St. Thomas the Apostle in Lenoir City hosts the annual three-day event attended by more than 130
By Emily Booker
Women of the Diocese of Knoxville were challenged to confidently embrace their God-given purpose and actively live it out at the Knoxville Diocesan Council of Catholic Women Convention held at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City April 20-22.
The theme of the convention was “Be the One.” More than 130 people attended the three-day convention, which featured keynote speaker Melissa Foley.
Donna Curry, president of the convention host Cumberland Mountain Deanery CCW, explained that the theme arose from a prayer card handed out to St. Thomas the Apostle parishioners that said, “Be the one to say, ‘Here I am, Lord.’”
“It resonated with the planning committee,” Ms. Curry said.
Patti Macken, the convention committee chair, elaborated, “That was really what we wanted our ladies to think about. Think about being the one to step up, take the lead, make others feel included and welcome, and just say to the Lord, ‘Here I am, use me.’
“Ever since COVID, some of the affiliate CCWs are struggling to stay strong, and we were struggling to keep our numbers up. We thought this theme may call to our women to ‘Be the One’ and become involved.”
The convention opened April 20 with the Mass of Remembrance for members of the KDCCW who died in the past year.
Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated the Mass. Fathers Ray Powell, Dan Whitman, Peter Iorio, Joseph Kuzhupil, MSFS, Mark Schuster, and Michael Woods concelebrated.
In his homily, Bishop Stika thanked the women of the KDCCW for their work and their faith.
“At my first assignment [as a priest], my pastor, a wonderful man, he’d always have different kinds of expressions for unique words it seems. So, he would never use the word beautiful. If he would see a beautiful woman or a beautiful sunset or a beautiful this or beautiful that, he would say, ‘Oh, it’s always pleasing to the eye.’ It took me about two months after I got there to figure out what he was talking about.
“Well, as I said in the beginning of Mass, seeing all of you here in faith is pleasing to my eye, not just your outward beauty, but also because of your faith you live and share. That is a beautiful thing. And there’s a phrase—I think it’s in the Gospel—that talks about the eye of God. God sees. He sees our witness to our faith.”
The bishop noted the importance of women in the Church.
“You know, the Church would be in trouble without women. First of all, we wouldn’t have any kids running around. But also, so often in the Church, and I know this is true at the Chancery, you women do so many things.”
He encouraged the women attending the convention to enjoy their time together and return home renewed in their witness.
“What we do together today is very pleasing to the eye of God. In these next days, to listen and to share and to grow in faith: I think it’s wonderful that you gather together. And to start off with Mass, the great sacrifice.”
Bishop Stika also encouraged the women to invite others to join the organization and activities of the KDCCW.
“I would encourage you to continue to witness. Because the strongest invitation you can give to another person to join this group, this wonderful group, is your witness. And that’s the invitation. How it makes a difference in your life? And how much it makes a difference in the life of the Church? I hope these days are a beautiful thing for you.”
Finding your purpose
Following Mass was a dinner with keynote speaker Melissa Foley. Mrs. Foley is a retreat director, trained inner-healing minister, and founder of the healing ministry Loved Already, which operates out of Georgia.
“I love the title of this convention: Be the One,” she said. “Because we are all searching for something in this life. Whether you call it significance or purpose or meaning or mission. There’s an innate desire in all of us that our lives matter, that we matter, that we have significance and purpose. Each of us longs to be something, to be someone. But all too often we look at things like age, career status, wealth, relationships, accolades. We look to those things to give us purpose. We look to temporary solutions rather than a permanent solution. And as followers of Christ, you know the truth: that nothing on this earth can satisfy your longing for significance and worth apart from God.”
Mrs. Foley talked about how through working with people she sees how many struggle to know their purpose. They feel lost or confused. The burdens of the world weigh on them. There is a longing for purpose and change, but the voice of the devil convinces them that changing the world is impossible.
“There’s nothing you can do. It’s too much for you. What are you going to do to save the world, right? Even though he is the father of lies, he’s partially right. You can’t do anything to change the world. But with God’s grace and obedience, and you doing what He asks you to do—bam—you and Jesus together can do all kinds of good in this world. It’s the secret sauce. No, you can’t do it alone. But you and Jesus, you better believe it. Not only are you called to do something with God, but you were made for it,” she said.
Mrs. Foley mentioned the creation in Genesis, how God created mankind in His image and declared all of His creation, including His faithful, good. This, she said, is the root of who we are and of our purpose.
“God spent six days creating everything in the world, right? And He said it was good. And his final act when He creates human beings—actually, sorry fathers and men in here—but his final act was woman. The crescendo of the symphony of creation was us. Here we are. Made in His image, right? And it’s kind of easy to quickly pass over that account of creation. If you’ve been a follower of Christ for any amount of time, you’ve heard it over and over and over again. That you and I were made in the image of God and that you are good. You are good. You were made good.
“And if you think about it, the consequence of God making us in His image is huge. We are a visible representation of God’s nature, and we are meant to live that out moment by moment and day by day. Of course, sin gets in the way, right? But the foundation of our existence is still there,” she pointed out.
One’s purpose in life springs from being a child of God—individually made and loved by God, Mrs. Foley explained. Everyone has worth. Everyone has a purpose. Finding your purpose is not something done out in the world; it comes from knowing yourself and your Creator.
“Living your purpose is an inside job. Nobody else can give it to you. You already have it. I want you to begin to really believe that everything about meaning and purpose in your life was already given to you by God when He created you,” she said.
“Your God-given purpose is real. It is a pre-planned, personalized calling that God has specifically designed for you to impact the world and glorify His name based on how He made you,” she added.
“So, it’s your spiritual responsibility as a believer to listen and to look and to sense what has been revealed to us about our purpose through God and by observing ourselves and our lives. Fulfilling our God-given purpose is not only a service to other people, but we also reap the benefits in our own lives from the inside and out when we begin to pursue our calling. God desires for you to fulfill your purpose. His purpose is for you,” she continued.
She pointed out that we shouldn’t be frustrated or disheartened when our purpose doesn’t seem clear or everything doesn’t fall into place at once.
“He’s not in a rush. This isn’t a rush job for Him. It’s a maturing, it’s a growing into, it’s a process. It’s a journey from exploration and discovery to program to preparation, to build momentum, to fulfill it in different ways in different seasons of your life,” she said. “He’s already given you the value and all the meaning and all the purpose you’ll ever have. I mean, it’s actually really good news. You don’t have to go find it. We just start living it.”
Choosing your course
On Friday and Saturday of the convention, the women participated in a series of breakout sessions, covering a range of topics from saints and prayer to poetry and pro-life work.
“We wanted breakout sessions because we wanted to do something different and interactive. Sometimes the word ‘convention’ brings up the thought of sitting in a seat and having speaker after speaker. We wanted something else to draw the ladies in, to make them think, ‘I need to go see what this is all about,’” Mrs. Macken said.
Breakout sessions included:
- “Adoption: A Loving Option” by Ada Hernandez-Bell, program manager of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee Adoption Services
- “Caring for Women and Their Maternal Health in a Post-Roe v. Wade World” by Sandi Davidson, director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee Pregnancy Services
- “For the Girls Sewing Project” by Jeanette Fanfarillo, leader of the St. Tabitha Circle at All Saints Church in Knoxville
- “Funny Poems about Life” by Tom Catalano, author and poet
- “Holy Holidays” by Anne Wharton, former KDCCW president and National CCW board member
- “Lemons and Love” by Kathleen Kelly, KDCCW Spiritual Commission chair
- “Life After Roe: What Does it Mean and What Now?” by Stacy Dunn, president of Tennessee Right to Life
- “Patriotic Rosary” by Karen Vacaliuc, former KDCCW president
- “The Heart—Crunchy on the Outside with a Fruit-Filled Center” by Deacon Jim Bello, director of the diocesan Office of Christian Formation
- “We Are Always Better When We Are Together” by Kathy DeAngelis, KDCCW Leadership Commission chair
- “Women Doctors of the Church” by Sara Carey, master catechist for the Diocese of Knoxville.
“We wanted the ladies to be able to choose what they were interested in, and we think the breakout sessions did just that,” Mrs. Macken said.
There also were several booths representing various ministries like the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, Cross Catholic Outreach, and Legion of Mary, where women could get involved and serve others.
Throughout the convention, items were collected for Isaiah 117, an interfaith ministry that provides physical and emotional support for children awaiting foster-care placement.
During the annual business meeting of the KDCCW, members voted to change the bylaws regarding future conventions. Going forward, KDCCW conventions will be held in odd-numbered years with other diocesan-wide events being held in even numbered years. This was passed in the hope of reaching more people, holding more family-wide events, and having the flexibility to provide various forms of gatherings.
New KDCCW officers were installed at the end of Mass on April 22. The new officers are president Michelle Peckham, vice president Donna Curry, secretary Mary Cooper, and treasurer Donna Dunn.
Amelia Sweeney, a parishioner of St. Mary in Gatlinburg, was named the new province director, representing the National CCW across the Province of Louisville, of which the Diocese of Knoxville is a part. She will be installed into the role at the NCCW Convention in Salt Lake City in the fall.
Father John Orr, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Athens, closed the convention on April 22 with a talk on the Eucharist as “Food for the Journey.”
He spoke about how food sustains the body, but the Eucharist sustains the soul. Catholics are nourished by His grace. He shared how he once visited the Visitation Sisters, who actually made the hosts used for the Eucharist. It made him wonder: how many grains make up a host? It’s hard to say, but each grain is important, contributing to what ultimately becomes the whole.
“You women of the diocese are like that,” he said to the attendees. “Each one is important, contributing to forming the whole of the diocese and of the Church.”
Mrs. Macken was pleased with the turnout and response to this year’s convention.
“Everyone seemed to enjoy it. It is always nice to get together with like-minded women. Getting to know new women from across the diocese was something I will treasure. There are so many wonderful women, and spending time together is the highlight of my year,” she said.
To learn more about the KDCCW, visit www.kdccw.org.