CHILTON — Good Shepherd Parish hosted “In Mary’s Footsteps Women’s Conference” on March 9. The goal of the conference, held annually on the second weekend in March, was “for women of all ages to know Mary, so as to draw closer to her son, Jesus.”
In doing so, attendees are able to “live out their vocational calls as daughters of God and to serve within their state in life where God is calling them,” according to conference organizers.
The theme for this year’s event was, “The Real Love Story.”
“We called it ‘The Real Love Story’ because (we wanted to focus on) how we go through Mary to find Jesus,” said Jean Kasper, a member of the conference steering committee. The others include Vonda Heiberger, her daughter, Jennifer Pitzen, and Jody Lueck.
“This is our seventh year,” said Lueck, who co-founded the conference. It was held at St. Pius X Church in Appleton for the first five years and was called The Feminine Genius Women’s Conference.
“We paused it for two years and Vonda and Jean said they’d like to restart it again and asked if I would help them,” added Lueck. “It switched over to their (Chilton) parish in 2018.”
The conference was sold out, with more than 500 women in attendance. “Our four speakers gave anywhere from 45-minute to hour-long talks,” said Pitzen. “Throughout the day, we said the joyful mysteries of the rosary.”
Six diocesan priests were available for confession and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was offered in the parish’s new Adoration Chapel. The day concluded with Mass celebrated by Bishop David Ricken.
The day began with a welcome by emcee Rose Sullivan, executive director of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. She introduced Marge Steinhage Fenelon, an award-winning author, journalist, blogger, speaker and Catholic radio personality. Fenlon’s presentation was titled, “The First Disciple: Following Christ with Mary as a Model.”
She encouraged the women to get closer to the Blessed Mother by reading Scripture — in particular the accounts of the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Flight out of Egypt, the Miracle at Cana, the Crucifixion, and Pentecost — visualizing the scenes, meditating on the passages and applying what was learned to their lives. “Imitate Mary’s trust, endurance, strength, hope, faith and joy, and ask for Mary’s help in your life,” said Fenelon.
Patrick Madrid, author, speaker and Catholic radio host, was the day’s keynote speaker. His appearance was sponsored in part by the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.
“I spoke on the communion of saints,” said Madrid. “About the role of Mary and the saints in our lives, the biblical pattern for the Catholic teaching and how Catholics can demonstrate from the Bible that what we believe about Mary and the saints is literally what the Bible teaches.”
He noted how important it is that Catholics speak the truth of their faith in love, and how that can change people’s lives. “We don’t have the luxury of just sitting back and doing nothing,” he said. “My message not only gave them some information and tools, but also encouragement.”
Madrid said that every Catholic should learn to defend the faith. Listening to his radio show on Relevant Radio is a simple way to get educated on the topic, he said. Madrid’s show is aired on Relevant Radio Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
For women who are concerned about family and friends who have left the faith, Madrid quoted Winston Churchill: “Never, ever, ever give up.”
“We have a special standing with our children and family and it can take the form of relentlessly continuing to pray, even if they won’t listen to what we say,” he said. “My advice for parents, if their children won’t listen to them, is pray to God to send a Philip (Acts 8:26-40) into the lives of their sons and daughters and maybe they’ll listen to him.”
The afternoon session featured a presentation by Mother Mary Catherine, foundress of Missionaries of the Word. She emphasized that God is in love with everyone and never falls out of love with us.
At the conclusion of Mass, Bishop Ricken invited forward young women who may be considering religious life. Several approached the altar and were blessed by him.
According to Heiberger, the women’s conference is a special day each year. “You’re together with all the women. You learn from the talks and grow in your faith with them,” she said. “I love my Catholic faith. It’s just a beautiful day, spiritual day.”
“People come and they feel the presence of God,” added Lueck. “You’re not here because you’re perfect. You’re here because you want to get to know God more and grow in holiness. … It’s really something special.”
Among the attendees was Karen Lee, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Menasha. It was her second time at the conference, she said, and the big draw for her are the speakers.
“I love Mother Mary Catherine. She’s so joyful and it emanates from her and makes me think maybe I should be more joyful,” said Lee. “This conference refocuses my energy into what’s really important and keeping Christ at the center of my life. Sometimes as we get busy and we forget. This refocuses things.”