February 24, 2010 // Local

Conference explores dignity of women

Speaking on married and virginal motherhood at the Edith Stein conference were Lisa Everett, far right, and Sister M. Benedicta, OSF, second from right. Elizabeth Kirk, far left, chaired the session, and Sister Margaret Mary Mitchel, OSF, second from left, assisted with Sister Benedicta’s PowerPoint presentation.

By Ann Carey

NOTRE DAME — The dignity and vocation of women and men were once again the focus of the fifth annual Edith Stein Project conference at the University of Notre Dame Feb. 12-13. The student-run conference has grown in scope and attendance since its inception in 2006, with 271 people registered for the 2010 conference. The approximately 30 speakers included students, recent graduates and scholars of national reputation.

Edith Stein was an early 20th century philosopher who championed the dignity of women. She converted to Catholicism and entered the Carmelite order, but was killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1942 because of her Jewish heritage. Edith Stein was canonized in 1998 and is known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Organizers of the Edith Stein Project wrote in conference materials that they adopted her as their patron saint because of her “inspiration as a model of turning one’s heart to God and as a woman who worked to live out her vocation through the genuine feminine spirit of self-gift.”

The conference initially focused on women, but in recent years, an effort has been made to include men because conference organizers recognized that men and women must cooperate if both are to fully realize their dignity in society. The conference theme of “No Man is an Island: Creature, Culture and Community,” provided a wide variety of topics, including the family, community, Christian economics, sexuality and vocation.

In a session on motherhood, Lisa Everett, co-director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, spoke on married motherhood, and Franciscan Sister M. Benedicta Duna spoke on virginal motherhood.

“Love is a child’s deepest need, and he finds it first in the face of his mother,” Everett said, so we need to recover in our culture the theory that a mother cannot be replaced with just any caregiver.

As the mother of seven, Everett acknowledged that mothering does involve “stretching,” but she said parents should never fear the arrival of a child. “When a child is entrusted to us, in many ways it is Christ Himself, and we should never be afraid to welcome Him,” she said.
Everett observed that the Blessed Mother is the ideal model for mothers. Jesus gave us his own mother — the last thing He did — she said, and “Her heart is large enough to contain the entire human race.”

Sister Benedicta, a novice in the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, is a Notre Dame graduate and was one of the coordinators of the Edith Stein Project in 2007 and 2008 when she was a student.

Sisters give up the right to children of their own, Sister Benedicta said, but they are given “God’s family,” and virginity allows them to remain more free to bear fruit for that family.

Sister Benedicta said that motherhood is conferred on the sisters in her order through their charism of perpetual adoration. Taking a turn in the middle of the night to rise and pray for the needs of people before the Blessed Sacrament is like a mother rising at night to care for her children, she said.

“Mothering people spiritually means you take them into your heart and care for them spiritually,” she explained, noting that the Blessed Mother is the model for generous spiritual motherhood.

Sister Benedicta said that the older sisters in her order teach the younger sisters what it means to be spiritual mothers. She offered the example of Sister Arilda Kampa, who recently died at the age of 103. Sister Arilda had been a spiritual mother to countless students and friends who treasured that gift, she said. Spiritual motherhood gives value to little things, she continued, and in turn the sisters receive love back, which fulfills the female need for motherhood.

“As much as you give, so much more you get back,” Sister Benedicta concluded.

Conference speakers from outside the South Bend area included Professor Jane Rodeheffer of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Benedictine Mother Dolores Hart of the Abbey of Regina Laudis; Brian Gail, author of “Fatherless,” Professor David Schindler of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute, Kevin Schmiesing of the Acton Institute, Katie van Schaijick of the Personalist Project and Melinda Selmys, author of “Sexual Authenticity.”

Notre Dame seniors JoAnna Roman, Sarah Johnson and Katrina Peller were co-chairs of the conference, which is entirely student-organized. Several campus groups, organizations, alumni and other individuals provided financial support. The Identity Project of Notre Dame is the organizing club for the Edith Stein Project, with Elizabeth Kirk, associate director of the Center for Ethics and Culture, serving as faculty advisor.

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