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Endow marks 20 years of celebrating the feminine genius

“Twenty years ago in Denver, three women encountered Pope St John Paul II’s writings on the new feminism,” said Annette Bergeon, current CEO of Endow. “They were greatly moved by the beauty and depth of the Church’s teaching on womanhood. Recognizing the life-changing impact of these truths, they wanted all women to learn them. And thus, Endow was born.” 

These women went to Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver at the time, and presented him with the idea. He was delighted to hear of an apostolate that could articulate the Church’s teachings on women.  

“It isn’t the fact that the Church doesn’t have the teaching, it’s just the teaching is sometimes hard to share,” said Archbishop Chaput in an interview with Endow. “So when they came forward with the idea of Endow, I was delighted.” 

“Fast forward 20 years, no one could have imagined the confusion in our culture around what it means to be a woman,” Bergeon said. 

Endow is commemorating their 20th anniversary year with a special study on Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women), one of their flagship studies. They also hosted a gala this April, and are hosting a virtual gala this fall to include those outside the Denver area as well.  

Endow is an acronym and stands for “Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women.” Groups of women meet across the country and across the world to read aloud from papal documents or writings of the saints and discuss.  

“What started as a lunchtime conversation in Denver has grown into an international apostolate reaching more than 60,000 women all over the world,” Bergeon said.   

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The feminine genius

But Endow wants the message of the Church’s teaching on women and their dignity to be heard by every woman. 

“What we have learned over the last 20 years is that even though we have made great inroads and reached nearly 60,000 women, there’s still a vast number of women who haven’t heard of the feminine genius,” Bergeon said.   

Endow talks about the feminine genius, but what exactly does that mean? 

“The feminine genius is like the essence of womanhood,” she said. “Those qualities women tend to have in common that make them unique, truly powerful forces in society.”  

The concept of the feminine genius came originally from Pope Pius XII, but was popularized by Pope St. John Paul II, Bergeon explained. Pope St. John Paul II’s teachings on new feminism are found in Mulieris Dignitatem and Letter to Women. 

“It’s something that’s expressed differently in every woman,” Bergeon said. “There are so many different ways to express our femininity. There’s not just one way to be feminine.” 

“[We] really want to unleash the power of the feminine genius in the world,” Bergeon said. “That’s our goal for the next 20 years.” 

Reaching across cultural divides

In 2016, Endow saw another need they felt called to meet: tending to the growing Hispanic population of women in the Church. In 2018, this Hispanic ministry Endow formed received a name: Magnifica Grupos. Eight of the existing Endow study guides were translated into Spanish, and they are working on a bilingual study guide for quinceañera preparation to be released this fall.  

In Hispanic culture, a girl approaching her 15th birthday will often prepare for a quinceañera, a tradition rooted in the faith that includes a Mass with a special blessing and usually a party to follow.  

“It’s an audience who’s not being evangelized at a crucial moment in their life,” said Janeth Chavez, director of Magnifica Grupos. “The Endow model invites these young women together for a minimum of eight weeks.”  

“Not only do lives begin to change, faith life and prayer life begin to cultivate,” Chavez said.  

One of the young women in the quinceañera pilot group stood up excited and somewhat frustrated during the middle of the study saying, “How come I’ve never heard this before? How come they don’t teach this in school?” Chavez recounted the story of this young woman learning about her dignity.  

“[It’s an] opportunity for us to evangelize these young women who are the future Hispanic Catholic women of America,” Chavez said.  

This study for girls preparing for quinceañeras is being piloted in several parishes in Denver and will be available to the wider public this fall. Magnifica Grupos hopes every parish that has Hispanic ministry will host a study, Chavez said. 

Aside from the quinceañera study, Magnifica Grupos has about 5,000 women nationwide participating in their studies, Chavez said. She has seen healing and transformation as these women hear about their God-given dignity and identity.  

The next 20 years

Simone Rizkallah, Director of Program Growth for Endow and host of their podcast hopes that the next 20 years will see Endow expand as women get out of their comfort zones.  

“Are you pretty much a spiritual mother type?” Rizkallah asked. “Get out of your coziness and start a group that’s emotionally uncomfortable.”  

“Building community is not for the faint of heart,” Rizkallah said.  

She mentioned the online study they are hosting on Mulieris Dignitatem as an outreach to women who might not otherwise participate in an Endow study. 

“One of the things I really love about this study series we’re doing monthly is it’s trying to get fresh blood into Endow,” she said. “It’s a missionary gesture, just come once and see what we’re talking about.” 

She mentioned women of different backgrounds, self-proclaimed secular feminists coming with their questions and being blown away by the formation.  

“I want more of those women reading JPII,” Rizkallah said.  

The study meets every third Thursday online. for details, click here. 

Endow looks forward with hope to the next 20 years.  

“As evangelization has often been led by women in history, a renewal of the Church today will be led by women in many, many ways,” Archbishop Chaput said. “So Endow has an important role in giving the Church the tools to make that possible. 

“The mission hasn’t changed,” Archbishop Chaput stressed. “In fact, it’s a more important mission now than it was 20 years ago,”  


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