Annual convention seeks to empower women

By Kira Ciupek

Empowering Catholic women to “witness with joy” was the theme of the 66th annual Austin Diocesan Council of Catholic Women Convention held April 20-21 at the Shilo Hotel in Killeen. Following the Monday morning General Session, keynote speaker and recently retired diocesan director of worship, Cheryl Maxwell, addressed the group of approximately 200 women. 
Acknowledging the ADCCW’s roots in the National Council of Catholic Women which formed in 1920, Maxwell said, “We are celebrating 95 years of witnessing with joy to the Gospel.” Citing the examples of Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, and Edith Stein, Maxwell encouraged participants to value their roles as evangelists and “witnesses of joy” within the church.
“Pope Francis upholds the role of women in the church,” Maxwell said. “He is saying women play an important role in the church because of our intuitive and nurturing natures.”
Other speakers at the event included JaLeta G. Tidmore, administrator of Our Lady of the Angels Maternity Shelter in Temple; Mary Clare Carden, director of Spiritual Care and Ethics for the St. Joseph Health Care System in Bryan; and Susan Lannoy Glover, RCIA director at St. Joseph Parish in Mason.
In addition to being the official voice for Catholic women in Central Texas since 1948, the ADCCW provides tuition assistance for seminarians and loans to diocesan parish building programs through the Clerical Endowment Fund (CEF). Monday afternoon, Father Jonathan Raia, diocesan director of vocations and seminarians, presented encouraging statistics about seminarians in Central Texas.
“To keep up with the number of retiring priests in our diocese, we must average five ordinations per year, which we have done consistently,” Father Raia said. Currently, the Austin Diocese has three seminarians attending the North American College in Rome, and 45 men enrolled in various seminaries in the U.S. This summer the Austin Diocese will ordain six transitional deacons and six priests. 
Father Raia challenged the ADCCW to foster a culture of vocations. 
“It’s tremendously important that other voices, besides priests, invite young men to consider the priesthood, or young women to consider the religious life,” he said. 
During his presentation to the ADCCW, Father Raia introduced two seminarians, Doug Jeffers, and Everardo Cazares. Recalling his Easter Vigil confirmation in 2007 at St. Mary Catholic Center in College Station, Jeffers shared an emotional experience in his journey toward priesthood.
“Etched on my memory is one moment — the lighting of the fire. After that night, the thought jumped into my head that maybe I should become a priest. I began to feel the desire in my heart more and more to leave everything, all my plans for the future, and answer this call to spend my life in service to Jesus Christ as a priest,” he said.
Gina Moore, ADCCW secretary and member of Holy Trinity Parish in Llano, said listening to the vocation director and seminarians speak is one of her favorite parts of the annual meeting.
“I love to hear their story of how God has called them and see the joy in their faces and the joy in their stories,” she said.
During the ADCCW banquet, Bishop Joe Vásquez was presented with a check for $161,371.37 from the Clerical Endowment Fund. The funds will be used for the education of diocesan seminarians.
Monday’s activities culminated with Mass, with Bishop Vásquez concelebrating with various priests from Central Texas parishes. During his homily, the bishop encouraged the women to continue fulfilling their role as “witnesses of joy” by speaking up for the rights of others.
“In this country there are attempts to take away our rights of religious freedom,” he said. “The church continuously says we have a right and an obligation to speak to the issues of the day. We’re always going to defend the unborn, the elderly, and those unjustly persecuted — and we do this in the public square. May God grant us the courage to speak openly and honestly about these things.”
The two-day event offered ADCCW participants the opportunity to connect with one another while reinvigorating new vision for their own parishes.
“The greatest joy of life is being involved with Christian sisters,” said Mary F. Thompson, president of the ADCCW. 
“Our goal is keeping our Catholic values in supporting our families, community and country,” said Joann LaCanne of St. Stephen Parish in Salado. “We go back to our parishes and implement the goal that DCCW leadership presents.”
Moore said the purpose of the convention is to reach out to the women in the pews throughout the diocese and educate, inspire and empower them.
“We want to send the women the message they have a big part in spreading the faith, encouraging vocations, and living the Gospel,” she said.