Perfectionism is an epidemic in our culture today. And spiritual perfectionism—an obsession with flawlessness rooted in the belief that we can earn God’s love—is arguably its most toxic and insidious form, distorting our vision, dulling our faith and leading us to view others through the same hypercritical lens we think God is using to view us. The good news is that we’re not the first to struggle; some of the most celebrated holy men and women in history were recovering perfectionists who left us their blueprints for finding freedom. In her talk, award-winning author, journalist and former presidential speechwriter Colleen Carroll Campbell will blend colorful tales of these ex-perfectionist saints with Scripture and stories of her own trial-and-error experiments in applying their wisdom to her life. She’ll share five key lessons that can help us swap the chains of control, comparison and impossible expectations for the pursuit of a new kind of perfection: the freedom of the children of God.
Colleen Carroll Campbell is an award-winning author, print and broadcast journalist and former presidential speechwriter. Her books include her critically acclaimed journalistic study, The New Faithful; her spiritual memoir, My Sisters the Saints, which won two national awards and has been published in five languages; and The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God’s, just released by Simon & Schuster.
Colleen has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Christianity Today, America and National Review, and appeared on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, ABC News, PBS, NPR and EWTN, where she hosted her own television and radio shows for eight years. A former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and editorial writer and op-ed columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Colleen is the recipient of two honorary doctorates and numerous other awards and fellowships. She speaks to audiences across North America and Europe and lives in St. Louis with her husband and their four young children, whom she homeschools.
From editing speeches alongside a president in the Oval Office to announcing a new pope to a worldwide television audience from St. Peter’s Square, Colleen’s career path has taken her places she never expected when she penned her first news story as a freshman at Marquette University in Wisconsin.
When Marquette’s alternative campus newspaper published her profile of a homeless man on its cover, the opportunity to blend creative storytelling with intellectually challenging research in service of an important social cause lit a fire in her heart.
Colleen spent her college years editing Marquette’s magazine and yearbook, leading the campus journalism society and writing for such publications as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Washingtonian Magazine. She won nearly a dozen academic and journalism awards, scholarships and honor society memberships before graduating from Marquette Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude in 1996.
Colleen’s first job out of college was as a news reporter with the Memphis Commercial Appeal, where she wrote a series of front-page articles exposing political misconduct among elected officials in Tennessee’s fastest-growing suburb, Collierville. The next year she moved to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she wrote a five-part investigative series exposing corruption in the St. Louis Public Schools. The series resulted in state-mandated reforms to the failing school district and Colleen’s nomination as a finalist for the Livingston Awards, the largest all-media, general reporting prizes in American journalism.
Colleen’s series also caught the attention of the Post-Dispatch’s editorial page editor, who invited her to join the newspaper’s editorial board. At age 24, Colleen became its youngest member. She wrote daily editorials on everything from education policy to media and culture, earning a fellowship for editorial writers from Columbia University.
In 2000, Colleen won the $50,000 Phillips Journalism Fellowship (now the Novak Journalism Fellowship) that allowed her to take a year’s leave from her newspaper work and travel the country, researching and writing about a little-noticed trend that had attracted her attention: the appeal of traditional religion and morality to a growing number of young Americans. The result was The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, a critically acclaimed book that went through six printings and became a finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award. Since its publication in 2002, The New Faithful has been adopted as required reading by numerous colleges and universities and featured in more than 100 magazines and newspapers in the U.S. and abroad, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, National Review and Christianity Today.
The publication of The New Faithful also marked the start of Colleen’s speaking career. Since 2002, she has headlined more than 120 events from coast to coast and overseas, reaching some 60,000 people in speeches delivered at colleges and universities, Christian conferences, women’s and youth conferences, and trade events. Among the many speaking invitations Colleen has accepted are requests to discuss her books on Capitol Hill and at the White House, and to present The New Faithful to Pope Benedict XVI while serving as a North American delegate to a Vatican Congress on women.
In 2002, Colleen began work toward a doctorate in philosophy at Saint Louis University. She interrupted her studies later that year to accept a job as one of six speechwriters, and the only woman speechwriter, to President George W. Bush. Colleen worked directly with the President on major policy addresses, writing his speeches on such topics as education, the faith-based initiative, the fight against AIDS, and judicial appointments.
After a year at the White House, Colleen returned to St. Louis to marry her husband, who was studying medicine at Washington University of St. Louis, and to be nearer to her father, who was battling Alzheimer’s disease. She continued to maintain ties to the nation’s capital, serving five years as a St. Louis-based fellow for the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center. She also launched an op-ed column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and became a regular commentator on religion, politics and culture in the national media.
Colleen’s writing has been published by dozens of print and online outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, National Review Online, Weekly Standard, Christianity Today and First Things. She has served as a columnist for America, Our Sunday Visitor and Lay Witness, winning a Catholic Press Association award for her work in the latter. Colleen Carroll Campbell working with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office, 2003 (photo by White House Photo Office)Colleen has contributed to several anthologies and other books in addition to her own and has been quoted as an expert by dozens of American and international publications and news agencies, including the Associated Press, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor.
In the broadcast arena, Colleen has made more than 350 appearances on such television and radio networks as CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, ABC News, PBS, NPR and the CBC. For seven years, she served as creator and host of “Faith & Culture,” a weekly television and radio interview show that aired internationally on EWTN, the world’s largest religious media network, and on Sirius XM Radio and Relevant Radio. Colleen also served as executive producer and anchor of “EWTN News Nightly with Colleen Carroll Campbell,” launching the network’s first-ever television newscast from the show’s studios near Capitol Hill. In 2013, she anchored EWTN’s live television coverage of the historic election and installation of Pope Francis in Rome. In the course of her television career, Colleen has interviewed dozens of political, cultural and religious leaders, including senators, congressmen, cardinals, archbishops, Vatican officials, bestselling authors, filmmakers, songwriters, artists, activists and academics.
Colleen Carroll Campbell hosting Faith & Culture TV showColleen’s second book was My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir. Published by Random House in 2012, My Sisters the Saints interweaves the story of her 15-year spiritual search with the stories of the six women saints who guided her on her way. The book has sold more than 90,000 copies in English and has been published in Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Slovak and as an audiobook. Praised as “a beautiful and inspiring story” by bestselling novelist Mary Higgins Clark, “provocative … charming and instructive” by Kirkus Reviews and “touching … thoughtful and gracious” by Booklist, My Sisters the Saints won a 2013 Christopher Award and a 2013 Association of Catholic Publishers Excellence in Publishing Award. Colleen has spoken widely about the book, most notably as commencement speaker at several universities and as the keynote speaker for a 2015 international gathering of scholars at the University of Avila in Spain to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Avila.
Colleen’s third book is The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God’s. Hailed as “persuasive, enjoyable, insightful” by Publishers Weekly, “liberating” by 5 Love Languages author Gary Chapman, and one of the season’s “buzziest books” by O, The Oprah Magazine, The Heart of Perfection has been recommended or featured by media outlets ranging from Booklist and Library Journal to Christianity Today. The book blends stories of Colleen’s own struggles against comparison and impossible expectations with those of seven recovering perfectionist saints (and one heretic) who show us how to pursue a new kind of perfection: freedom in Christ. The Heart of Perfection was published by Simon & Schuster in May.
Colleen’s awards include honorary doctorates from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and Immaculata University, a designation as 2004 Young Alumna of the Year from Marquette University’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Phillips Foundation’s 2008 Distinguished Leader of the Year Award and the 2018 Archdiocese of St. Louis Excellence in Communication Award. Colleen has served as a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops since 2014 and she continues to speak to audiences across North America and Europe. She and her husband live in St. Louis, where she is at work on more books and the project dearest to her heart: the raising and homeschooling of their four joyful, quirky, loving little kids.