Christina Brodie: Redefining the quality of her life
June 25, 2013 by Sarah Jenkins
(From Dec. 20, 2012)
If you remember the classic TV commercial with the line, “Pardon me, would you pass the Grey Poupon?” then you’re already familiar with Christina Brodie’s work.
Now the woman who laughingly describes herself as a “big-time ad executive” has dramatically changed her direction and her locale — by coming to Concordia as a full-time unpaid volunteer.
The next time you see Brodie’s work it will be in the form of a new, long-term anti-poverty program she is helping to design and will coordinate for the Sisters of St. Joseph.
“My mom is first generation (American),” Brodie says, “and volunteerism was not something we were brought up with. My parents struggled just to put food on the table.”
Their daughter eventually was able to attend Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where she majored in Third World History and Communications.
While in college, she married and then she and her husband launched their careers.
She “fell into advertising,” Brodie says. “I got in at entry-level, and worked hard. Advertising was a relatively good career for a woman.”
At 28, she was the youngest vice president — of media planning — with the New York ad agency Lowe Marschalk.
“In the 1970s and ’80s, we Baby Boomers were interested in moving up the ladder and acquiring things.
“We were DINKS — Dual Income, No Kids.”
But her priorities changed with the birth of her son Christopher in 1986. Still working the long hours required of an ad executive on the rise, “My guilt-ridden Italian-Catholic kicked in; I realized I didn’t ever see my son.”
It was also during that time that her marriage ended, and she petitioned for and received an annulment through the Church.
For the first time, she says, she had both the time and inclination to try to help out without getting paid for it.
“I volunteered at Chris’ preschool a little bit,” she recalls. “Then I volunteered with Meals on Wheels. Little by little, I got involved — food pantries, soup kitchens; there were a lot of needs.”
Then she returned to work, this time for McFarland & Drier Miami, and then a few years later with Office Depot as the vice president of advertising at its world headquarters in Delray Beach, Fla.
In 2006, she returned to New York and a job with Maxus Global, a part of the GroupM media agency network. In her position as partner and group planning director with the massive advertising and marketing services network, she worked on major accounts including Korean Airlines, Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge and NBC Universal.
She also began attending Manhattan’s St. Francis of Assisi Church and her commitment to volunteering grew. In time, she joined the Third Order of St. Francis, a fraternity of Catholic men and women often called Secular Franciscans.
After a handful of years with Maxus Global, Brodie realized it was time for another change — and this one might very well be the most dramatic so far.
“The timing is about Chris being centered in his life,” the proud mom says. “As we’ve moved into the 21st century, there has been a shift in what’s important to all of us. Today we think about ‘quality of life’ instead of just the job.
“Chris is an example of finding quality of life — he’s a business major, but he doesn’t want that to define his lifestyle.”
Brodie began changing her own definition about three years ago. First she returned to Florida but remained with the New York City agency by “telecommuting.”
Then she developed a plan to pay off all her debt and divest herself of all but the most basic belongings.
“It’s not like I had so many investments as a big-time ad exec that I can live off my savings,” she notes with another laugh. “I had a small 401(k) that went for Chris’ college, and I’ll have Social Security and nothing else.”
But, she adds, “I’ve been very blessed by the opportunities throughout my life – and this is another one.”
When she was finally ready — with only the possessions that would fit in her car — she started searching the Catholic Volunteer Network for a full-time position where she could live as part of a religious community.
At the same time, the Sisters of St. Joseph had listed an urgent opening for someone to lead a poverty outreach program in Concordia. Sisters, local clergy and numerous community volunteers had been working on the program for more than a year, but it was languishing without a dedicated individual to spearhead the work.
Brodie visited Concordia for the first time in October (2012).
“I just fell in love the week I was here,” she says now. “It was a warm and open feeling; it just felt exactly right.”
By early November, she had returned — and now lives at Manna House of Prayer, with seven Sisters of St. Joseph.
As a full-time volunteer, she receives free room and board as part of the Manna community and a small monthly stipend.
And she concedes there’s a bit of an adjustment — but she’s adjusted before, she notes with another laugh. “Life is a constant conversion.”
After a pause, Brodie adds, “I don’t know what God’s plan is for me, but I look to be here for many years.”