Finding ‘Beauty in Christ’ at women’s conference
Event brings together multiple generations
By Dan Russo
CEDAR RAPIDS — Women gathered for fellowship and prayer, listened to speakers, and received the sacraments at the second annual “Beauty in Christ” archdiocesan women’s conference.
“What a wonderful opportunity it was with my mom,” said Hillary Holmes, who participated with her mother, Marilyn. “Seeing women of so many generations talking about their faith was amazing.”
The Holmeses of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Ames were one of the many sets of mothers, daughtersand grandmothers who decided to attend together. The event featured a Mass, a eucharistic adoration chapel, the opportunity to receive reconciliation, and tables from several dozen charitable organizations and vendors.
“My daughter gave me a ticket to this conference as a Christmas gift,” explained Joan Nelson, a member of St. Mark Parish in Iowa Falls. “It was the best Christmas gift I ever had. It’s so inspiring.”
During her opening talk on the main stage at the Doubletree Convention Complex Jan. 27, Judy Hehr, one of two keynote speakers, enthusiastically said she was grateful “to be in the presence of crazy, holy women of God!” eliciting laughter and applause from the crowd of about 600 attendees.
Hehr kicked off the day’s speeches on the main stage by telling her dramatic life story. She took to the stage carrying a ball and chain as a metaphorical symbol of her journey from bondage to her own struggles, sins and desires to being freed by Jesus. She began by telling the audience about her struggle to overcome drug addiction as a young woman. She then detailed her rise from being homeless to becoming a millionaire at age 30, and a mother of four by age 37.
“I just kept building my kingdom, because that’s where I found satisfaction,” said Hehr, who is now a radio host and motivational speaker. “I was this slave of a person: slave to insecurity, slave to drugs, slave to addiction, slave to my own thoughts, feelings and actions.”
In 2003, Hehr returned to practicing her Catholic faith, but was then shattered when she discovered later that year that her marriage was falling apart due to her husband being unfaithful and fathering a child with someone else. She believed her marriage was over, but with faith and the help of a Catholic program for struggling marriages called “Retrouvaille,” the couple was able to stay together.
“I am married to that man today celebrating 25 years,” she told the crowd. “From that beautiful, broken, shattered heart, God has birthed a ministry of speaking. He allows us to speak to other couples and bring them hope.
“God has restored our marriage from nothing … I would change not one thing,” she continued. “I stand before you today knowing at the depth of my being I am chosen, forgiven, adopted and renamed … I do believe that God was with me in every one of those instances waiting for me to ultimately give him my fiat, and I did on April 17, (2003) and ladies, it has been a ride.”
The other main speaker of the day, Emily Wilson, aimed her first talks at younger women and then closed out the day with a combination of inspirational words and worship music.
In her message to youth, she covered the topics of body image in modern society, chastity and women’s relationship to God.
“Whether or not someone chooses to dress with their dignity in mind, does not take away their dignity and value,” she explained. “Our value is inherent, meaning permanent in us as women. Choosing to dress in this way — to say to the world that my body belongs to me, but most importantly, it belongs to God, has been a very important part of faith as a young women to say to the world my body is a place where God dwells.”
Father Daniel Knipper concelebrated Mass with several area priests. In his homily, Father Knipper reflected on the beauty of Christ and how it can be present in all people’s lives. The liturgy featured musicians from around the archdiocese and participation from “Signs of Christ,” a group of young women who made hand signs and motions choreographed to the music.
“At the Mass, we were brought to tears,” said Mary Pedersen, director of adult faith formation for the archdiocese.
“It’s just amazing to see the spirit working,” added Joanne Pohland, director of catechetical services.
The event was a joint effort between Pedersen’s and Pohland’s offices and the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women. This year’s conference took place at a larger venue, due in large part to the sponsorship of Theisen’s Home, Farm and Auto Stores. Jody Randall, daughter of the company’s owner, Jim Theisen, opened the conference by talking about the role faith has played in her family and the reason why they support Catholic causes and other charitable efforts.
“A daily Mass goer, dad was praying fervently for guidance when a prayer he had heard a thousand times, (‘Let go and let God’) came to have a deeper meaning than it ever had before,” Randall told the conference. “When you are working your butt off and are praying continually, but are still struggling, then you have to give the worry up to God. That day, the prayer became an epiphany that changed his faith life. My father’s motto is: Everything is a gift from God.”
Many who attended the conference said the event enriched their faith.
“I like the sense of coming together with all the other women,” said Alisa Fulton of St. Henry Parish in Marshalltown. “This is where I feel the Holy Spirit, and that’s what brings me here.”
“It was just so cool to get together with other women and hear the speakers,” reflected Monica Fulton as she stood by her daughter. “It helps me in my everyday life to remember the things I hear here.”
(l to r) Kacy Ourads, Carrie Rassman, and Sheila Rassman, Carrie’s mother and the president of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, pose together after playing music at the women’s conference Mass. The women are members of the Christ Our Hope Cluster, a group of parishes based in Protivin. (Photo by Dan Russo/The Witness)