Women’s ministry focuses on faith, evangelization

A brunch later this month will be a chance for Catholic women, including those who have fallen away from the faith, to share the joy of the Lord with one another, be inspired and foster a desire to grow in holiness.

That’s how Karen Dwyer, coordinator of the Omaha chapter of the Catholic women’s ministry "Magnificat," describes a gathering that the group – which held its first event one year ago this month – has planned for Feb. 25 at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish’s Mainelli Center in Omaha.

As in past meetings, women are invited to listen to a speaker share her faith journey – this time it’s Debra Herbeck of Renewal Ministries – and participate in music, table discussions and a meal. And they are urged to bring along someone who needs encouragement in her relationship with Christ.

"This is an opportunity for beautiful Catholic women to engage in evangelization by inviting friends and family, especially those away from God or the church," said Dwyer, who brought the ministry to Omaha in 2014. "You can bring women to this lovely brunch, and other women who are close to the Lord will share their journey and inspire them."

The ministry hosts four meals each year. Its events in Omaha last year drew 300 to 400 women each time.

Last year’s speakers included Sister Ann Shields, a speaker and author of numerous books on Catholic spirituality, and Omaha’s Sharon Doran, teaching director of Seeking Truth Catholic Bible Study. Speakers this year are expected to include Father Timothy Gallagher, a frequent speaker on EWTN whose digitally-recorded talks are used internationally; Kimberly Hahn, a Catholic apologist and author; and Mary Healy, author, professor and chair of the Doctrinal Commission of International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services.


Commitment to christ

Dwyer, an author, public speaker and director of a public speaking program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said she is encouraged by the witness of the other women who are willing to share their personal walk with Christ.

"It just uplifts me and motivates me to desire a deeper commitment to Christ and his church," she said.

Marilou Lonergan, Magnificat secretary and a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Omaha, said she feels the same way, and enjoys sharing her gifts to help the church’s mission of evangelization.

"I am meeting many wonderful spirit-filled ladies and reconnecting with old friends as well," she said. "Our goal is to offer a joy-filled event so that each and every woman attending will feel Christ’s love for them."

Magnificat – not to be confused with the monthly liturgical and personal prayer books of the same name – was created in 1981 by the late Bishop Stanley J. Ott of New Orleans. Bishop Ott wanted to help Catholic women become more open to the Holy Spirit through a deeper commitment to Jesus, and witness to one another through love, service and sharing the good news of salvation. Today, there are more than 100 Magnificat chapters around the world.


Founded on prayer

The national ministry requires women hoping to start chapters to engage in at least two years of prayer and formation before they ask to be an official ministry of a diocese or archdiocese, said Dwyer, who several years ago attended a Magnificat-sponsored event in Lincoln. She said she felt an urging by the Holy Spirit to start Magnificat in the Archdiocese of Omaha, and turned to friends to help implement it.

In 2014, Dwyer, Lonergan and three other women, who became the original local leadership team, first met for three hours twice a month for two years to pray about the ministry. Archbishop George J. Lucas approved Magnificat last year as an official ministry of the archdiocese, and named Father Michael Voithofer, associate pastor of St. Gerald Parish in Ralston, as the Omaha chapter’s spiritual adviser.

Magnificat, which means "magnify," is based on the visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. The words of the Magnificat recorded in Luke 1:46 are the beginning of Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s joyful greeting. The visitation is the ministry’s inspiration, adopting as its own the name of Mary’s hymn of praise and the encounter’s spirit.

"Theirs was a great mentoring relationship, a loving relationship, woman-to-woman ministry. Elizabeth was old, Mary was young. They were both with child," Dwyer said. "The joy is so present, and that’s what we want women to experience: the joy of sharing the Lord through the Holy Spirit."

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