his removal from ministry. The Bishop accepted the Review Board’s recommendation and he is now permanently removed from ministry. Yesterday Joliet added his name to its list of priests with substantiated allegations against them. It’s my understanding that announcements about his removal will be made this weekend at the parishes where he served.
I did get a call from the Catholic Dioceses representative the day before that email. She said the case was being escalated to the Pope. But I haven't heard anything since.
And although they offered to pay for a few counseling sessions for me and my parents, they never returned my mom's call. I kept waiting for the list of names and had to leave several messages. After finally getting a few recommendations I made an appointment with a counselor they recommended. A friend told me to ask the counselor a very important question … which seemed crazy to me. I coincidentally found out the counselor the Diocese recommended would have to turn in my therapy notes to them. (Uh. No.) The Dioceses never told me that and the counselor they recommended only admitted it when I asked. I wouldn't have found that out until I arrived for my first appointment. It would've felt like a violation all over again.
After it was over I contacted an attorney only to find out I missed the statute of limitations by one year. That is when I finally broke down and wept.
Unfortunately, that wasn't my only experience with abuse with spiritual authority. I blogged about how the Sr. Pastor of my church was inappropriate and sexually suggestive here, about what spiritual abuse looks like here, about detoxing from a cult culture like Harvest Bible Chapel here and how to heal from church hurt here. Or if you are looking for your inner courage check out my post on #BraveToo.
If you want to keep up with my recent blogs, feel free to subscribe to this blog below this post. I will be writing a lot more about the things God has taught me and I pray it's an encouragement to you.
I've begun to do some research about childhood abuse and receive counseling. I'm so grateful for the ways God has protected me. (That may sound crazy to those who think I wasn't protected by God.) My life is a testimony of God's goodness. You can find out what I'm learning through my process of healing in different blog posts to come.
I was given a gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It was entrusted to me to give away to others. I forgive Mark Jendrysik for abusing me. I release him from all the consequences I have in my life because of his actions. I pray God blesses him so he knows the endless depth of the love of Father God.
As to what I'd say to Mark today … I want my life to reflect the attitude of Joseph when he spoke to his brothers (who sold him as a slave and told his father Jacob that he was killed) in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
I pray God uses this experience in my life to minister to others. I know God is faithful and won't waste a single tear.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
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