HARTFORD—When Hallie Lord was younger, she wanted to work and travel and had no interest in having children. Then she read John Paul II’s A Theology of the Body and it changed her thinking. She couldn’t wait to start her life as a mother. Problem was, the doctors told her she had almost no chance of conceiving a child.
“I just believed the worst-case scenario and it plunged me into despair,” Lord said.
She eventually wrote to Mother Angelica, the foundress of EWTN Global Catholic Network, and a sister wrote back saying the women religious in Alabama would pray for Lord at Mass. Lord is pregnant with her eighth child. Hoping the sisters might hear her, she said, “You’re good. You can stop praying now!”
Lord shared her story of despair and hope with more than 300 women of all ages who turned out for the first-ever Archdiocese of Hartford Women’s Conference on Nov. 4 at the Hartford Marriott Downtown. The full-day event was designed to nurture, empower and lift up women in the Church, and was built around the theme “Be Strong and Courageous.”
The conference included keynote speakers in English and Spanish, breakout sessions, lunch, exhibitors, the opportunity for confession and adoration, and a vigil Mass with Archbishop Leonard P. Blair. Music during the Mass was provided by the Women’s Ensemble of St. Margaret from Madison under the direction of Arthur Bellucci.
Lord, who delivered her keynote in English, is the author of On the Other Side of Fear: How I Found Peace and is host of Hallie Weekly on SiriusXM’s The Catholic Channel. During her sometimes lighthearted keynote speech, she also shared her serious fears of taking on a second child and subsequent financial struggles that resulted in crippling anxiety. She said that nearly all of her fears, and the fears of many women she knows, can be traced to mostly unfounded worries about the future.
“They’re figments of our imagination. We have to stay in the grace of now,” she advised.
To face fear with courage, women need to do two things: Bring their fears out into the open by sharing them with others, which causes those fears to dissipate, she said. And to turn to God with trust.
“We are not to be anxious about tomorrow,” Lord advised. “God has his own plan for tomorrow. He has his own way of stretching and growing us.” Instead, she said, to find God’s peace we must “immerse ourselves in the gratitude of the moment.”
Dr. Gloria G. Rodriguez, founder, president and CEO of the AVANCE Parent-Child Education Program and author of Raising Nuestro Niños: Bringing up Latino Children in a Bicultural World, gave the keynote speech in Spanish.
Archbishop Blair also addressed the women during his homily at Mass. He said he was encouraged by their attendance at the conference and by “the spirit that’s here.”
While we should practice our Christian life and faith together as men and women, he said, it makes sense at times to separately “consider the call of faith and what the Lord is asking of us from our particular perspective of our masculinity or our femininity.” He said the two perspectives “are profoundly complementary to one another.”
Archbishop Blair referenced Pope St. John Paul the Great’s Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women, which acknowledges women’s unique empathy, ability to create a home and maternal identity.
“Whether you’re the prime minister of England, or you’re the former head of the Federal Reserve, you fulfill those functions equally well as any man could. That’s not the point,” the archbishop said. “But the point is that in the depths of our being, created male or female, we do bring a certain perspective of maternity or paternity that is deeply rooted in our human personhood and which also has a bearing on how we live our Christian vocation in this world.
“Whatever you do has some connection with who you are as women and with that maternal call,” he said. The archbishop cited the example of consecrated women religious, who exercise a spiritual motherhood.
“Pope Francis also takes up this theme, and thanks women for their sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets, which they more than men tend to possess,” Archbishop Blair said. Pope Francis says women bring this particular sensitivity wherever they go, to the family, faith formation, pastoral activity and education, and also to social, cultural and economic structures.
As if to prove the archbishop’s point, Lisa La Maire, a religious studies teacher at St. Vincent Academy in Newark, N.J., and author of the blog “Living Out of This World,” spoke on “Living Your Faith Boldly.” She provided a young adult perspective on the Catholic faith.
La Maire said she was a shy child who since has developed into a blogger, public speaker and campus minister. She now teaches theology to underprivileged youth. “It’s awesome to see what can really happen when you put your faith in the Lord,” she said.
La Maire would also like to be married and have children of her own. She said she was impatient with God’s plan for her life until she received wise counsel from a friend. “As my friend said, ‘I think God’s putting you at this school so you can be their mom and they can be your daughters.’”
Throughout the conference, the women of the Archdiocese of Hartford said they enjoyed the talks as well as the company of all those in attendance.
Kathy Jones said she carpooled with 16 other parishioners from St. Martin de Porres Parish in New Haven. Her pastor, Father Joseph M. Elko, suggested that the women enjoy a spiritual day in Hartford. “It didn’t take much to convince us,” Jones said with a laugh.
Celia Lofink of St. Therese Parish in Granby, said, “I think it’s fabulous. It’s been a wonderful day. I have to admit I liked the keynote speaker. I thought she had a great message and it set the tone for the day. A lot of your fear is worries about the future. The point … is letting go of that, of turning fear into faith.”
Martha Marin of Wolcott, who goes to All Saints Parish in Waterbury, attended with her mother. She said, “It was great to be able to spend some time on ourselves. I’m the mother of two girls and I don’t get much time away to refresh my soul.”
Marin said she was especially moved by Hallie Lord’s address. “I’m very anxious about some things in my life right now,” she admitted, “and I felt like God was speaking to me through her.”
Teenagers and young adults also joined in for the spiritual boost.
Ellie Packer, a teen from St. John Fisher Parish in Marlborough, said she felt compelled to be at the conference. “I think it’s important that young women come to this,” she said. “We’re the future of the archdiocese.”
Next year’s conference will be on Saturday, November 3.