It’s Sunday night, the kids are in bed, and it’s been exactly a week since I left GIVEN 2019. It’s been a whirlwind since accepting the position as Executive Director of GIVEN, wrapping up my final days at the Archdiocese, and launching immediately into the GIVEN Forum at the Catholic University of America. I showed up nice and early on Wednesday to make sure I had time to park, fix my hair and makeup, and gather my thoughts before the conference began. And what a beautiful sight to arrive at the feet of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady’s National Shrine! It was a gift to be in her shadow during these five days as if her mantle was surrounding all of us during this time of discernment. A bit of my humanity hit when I quickly realized upon arrival to my room that I forgot to pack towels, sheets, and SOAP! Where was the SOAP?
Clothes hung, hair and makeup touched up, comfortable shoes slipped on and fanny pack around my waist. Now it was time to jump in with my whole heart. In the Pryz, I stood by the registration table and was thrilled and honestly in awe of the beautiful women arriving from all over the country. From over 30 states, Ireland, and Canada, ladies came for five days to be formed in the truth of Catholic femininity and womanhood. These women had completed MIT-worthy applications and were selected to attend the Forum because their Action Plans were something new and needed for the Church and for the world. Each woman came to receive the gift that she is, realize the gifts God has given to her, and then RESPOND with the gift that only she can give. Where else is this happening in the country for Catholic women ages 21-30?
I spent those five days floating from table to table in an attempt to meet as many of these amazing women as I could. These 120 women are show-stoppers. This very diverse group included singles, those considering religious life, those discerning marriage, engaged, married, pregnant, and some young mothers. I was not only impressed by their JOY and SERENITY, but most importantly that there was not an ounce of jealousy in the room. These women were not in competition with one another; instead, there was a spirit of givenness and support. What a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by young millennial women, religious sisters, and seasoned lay mentors who all are seeking the face of Christ and how to make Him manifest to others.
The room was not homogeneous and not your typical view of what you might see at your local Catholic parish. The ethnicities and races of the young women were African American, Asian, Hispanic, White, and American Indian. I met women with disabilities and those who struggled with mental illnesses. They were not the “lonely singles” crowd at Theology on Tap. You didn’t meet the haggard moms who are exhausted from their run-around schedules or spoke poorly of the men in their lives. The 25 lay mentors coming from nine different states included single and married women who are business owners, authors, church personnel, J.D.’s, Ph.D.’s, certified spiritual directors, educators, nurses, CFO’s, and coaches. The talent was mind-blowing. And then the game changer was the religious sisters in attendance. 50 sisters from 13 different communities journeyed through the week with the young women and also served as mentors in the Action Plan small group discussions. Every Sister was wearing a habit and a SMILE. What a joy to be in this room. One of the attendees said, “They kept it joyful, welcoming, and Christ centered. GIVEN was very different from other women’s gatherings and I think they are a big reason why! ”
Another attendee reflected on the Forum saying, “I can not express my gratitude for having the religious sisters with us at the GIVEN Forum. This was my first time getting to spend time with such a high concentration of sisters from different orders and their beautiful and steady witness made me long to be closer to Christ. I think that they are expressly what made GIVEN so meaningful to me.”
A third woman shared, “The presence of religious sisters was the biggest benefit of the GIVEN Forum. I come from a diocese where young religious life is nonexistent, so to be able to grow in relationship with the sisters was an immense grace. They not only provided me with a beautiful witness to spiritual motherhood, but they also showed me what true authenticity and freedom were. The witness of Sr. Rosary, SSVM, in particular, was life changing. The joy and love she has greatly impacted my spiritual journey and I was blessed to spend the GIVEN Forum with her.”
Beyond the witness of so many holy women, I also was forever impacted by the creativity and gumption of the Action Plans presented by the young women. I am going to share three plans that stood out to me in my conversations:
- The Pulchrum Initiative – a plan to gather together Catholic women in a metropolitan area to experience beauty together. Pulcrum is translated from Latin to mean beauty. The women will travel to art museums, the opera, the orchestra, and other lost cultural arts to appreciate God’s wonder. The Facebook page states, “We are a group of young professionals interested in discovering beauty in our surroundings by visiting art galleries and museums, learning about poetry and literature, attending classical and opera concerts, doing hiking-reading trips, walking through the botanical gardens and much more. Our aim is to discover and learn about truth through beauty and be inspired by it.”
- #iAmAProLifeWoman – a social media platform to share stories of unconventional pro-life women. She wants to highlight pro-life women who also identify as liberal, non-religious, secular etc. The stories of pro-life women of color need to be told. Truly, any woman can believe that life begins at conception, and this needs to be a louder message.
- Chivalry is Not Dead – an after-school club in local public schools for teenage boys. A young teacher at an all-boys school realized that her students kept asking her for dating advice and how to talk to girls. She realized they knew nothing about manners, holding the door open for a girl, and simple ways to show affection outside of technology. Her club is meant to show teenagers that true romance and chivalry is possible which will ultimately lead to conversations about chastity.
I am looking forward to sharing more of these women’s stories and their beautiful imprint on the world. GIVEN is a gift to the Church. I hope you will consider sharing about the Forum, inviting a young woman between ages 21-30 to attend next year, and be generous with your prayers and your financial support. Many of these women needed scholarships to attend being post-college or just coming out of mission work.
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