The Blessed Mother quietly meditated on how the Lord worked in her life. That is, until she visited Elizabeth.

Then a 10-verse canticle and a three-month visit ensued.

Today’s Catholic women follow a similar pattern. Thoughts swirl in their minds and hearts while mindfully carving out time to reflect amongst themselves. In a particular way, this year’s diocesan Catholic Women’s Conference held Feb. 9 at Xavier College Preparatory served not just as a forum for that, but a springboard for those who want to go deeper and more frequently.

Spread in between three longer talks and a short table discussion sat an equal amount of invitations to join or expand area apostolates for Catholic women. For women who often care for others first and themselves somewhere down the line, the conference posed a question point blank at them: “Who Does He Say You Are?”

Who does He say you are?

Posted by Catholic Women of Phoenix formerly PDCCW on Saturday, February 9, 2019

Terry Polakovic, the keynote speaker, co-founder of ENDOW — Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Woman — tackled that theme by sharing the stories of notable Catholic women throughout history with the conference’s nearly 400 women and the roles they played within the Church and secular culture. She put it in context with key Church documents in the last 140 years pertaining to human life and love.

Each period in which the six popes wrote these documents responded to something in the secular world that that somehow opposed God’s design for life, love and family. It was all something Polakovic details in her new book, “Life and Love: Opening Your Heart to God’s Design.”

Kerin Olson, among the younger — and repeat — attendees in the crowd, soaked up the history lesson wrapped in a Catholic perspective. The St. Helen parishioner and senior at Xavier learned about the effects of abortion and birth control that followed “Humanae Vitae” and left better equipped to dialogue with others of any viewpoint.

“We have something to rely on that we know is the truth, so we don’t just have to listen to the culture,” Olson said.

Roberta Bazaldua, president of Catholic Women of Phoenix which coordinates the annual conference, hoped women found confidence in Polakovic’s research that the Church has long spoken to women about their roles in the family, culture and Church.

“Terry’s insight, from her years with ENDOW and her research into the encyclicals and apostolic exhortations of the past 140 years, helps to bring these truths to light in a much more accessible way,” Bazaldua said. “Our hope is that her presentation would encourage women to read these documents and discover for themselves how important our role is as daughters of the Church.”

Deanna Kochman, a St. Andrew the Apostle parishioner, left the women’s conference relieved and inspired. She was glad to hear abortion being spoken about and clarified during a group panel.

Abortion, particularly with regard to eugenics, was the first topic addressed during a pre-submitted Q-and-A panel discussion. Polakovic and two local Catholic leaders sat on the panel with all of them weighing in. One clarified statistics and Planned Parenthood’s not-so-hidden agenda to minimize certain races, as reported by outlets such as Live Action. Another offered tips for dialoguing with the pro-choice side, even if you don’t personally have all the answers.

Armida Escárcega shares some thoughts about the role women have in the Church and culture during a panel discussion that closed out the Phoenix Catholic Women’s Conference Feb. 9 at Xavier College Preparatory. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Armida Escárcega, a Theology of the Body presenter, family planning consultant at Life Choices Women’s Clinic and radio host, among other titles, shared how she was verbally attacked within “WhatsApp” for a “life”-related post.

“Not everyone comes readily into the Church and accepts everything. It’s a struggle,” Polakovic offered.

The key is to journey with one another, the women agreed. Whether it’s regarding the abortion issue, sex abuse headlines or anything else a person struggles with related to Church teaching, companionship is the answer. “That it’s done one-on-one. That’s how we enjoy ourselves. That’s who we women are,” Escárcega said.

At the same time, Danielle Burr, host of the diocesan podcast, “I Got Issues,” and a former youth minister, emphasized the importance of being a faith-filled woman. It’s crucial to develop in that way and not just serve others.

“I’m really not going to win anyone [for Christ] if they don’t see that I love Him,” Burr said.

The panel also reflected on the possibility of the Church getting smaller and what that looked like. Most agreed that it is, but it’s OK if that means a more pure Church. That doesn’t become an excuse, however, to not go out and witness to Jesus, Burr said.

No matter what, “be hard on the issues, gentle on the person,” she said. “Our Lord was so perfect with that.”

Clare Dwyer, a St. Thomas the Apostle parishioner, editor of, Catholic blogger and more, summed it up nicely as panel moderator: “When you enter into someone else’s interior life, you need to take off your shoes because you’re entering holy ground.”

Beyond the conference

Ideas and events for Catholic women to join: