CatechesisFaith Formation

Women’s conference coming to Cedar Rapids

Feb. 4 event will have two speakers; slots still open

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

CEDAR RAPIDS — Having established themselves as a professional model and a Miss America Pageant runner-up, respectively, Leah Darrow and Kelly Nieto were known for their physical attractiveness. It wasn’t until later in life after deep conversions to the Catholic faith that these women experienced a different type of beauty — the kind that comes through God’s love.

Both Darrow and Nieto will share their witness stories at the first ever Women’s Conference organized by the Archdiocese of Dubuque. The keynote speakers will be featured Feb. 4 during the events at St. Pius X Parish in Cedar Rapids. The theme of the day is “Beauty in Christ.”

“I think they’ll inspire women to know what is most beautiful — the beauty of women in Christ,” said Mary Pedersen, director of Adult Faith Formation for the archdiocese. “They’ll fight back against this idea in a ridiculous culture that it’s all about how we look.”

The Adult Faith Formation and Catechetical Services Offices of the archdiocese are joining forces with the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, a major sponsor, to put together the conference. Doors will open at 7 a.m. for breakfast, then opening prayer at 8 a.m. and a series of activities, including the speakers and a Mass with Archbishop Michael Jackels. The day will close by 3 p.m.

“We have a great committee from around the archdiocese working to make this happen,” said Joanne Pohland, director of Catechetical Services for the archdiocese. “Both speakers are also going to be giving talks aimed at high school and college aged women.”

Darrow will give the first talk of the day titled “From Top Model to Role Model.” She will recount her time as a contestant on the reality TV show “America’s Next Top Model” and how she shifted her path from the fashion industry to becoming a Catholic speaker and author.

Nieto will give a talk titled “Find Peace and Purpose: The ABCs of Faith.” With her well-known sense of humor, Nieto will describe how she used her performance talents in music and comedy to become an opener for legendary country artists like Garth Brooks. Nieto eventually felt that something was missing, despite her success, and will explain how and why she entered the church. Darrow and Nieto will give two talks each. There will also be tables and displays by local organizations and ministries.

“We were very precise in choosing vendors that are ministries in the Archdiocese of Dubuque,” said Pedersen. “There is also going to be an opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation and there is a small adoration chapel at the parish,” added Pohland.

There is room for 600 participants, and so far about 400 slots have been filled. “We’re really grateful to St. Pius X for opening up and assisting us,” said Pedersen. “The Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women has also been great.”

There is still time to sign up. The fee is $35, and includes continental breakfast and a box lunch. For more information, email or call Lynne Chapman at 563-556-2580 ext. 246. You can also visit or to register.


Photo: Kelly Nieto (left) and Leah Darrow