Women’s conference aims to foster friendships with saints, embrace femininity

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The conference is Feb. 22 at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix. Info/tickets: cwphx.org.

Catholic Women of Phoenix and its upcoming conference’s keynote speaker have a mutual friend: their patron saint, St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as Edith Stein.

For the 10th annual diocesan Catholic Women’s Conference, organizers are gifting attendees with in-depth insight about the 20th-century daughter, philosopher, teacher and martyr. The German nun and convert from Judaism died in Auschwitz and was canonized in 1998. Anne Costa, an author, spiritual coach and the conference’s keynote speaker, wrote a six-chapter book about her spiritual friend. “Embracing Edith Stein: Wisdom for Women from St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross” covers topics such as freedom in surrendering, receptivity, maternity and knowing the woman within.

In an interview with The Catholic Sun, Costa reflected on her personal devotions and her outreach to Catholic girls and women. It has been edited for clarity.

The Catholic Sun: How did reaching out to Catholic women and girls become your passion?

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as St. Edith Stein, is pictured in an undated photo. St. Teresa converted from Judaism to Catholicism in the course of her work as a philosopher, and later entered the Carmelite order. She died in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in 1942. (CNS files)

Anne Costa: There is so much that women don’t know about their dignity and strength in Christ and that the Church teachings support and celebrate the roles of woman in a powerful way. I discovered this first and foremost through the writings of Edith Stein and her unique understandings of women have really cleared up a lot of confusion for me. Young women especially have been truly victimized by the messages of our culture that cause them to reject their bodies and their natural processes, neglect their deepest wisdom and embrace a counterfeit empowerment that is really putting their souls at risk. We have the answers, we have the truth and I can’t help but share it.

Sun: How did you become friends with Edith Stein?

Costa: She is a contemporary. Personally, I can relate to her on many levels: she was a bit of a perfectionist, she struggled with anxiety, she was a deep thinker and fell in love with Jesus. I will be telling the story of how we “met” at the conference.

Sun: What do you hope to impart upon the women of Phoenix?

Anne Costa is the keynote speaker for this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference Feb. 22. (courtesy photo)

Costa: I want to have a “heart-to-heart” with them about many things. We need each other, we need to know who we are and who we are called to be in these times. Self-possession is paramount. The responsibility is enormous, yet the graces are abundant. We are going to be talking about the genuine feminine influence that the world needs and how we are to bring it forth into our families and our world.

Sun: The conference tends to draw a wide range of ages. What do you hope to stir in the feminine genius of younger women? Middle age? Retirees?

Costa: Younger women will carry the torch and need to be well-equipped and grounded, really rooted in the truth which is so obscured these days. Those in middle age have wisdom and experience to share but must guard against distractions, fatigue and burn out. Retirees and widows are a hidden treasure but may feel useless, cast aside or burdened by losses and limitations.

Yet at every stage and in every season of our lives God calls us and we have a significant purpose. The vocation of women is God-given and vital.

Sun: Can you briefly share your Catholic background?

Costa: I am a cradle Catholic, but I left the Church when I went to college and didn’t return until I was pregnant with my daughter (only child) at the age of 34. I got involved in a New Age church and was very far away but had experienced a deep conversion at the age of 14 so I believe that Holy Spirit always had my back!

I have founded REVIVE Hope and Healing Ministries and, under the direction of my bishop, am forming a private Catholic lay association to continue the work. My closest saintly sister is Edith Stein, of course, but I also am drawn to St. Gertrude and St. Margaret Mary because of their devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Sun: You’re involved with Unbound, a form of healing and deliverance prayer. What are some recurring themes you hear about, and what role does prayer play?

Costa: People are dealing with a lot of unresolved trauma and unforgiveness. I wrote a book on forgiveness and healing and it continues to be published in other languages because this is universal. What people need to know is that God’s healing is real and available, and freedom is possible. We are called as Christians to pray with and for one another. When we do, Jesus is there pouring His Heart out upon us, the source of all mercy and grace. We do not have to live with perpetual, unresolved pain.

Sun: There has been a lot of attention lately on mental health issues. What role can spirituality play in that?

Costa: It is no secret that I have had my share of mental health struggles, and I can say that my Catholic faith has been the foundation of my strength and hope and endurance. Our suffering has purpose and can be used for good. The fact that I am speaking at your conference is proof of that! As a social worker, I am convinced that the faith-based approaches to healing and sacramental participation, combined with the best practices of therapeutic intervention and a healthy dose of Christ-like love is the best medicine for mind, body and soul.

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