Why GIVEN 2021 was a sign of hope for the Church

3 mins read
This is a screen grab from the Given Institute's website. (CNS screen grab)

In June, 130 Catholic women, selected from a pool of applicants, gathered at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., for four days of prayer, spiritual direction, inspiring talks, dynamic workshops and individual mentoring. The goal? To help each woman recognize the gift that she is to the Church and to her own family and community, and to help her discern her vocation as she enters the (generally) most intense time of decision making — decisions that then form and shape her entire life’s journey.

The GIVEN Institute is a recent initiative in the U.S. Catholic Church that brings together women religious, professional Catholic laywomen — lawyers, physicians, journalists, entrepreneurs — and helps them to identify their own hopes and dreams in a way that few other events do. The 130 women chosen to participate in the 2021 gathering hailed from 35 states and four countries. Applicants came from all over the world, including Singapore, the United Kingdom, Kenya, Peru, Mexico and the Philippines.

In addition, more than 60 religious sisters from 20 different congregations, representing a wide variety of “apostolates” — the primary work or public service of a congregation — were participants, as well as speakers. Most often, Catholic sisters call to mind teaching orders, but those present also serve as doctors, lawyers, scientists, social workers, and archdiocesan leaders. 

GIVEN Institute’s Executive Director Rachel Harkins Ullmann noted that after last year’s event was postponed due to COVID-19, anticipation for the 2021 forum was high. 

“After two years of preparation, young emerging leaders and established women leaders finally gathered together, in person,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “Our conference was a terrific success, and the effects of the 2021 Given Forum will be seen in the home, the workplace and in the convents of the communities of women religious for years to come.”

Noting that in a post-COVID world, “we are more aware the pain of isolation and the aftermath of human suffering, and the gifts that Catholic women bring to the public square are needed now more than ever,” Ullmann expressed gratitude and joy for the talks, panel presentations and individual relationships that were part of the conference. 

“After a time of such intense isolation for many, the women we encountered were hungry for examples of women as public leaders and change-makers in their own communities,” Ullmann noted. “Our incredible lineup of presentations gave them a multitude of options for thinking outside the box about how God might be calling them.”

Keynote speakers included Sister of Life Sister Bethany Madonna, Dominican Sister Mary Madeline Todd and popular Catholic laywomen — wives and mothers who are also standouts in their professions — Gloria Purvis and Helen Alvaré. Attendees were exposed and challenged on a wide variety of topics — from being open to God’s call in their lives, to caring for the human person, to the daily struggles and “real-life experiences” of serving as mothers, coaches, artists, government employees, executive chefs and journalists. 

The key to the success of the GIVEN conference is that it doesn’t end after the presentations have finished. Each young woman is required to come up with an action plan that she develops with the help of a GIVEN dedicated mentor over the course of the coming year. This extra step of commitment ensures that women don’t just walk away from the weekend without further direction. Each woman is individually accompanied in creating a path forward for herself, a path that will hopefully lead her to become the person God has called her to be.

Participant Emily Patteson, 25, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, left the GIVEN forum on “a total high.” 

“I came here hoping to learn more about myself and what my gifts might do for the Church and for other women my age. So many of us are struggling to find our place in the world, and one of the GIVEN speakers gave me a terrific idea about how to share the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception in a way that would be relatable and empowering for women,” she said. “She then connected me with a national Catholic leader in my field of interest, and I am already following up with her! That’s the beauty of GIVEN — it immediately connects you with the people you need to know to follow your passions!”

Women between the ages of 21-30 who are interested in attending the 2022 GIVEN Forum should inquire via the website at www.giveninstitute.com. Applications open on Nov. 1, 2021. Past GIVEN Forum talks can be found on our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/giveninstitute.

Mary Hallan FioRito is the Cardinal Francis George Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the deNicola Center for Ethics and Culture. A wife, mother, attorney and public speaker, she was also a featured panel speaker at the 2021 GIVEN Forum.

Mary Hallan FioRito

Mary Hallan FioRito is an attorney and the Cardinal Francis George Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.