PROVIDENCE — Since 2017, with a break of only one year, women have sought spiritual renewal at the Rhode Island Catholic Women’s Conference, held at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul. It began after noting that while the Diocese of Providence offered a yearly men’s conference, there was nothing specifically for women, who have different spiritual and emotional needs. Michelle Donovan, M.A., assistant director of Faith Formation, commented that since its inception, the conference has been “well-received.”
“It has really been a day that the ladies have appreciated,” she said. “It really is a prayerful day. Women refer to it as a retreat rather than a conference.”
Attendees vary in age and station in life, from married to religious, young and old. Donovan emphasized that mothers are more than welcome to bring “babes in arms” and how many attendees have done so in the past and “always end up with free hands” from other women offering to assist by holding their babies.
The day begins with Mass, celebrated for the first time at this event by Bishop Richard G. Henning in the cathedral. Then the women present are treated to fellowship, spiritual music provided by Liz Cotrupi Pfunder and two guest speakers. Additionally, confession and adoration times play a central role at the conference. There is even a period of time in the middle of the day that attendees can spend as they wish — eating lunch, going to confession, praying, socializing, etc.
For those women still seeking a deeper sense of community in a post-COVID world, Donovan said the day can help them by “building spiritual friendships with other women who are trying to walk the same walk; it helps to have those conversations, have other women who know what you’re trying to do. It’s a great day for this.”
The event draws roughly 100-150 women, some who have attended in previous years and others who have never been to a conference, some of whom had no idea the diocese even hosted such an event. Another thing the event can do is inform attendees about “all the wonderful things the diocese does throughout the year” and invite them to continue their spiritual growth through those events.
Event organizers wanted to bring in a national speaker as well as a local figure. Kendra Von Esh speaks throughout the country about her experiences growing up nominally Catholic and seeking happiness in the corporate world.
“I was a confirmed Catholic who knew nothing about the faith and did not practice. As a result, the world raised me, and I believed the lies that money, power and pleasure will make me happy,” Von Esh told the Rhode Island Catholic. “My life as an executive in corporate America was so stressful and my insecurities got worse as I climbed the ladder and struggled to keep up my facade. I was swirling in numerous addictions and bad habits to ‘help’ with my anxiety and worry – but they only got worse.”
She stated that at age 42, the pressures of the corporate world weighed on her a great deal.
“I was barely keeping my head above water when God found me and pulled me up.”
Von Esh encourages any women who might be seeking God or looking to deepen their faith life to attend the conference. “If you are someone who is overwhelmed with the stresses of life, do not know how to pray, do not know how to fight the spiritual battle – then come to this conference. Learn how to conquer addictions and bad habits and live the life of peace, joy and love for which you are called. There is freedom and joy on the other side of sin like nothing you can imagine. Come learn about the grace and power in Jesus so you, too, can find that happiness you are seeking and leave armed to conquer every vice and sin you are battling.”
Massachusetts resident Wendy Rodriguez Mejia will give the day’s other talk. She has a long history of involvement in Church ministry, particularly in her longtime home parish, St. Mary of the Annunciation in Cambridge. Awarded the Cheverus medal by Archdiocese of Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., in 2017, her service focuses on youth ministry, including summer mission trips to the Dominican Republic to aid families in poverty.
Donovon added that everything at the conference, including the speakers, is specifically geared toward the female audience, no matter their age or background.
“Everyone can take something away from this day,” she said.
Tickets for the women’s conference are required in advance and can be purchased on the diocesan website: www.evangelizeri.org/womens-conference.