Young women share what they learned at GIVEN Forum
(SNR) - “Every young woman has been entrusted with a mission: to cultivate her own unique gifts and initiate positive change in the world through the love that is exclusively hers to give.”
This is the opening statement from the vision of GIVEN – a week-long, Catholic young women’s Forum which took place in early June in Washington, D.C. According to the vision statement, “The GIVEN Forum is a launch-pad for what St. John Paul II called the feminine genius and a response to Pope Francis’ call to activate women’s gifts in the Church. By creating an environment of mentorship, the next generation of Catholic women leaders will be equipped to develop and implement initiatives to utilize their gifts for the life of the Church.”
More than 300 women from across the United States attended, as well as more than 80 religious sisters representing 30 different communities. Beth Benes, Sara LeDuc, and Marie Wathen, all of the Diocese of Lincoln attended, and were joined by several of the School Sisters of Christ the King and Marian Sisters.
Sister Janelle Buettner, M.S., principal of North American Martyrs School in Lincoln, was one of the organizers of the Forum. She said the participants engaged in three particular themes: receiving the gift you are, realizing the gifts you’ve been given, and responding with the gift only you can give. Women attended various workshops, speaker sessions, and developed action plans to implement in their schools, parishes, and dioceses back home.
“It was ... just incredible,” Sister Janelle said. “Dr. Carolyn Woo spoke about how leadership is kind of a cliché term, and that Jesus never said, ‘I want to make you a leader.’ He said, ‘Come, follow me, and then make others followers of me.’ And really, that was the focus of the conference – we want to give you these skills, we want you to know how to listen, we want you to be able to lead, but we want you to do it with Christ at the center, and I think that’s what was established throughout the Forum - this ability to work together and learn how to be leaders in a world where leadership is really a secular thing.”
The Forum worked to provide spiritual enrichment, professional enrichment, and prayer enrichment, and featured many different speakers who each spoke to the different aspects.
The workshops dealt with types of prayer, and training sessions centered on diverse topics like the temperaments, listening, and business etiquette.
The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) sponsored the Forum, and most of the talks will be posted online at www.givenforum.org.
“We didn’t want the event to end with the 300 women who attended,” Sister Janelle said, “so our vision all along was to make this accessible, so all of these talks will be available to everybody.”
Beth Benes, a young wife, mother, and youth ministry leader at North American Martyrs in Lincoln, said she had been excited to attend the Forum ever since Sister Janelle encouraged her to apply.
“I was going to get to spend six days learning about myself and my God-given talents to bring back home and use in a huge way; who could say no to that?” Benes said.
Her action plan involves enriching and bringing a new light to the parish CCD program, bringing students and their families closer together, and increasing the motivation and desire to know more about God.
“I want the public school students and their families to feel just as welcome into our faith community as everyone else,” Benes said. “Right now, there seems to be an unwritten division among CCD families and school families.”
In order to make families feel more welcome, Benes intends to have more CCD family gatherings, such as group nights or events in the parish hall. She plans to find more activities that allow the families to participate in being active members of the parish community. She also intends to find the best CCD teachers each year, and to make sure they are all on the same page when it comes to curriculum, workload, and implementing different activities.
“Our faith is exciting, which in turn should make our class time exciting,” Benes said.
One of the most insightful speakers at the Forum for Benes was Hallie Lord, who spoke on Mothering a Domestic Church.
“She used her insight as a mother of seven to help show how to overcome fear in a world that wants you to be so afraid,” Benes said. “As a mother, I immediately connected with her, and as she told her stories, I began to learn and trust everything she was saying. She spoke on being open to God’s new adventures when things don’t go as planned, how we always worry about the wrong things, and how we can predict many things- but we cannot predict if God will move a mountain. Her message of trusting in the Lord was one that will stay with me forever, and one that I will recall when I face my challenges, each and every day!”
Sara LeDuc, a Spanish and religion teacher and member of campus ministry at St. Cecilia High School in Hastings, said that the Forum was encouraging for her, as well, as she lives out her own unique vocation.
“It was so beautiful to see married, single, and consecrated women all together with so much in common,” LeDuc said. “One girl put it really well in the thank you video from participants; she said, ‘you helped me realize I had a place in the Church,’ and I think that’s how everyone felt.”
She enjoyed one of the “power sessions” with three presenters who spoke on ecology, economics, and health care.
“It really made an amazing point of how we all have amazing, but utterly unique, gifts that if we pursue them God will sanctify them,” she said. “I’m guessing the Sister (Sister Damien Marie F.S.E) who talked about ecology probably didn’t realize how much God was going to use her propensity for science and nature, but she was a great example of how living out your passions allows God to use them.”
LeDuc’s action plan stems from her own observations and experiences as a young woman, growing up, and witnessing the women around her.
“Many women are grasping at things to legitimize their own femininity, whether it be in secular visions of this or more pious illusions of what must happen to be a true woman,” LeDuc said. “As a college student, I remember the competition of other virtuous women against their fellow classmates. As a single woman the age of many mothers, I have read too many mommy blogs defending their own lives and putting down others’ choices. As a teacher, I have witnessed girls struggle to understand what to do if another girl was preferred or received something they did not.
“As a respected priest said to me about myself and my friends, ‘When did we stop being happy for one another?’ It’s a good question, and one that I aim to fix with the grace of God.”
LeDuc plans to create a “curriculum for a workshop that will inspire and instruct women to honor one another and to rejoice in one another’s gifts, blessings, and accomplishments, while helping redefine what it means to be a good woman.”
She draws inspiration from three women who have helped her understand her role as a daughter of God, how to recognize God in other women, and how to practically live out her feminine vocation: Mother Teresa, St. Therese, and Leslie Knope (the fictional protagonist of a TV comedy series).
“It may seem weird to pick a secular figure for this workshop,” LeDuc said, “but she truly encapsulates what that part of the workshop will cover.”
The workshop will be divided into three sections, with the first section addressing comparison, judgment, and separation, the second focusing on building self-confidence and understanding worth as a daughter of God, and the third section will apply everything learned onto the real world situations – practicing compliments, taking jealousy to prayer, being truly joyful for others, and finding resources to share with other women, as well.
LeDuc plans to first implement it in her school and the parishes in Hastings, and to eventually offer it to the diocesan Family Life Office to be shared throughout the diocese. She is excited to see the Action Plans of her cohorts implemented in their communities, as well.
“One woman in my group is going to put on a beauty retreat for artists to understand how they are imaging God in their creativity,” LeDuc said. “Another girl in my group is helping to open a Catholic Worker House in her diocese, and another is writing a book for women to find freedom in purity.”
Benes is also enthusiastic to get to work on her action plan, and anticipates the goodness that will come from the other women around her.
“God has blessed our Church with an incredible future,” Benes said. “Prepare to be amazed when all these beautiful souls get to work!”
By Tess Wahlmeier