MADISON Women of varying ages and backgrounds from parishes across the diocese came together at the diocesan Evangelization Center, St. Paul’s Inside the Walls, here March 21 for a daylong conference, “Today’s Catholic Woman: Feminine, Faithful and Fearless.” Some 200 women were in attendance for the second annual event.
Deborah Savage, professor of philosophy and theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. was the keynote speaker for the event. Other speakers included Megan Murphy, a full-time wife, mother, catechist and speaker, and Clare Byrne, an occupational therapist and international aid volunteer. Keaton Douglas, a musician and parishioner of St. Thomas Parish in Sandyston, was mistress of ceremonies for the event. The day also included adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with music by Katie Keogler, small group discussions and a presentation on Blessed Miriam Theresa Demjanovich.
Father Paul Manning, director of the evangelization center, led the opening prayer and welcomed the women by recalling growing up with six sisters and always being surrounded by women. “As we are on the verge of celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25), I like to think of it as the beginning of the incarnation. While Christmas is the revelation of God among us, it’s the Annunciation when God enters the world. Like Mary on that day, I invite you to listen to the words you hear today from God to reveal what plan he has for your lives.”
The theme of being “Feminine, Faithful and Fearless” resonated throughout the day as the three main speakers shared their personal witness to the women at the conference.
In her presentation, Savage spoke about “woman as prophet” today and the negativity associated with the word “feminism.”
“The worst thing to become is the angry women everyone fears and that’s what many think about when they hear the word feminism today,” said Savage.
She told the women they shouldn’t give up on the word “feminine” just yet and referenced St. John Paul II’s encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae.” In paragraph No. 99, it states about the role of women: “In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a ‘new feminism’ which rejects the temptation of imitating models of male domination, in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.”
Savage talked about feminism being possibly an outdated concept, saying it often applies to women in more developed countries and it has a political side, such as the secular idea that there is a “war against women.” Savage said, “Yes, there is a war against women but who really is attacking women? Secular society or the Church? When you think about it, it is the Church that truly loves women.”
She challenged the attendees by having them reflect on women in developing nations. “Ask women in Darfur, who deal with rape, or in Syria, who are in refuge camps or in the Middle East where one pregnant woman was stoned to death,” she said.
Savage talked about women in the United States explaining that one in four women here is a victim of domestic violence. In many homes, dads are missing and a single mom is six times more likely to live in poverty. “Sexual promiscuity was seen as a women being free and feminine, when in reality it has been a deadly vision,” said Savage.
“Our political system, often times run by men, wants us to be like them. They want women to pretend we don’t have our bodies. It’s time for us to expose this lie.”
To speak like a prophet, Savage said women are to be a messenger of God, messenger of the divine and message of truth. “The Catholic Church has been calling women to speak up,” she said. “It’s time for us to be heard loudly. Mary is the first icon as woman and as prophet.”
The conference inspired women who attended to live out their faith and understand their role as women in the Church.
Devyn Lopez, a student at Drew University here and member of the St. Paul’s Young Adults group at the Evangelization Center, said, “The conference was definitely relevant to my own life as I am on the brink of adulthood. Being in college, there has been this idea that feminism is about being a strong, angry independent woman and that’s not what it’s about. It’s about standing up and embracing who we are as women and speaking the truth.”
Also at the conference was Susan Van Blarcom, a parishioner of St. Paul’s, who is active in many women’s ministries. She attended last year’s conference and was inspired to come again bringing her sisters with her. “It’s really motivating to be here with so many women with the same values and beliefs as you. I had a choice to attend three other things and I chose to come here. I’ve learn so many different things and I appreciate St. Paul’s Inside the Walls hosting so many great programs.”
Eni Honsberger, director of Family Life at St. Paul’s, said, “We are really excited to be here doing this for a second year because the women have asked us to have it again. This is my job to get women together to feel good about who they are as women in Christ and to get closer to him as a community of believers.”