Given the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, perhaps the most surprising thing about the first-ever FemCatholic conference is that it had never taken place before.
In public talks and private conversations, similar topics came up again and again: the feeling of community that women were finding here, and the excitement of learning and discussing ways to fruitfully live out Catholic womanhood.
FemCatholic seems to fill a real need, a cry from the heart, for many Catholic women. But what is it?
Samantha Povlock, an alumna of the University of Notre Dame with degrees in Theology and Business, founded the organization in response to a call from God in prayer, and inspired by a passage from St. John Paul II’s Letter to Women:
I am convinced that the secret of making speedy progress in achieving full respect for women and their identity involves more than simply the condemnation of discrimination and injustices, necessary though this may be. Such respect must first and foremost be won through an effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women, concentrating on all areas of women’s life and beginning with a universal recognition of the dignity of women.
An “effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women” is a fitting definition of FemCatholic. The organization has a threefold mission: to “educate modern women on what the Catholic Church actually teaches about what it means to be female”; to encourage women facing challenges to “seek answers in the truth of our faith”; and to empower women to embrace femininity in offering their gifts and strengths to the world, keeping in mind that “your Catholic faith is something empowering to you as a modern woman.”
Launch the slideshow to see photos from the event.
The conference began with the affirmation of “sexual asymmetry,” that is, the radical notion that men and women are “biologically dissimilar,” as keynote speaker Erika Bachiochi explained. Following from this, conference attendees and speakers explored the key role women have to play in the Church and in the world, and discussed ways to promote and support women in all vocations and stages of life.
One particular topic came up a lot: women’s health. Too often, the secular world and even the medical community are shockingly uninformed about even the basics of female health, attendees lamented.
“It’s been really nice to see all the presenters talking about supporting women’s health,” said Sister Teresa Paul of the Third Order of St. Francis
“Medical schools don’t present Natural Family Planning as a real option, but the science behind it is solid,” added Sister Rose Therese, also of the Third Order of St. Francis. “It’s wonderful that here women can hear about it directly. It’s great to see how many groups are working for women’s health for reasons beyond Church teaching.”
Indeed, many vendor booths at the conference were related to women’s health, including FEMM Foundation, Insight Fertility Services, Modern Fox Fertility, and The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis (who run a healthcare institution), and one of the speakers was Gabrielle Jastrebski of FEMM Foundation, a comprehensive women’s health program, who spoke on “Informed Choice: Reclaiming Women’s Health.”
Many attendees work in women’s health and particularly in the area of Natural Family Planning. One of these was Lisa Jurski, a Creighton FertilityCare Practitioner based out of Chicago.
“This conference was an opportunity to meet other like-minded women and people who are trying to work with and promote the wisdom and genius of Catholicism in real life,” said Jurski, “in a way that embraces our femininity and gives us real tools to promote this idea of Catholic feminism in our day-to-day lives.”
Besides women’s health, another focus of the conference was how society can better meet the needs of women and families, given the reality of sexual asymmetry. Attendees and speakers discussed the need for family-friendly policies in law and society, such as gearing the workplace to the needs of the family.
Though the conference was about the contributions that women specifically can make to the world, the active contribution of men was also explored.
“There is a reality of masculine genius as well as feminine,” said Sister Teresa Paul.
One of the speakers has made this “masculine genius” a focus of her work. Dr. Deborah Savage of the University of St. Thomas is currently at work on a book titled Woman and Man for formal consideration by Catholic University of America Press, and spoke on “Woman and Man: Genius and Mission.”
Bachiochi presented some of the reams of research showing the incomparable effect that a father has on the well-being of his family.
Thus the men present at the conference found their own vocations affirmed.
“As a husband, father, and business owner, it’s important for me to support the Catholic women that I know and love while learning how to draw closer to Christ through Mary and the feminine genius,” said Lawrence Daufenbach, who attended the conference with his wife Katie Joy.
If one theme could be said to summarize the focus of every talk and discussion, it is the need to uphold the dignity of women as God created them. One speaker, Catholic writer Simcha Fisher, affirmed in her talk, “Everything comes back to the dignity of the human person.”
Certainly it seems that FemCatholic offers a fruitful gathering place for “women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel,” as Paul VI phrased it — women who are in love with Jesus Christ and passionate about bringing his Gospel to the world, and doing so with the special charisms that accompany their femininity.