By Laura Suttenfield
I am a 20-year-old Catholic woman and I always thought I knew what that meant. Have you ever heard of “the feminine genius”? I definitely had. Have you always thought it sounded kind of mushy, and never bothered to find out what it meant? I definitely took no action towards enlightening myself. I didn’t want to be associated with anything gross. Little did I know that the feminine genius was about to rock my world when I encountered women who didn’t only know what it meant; they lived it, and encouraged me to do the same.
The GIVEN Forum, sponsored by a group of women’s religious orders, seeks to empower women through faith formation and networking to be leaders in their communities. it’s what I and Claire Nauman, both rising juniors in college, and both from Belchertown, were able to go to from June 7 – 12 in Washington, D.C. this past month. The theme that shaped that particular week was: Receive the gift that you are, realize the gifts you have been given, and respond with the gift that only you can give.
The GIVEN Forum brings together 300 Catholic young women from every state in the country, all of whom possess skills, desires, and motivation to share their gifts and talents in the Church and in the world. Another hundred sisters from various religious communities joined us as mentors, small-group leaders, and facilitators. Every woman who was accepted received a complete scholarship to attend which covered all travel and meal costs, specifically intended to symbolize the Church’s encouragement of young women. The sponsor was the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, or CMSWR, and funded through the generosity of, primarily, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
The GIVEN Forum was focused on action. In the world, there are a lot of calls to action that perhaps stem from good desires but are arrive at the wrong conclusions (pro-choice? Anti-immigration?). What better to counter that than action rooted in prayer and in the enormous velocity that women have for their own God-given ideas and inspirations – all in service to others, and out of love? The 300 women in business, academia, communications, and sciences, are not the future of the Church. These women are the Church, and the New Evangelization is right now. We were privileged to listen to several speakers each day – including none less than: Helen Alvaré, a professor of law at George Mason University; Dr. Carolyn Woo, the CEO of Catholic Relief Services; Sr. Maria Theotókos Adams, SSVM, a beautiful speaker and educator; and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, SV, a founding member of the Sisters of Life and the chairperson of the CMSWR, who before entering religious life was a professor of psychology at Columbia University, and who inspired the vocation of a priest in our diocese.
The GIVEN Forum was beyond inspiring, but the point of writing this article is not so you, my brother or sister in Christ, can leave vaguely thinking that something happened that a couple of young women really liked a month ago. What have you been given by God? Do you realize that you are a gift? How much time do you spend in dedicated prayer, with just you and the Lord? How much time do you spend thanking Him for these gifts? How have you put these gifts to the service of others?
I now know what the feminine genius really means, and it’s nothing less than the unique capacity of women to give of herself to others. Edith Stein got a lot of love at the conference as a saint and a scholar particularly interested in what it means to be a woman of God, and the quote on the cover of the 100+ page binder that was handed out to all of us as we checked in perhaps says it best. “A woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”
I had the opportunity to go to confession during that week, and the priest called me to reflect on the Forum’s mission statement – to realize the gift that I am, the gifts that I have been given, and to respond with the gift that only I can give.
The priest asked me, “What is the gift only you can give?” I responded, “Myself.” He said, “Then start giving.”
Read more about Laura’s experience at: