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Catholic women reflect on 'Defending Our Faith'

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Two saintly women who resisted efforts to curb their faith are good examples for Catholics fighting for religious liberty, Father Dave Korth told more than 200 women at the Omaha Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women's (OACCW) 88th annual convention Sept. 17 in Petersburg.

The lives of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha - who will be canonized Oct. 21 - and St. Katharine Drexel can teach us not to conform to the status quo, said Father Korth, director of the St. Augustine Mission in Winnebago. "If it goes against our Catholic teachings, don't give in to it."

Father Korth drew his talk from the convention's theme: "Defending Our Faith," which was chosen to reflect the current struggle by Catholics to change a federal mandate requiring most health insurance plans to cover contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs, which violate church teaching.

Father Korth said Blessed Kateri's and St. Katharine's stories make clear that defending the faith can take many forms.

A member of the Mohawk nation, Blessed Tekakwitha was forced to flee from present-day New York state when her uncle tried to make her marry a tribal member, though she felt called to a life of Christian charity, Father Korth said.

And St. Katharine, canonized by Blessed John Paul II in 2000, struggled for two decades to open the Catholic mission in Winnebago before she succeeded in 1909, in part because the federal government had given the Dutch Reformed Church exclusive rights to bring Christianity to the Winnebago and Omaha tribes in the area, Father Korth said.

"She patiently, yet tirelessly, worked the political scene to overturn an unjust situation," he said.

Highlights of the convention included the presentation of the annual Mullen Award, OACCW's highest honor, which went to Helen Kunz, a member of St. Boniface Parish in Stuart. Kunz has been active for years in her parish and currently is president of the local chapter of the Christian Mothers, is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and teaches religious education classes. She led the OACCW in 2007 and 2008, and she has held a variety of council offices.

Kunz, 74, said many people influenced her faith life, including her parents and a teacher at St. Mary School in O'Neill.

"Sister Christiana told us that the Catholic education we were receiving was not just ours to keep," Kunz said. "We have to pass it on."

The council also presented a $12,000 check to Archbishop George J. Lucas from its seminary support fund, the most raised in 48 years of holding the annual fundraising drive among the archdiocese's parishes and deaneries, said outgoing council president Ann Hobson, a member of St. Leo the Great Parish in Omaha.

Archbishop Lucas presided at a Mass along with about a dozen priests, and in a separate address he encouraged the women to be involved in their communities and major issues of the day, and to make time for prayer.

"It is appropriate to ask God for his plan for your life, but we must allow quiet time to hear the answer," the archbishop said.

Hobson, who handed off leadership of the council to Marcia Engelhaupt of Spencer, said she always looks forward to the spiritual oasis she finds at the OACCW convention.

"I can share faith experiences with these women, and they listen and they understand," Hobson said.

Jackie Bartak, an OACCW trustee and member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Ewing, said she also appreciates the gatherings.

"There's a feeling you get when you attend Mass with 200 ladies," she said. "When they're singing and praying together, it's kind of overwhelming. This group really takes part."

Members explored the "Defending Our Faith" theme during an afternoon panel discussion with Jim Cunningham, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, and Greg Schleppenbach, state director of the Bishops' Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities.

Cunningham and Schleppenbach, who represent the interests of Archbishop Lucas, Bishop William Dendinger of Grand Island and Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, described their work and encouraged the women to remain informed, interested and involved.

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