By Mary Pedersen and Joanne Pohland
Special to The Witness
From the success of the first ever Archdiocesan Women’s Conference last February, Beauty in Christ, we realized the hunger and thirst for women’s ministry in our archdiocese. We became aware of a greater need to support women, but first we needed to listen to them and learn what was already happening in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Thus, Beauty Alive was born! During the months of September and October, we gathered with hundreds of women at seven different Beauty Alive events throughout the archdiocese.
We laughed and we cried together as women shared their joys, sorrows, needs and desires. As with Beauty in Christ, we sought the support and partnership of ACCW, the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women. With ACCW president, Sheila Rassman, and ACCW spiritual advisor, Father Daniel Knipper, we traveled to the seven different sites with each host parish opening wide their doors with gracious hospitality. At each site, ACCW members provided an abundant offering of delicious hors d’oeuvres, desserts and beverages. Door prizes were wrapped, tables were set, and women began streaming in—not knowing quite what to expect (in all honesty, each site was different). Father Knipper led prayer, Sheila gave a brief explanation of the role of ACCW as the arm of the archbishop, and then we asked women to share their experiences.
We heard of fun websites, innovative ways to gather and creative events, which we have compiled. But we received so much more! At each location, there were real, raw, and tender moments, especially from women who have felt forgotten or excluded. At one site, two women spoke of the success of their long-time (10 years-plus) book discussion/Bible study groups, and later a woman from the same parish commented, “I have been a member of this parish for 20 years, and I have never heard of these studies nor have I ever been invited.” At another site, a woman courageously voiced that she was new to the area and has been attending Mass at one parish for several months, “I have never received so much as a smile.”
Women spoke of their loneliness when experiencing miscarriage, infertility, widowhood, recently divorced, at home with young children, mothering children with disabilities, as well as women who have never married. At one site, it was suggested we create something like a “buddy bench” for Catholic women—where we commit to no woman sitting alone at any parish event. Another woman suggested parish leaders could pair widows with single moms, helping the younger women with their children at Mass and beyond. At each site, beauty was alive as women responded to tears by connecting with each other, often exchanging telephone numbers and offering an invitation to join an event or group.
Many moments were just plain fun or funny: “I love my Bible study! I’m a cosmetics representative, and my manager leads a study for six of us, and we meet online each Sunday at 8 p.m.—wouldn’t miss it!” Another responded, “Well, if (they) can do it, surely the Catholic Church should be able to figure this out!” One woman shared, “Our mom’s group meets at 6 a.m. every Thursday.” Another questioned, “What? Seriously, 6 a.m.?” “Yep, that doesn’t mean our hair is brushed or that we don’t arrive in our pajamas every now and then, but we love it!”
We challenged one another to live as missionary disciples by being attentive to the woman on the margins and inviting her to a book discussion group, a Bible study, a parish event or for a cup of coffee. When a genuine need surfaced, women were encouraged to pursue avenues with their parish leaders. The message came across loud and clear that women long to belong: we need to meet women where they are, include them as they are, respond to their greatest needs, and invite them into a friendship with Jesus.
We recognize and plan to take concrete steps to address specific gaps in women’s ministry by linking young adult women, gathering grandparents (especially those with children outside of the church), connecting Catholic business women and creating a central site for women’s ministry in the Archdiocese of Dubuque—to name a few.
At the conclusion of each evening, we held a drumroll for the announcement of the two winners of tickets to the Jan. 27, 2018, Archdiocesan Women’s Conference, Beauty in Christ. We then celebrated and thanked these beautiful women who are truly alive in Christ through their friendships, mercy and compassion! Mary Pedersen is director of the Archdiocesan Office of Adult Faith Formation. Joanne Pohland is director of the Archdiocesan Office of Catechetical Services.
PHOTO: Women enjoy conversation during one of the recent Beauty Alive meetings held around the archdiocese. (Contributed photo)