Dynamic speakers, an array of vendors’ booths and the opportunity to meet other Catholic women attracted hundreds to Xavier College Preparatory Feb. 21.
Attendees at the Fifth Annual Phoenix Catholic Women’s Conference packed into Xavier’s Founders Hall to focus on the theme of authentic truth, beauty and goodness. Hailing from parishes from throughout the Diocese of Phoenix and beyond, they spent the morning listening to speakers, including Ruth Ristow, a sacred artist who became a Catholic in 2010.
Ristow, who was raised as an Evangelical, was hired by Xavier in 2006 to paint an altar mural for school Masses. She related how researching the rich tradition of Catholic sacred art led to a deep and radical conversion of faith. Ristow’s iconography provided a brightly-colored backdrop for the conference’s closing Mass celebrated by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.
New to the conference this year was the addition of a track for high school and college-age women. Leah Darrow, a former model who reached the height of professional modeling in New York City, spoke with the younger women about reclaiming beauty so as to become what she called a “faithful fashionista.”
Darrow, who is set to deliver her second child any day, also spoke to older women and held them spellbound with her heartfelt conversion story. Losing her virginity at age 15 set her on a path far from God.
“I became withdrawn,” Darrow said. “I suffered from suicidal thoughts, depression … I didn’t think I was worth the mercy of Jesus Christ.”
Darrow’s modeling career took her to New York City where in a moment of grace, she refused to be photographed in what she laughingly called “incredibly defective clothing.”
“It was missing tons of fabric,” Darrow said. “That’s what I like to call immodest fashion.”
After refusing to be photographed, the international magazine showed her the door.
“Christ was revealing to me truth of my life,” Darrow said, “that I have more to offer this world than just the clothes that I wear, that I’m worth more than the price of my clothes or a number on the scale. I am a woman and I am loved by Christ. I have been broken by this world but I am redeemed. That is my worth.”
Phoenix Diocesan Council of Catholic Women
All women of the Diocese of Phoenix are automatically members and invited to its annual meeting. Info.
Darrow received a standing ovation from the packed hall.
Well-known Catholic blogger Leila Miller offered the crowd practical tips on how they could share the truth of the faith with others. Fear and the desire to please often keep women from speaking up, she said.
“It’s not comfortable,” Miller said, “but who said speaking the Gospel truth is comfortable? Look at a crucifix. It’s not comfortable.” For every 10 people who reject the Church’s teaching on issues like marriage or contraception, there may be one who is persuaded, she noted. The key, Miller said, is to speak the truth in love. “There may be some that scoff initially but there are seeds planted,” she said.
A mother of eight, Miller related a conversation she had with a non-Catholic man about contraception. The man told her that he and his wife had three children before he got “fixed.”
“I asked him, ‘Were you broken?’” Miller said. She then shared the joys of raising a large family, including the benefits of built-in babysitting. “My children still ask me for another baby,” Miller said. “My 17-year old son says, ‘Mom, I know you’ve got another baby in you!’”
Truth, Miller said, comes with graces attached. “We plant the seeds and the outcome we leave to God,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to tell the truth.”
The Phoenix Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, which hosts the annual conference, also bestows “Women of the Year” awards. Rhapsody Canepa, president, urged conference-goers to submit a nomination.
The awards honor people like Miller who aren’t afraid to tell the truth and who exemplify their Catholic faith through service and prayer. They will be presented at its annual meeting at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral June 6.
“Candidates for the Women of the Year award are women who live their lives in a way that glorifies God in all they do,” Canepa said.