Tonya Johnson, All Saints Catholic
Tonya Johnson, of All Saints Parish is a Multi-parish Director of Administrative Services at several Catholic Churches, has always loved three things—family, faith and singing.
“I was born and raised in Milwaukee as one of four siblings. Our parents, George and Sandra Johnson, gave us a strong faith foundation and a sense that we need to live for others which continues to be part of our lives today. We sang in the choir and were engaged in other church youth programs, not because our parents forced us, but because we loved church. I find it odd that today children have a choice about attending church. We grew up with prayer and church as an integral part of our lives because that’s just the way things were. Church and family were important to us,” said Johnson.
She participated in Milwaukee’s Chapter 220 program, graduating from Alexander Hamilton High School in Milwaukee. Johnson went on to graduate from Mt. Mary University with a Bachelor of Arts degree and then earned a Master of Science degree in Management from Cardinal Stritch University. She attended St. Francis de Sales Seminary’s four-year lay ministry program, receiving a certificate in parish ministry from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Johnson was a commercial loan supervisor when, in 1993, her husband died in a tragic automobile accident. After recovering from this tragedy, Tonya was promoted to personal banker and later, branch manager of a major bank. Longing to meld her business finance background with her spirituality, she began volunteering on church committees.
“I served on the Finance Council and people kept telling me that my skills could be useful within the church. I began volunteering in the office of a Catholic parish. This ultimately, in 1999, led to a new, more fulfilling career path and a full-time job in church management,” said Johnson.
In 2011, Johnson began working at All Saints Catholic Church as Director of Administrative Services. She currently is the Multi-parish Director of Administrative Services of four parishes—All Saint’s, St. Michael’s, St. Rose and St Martin de Porres Catholic churches in the heart of Milwaukee.
“I have to credit the Very Rev. Father Timothy L. Kitzke, Vicar for Urban Ministry and mentor for helping me to grow as a leader and encouraging me to take on this challenge. He promoted me to this multi-parish position,” she said.
Empowering others to share their gifts and talents with the church and helping the community are among the things Johnson most enjoys about her position.
“We have outreach programs that include food pantries, a hot meal program and other ministries that serve hundreds of poor and hungry daily in our church neighborhoods. I work best in the background. As an administrator, I can empower and free others to carry out their ministry in other areas. Seeing our programs succeed, expand and provide people with much needed assistance is fulfilling,” said Johnson.
She is particularly proud of developing All Saints Parish as a host site for employment programs —the Department for Vocational Rehabilitation program that assists people with disabilities become employable and the SER-National Senior Community Service Employment Program that works with senior citizens—helping them enhance their skill sets to re-enter the job market.
“We’ve partnered with agencies such as Milwaukee Works, training people so they can return into the workforce and helping them become employable so that they are able to contribute to society. They can get their self-esteem and confidence back. It really feels good to see them move on, better prepared to meet their life goals. Knowing that I had a part in that and empowering others makes me proud. Being invited into a person’s life and teaching life skills that can be passed on to their children is just pretty awesome,” said Johnson.
She has also been able to make a difference in the lives of youth.
“When I worked at Mary, Queen of Martyrs Church I had the opportunity to teach children to become cantors, leading the congregation in song. The church leaders asked for my help because many of the youth were African American and unfamiliar with traditional Catholic Mass music. I introduced gospel music to the Mass and just being a role model to them helped. I watched them become full participants during Mass and not just youth sitting there bored. They were leading their classmates and the parish community, soon it became cool to clap and singing along.
“Children don’t often get opportunities to see positive Black Catholic role models and interact with them so closely, but these children walked past my office window before and after school. We sang together at school masses. At the end of the day, they saw me walking home because we were neighbors. I’ve been able to model for them successful leadership as a follower of Christ. Children need to see that in people they know,” said Johnson.
While she has no children of her own, Johnson is very close to and proud of her nieces and nephews. She enjoys spending quality time with her family every weekend.
“I have a niece that I’m very close to. She’s earned her master’s degree and works in administration at Milwaukee Public Schools. She has a son—my great-nephew—Noah. I have two other nephews—one that I raised and the other that has blessed me with my great-niece, Nala, for whom I am grateful and proud of as well.” said Johnson.
While she may not have children by birth, Johnson has given birth to creativity, inspiration, faith and much more, to so many in our community. Indeed, she embodies the character and faith that Milwaukee’s youth need as we celebrate this Year of the Child.