Around the ArchdioceseFaith Formation

Women’s conference attendees reflect on overcoming fear, stoke fire of faith

Fourth Beauty in Christ event held

By Katie Mills Giorigo
Witness Correspondent

CEDAR RAPIDS — More than 550 women from across the Archdiocese of Dubuque gathered in Cedar Rapids at the Doubletree Hotel and Convention Center on Saturday, Jan. 25 for the fourth annual Archdiocesan Women’s Conference.

While cold winds blew outside, inside the convention center the warmth of women focusing on their faith filled the ballrooms.

Women young and old — moms, daughters, women with infants, sisters, neighbors and friends — carved time out of their busy schedules to learn about ­being “Fearless! Faithful! On Fire!”

Recent Loras College graduates and friends Nicole Connelly (left) and Kara Zwanzger attended the conference together. (Photo by Dan Russo/The Witness)

The timing could not have been more perfect for Donna Hackman of Fort Atkinson. “I made a New Year’s resolution to dig deeper into my faith,” she said about why she decided to attend the conference. “I had no idea what the speakers were going to be talking about when I signed up, but it was amazing because it was like they were talking directly to me.”

Special guest speakers, Hallie Lord and Katie Prejean McGrady, spoke several times to the group, sharing personal stories and moments of faithful inspiration.

“Both speakers spoke to the fact that to live faithfully and fearlessly, we need the support of one another,” said Mary Pedersen, director of adult faith formation for the archdiocese and one of the event’s organizers. “That’s what this con­ference does. It brings us together, strengthens us to send us back out and so that no one feels alone in the world in living out their faith.”

Hallie Lord, a bestselling Catholic author of “On the Other Side of Fear: How I Found Peace” and SiriusXM Catholic­ radio host, spoke on overcoming fear and trusting God in everyday life.

“I loved when Hallie said that God works in the situation, not in our imagination,” said Pedersen. “It was a great message on living in the present and not worrying about the future. She had some really great lines like that that really resonated.”

Katie Prejean McGrady spoke on embracing our feminine identity. “Jesus is always approaching us in new ways,” she said, during one of her talks. “The way you phrase prayer matters.” Prejean McGrady, an international speaker, educator and author, blends plenty of humor into her talks and had attendees laughing out loud.

“I love the speakers as they bring so much humor and can also make you cry,” said Marla Tursi of Cedar Rapids who was attending the Archdiocesan Women’s Conference for the second year in a row. “Hallie and Katie both had such excellent examples from their own lives. I find their stories very relatable, and I brought home ideas to implement in my own life. I had a wonderful time at this conference, and it was definitely food that my soul needed and welcomed.”

Brenda Kriener, of Fort Atkinson, connected with the messages of the speakers as well. “I really liked when Katie talked about being fearless. I find myself getting so fearful in my life, for my family, and some days I handle it well, and other days I don’t. To have Katie reinforce that I need to trust in God was great.”

Angela Olson, of Cedar Rapids, serves as principal at Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids and was happy to be able to attend the conference.

“It’s so nice to take time away and work on my own faith,” she said. “The speakers were very inspiring and impactful. The talks they gave were very much in touch with younger Catholic women especially and living our faith in our daily lives.” She’s hopeful next year she can secure funding to have the female staff members from Xavier attend.

One of the most unique elements of the conference is the constant infusion of prayer and celebration of the sacraments throughout the day. The day officially started with the rosary being prayed while attendees arrived. Participants were afforded the opportunity to participate in reconciliation and eucharistic adoration.

“We want people to deepen their faith at the conference, not just through the speakers,” said Pedersen. “When you go away for a day to a conference, you see the spirit working and touching women in a deep way. That’s why those sacraments are so important as part of this. We’ve been very intentional that this is a spiritual renewal.”

Then, just before lunch, the whole group gathered to worship at Mass celebrated by Archbishop Jackels.

“I was also impressed with Archbishop Jackels’ homily about how women are needed in the church because women have unique gifts given to us by God to be used in ministry in his church,” added Tursi.

The conference — organized by a steering committee of a dozen members from across the diocese — also included about 35 vendors, selling a variety of religious items and representing various organizations. Sister Mary Lechtenberg, OSF, was attending and representing the Tri-State Coalition Against Human Trafficking & Slavery. “Our mission is to educate people on the signs of human trafficking, including what is happening here in Iowa. This is a great opportunity to spread awareness, provide education and make connections with women who are concerned for their children and grandchildren.”

Lauren Hammerberg, of Cedar Rapids who attended the conference as a vendor with Mary and Martha, attended for the first time in 2018 and now says she won’t miss it. “I love displaying at this conference because the women I meet are amazing. I am a junkie for both faith time and women time. I can never have enough.  I love people, and you just ­never know who will be Jesus for your day.”

Pedersen said she couldn’t be happier to hear feedback of that sort. “We really believe this is all a part of the new evangelization, bringing women together and setting them on fire for their faith so they can go back to their parishes and talk about what they heard and start inviting other women into a relationship with Jesus.”


Women who attended the Beauty in Christ Conference Jan. 25 in front of a sign which expresses this year’s theme: ‘Fearless! Faithful! On Fire!’ Over 550 participated in the event in Cedar Rapids. (Photo by Brenda Strayer)