In May of 2013, a friend casually mentioned that she was going to meet with some women who had a dream to plan a special event for Catholic women in the Rochester Diocese. She was excited. I was intrigued.
Who were these women and what were they planning? I agreed to skip my workout and tag along to the organizing meeting ... and am so grateful that I did!
That first meeting was quite an experience. These women were not just talking about planning a nice evening in a cozy church hall with a local speaker and coffee afterwards, as I had anticipated. Instead, they were dreaming big. They were talking about renting a major conference hall, bringing in national speakers and professional musicians, catering a lunch, and inviting the bishop. And they were talking about aiming for 1,000 women to attend.
I was impressed ... and a bit skeptical. They had no money for this undertaking, no event planner, no "professionals" helping with the preparation, no diocesan contacts. But what this grassroots group of women "in the pews" lacked in resources, they sure made up for in enthusiasm and prayer.
Their vision, which I quickly became invested in, was to plan an all-day event that would inspire and energize the faith of Rochester’s Catholic women -- those who were regular churchgoers as well as those who have drifted from the church.
Almost the first thing decided was the theme for the event: "The Heart of the Matter." Three speakers would be chosen, each focusing on one aspect of the sub-theme: the Heart of Mary, the Heart of Jesus and the heart of a woman.
I was hooked. I couldn’t imagine what would be more relevant to the Catholic woman of today than these three "hearts."
Backing up a bit, I learned that this early planning began to unfold under the inspiration of Christine DiNovo (St. Louis, Pittsford), an attorney and mother of two who had recently relocated to Rochester from Syracuse. Christine had been involved with the Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference -- a spiritually-energizing annual event that draws 1,000 women. Realizing that Rochester did not have a similar event, she asked her sister-in-law and longtime Rochester resident, Maria Mruzek, (Church of the Assumption, Fairport), if such a gathering might be successful here. Maria’s optimistic reply was the spark that compelled Christine to forge ahead, in spite of the fact that she didn’t know many Catholic women in her new diocese.
Since that first meeting that I attended, the planning group has expanded greatly in number and covered a lot of ground. It has:
* selected Saturday, March 1, as the date and The Aquinas Institute as the location;
* retained three excellent national speakers: Teresa Tomeo, Matthew Leonard and Sister Joseph Andrew, OP (of "Oprah" talk show fame);
* coordinated with the Diocese of Rochester to cosponsor the event and assist with certain logistics;
* secured seed money and advertising support;
* hired a caterer, and rented tables, linens, dinnerware and cutlery for 1,000 women;
* distributed more than 18,000 event postcards and 1,000 flyers;
* arranged for Bishop Salvatore R. Matano to celebrate Mass and spend the entire day at the conference. (The bishop tells us he is enthusiastic about the women’s conference, and is very much looking forward to meeting the women of his new diocese.)
Now the only thing we need is the WOMEN!
We are praying that the women of the Diocese of Rochester will set aside Saturday, March 1, as a day to step out of their normal routines of running errands, shopping, car-pooling and working in order to "pamper" themselves spiritually and allow Christ to speak to the "heart of the matter" -- to THEIR heart, actually -- in a most personal way.
Most parishes are planning a registration day in the upcoming weeks, but you also can register online at www.rochestercwc.org or call your parish secretary for more information.
On behalf of the many women who have worked so hard to make this dream a reality, I hope that you will join us on March 1 and see what surprise God has in store for YOU.
Bring a friend, too -- I promise that you won’t be disappointed.
Baric Parker is publicity chairperson for the Rochester Catholic Women’s Conference.