Kayla Kleekamp describes the Catholic Women for Christ Conference as “a breath of fresh air.”
This was the second year the sophomore at Washington High School attended the conference, a day of uplifting talks, prayer, sacraments and best of all — a time to share in lighthearted camaraderie among fellow women. More than 900 women attended the ninth annual conference March 10 at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Kleekamp was the youngest of a group of about 80 women from St. Gertrude Parish in Krakow and neighboring St. Ann Parish in Clover Bottom who have made the conference a yearly tradition. And there was no mistaking them with their matching kelly-green shirts, reminiscent of a family reunion.
Michelle Gildehaus, communications and liturgy coordinator at St. Gertrude, said the parishes’ interest has grown over the years. About four years ago, when pastor Father Phil Krill came aboard, the staff started talking about giving more promotion to the women’s conference.
“One of our parishioners called it a ‘booster shot of faith,’” Gildehaus said. “We said, let’s get a bus and take everybody down — it’s about an hour drive there. Then the matching shirts happened. It just kind of morphed from there.”
Speakers at the conference included Gloria Purvis, Sister Virginia Joy of the Sisters of Life and Mary Beth Bonacci, all of whom shared themes celebrating the feminine genius and the vital role of women in the Church. Purvis, a nationally known speaker and creator of EWTN’s series “Authentically Free at Last,” challenged them to live authentically Catholic lives.
“Words matter and what we say and do at Mass matters,” Purvis said. “Am I living what I say I believe?”
The topic of respect for women has been trending via the #MeToo movement and Women’s March, but Purvis noted that society is missing the mark on the so-called “war on women,” adding that the real war is rooted in the idea that women are empowered through evils such as abortion and contraception.
“The notion that women are defective … that contraception makes us free — being a wife and mother is not an obstacle to your progress,” she said. “There is nothing defective about how we are made. Society’s view is defective.”
Kathy Mueller from St. Ann in Clover Bottom has attended the conference nearly every year since it began. She said the speakers “really speak to women and what we know in our hearts and our faith life. We all share the same struggles and passions — our family and children. Plus, it’s fun.”
Diana Luechtefeld of St. Gertrude attended with her mom, daughter and two sisters for the first time. “Everybody saved the day so we could all go together,” she said. “We wanted to spend the day together with other women.”
Luechtefeld has family who belong to other churches, and “there’s always questions about the Catholic faith. We want to learn, learn, learn. To understand and spread the faith — in my heart, the Catholic faith is founded by Jesus. You have to be strong in your faith — you don’t know everything and you have to stay up with things and keep learning.”
The ladies of St. Gertrude and St. Ann brought that learning back to their community through a Wine and Worship event, which grew out of the women’s conference. (See related box.) It started a few years ago to give women the opportunity to share in their enthusiasm fostered at the conference and to discuss topics pertinent to their femininity.
It’s a perfect opportunity to keep learning, Michelle Gildehaus of St. Gertrude noted. “We have some wine and food, and make it a special evening for the ladies,” she said. “Everybody is welcome.”
>> Wine and Worship
WHEN: Friday, April 20
WHERE: The parish center at St. Ann Church, 7851 Highway YY in Clover Bottom (near Washington)
MORE INFO: Mary
Trefney will speak on “In Spirit vs. In Ego.” Doors open at 6 p.m.,
program begins at 6:30, and the speaker will be at 7. Wine and
appetizers will be provided, and a free-will offering will be accepted.
RSVP before April 16 by contacting Emily at (636) 239-3222 or
[email protected]; or Michelle at (636) 239-4216 or