Elizabeth Pawalek did not expect to represent Denver when she sent in her application for the Given conference, a meeting of young female Catholic leaders from across the country. Then she found out that she and several other women from the archdiocese were going.
“I just graduated with my master’s and don’t necessarily have all my ducks in a line, and I was going to a conference with all these powerhouse women,” the Augustine Institute graduate said.
Yet she said the conference was affirming. She went to Washington, D.C. June 7-12 and came back ready to love her Church.
“It was absolutely beautiful,” she said. “I saw the feminine genius alive in the church.”
The Given conference was an offshoot of the 2015 Year of Consecrated Life. One group of religious sisters, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, received a grant from the Hilton foundation to start initiatives in honor of the year. They decided to use a portion of the funds to host this conference.
“The three principal themes were to receive the gift you are, realize the gifts you’ve been given and respond with the gift only you can give,” said Sister of Life Sister Mary Gabriel.
The women who attended the conference had to go through a rigorous application process, including an “action plan” to bring back to their diocese. At the conference, they attended talks, small groups and prayer sessions were designed to help them flesh out the three themes.
Pawalek’s action plan is a marriage mentorship program.
“My idea is to come up with a discipleship model for the first few years of marriage for newlyweds. It’s to have a couple who have been married for at least five years work with newlyweds for at least three years,” she said.
She said she saw women in all states of life, and saw the need to be fully alive exactly where she is.
“The premise was that you need to be fully alive where you’re at right now…We don’t need to be pretty little packages. We need to be ourselves,” she said.
She said she realized this is possible in any state of life.
“We can try to put femininity in a box, but all these different walks of life were glorifying womanhood. There were mothers, and consecrated virgins who work in the medical field, and religious sisters,” Pawalek said.
Sister Mary Gabriel said that they wanted to remind the world of the power of women, and that religious are praying for them.
“Women have the capacity to love life back into hearts and into cultures, and this is what we pray and hope these women will do with their love,” she said.