“We seek to make manifest the diverse work of Catholic women in the Church, in the past and present.
--From our conference statement of purpose
The desire to make manifest the work of women in the Church sparked our dream of bringing people together to celebrate and support women of the Church. And a women’s basketball video played an important role in stirring up that desire in the first place.
The video wasn’t just any basketball video; it was the program history video for the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball program. One evening as I (Kimberly) watched the video over and over, the vision of this strong, dynamic community of women helped me to imagine myself working more boldly and joyfully in the Church. But why, I wondered, did I need to watch basketball to receive such strength? What would it look like to have a highlights video, figuratively speaking, of women in the Church?
I took that thought to Sr. Jeana the next day. We called Agnes from the office next door to join us. And in those moments of hope-filled conversation, under the influence of Pope Francis, a conference was born.
Images of strong women hold a power to enliven other women. A recent visit to a nearby Newman Center to speak about the work of women in the Church reminded me of this. I spoke of the many ways that women offer leadership in both visible and less visible ways. With beautiful photos of the women projecting on the screen, I told them of women such as those leading three major Catholic service agencies in the US: Dr. Carolyn Woo (Catholic Relief Services), Sr. Carol Keehan, DC (Catholic Health Association), Sr. Donna Markham, OP (Catholic Charities).
I told them about Kerry Robinson, who is the first woman on record to have offered a reflection at a Sunday liturgy inside the Vatican. I pointed to Flaminia Giovanelli, who, as Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is one of the highest ranking women at the Vatican. I spoke of Sr. Mary Melone, SFA, of the Pontifical University Antonianum, the first woman to serve as rector for a pontifical university in Rome. As I scrolled through these photos, I noticed a fresh light coming into the eyes of some of the young women around me. I too found my sense of who I am as a woman in the Church expanding even as I spoke.
Soon after that, Janet, another of our conference planners, sent a link to this wonderful music video for the upcoming Voices of Faith event at the Vatican: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCcTIkCtzww I sat watching it at my desk in awe at the sight of each face, tears streaming down my face. That glimpse of Kerry Robinson laughing with joy still fills me with joy. Once again, I experienced the power of seeing other strong women sharing together the challenge and joy of the journey as women of the Church.
These experiences make me yearn even more for the time that many of us, women and men, will gather together on a hillside rich with history in Ferdinand, Indiana, to celebrate the leadership that women are already offering, to support one another for the work ahead, and to help and encourage those who are discerning what God may be asking of them. If photos and videos of women have such an impact, how much more will our face-to-face encounter shape us and inspire us. Come join us!
In the meantime, you can join the women of Voices of Faith through a live-stream of their March 8 storytelling event at the heart of the Vatican and through videos of previous events: www.voicesoffaith.org. And by the way, I’m still inspired by that Notre Dame video. Check it out sometime at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1_E_xqKPio.