April 13, 2018

Annual women’s conference proves good ‘for the health of the family’

Julie Alumbaugh shows her 2-week-old daughter to her mother Cathy McMahon, center, and twin sister Mary Warren at the Indiana Catholic Women’s Conference on March 10 in Indianapolis. The theme of the conference was “The Sanctification of the Family.” (Photo by Victoria Arthur)

Julie Alumbaugh shows her 2-week-old daughter to her mother Cathy McMahon, center, and twin sister Mary Warren at the Indiana Catholic Women’s Conference on March 10 in Indianapolis. The theme of the conference was “The Sanctification of the Family.” (Photo by Victoria Arthur)

By Victoria Arthur (Special to The Criterion)

Julie Alumbaugh finished registering at the welcome desk just one minute before the start of the 13th annual Indiana Catholic Women’s Conference.

Cradling her newborn, she slipped into the back of the 500 Ballroom of the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis, along with her twin sister and her mother. It was then that she glanced at the program materials and realized the theme of the conference was “The Sanctification of the Family.”

“It’s perfect,” she said of her just‑in‑time decision to attend the March 10 event. “I had no idea of the theme until I walked in. It’s nice to be here with my family, and my sister and I are growing our families right now.”

Alumbaugh, a lifelong member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis, had just welcomed her second child, Iris Ruth, two weeks prior to the conference. Her twin, Mary Warren, of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, is expecting her third child in October.

“They’re growing my family, too,” added their mother, Cathy McMahon, also a member of St. Jude Parish.

They were among the nearly 700 women from central and southern Indiana—and beyond—to step away from their busy lives for a day of renewal and reflection. The conference included dynamic speakers, opportunities for adoration and reconciliation, and Mass across the street at historic St. John the Evangelist Church. (Related: Highlights from talks at Indiana Catholic Women’s Conference)

The first talk of the morning was given by Father Benjamin Luedtke—ordained by St. John Paul II in 1982, a personal friend of St. Teresa of Calcutta and a sought-after retreat director. He spoke of the importance of understanding the faith in order to build holy families in today’s fractured culture.

“Father’s talk … struck a chord with all of us,” McMahon said of her and her daughters, all of whom were attending their first Indiana Catholic Women’s Conference. (Related: Participants reflect on impact of Indiana Catholic Women’s Conference)

Unlike the twins and McMahon, Brenda Preusz of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus has attended the conference numerous times. Based on her positive experiences, she convinced several fellow parishioners to attend for the first time. In all, 14 women from the Bartholomew County parish piled into two cars to make the trip to Indianapolis.

“It’s a spiritual shot in the arm,” Preusz said. “I have attended many of these conferences over the years, and I keep coming back because my faith should be the most important growth [area] in my life. Therefore, I feel convicted to bring along as many as God calls with me to the conference because I realize if I give God my time and attention, he will reward me a hundredfold. He can never be outdone in generosity.”

She said the Holy Spirit “touched my heart deeply through each speaker,” including Mother Margaret Mary, foundress of the Children of Mary, a congregation of sisters in Ohio whose charism is to quench the thirst of Jesus to be loved in the Blessed Sacrament.

Mother Margaret Mary, a once-strayed Catholic, had been a schoolteacher for 18 years before a conversion experience changed the course of her life. After dedicating herself to solitude and prayer for more than a decade, she responded to God’s call to start her religious community with the guidance of her bishop.

The final speaker of the day, Sonja Corbitt, was raised as a Southern Baptist. She now serves as a vital Catholic voice following her conversion to the Church. She is a frequent guest on EWTN radio and television, the author of numerous books and Bible studies, and a contributor to Catholic publications and blogs.

While there was a record-setting number of women at the conference, “we actually lost a little money on the conference after paying all our bills,” said Kathy Denney of Marian Center of Indianapolis, which organizes the annual event. “And since we are all volunteers, it wasn’t because we had to pay ourselves! It is costly, but it is so worth it.”

Denney took joy in noting the line for reconciliation was long for the entire time the sacrament was available. She also proudly announced that 10 percent of the collection gathered at Mass would be donated to Seeds of Hope. The ministry, a halfway house which helps women struggling with addictions, was co-founded in 1999 by Father Glenn O’Connor, pastor of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield.

Discussing the sanctification of the family with women “is very important to the health of the Church, so each will take this [message] to her family and train their children, and even train their husbands,” said conference attendee Sister Angela Onuoha of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy. “Women are strong. That’s why it’s good for them to come together—for the promotion of the Church, for the health of the family. If you get the family, you get the world.”

(Victoria Arthur is a freelance writer and member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg.)

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