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Voices Online Edition
Volume XV No. 1
1999 WFF Conference Report
The Year of the Father
"That They May Become Perfectly One"
Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz presented the keynote address at the opening session of the 1999 Women for Faith & Family Conference, The Year of the Father: "That They May Become Perfectly One."
The conference, celebrating WFF's fifteenth anniversary, was held at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln, Nebraska, October 29-31, 1999. The conference theme, following Pope John Paul II's plan for the three years preceding the Millennium, took its title from the Gospel of John, chapter 17, Jesus' final prayer for His disciples.
Bishop Bruskewitz's address, his third to be given at a Women for Faith & Family conference, followed a celebration of Vespers, led by Monsignor Robert Vasa, vicar general of the Diocese of Lincoln. (Only a few weeks later, on November 19, the Vatican announced that Monsignor Vasa would be the new bishop of Baker, Oregon. His consecration as bishop of Baker took place on January 26 in Redmond, Oregon.)
Bishop Bruskewitz, who received WFF's "Faith and Family Award" in 1997, spoke on "Some Modern Philosophical Errors". He began his talk with what he called the "chamber of horrors" in our time, including experiments on humans, most often upon the bodies of unborn babies. He contrasted these horrors with the recent Encyclical, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) in which the Holy Father names the underlying error that results in such evils. This "error of scientism" is the refusal of science to recognize any truth outside its own reality. It is that "underlying philosophical outlook that is controlling the strings on the puppets, that are the real drivers of much error in the contemporary outlook", he said.
Bishop Bruskewitz also celebrated Mass on Sunday morning at the Cathedral and attended the Conference banquet.
Donna Steichen receives "Faith and Family Award"
Donna Steichen, long-time WFF associate and popular author of the best-selling book, Ungodly Rage and a new book, Prodigal Daughters, gave the banquet address on "Fatherhood" at the Saturday evening banquet. (The text of her address can be read by clicking here.)
Mrs. Steichen, who lives in Ojai, California, has been a featured speaker at several WFF conferences. Her fresh approach to the conference theme gave her listeners much food for reflection.
At the banquet she received the "Faith and Family Award," the organization's annual recognition given to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the Catholic faith and Catholic families.
Papal blessing, messages from bishops
WFF president Helen Hull Hitchcock read a message from Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and the Apostolic Blessing for the Conference from His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. A papal blessing has been given to each of WFF's past conferences, beginning in 1985.
The messages from our bishops have been traditional features and highlights of the WFF conferences, and this year more than a dozen cardinals, archbishops and bishops sent messages to the conference attendees. (The letters can be read by clicking here.)
Sessions focus on the Year of the Father
After the Rosary on Saturday morning, conference chairman Mary Vestecka, of the Lincoln diocese, introduced WFF Vice President Sherry Tyree who reported on the past year's activities. Pat Feighan, president of WFF-Cleveland reported on that chapter's efforts.
Helen Hull Hitchcock gave the opening address, entitled "Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still". Mrs. Hitchcock noted that fatherhood requires courage to make personal sacrifices and to accept responsibility for others, notions that are nearly obliterated in our culture where authority is rejected and self-sacrifice ridiculed. How do we help to foster a vision of heroism and self-sacrifice, to instill the kind of vision that was available to the martyrs, who offered their lives that others might receive the "faith of our fathers"? The "faith of our fathers" cannot be transmitted unless there are faithful fathers who are willing to assume authority and responsibility for their families. But our culture resists any authority outside the self, therefore also rejects the essential truth about God and our relationship with Him.
The nature of the Holy Trinity is hierarchical, she said, a sacred order which is also patriarchal, in which the Father generates the Son and has the authority to command the Son, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from them both. The Trinity is also an inseparable unity. This unity is desired for us by Christ, as in his final prayer to the Father for his apostles in the Gospel of John "that they may all be one."
Monsignor Raymond Hain, director of spiritual formation at the new St. Gregory the Great Seminary founded in 1998, was the principal celebrant and homilist at Mass on Saturday, and also gave an illuminating talk on life at the new seminary.
Luncheon and lively conversation followed. Participants visited the variety of exhibits and filled their bags with books, tapes and useful handouts.
In the afternoon session, Dr. Paul Hayes, who returned to the Catholic faith in 1993 after many years of involvement with Transcendental Meditation, addressed the group on life issues and how contraception undermines the integrity of individuals and families. He is an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Holy Family Medical Specialties, Lincoln, who never prescribes contraceptives for any reason. A feature story on Dr. Hayes and his work appeared in the December 5-11, 1999 edition of the National Catholic Register.
Mother Joan Paul, who addressed the conference theme on vocations to the religious life, is the major superior of the School Sisters of Christ the King, a relatively new religious congregation of women founded for the Lincoln Diocese by the late Bishop Glennon P. Flavin. Lincoln is known for its many vocations to the priesthood and religious life. A teacher and principal, Mother has worked in the area of religious life formation since 1993.
A particularly engaging feature of Mother Joan Paul's session was the three talks by her sisters, who told how they first became attracted to the religious life, and what answering God's call means to them. They urged parents to encourage vocations in their children.
Sandy Danek, a mother of five, two of whom are adopted, professional pro-life leader and former head of Lincoln Right-to-Life, was an excellent pinch-hitter for a scheduled speaker who had to cancel because of a family emergency. Mrs. Danek spoke with energy and conviction about her life-changing experience of having delivered her own child who had died at 20 weeks gestation. A convert to Catholicism, she said that coming into the Church and growing more into the faith helped to lead her into a full understanding of the sanctity of human life. She urged her audience to avoid becoming so overwhelmed by the evils and problems in society as to become inactive, and gave positive suggestions for effective pro-life action by ordinary people.
Sunday morning's working session with Donna Steichen, Helen Hitchcock and Paul Hayes and active audience participation allowed deeper exploration of the conference theme.
The conference concluded with a pontifical Mass on Sunday morning celebrated by Bishop Bruskewitz, who also gave the homily.
Cathedral organist David Schmidt directed St. Theresa's Boys' Choir for the Mass on Saturday, and the schola of seminarians from St. Gregory the Great on Sunday.
WFF's conference provided not only an opportunity for deepening understanding of Catholic teaching on many current topics, but afforded those who attended a genuine opportunity for fellowship with other believing Catholics men and women who share similar concerns and commitment to the Church.
WFF gatherings have been the occasion for pleasant surprises in the past (and at least one wedding was the result of a providential meeting at a WFF conference) but none could surpass this year.
After the concluding Mass, two children of a former WFF staff member were confirmed by Bishop Bruskewitz. Jack and Molly McCann, son and daughter of Noreen and Kevin McCann, were the confirmands. This happy event, the McCanns told us, was the result of their conversation with Bishop Bruskewitz at the 1997 WFF conference banquet. The McCanns home-school their five children (Noreen was on the WFF staff until she "retired" after the birth of the third), and the entire family drove to Lincoln for the WFF conference.
All conference sessions were audio taped by St. Joseph Communications. Tapes of individual sessions are $6., or the entire set for $45. plus $3. shipping for 1-3 tapes or $5. for 3 or more. To order tapes, contact St. Joseph Communications, 1-800-526-2151, or write to, PO Box 720, West Covina, CA 91793.
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