PROVIDENCE — On Saturday, Nov. 5, the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Providence organized its annual Rhode Island Catholic Women’s Conference. The theme for the event was summed up in this year’s motto “Revive.”
Speakers focused on the importance of the Eucharist and a robust theological understanding of the Catholic vision of salvation in bringing about revival in the Church, and how such views relate to the traditional Catholic views on femininity and the role of women.
The day’s events began at 8:30 a.m. with Mass in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul. Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans celebrated the Mass. Bishop Evans’ homily analyzed the moral attitude that the faithful should have towards God’s Plan.
“In short, we are all faced with a choice,” Bishop Evans stated, “to trust in God, or to trust in ourselves, or perhaps put better, we can only trust in God if we entrust ourselves to Him in all matters, small and great alike.”
Anticipating many of the themes that were discussed in the day’s lectures, Bishop Evans, noting that the first Saturday of the month is devoted to the Blessed Virgin, which in turn points towards the Virgin Mary as setting one of the highest examples of faith in Divine Providence.
“In her we have a supreme example of trust,” Bishop Evans noted. “She believed God, not because she understood what He wanted of her … Her willingness to do God’s Will, or rather to allow God to work his will through her, demonstrated a faith that can be understood only as obedience flowing from an abundance of love.”
Bishop Evans’ remarks at the end of Mass were directed specifically towards the organizers and attendees of the women’s conference.
“I just want to wish you well with your women’s conference, beginning with prayer, continuing with discussion, but always under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the assistance, of course, of Our Blessed Mother, through whom the Savior of the world has come.”
Mass was immediately followed by breakfast in the cathedral hall for those in attendance. Breakfast was followed by a performance of praise and worship music by Liz Cotrupi Pfunder, a public speaker and musician in the Diocese of Providence.
Cotrupi Pfunder’s opening performance was followed by opening remarks from Michelle Donovan, the assistant director of the Office of Faith Formation, who introduced the day’s speakers.
The first lecture, titled “This Is My Body,” was delivered by the award-winning Catholic writer, catechist, podcaster and public speaker Pat Gohn, the author of such books as “Bold, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood” and “All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters.”
Gohn began by noting how a strong emphasis on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is at the center of the moral and spiritual life.
“So, why talk about this now, today? Because really, without Jesus, we’d be lost, and with Jesus we are found,” Gohn stated, going on to note how Jesus’ Presence in the Eucharist is one of the strongest and most direct ways in which Christ draws us to himself.
She went on to note that this is a reality that too many Catholics either misunderstand or doubt, and this is the reason why the Church in America has recently chosen to launch the recent Eucharistic Revival Initiative.
Gohn stated that the Eucharist is a continuation of God’s larger plan of salvation, in which God lowers himself for the sake of elevating the human race, corrupted by the effects of sin. She said that the Eucharist particularly emphasizes the self-sacrificial love of Jesus, which provides the standard for all human behavior.
“This [the Eucharist] is Jesus’ idea. ‘This is My body given for you.’ He doesn’t ask for this type of offering on our part without first giving us his example,” Gohn said.
The fact that the Eucharist provides us with an example to be followed in our day-to-day life leads to the understanding that whatever vocation we are led to requires what Gohn calls “a Eucharistic awareness.”
She noted that the example of married love is but one expression of the self-giving love called for by Christ, and which Christ himself exemplified when he said “This is my Body given for you.”
The self-giving love of marriage expresses itself with a particular intensity in the role of women, who are privileged with the gift of bringing forth the new life that results from marriage. Gohn noted that women who pursue religious life exemplify a similar attitude under a radically different set of circumstances, through the act of giving of themselves in prayer, good works and total obedience to Christ and the Church.
The second talk was delivered by Sister Josemaría Pence, O.P., a Dominican nun who serves as the principal of St. Pius V school in Providence. Her presentation was titled “Eucharistic Adoration: How to Listen and How to Love,” and focused on how to get the most out of the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.
Sister Josemaría began by speaking of her own experiences with the Eucharist, noting how one of the biggest learning moments in her life in appreciating the Eucharist was the sense of reverence with which her family, especially her father, treated the Eucharist.
She went on to describe the history of Eucharistic Adoration, noting how while the celebration of the Eucharist dates to the earliest days of Christianity, many of the modern practices surrounding Eucharistic Adoration developed in the Medieval and early modern eras in response to certain heresies that denied the Real Presence. She then went on to describe the Church’s official doctrines on the nature of the Real Presence.
Sister Josemaría continued by speaking of various methods she has used as a teacher to effectively communicate the Church’s stance on the Eucharist to students. She used the example of how many students she has had who would kneel before the Eucharist exposed on the altar while guided in brief meditations connected with the Eucharist, such as, “Jesus loves you. He has been waiting for you,” and teaching the children to open up about their spiritual, emotional and practical needs to Christ while praying before the Eucharist.
During her lecture, Sister Josemaría also gave the stage to Sister Maria Thuan, O.P., a Dominican nun and middle school teacher at St. Pius V, who spoke of her experiences with teaching the children to more authentically pray while in the presence of the Eucharist.
During lunch, attendees also had the option to take part in Eucharistic Adoration in the cathedral, with confessions also being offered to those present.
After lunch, event organizers invited those in attendance to come up and share how they were impacted by the day’s events before the final lecture was delivered by Gohn, which was titled, “Mary’s Fiat and My Amen.” In this lecture, she held up the Virgin Mary as the standard for faith and trust in God.
Many of those in attendance said they benefited greatly from participating in the conference.
Rose Malloy, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Bristol, attends the event every year and explained that it is a great benefit to her spiritual life.
“My friend Madeline and I usually attend it every year, and we just think it’s just a great way to get closer to Our Lord and spend time with other women in the Catholic faith.”
Elizabeth Morrissey, a parishioner and catechist at the cathedral, also regularly attends this and similar events, and spoke of how such events deepen her sense of faith and spiritual union with her fellow Catholics.
“I like to come to the women’s conference,” said Morrissey. “It’s very uplifting. It’s nice to be with the women. Usually, people who come to this are all of one, single mind. They’re the kind of people who like to hear a good word about Christ and who are good Catholics.”
“It was very enlightening,” said Linda Evans Green, a parishioner, lector, and Eucharistic minister at St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish in Pawtucket, noting that her interest in attending this year’s event was inspired by her past positive experiences with Catholic retreats.
“Being here today is almost like a retreat,” she noted. “It’s good for the mind. It brings you away from what goes on out there into what’s important to us,” she said.