Two of my friends and I set out one blustery Friday April afternoon from St. Paul, Minnesota for Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We were excited to spend a weekend together at the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls women’s conference despite the forecast a blizzard sweeping through the upper Midwest. We managed to make it to our hotel a couple of hours before snow began to fall, but when we woke up on Saturday morning the blizzard had arrived in full force. It took until the end of my sixth winter living in Minnesota to see my first real blizzard, and I ended up being in South Dakota for it. Perhaps the flatness of the prairie intensified the winds, but I heard that the Twin Cities looked about the same as Sioux Falls.
I had read about this kind of in the novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder—the blizzard people can get lost and die in. However, our technologies of cars and GPS seem to have made it easier for people to get around in a blizzard. For even as the snow blew sideways over 300 of the 600 registered participants trickled into the conference throughout the morning. Even the bishop came from his nearby cathedral to celebrate Mass for the women who came! My friends and I watched the women come in, impressed with their resilience and desire to be there. We only had to walk through a chilly sheltered passage from our hotel to the conference center.
We heard the stories of how they got there from women who came up to our Blessed is She vendor table. Some decided to come the night before and stay at the hotel. One told us how her husband had driven her and two other friends from their local home explaining, “Nothing was going to keep us away today. We have so been looking forward to this.” Another woman said she started out with her mother-in-law, turned back to bring her mother-in-law home, and then decided to come anyway. “I am going out in the blizzard again to get a friend!” she said. Those who came were so happy to be there, and those who could not make it were able to watch the talks of the main speakers Lisa Cotter and Emily Stimpson Chapman on the conference website.
I have been struck during my almost four years of working in Catholic women’s ministry by the real need we as Catholic women have for faith based community. I am not just talking about parishes and our families, but to have community with other Catholic women trying to live out their faith our society, which is so opposed to the Christian life. We need friends in our lives who pray with us, encourage us to grow in our faith, to seek to overcome our struggles with sin (even the little ones), are there for us to share in our joys, and to cry with us when our lives fall a part.
This is why it is so encouraging to see all the ways Catholic women are creating for themselves to help each other build real Catholic community. For example, the conference in Sioux Falls was organized by women. They just sparked the beginning of community of the women who attended, and the hope is that they will go out and seek more community. Organizations like Endow, WINE (Women in the New Evangelization), Well-Read Mom, Blessed is She, and Take up and Read are creating studies for women to use to grow in their faith and most of them have created a way through their websites to find or organize small groups. All these groups have realized that in addition to our personal relationship with God we need each other to have full lives of faith.
When I moved to St. Paul six years ago, one of the first things I wanted to find was a small group of women to study the faith with. I had had that in the other places I lived, and after several years of making great Catholic friends, I finally decided to host my own group with the help of a study. It has been going for two years now and is one of the highlights of each month. I found out for myself what it takes to form community wherever I am, and it is totally worth it.
If you are a Catholic woman seeking to have a greater community of faith, I highly recommend listening to this Fountains of Carrots podcast as Haley Stewart and Christy Isinger interview Rebecca Frech about her upcoming book about building Catholic communities. Then pray about it and pick one of the above organizations and choose a study. Talk to a few local friends about it, or send mass email (that is what I did!). See if your pastor will let you start a group at church or open up your home for one night a month (or maybe a morning). Take the plunge to form your small group. You were not meant to live the faith alone. Say a prayer and take courage, and be like the women who braved the blizzard for the sake of their faith and community.