By Becky Aubut
FALL RIVER, Mass. — Fresh off a trip last month to Orlando, Fla., to attend the National Council of Catholic Women’s 95th annual convention (www.nccw.org), Fran Brezinski, president of the Fall River Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, said her third time attending the event was a charm.
“There’s always the Spirituality and camaraderie you get when you go to a national convention,” said Brezinski. “When there’s 670 women in one place — the singing, it’s like angels — and having 44 priests present, also made it very unique.”
One of the highlights of the convention Brezinski pointed out was keynote speaker, Marybeth Hicks, who in her presentation, “Five Strategies to Build a Stronger Community of Catholic Women,” spoke “about the difference 95 years ago when the national council was organized,” said Brezinski, “the women then and the women now, and the difficulty getting people involved because of the technology involved, because there’s more working women — there’s been a decline in the membership, and she spoke about ways of getting different people involved. That was very good.”
Virginia Wade, who had served on the National DCCW board for the past two years and only stepped down last month, also attended the convention and she also appreciated being surrounded by so many faith-filled women and having Mass with them every day. She also enjoyed the lighter moments of the convention, including sightseeing in the area.
“One of my highlights was going to the Basilica in Orlando, it was just beautiful,” she said of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. “I was quite impressed with that.”
Beth Mahoney, president-elect of the Fall River DCCW, said her listening to a workshop devoted to Spirituality showed the importance of prayer, “and we talked about how to integrate that in our meetings and in our membership,” said Mahoney, “and the importance of sharing reflection at every meeting, and to keep what is going on at a national and diocesan level alive.”
As she readies herself to take over as president of the DCCW in another year, Manohey immersed herself in the convention’s leadership and development workshop: “As a new officer coming in, I wanted to learn about what the expectations are, and learn the development aspect of it. Not necessarily the development of fund-raising, but the development of membership, and the development, overall, of the collaborative dimension within the diocese; how to integrate and collaborate with the other organizations and ministries within the diocese.”
Mahoney will also help chair the Spirituality Commission for the National DCCW, which became effective last month: “Part of my responsibility as a chairman of this commission is to implement the resolutions that come out of the Spirituality Commission that will be on consecrated life, and then look at ways we can assist the membership to increase prayer life. We’ll be working on programs and projects,” that will also help guide the local DCCW of Fall River, she said.
Having Mahoney continue to be a conduit for new ideas is wonderful, said Brezinski: “It’s not that we don’t have intelligent people, but you get a range of people giving you ideas.
Brezinski still has one more year as president of the DCCW of Fall River, and Mahoney and she will continue to oversee new upcoming ventures, like creating a pen pal project for families who live in hotels. The three women came away from attending the convention with new ideas that they hope will translate into revitalizing the DCCW in Fall River.
Touching base with members on a national scale, said Brezinski, “reinforces your thinking and it brings forward many important issues that we should be concentrating on. Unfortunately, we all think grassroots like having a bake sale or a dinner to raise money for our parish; we have to think outside of that box and hit on major social issues that are confronting us. We all have these issues we have to confront.”
The National Council offers literature and resources, from prayers to flyers to hang in parishes, and include offering ideas, like having weekly prayers for domestic violence victims, especially in October which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month: “Like-thinking people come up with ideas like that and it is difficult to get women out of that parish mentality. Parish women are doing great things and all parishes need that help,” but the idea is to get women to also focus on things that are bigger, said Brezinski.
Brezinski said each meeting of the DCCW has a purpose and if more women, especially younger women became aware of those purposes, then they would feel motivated to become involved.
The DCCW only meets three times a year but has ongoing discussions about projects and ministries, and organizing activities: “We support the Donovan House, support Pro-Life, and support social services that the diocese has; we give back to the community,” said Brezinski.
With that in mind, Mahoney has begun to explore the idea of reaching out to college students who are of the older variety, “women who have raised their families and are looking to go back and continue their education,” she said. “We also want to go into campus ministry in high school and look at how we as Catholic women and leaders of the Catholic faith, share that faith with young adults who are coming up. Not just share it but support them.”
The notion is to raise the profile of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and what it stands for, said Mahoney. She also wants to encourage women to walk in the footsteps of Our Lady, who walked alongside her Son and after His death, continued to bear witness to the Word of God.
Brandon Vogt, a content director at Word on Fire Catholic ministries and presenter at the annual convention, left Mahoney with keywords to help propel her forward in her leadership role in the diocese: “Share the faith with confidence, calm and joy,” said Mahoney, “and that struck me because the world needs the hope of Christ, and how do we, as Catholic women, do that in relation to how our Blessed Mother did? In following the fiat of Mary, how are we doing that as Catholic women and bringing witness? Everything she did, brings us to her Son, so as Catholic women, how do we bring Christ into the home?”
“We are the voice of Catholic women and those are the values that we should be focusing on,” said Wade. “We are trying to get younger people. Younger women have more energy and are really committed. Every part of the country has different issues.”
The National DCCW has been working hard during the last few years to really push new ideas and programs, raising awareness on human trafficking, domestic violence and other crucial issues that affect women across the nation: “Not that the previous president didn’t do a good job, but the current president has gotten a lot of these things going,” said Brezinski, who will be taking a page out of the national president’s notebook.
This year there will be more follow-ups from the convention, said Brezinski, with programs and prayers being featured. The Council of Catholic Women needs to do more, and that along with “the money to be able to do” what you need to do, said Brezinski, “like Virginia said, you need the bodies and the energy. In Florida, as much as you think it’s an older [demographic], you’d be surprised the younger people who are involved down there.”
“I think the whole aspect of having to get out to the women in the diocese is that we can have individual membership,” said Mahoney. “I think the stigma is the Women’s Guild concept, that we come and play cards, and do this and that. The women of today want something with meat, and the whole aspect of commitment. We’re looking at three meetings a year on really good topics and action that can be taken after that, but they can be individual members.”