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Edith Stein Project Conference explores healing, identity

| Monday, February 18, 2019

This past weekend, the Identity Project of Notre Dame (idND) hosted the 2019 Edith Stein Project Conference, entitled “Arise: Restoring Identity as Beloved.”

The name of the conference was inspired by Edith Stein, a German philosopher who lived from 1891 until her 1942 death in Auschwitz.  Born Jewish, she became an atheist in her teenage years until she converted to Catholicism and became a religious sister. Senior conference co-chair Katherine Smith said Stein’s thoughts influenced Pope John Paul II, who also canonized her as a saint.

“We look to her as our patroness because first of all, the club was founded by women so just somebody to look up to as an academic,” Smith said. “But also, she is a saint. Her life was a witness to holiness that we seek to follow … I think she especially just had a great desire to share and know the truth and she talks a lot about truth and love always being connected. Our goal in looking to her is how can we share truth.”

Smith said this year’s gathering was focused on healing through God.

“The goal of the conference was to focus on healing, specifically healing as restoring our identity in God — with us as his sons and daughters created in love — and then also looking at our patroness Edith Stein,” Smith said. “Her thought and one of her big thesis dissertation topics was empathy. So, looking at empathy as a way to encourage healing in other people’s lives. The whole goal of this is just to provide a space where people can come and learn about different aspects of healing and hopefully open a space in their own life for that healing and then open that space in other people’s lives through that empathy.”

The conference featured several speakers talking about a wide variety of topics including Edith Stein’s empathy, mental health, disparities between the rich and the poor, purgatory, the feminine genius and LGBTQ issues. The keynote speaker was Jimmy Mitchell of Love Good, a subscription service created in 2013 to “promote media that transforms [consumers] from a passive consumer into a cultural influencer,” according to Love Good’s website.

“I was particularly grateful for our opening and closing speakers. Beth Hlabse’s ‘And my Soul Shall Be Healed’ set a beautiful thematic and personal tone for the conference,” senior Grace Enright, the other conference co-chair, said in an email. “Fr. Nathan O’Halloran closed the conference with a presentation on his dissertation on the subject of purgatory, giving a moving eschatological vision to all of us attendees.”

The schedule for the Edith Stein Conference also included a pizza dinner, ice cream social, adoration, paper readings and Mass.

While the co-chairs worked diligently to make sure the event flowed smoothly, not everything went as planned, Enright said.

“Some difficulties we faced were having last-minute cancellations of speakers, fundraising challenges and working to ensure that the conference always met the vision we were attempting to embrace,” Enright said.

Senior Theresa Gallagher said she attended the conference due to its theme.

“I went because it’s just a beautiful place to reflect on this year’s theme. … It’s so applicable. … There was beauty in and of itself in the conversations,” Gallagher said.

The theme this year which centered around healing was largely inspired by Smith’s experiences this past summer, Enright said.

“[Smith] had been on a pilgrimage to Lourdes with her family and had spent a month with the Sisters of Life in New York City, living and sharing life with the sisters and the pregnant mothers, many of whom were among the most vulnerable to the pressures of abortion,” Enright said. “The beautiful concept of healing through restoration of identity was something that had followed [Smith] throughout the summer and that began coming up frequently in our personal conversations. From our own experiences and with broader view of the Church and the world, we both felt that there was a serious need for discussion and reflection on the subject of healing.”

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