Austin and Jenna start their lives together, grounded in the Catholic Faith.
Austin and Jenna Carlson of St. Joachim Parish in Pittsville have known one another since kindergarten. “I remember the first day I met her,” says Austin. “We have all these snippets of memories growing up, like third grade when she told me: ‘Quit playing with the mean boys.’ And I listened,” Austin chuckles. “We were just always friends.”
The moments and memories of Austin and Jenna’s childhood led to their June 19, 2021, wedding at St. Joachim Parish. The last two years, which encompassed their engagement, wedding and starting their married life together, had them navigating some very tumultuous and uncertain times during the pandemic. But leaning on their history and their trust in the Lord’s will for their lives, they have found their way back home to Pittsville and looking excitedly at their new lives together.
Austin and Jenna’s relationship officially began their senior year of high school. Before that, she liked him at one point and he liked her at another, but the timing was never right. “It was always in the back of our minds,” Austin adds of them becoming a couple. One day, in the fall of their senior year, Austin’s cousin Matthew, a mutual friend of them both, told Austin, “You should date Jenna.” He went to Jenna and said, “You should date Austin.”
Both Austin and Jenna answered Matthew, “Of course I would!”
“That was the little push we needed,” Austin admits. And they have been together ever since.
Jenna’s family was particularly excited. “My family always liked [Austin] growing up. My sister and my mom would always say, ‘You should date Austin. He’s so nice.’” Jenna knew it was true and was thrilled that it finally happened.
Growing up, Jenna attended St. Joachim Parish where she and her family were very involved. Jenna was an altar server and a lector alongside her older brother and sister. Her family celebrated milestones and traditions together, often spending time with their extended family, especially at their family farm.
If [Jenna] would have come to me when we first started dating and said, ‘I need you to be Catholic,’ it wouldn’t have worked. But she just brought me to it and asked me to come along.” – Austin
Austin grew up the oldest of five. He shares: “On and off, we attended the ‘evangelical,’ ‘non-denominational’ church in town … sporadically, maybe go a couple months, then not. I grew up aware of things. I went to church camp as a kid in the summer but was always pretty unsure, honestly. Then in high school, I would say I was drifting toward becoming the ‘cool’ agnostic. That’s where I was until [Jenna and I] started dating.”
The Carlsons spent most of their dating years in a long-distance relationship. They were separated while away at college—Austin at UW-Madison and Jenna at various colleges pursuing a nursing degree. During summers, they had summer jobs and internships that separated them for months at a time. Austin also did a six-month study abroad program that kept them apart. “We were never really together until we got married,” Austin shares. “Well, we were never really together until COVID,” Jenna corrects him. In any case, being together was always a welcomed homecoming.
Amid the transitions and uncertainty in the early days of COVID, Austin and Jenna were able to come back to Central Wisconsin to work on schooling virtually and spend quality time together as a couple during their engagement. They volunteered to assist at St. Joachim Parish as ushers and escorts to facilitate the pandemic restrictions.
Austin was born a traveler. Growing up, his family took adventures and this developed his early love for exploring new places. Beginning their sophomore year of college, he and Jenna began to take adventures together. They traveled to 22 different countries, before which Jenna had never left the U.S. “During college, I always worked a job to save money to go on a trip,” says Austin. “Then we did it really cheap—like we’d just take a backpack and we’d stay with people or we’d stay in the $10 places.”
“And our traveling always revolved around the history of the Catholic Faith,” Jenna adds. “Everywhere we went, we found these little Catholic churches.” They took a trip to Rome before Austin even began RCIA, but seeing the wall of all the popes dating back to Peter was eye-opening and confirming for him.
Their trips were a bit of a test for Jenna if she could keep up with Austin’s sense of radical adventure. She passed with flying colors and balances Austin well. “I’m a planner. I want to be really sure of something before something goes on,” she says. Even at their wedding, the presiding priest, whom they knew well, referred to Austin as the nomadic “Gandalf” and Jenna as homebody “Bilbo Baggins from the Shire.”
Being enriched in the Faith in their travels and through his involvement and attendance at Mass with Jenna, Austin made the decision to become Catholic before they were married.
“If [Jenna] would have come to me when we first started dating and said, ‘I need you to be Catholic or we can’t get married or we can’t be together,’ it wouldn’t have worked,” Austin shares. “But she just brought me to it and asked me to come along, the simplest thing.”
While away at college, Austin attended St. Paul’s Catholic Student Center in Madison. He was immediately impressed by the holy and intelligent priests who served there. “I’m an engineer, so they had priests who started as engineers and became priests. That was really cool because they think so logically and then, when I had questions, they were able to explain them in a way that makes sense: ‘This is where it comes from and why.’” He also attended a Koinonia Retreat at St. Paul’s, which made a powerful impact on him as he prepared to enter the Church. On May 30, 2020, Austin was baptized, confirmed and received his first holy Communion at St. Paul’s Catholic Student Center in Madison.
Upon getting married, Austin and Jenna’s first big adventure was setting up a home in Detroit, where Austin was hired by General Motors. The couple quickly realized that such a big and populated city was not their preference. When Jenna was offered a position at Marshfield Clinic as a dermatology nurse, they took the opportunity and returned to their native Pittsville, where Austin works remotely for General Motors. Working from home allows Austin to attend daily Mass and work on other hobbies and entrepreneurial endeavors, such as a well-received sports card show he began in the area.
The couple also helps with the newly formed youth group at their parish, getting teens excited about the Faith through food, fellowship and fun. Austin and Jenna love to be outside together enjoying nature. They like to read, exercise and, of course, plan future trips.
While life is a bit uncertain right now, waiting to learn if Austin’s job will remain remote and whether they can establish roots in Pittsville, the Carlsons are enjoying the routine of married life and looking forward to many more adventures together
Story by Amy Eichsteadt
Published in the May/June 2022 issue of Catholic Life Magazine