Nebraska boasts oldest first-time attendee at NCCW convention

About 40 people from Nebraska – 18 from the Archdiocese of Omaha – attended the Sept. 7-10 annual convention of the National Council of Catholic Women in Indianapolis.

And about a dozen of the Nebraska women were new to the national gathering – including the oldest first-time participant at the event, 95-year-old Marcella "Sally" Meis of St. Bonaventure Parish in Raeville.

"If I don’t go this year, I might never get there," Meis said of her determination to make the trip. Now, she hopes to attend next year’s convention.

A member of the Omaha Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women (OACCW) since 1948, Meis said she hadn’t attended a national convention in part because she doesn’t like to fly.

This time the Nebraska delegation took a bus, and it attracted Meis and about 15 more women than usual, said Father James Kramper, OACCW spiritual director and pastor of St. Peter de Alcántra Parish in Ewing, St. John the Baptist Parish of Deloit Township in rural Holt County and St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater.

It’s the kind of growth in participation Father Kramper said the group is hoping to achieve – both at the national convention and at the state convention, this year Sept. 26 at St. Patrick Church in Fremont.

"Our goal was to see how many we could get there by bus," Father Kramper said. "It went so well, we plan to do it next year to Dallas."

Father Douglas Scheinost, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Boyd County, also joined the group, as did several priests and women from the Grand Island and Lincoln dioceses.

Theresa Pavlik, OACCW president and a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Verdigre, said the bus ride was great fun, and the national event was particularly inspiring and created stronger bonds because there were no breakout sessions.

Hundreds of people at the convention heard the same speakers, did the same things, she said.

"When you have 600 or so women singing at the top of their voices, it really fills the room," she said.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, presided at the closing Mass of the convention, which focused on the theme "Catholic Women: Instruments of Mercy."

He said St. Teresa of Kolkata’s life of mercy serves as an example of responding to people in need anywhere at any time.

The archbishop recalled hearing a 1976 speech by the Albanian-born saint, and a man sitting in the front row of her audience telling St. Teresa that he wanted to return to Kolkata to work with her.

"I’ll never forget what she said in reply," Archbishop Kurtz said. ‘"Sir, the person that Christ wants you to serve is already at your doorstep.’ I think she was talking, first of all about the way we treat our family. Right?

"Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that Christ has put at our doorstep certain people in our life to serve. That is the gift that St. Teresa of Kolkata talked about," the archbishop said.

Archbishop Kurtz also praised NCCW members for seeking to perform 1 million works of mercy during the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis.

Sean Gallagher, a reporter for The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, contributed to this report.

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