SCOTTSDALE — More than 600 Catholic women from across the diocese drove, carpooled or chartered a bus to get to the daylong diocesan Women’s Conference March 16 at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish.
There they heard a handful of speakers, largely local lay Catholics, share different parts of their journey as “Women Walking in Faith.”
Melanie Pritchard, a Phoenix author, blogger and speaker, recalled St. Patrick’s Day last year when she inexplicably woke up with double vision. It was ultimately corrected, but in the interim, Pritchard remained calm. Someone finally asked her why she wasn’t worked up over it.
“When you wake up and are told that you died, a little double vision is no big deal,” Pritchard said.
She briefly recounted how in 2010, while giving birth to her second child, she suffered an amniotic fluid embolism after fetal cells entered her blood stream. A domino effect of other health issues somehow ended in her being brought back to life, allowing her to speak on a slew of topics including abortion, sidewalk counseling, redemptive suffering and more.
Pritchard was one of two speakers Priscilla Gibson, a parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Peoria, found particularly inspiring. She loved hearing the pro-life work Pritchard does as founder and executive director of the Foundation for Life and Love.
“There are all kinds of resources if they reach out and have faith,” Gibson said of women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Renee Bondi, who traveled with a small entourage from Southern California to address Catholic women, also impressed Gibson. Bondi, a gifted music teacher with a singing voice, endured a bizarre accident at 29 that left her a quadriplegic. Against medical odds, her voice was restored and she uses it to God’s credit.
“She’s impaired, but she’s found a way to provide inspiration for other people,” Gibson said.
Some women wiped tears from their eyes during a meditation in which Bondi sang “When God Ran.” The song illustrates God’s eternal forgiving nature.
“What is it that keeps us from truly accepting how much God loves all of us, no matter what we look like or how much we weigh?” Bondi questioned the crowd after lunch.
She talked about her days in Catholic school and relaxing in the chapel one day. That’s when her eyes truly saw the crucifix and Bondi began to ponder why Jesus Christ endured such suffering.
“If we don’t fully embrace His love and accept His forgiveness, then what was the cross for?” she said.
Bondi compared it to someone searching out the perfect gift, packaging it in a beautiful box with a bow only to have the recipient reject it. One woman in the crowd pointed out that as women and as mothers, it’s often more in their nature to give than receive.
Christine Accurso, a local Catholic mother of eight — five of them in heaven — recounted her life of service. She highlighted a critical experience as a police cadet after high school when a newly-released prisoner shot and killed himself in front of officers.
“Where is his hope? It’s gone,” Accurso thought at the time.
Accurso’s hope stayed deep in the life of the Catholic Church. She discerned religious life with Dominicans sisters, but ultimately chose to marry. Last year, she spent time discerning an additional role. Accurso is now also the executive director of 1st Way Pregnancy Resource Center.
“We have graces all around us all the time. We should discern what to do with that grace,” Accurso said, gently weaving in her method of and experience in prayer throughout her talk.
Mona Manibusan, a parishioner at Holy Cross in Mesa, enjoyed the opportunity for fellowship with other Catholic women. It was her first time at the diocesan women’s conference. She left affirmed in the idea of letting go and giving God control of every aspect of life.
Megan Brunkhorst, a Jesuit volunteer at St. Matthew, also enjoyed the fellowship aspect. She was surprised at the age variety of attendees and left affirmed in her faith journey.
“It’s nice to get reminders that the things we’re looking for, the miracles, aren’t exactly what we planned,” she said.