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Men’s and women’s conferences engage crowds

This year’s diocesan women’s conference, keynoted by well-known Catholic media personality and former presidential speechwriter Colleen Carroll Campbell, was the biggest yet. Organizers say that the Feb. 27 event, held at Marshall School in Duluth, drew perhaps 475 people counting volunteers and vendors.

Betsy Kneepkens, director of the marriage and family life office for the diocese, said there were not only people from nearly every parish in the diocese — 27 came from Grand Rapids and 20 from Hibbing — and from other dioceses in the state, there were also people from Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri.

Conference speakers
Speakers at the annual diocesan conferences for men and for women at the Marshall School were, from top left, Trent Klatt, Colleen Carroll Campbell, Father Bill Baer, and Benedictine Sister Lisa Maurer.

The men’s conference Feb. 13, also at Marshall School, keynoted by Father Bill Baer of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, drew about 325.

Both conferences also featured moving testimonies from local Catholics — Trent Klatt of Grand Rapids at the men’s conference and Benedictine Sister Lisa Maurer at the women’s conference — as well as confession and a closing Mass with Bishop Paul Sirba.

Men’s conference

Klatt, a former National Hockey League player who is currently the hockey coach for Grand Rapids High School, drew an immediate standing ovation for a testimony that covered his conversion to more deeply embracing his Catholic faith and growing in his relationship with God during his time in the NHL.

One of the spurs, he said, was the first diocesan men’s conference, which he reluctantly agreed to attend at his wife’s encouragement. The speaker that year, Father Larry Richards, “poured gasoline” on him, he said, lit a match and set him on fire for the Lord.

“There’s nothing more important in this world than cooperating with God’s grace,” he said.

Father Baer, who gave three encouraging talks on the day, ended with what amounted to a pep rally for the Diocese of Duluth. Relying on his knowledge of Bishop Sirba, the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth and the diocesan seminarians he’s worked with, he said there is a bright future for the diocese — if the faithful are ready to cooperate with God’s grace.

“I am convinced that God wants to do something that has not been seen before,” he said.

Calling up to the front of the audience about a dozen young men associated with UMD, he said the school has one of the most vibrant Newman centers in the country, as well as some of the finest seminarians.

“You really do have some of the finest priests in the United States in the Diocese of Duluth,” he said.

He said the current struggles facing the diocese are actually signs of God’s presence. “The Lord in his mercy is allowing your diocese to be tested,” he said.

“You’ve got a future, men of Duluth,” he said. “Now go at it.”

Women’s conference

Campbell, who also has two popular books, “The New Faithful” and “My Sisters the Saints,” gave two talks on the day. The first detailed how she had grown into a deeper faith life through the concern of her parents and through getting to know the saints. The second was a warning about the dangers of spiritual perfectionism.

During her first talk, Campbell closed with five lessons she’d learned from the saints: blooming where you’re planted, following God’s lead, embracing the cross, cultivating joy and being women of prayer. She illustrated each with stories from the lives of saints like St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Mother Teresa.

Her warnings against perfectionism were, she said, important for those who take their faith seriously but may not think God’s mercy applies to them. She said it was particularly a danger for women, who play a “comparison game” with each other she likened to a “high-tech emotional blood sport.”

She said when people think of themselves as “one of the good ones” there is no excuse when you fail. The remedy, she said, is trusting in God’s mercy and forgiving ourselves.

Sister Lisa, who was emcee of the event and has drawn national headlines for her work as an assistant college football coach at the College of St. Scholastica — right outside her monastery window — went into more detail about how God had brought coaching back into her life after calling her to religious life.

She said that she long knew she was called to religious life and that her work in coaching was the hardest thing to give up. She said God convinced her she could give it up and be OK.

When she entered the monastery, it was painful not coaching, she said, and she at first distanced herself from sports before gradually starting to be around the college’s events. When the invitation to coach came unexpectedly, Sister Lisa said she was initially hoping her religious superiors would not give her permission.

“I was really scared to say yes to it,” she said, noting that it was a sacrifice she had given to God. Now she has seen many unexpected blessings. “I think the point of all this is that God is good, and that he can never be outdone in kindness,” she said.

The conference also included a “Bible Bingo” game hosted by Mary Margaret O’Brien of the Archdiocese of Chicago, who kept up a rolling banter with theology questions and help from the audience.

— By Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross