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Saint Mary’s 30th annual Madeleva Lecture discusses Voice of Young Catholic Women project

| Friday, April 17, 2015

Saint Mary’s Director of the Center for Spirituality Elizabeth Groppe introduced the 30th annual Madeleva Lecture, created in honor of former president of Saint Mary’s Sister Madeleva Wolff, on Thursday. The lecture included many speakers, all looking specifically at the Voice of Young Catholic Women project that began at Saint Mary’s in August 2014.

According to Groppe, many young women are abandoning Catholicism, and this disaffiliation is a great loss to the Catholic Church.

The Voices of Young Catholic Women project invited women to write to Pope Francis about women’s issues in the Church, expressing both their love and their suggestions for the Church, Groppe said.

Professor of sociology at Indiana University Patricia Wittberg discusses data regarding millennial women and the Church.Monica Villagomez Mendez | The Observer
Professor of sociology at Indiana University Patricia Wittberg discusses data regarding millennial women and the Church.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend was able to get a papal audience in November 2014, Groppe said. Rhodes, College President Carol Ann Mooney and two Saint Mary’s students delivered 235 letters in Rome last fall.

Questions such as “What do we cherish about the Catholic faith?” and “What is it like to be a Catholic woman today?” were given as prompts for young women across America to write about in their letters.

Groppe said while the number of letters represents a small percentage of young Catholic women, the personal notes offer something that statistics cannot display — young women’s voices.

Vice president for Mission Judy Fean spoke about Mary Magdalene as the first woman to see Jesus and said all baptized women are called to be part of the Church.

Fean also said the courage of the young women to write letters to Pope Francis will open the doors to recognize the challenges they face today.

Insights from the letters

Malea Schulte, class of 2014, said while 35 percent of millennial women disaffiliate from the Catholic Church, it is important to remember 65 percent stay committed to the Catholic faith.

Schulte said many letters addressed the value of Catholic tradition and the ways the church cherishes the beauty of life.

Schulte read one letter that said, “I love the church because I believe there is truth there. … I see the Church as an unrelenting seeker of justice for all people.”

Another important theme in the letters was community and its connection to the Catholic faith, Schulte said.

She read from a letter written by a Saint Mary’s student who wrote, “Saint Mary’s laid the foundation for my spiritual journey.”

Sophomore Kaleigh Ellis presented excerpts from letters written on the way women are portrayed in the media and the social pressures of contemporary society.

She read from a letter that mentioned the contemporary issues of bullying and self-esteem.

“We look at other girls and look for their flaws. We dislike each other, we bully and belittle ourselves — too many girls have been driven to self harm,” the letter read.

Ellis said another young woman wrote, “As a woman, I have been put in degrading situations. I can’t help but wonder, where is God in all this?”

The contemporary issue of divorce was also confronted in a letter one young woman wrote regarding parents going through a divorce and annulment. The Church became a reminder of the brokenness of the young woman’s family, Ellis said.

Ellis said the themes in the testimonies can seem daunting. However, many of these women provided heartfelt suggestions to Church leaders in their letters, including suggestions for national Catholic media initiatives.

Delivering the letters in Rome

Rhoades said he has a great appreciation for the Voices of Young Women project and has had an opportunity to meet many faith-filled student leaders at Saint Mary’s through his involvement.

“As the project unfolded, I was moved to joy by the love of the Lord,” Rhodes said. “I was also moved to sadness when reading of the sorrow of many women.”

Rhoades said Catholics are part of the universal church, which includes many other cultures, languages and races. The letters are also representative of the voices that are silenced, he said.

Mooney said the reason for going to Rome was what thrilled her about the project.

“It gave me great pride that a group of women at Saint Mary’s decided to do something in response to the great number of young women leaving the Church,” Mooney said.

Mooney said the Voices of Young Women project is uniquely appropriate today, and she couldn’t think of a place better than Saint Mary’s to take the initiative to discuss the needs of young Catholic women.

“Saint Mary’s women brought the voices of young American Catholic women, and we did so in hope and confidence that with insight, the Church would result in change.”

Senior Kristen Millar said going to Rome as a representative for young Catholic women will always be a vivid memory of her Saint Mary’s education.

Millar said she remembers being in the first mass at Saint Mary’s and hearing Sister Madeleva’s quote, “We promise you discovery: the discovery of yourselves, the discovery of the universe, and your place in it.”

“As a senior I find Sister Madeleva’s words to be true, and [at Saint Mary’s] I have been mentored by wonderful Catholic women mentors. Saint Mary’s has prepared me to become the Catholic woman I am.

“I have been honored to be a voice and to share the voices of young women,” Millar said. “The Pope cannot hear unless we speak.

“I invite all women to ask God for courage, strength and wisdom and a continuation of this conversation.”

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About Haleigh Ehmsen

A senior at Saint Mary's, Haleigh is majoring in Communication Studies and English Literature & Writing. She serves as the Saint Mary's editor and enjoys coffee, guacamole and good books.

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