The 47-year-old mother of two has a master’s degree in Social Work and is married to an accomplished surgeon. A lifetime resident of Michigan, hers was the ideal life.
“I loved my house. I loved my property. I loved raising chickens,” Carmen said. “My family was so close. I loved my neighbors and my work. I was so active in my parish, was on the welcoming committee and volunteered at the food pantry. Life was great, so very full. I just loved where we were at. I would always tell people ‘I’m so content!’”
But a new job opportunity was offered to her husband in Erie, Pennsylvania that was too good to turn down and the family decided to pick up their roots and move across the country.
The picturesque city of Erie sits on the banks of Lake Erie and Carmen had high hopes for her new life. But as lovely as it was, she just couldn’t seem to find her place. Due to licensing issues, she couldn’t practice social work and was having a difficult time meeting people and getting involved in her parish.
“I was going to different churches in Erie trying to find my place. I would put myself out there to volunteer and I wouldn’t get called. I had a hard time connecting to people,” she said.
As a result, “I was miserable. I felt so lost. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I never realized how attached I had become to my career, my home, who I was in the community, helping with all of these activities at the church and now that they were all gone, I felt lost.”
And then one day while riding her bike and listening to the radio, she came across EWTN’s Women of Grace Live show and heard Johnnette say, “If you want to know who God created you to be, what it means to be a daughter of God, then you need to take this study.”
Johnnette was referring to the Full of Grace Foundational Study which has touched the lives of thousands of women since its creation in 2003.
“I need this!” Carmen thought. “What does God want for me? Why did He create me?”
She tried to find a local study but the closest one was two hours away, so she called Chris Arnold, the Regional Coordinator for her area, who suggested that she start her own group, a prospect that she immediately began to investigate.
Carmen continued to tune into Johnnette’s show every day and let her upbeat and faith-filled messages soothe her in all of those places inside where she felt so disconnected and alone.
“Looking back on it now, I can see that God was breaking me down, making me more humble by helping me to realize that my value doesn’t come from my title or my paycheck or who I’m connected with – it comes from being a daughter of God.”
Right around this time she felt a strong prompting to pray the Rosary, but resisted.
“What?” she thought. “That’s what people do at funerals!”
And then, the very next day, Johnnette was on the radio, talking about the power of the Rosary, how it’s the preferred weapon to use to combat the evils of our day.
“Okay, that’s it,” Carmen thought. “I’m praying the Rosary.”
She picked up her beads and began to pray – and suddenly found herself sobbing uncontrollably.
“I sobbed through the whole thing, and I had no idea why I was sobbing. I was just overwhelmed with all this sorrow.”
While praying, she imagined Our Lady standing beside an immense sea of water. She dipped her finger into the water and showed her a tiny drop. Carmen instantly understood what Our Lady was saying – that the sorrow she was feeling was just a tiny drop compared to what Our Lady feels for the many souls who are being lost today. The moment impressed her with the realization that she needed to look beyond her own problems, to see the bigger picture, to understand how vitally important it is to join forces with heaven for the good of the world.
It was not long after this that she heard about the Benedicta Leadership Institute for Women®, a first-of-its-kind program that offers courses for credit or certification in Catholic Women’s Leadership. The mission of the program is to identify, educate, develop and train Catholic women to be active leaders and mentors of the day in accord with their state in life – whatever that state in life might be.
And best of all, the courses were being offered at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan!
Carmen instantly knew that this is exactly what she needed and leaped at the chance to sign up. On the application, she was asked why she was taking the course, and answered truthfully, “Because the Holy Spirit prompted me to do so.”
She also remembers feeling an urgency, “like the time really is now. I just knew that I couldn’t wait. I can’t hesitate, or look to someone else to do it. Why not me? Why not now?”
Her first course was entitled "Toward a Catholic Understanding of Women" and was taught by Monica M. Miller, Ph.D.
“We worked our rumps off that week! I learned so much for her class. My day would start with Mass at 6:00 am and I’d often stay up past midnight reading the assignments. I was so on fire with what Dr. Miller taught us. I wanted more! She has so much knowledge. I could have spent a decade learning from her. I couldn’t get enough.”
While she was there, those old feelings of inadequacy tried to come back and steal her joy, make her compare herself to other women in the class who were working toward degrees or had important titles.
But God was at work within her and she realized that no matter what her job in this world might be – a social worker or a stay-at-home-mom – God loved her just the same. And that’s all that matters.
“There’s such a freedom that comes from really absorbing that,” she said.
Which is why, for her, the Benedicta Leadership Institute isn’t about the credits or the certificate, it’s about transformation.
“The program impressed upon me the need to be obedient in my state in life, especially the studies on holy women and how we can't get lazy in our relationship with God. Prayer, sacrifice, adoration, the sacraments are essential. And I also began to see how the attachments to my old life in Michigan were a hindrance in my relationship with God. These holy women taught me how to think outside of myself and be more concerned with keeping my eye constantly on the Lord and all else will follow.”
She returned the following year for two more week-long courses, "Learning from the Past: Words and Wisdom of Holy Women" taught by Father Joshua D. Genig, Ph.D., and "Doctrine and Today’s Catholic Woman" taught by Father Mitch Pacwa.
In 2017, the Institute moved from Michigan to Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut where courses are now being offered online. She quickly signed up for another course, "Fundamentals of Catholic Servant Leadership" taught by Father Genig.
She doesn’t yet know what she will do with this newfound strength and knowledge, but that really doesn’t matter.
“This program has made me so bold! It has helped me to know why God created me, what my authority is in the Church. I’m saying ‘yes” to God and letting Him take care of the rest,” she said.
Meanwhile, a new life is slowly starting to form. She has facilitated several Women of Grace® studies in her area and is now offering it with several other women at a local women’s shelter. She also pitches in at the parish wherever there’s a need.
But it’s different now. Because of how much she’s grown in the past few years, she now knows that it’s God who is doing all the work, not her!
What advice would she give to others who are wondering if this is the next step in their journey to God’s call?
“Don’t hesitate. This really is the time for women and we can’t hesitate. If you get the prompting, just do it. Just say yes to the Lord.”
And let God take care of the rest.
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For more information on the Benedicta Leadership Institute for Women®, visit the website or contact Adora Ibrahim at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-558-5452 ext. 2121.