Maria Middleton was a young teen when she participated in the Young Women of Grace program at her school and learned what it meant to be authentically feminine and to claim the dignity that was hers by virtue of being a daughter of God. Her life was like any other young teens until that fateful day in January 2019, when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor on her brain stem. From that moment on, everything changed.
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What better way to complete the Young Women of Grace: Embrace Your Femininity Study than by celebrating the gift of spiritual motherhood? The 13 young women from Christ the King parish in Chicago who took the course this year decided there was no better way to spend their last meeting together than by exercising this all-important feminine gift.
"When I first started Young Women of Grace, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be in a group of girls that I was somewhat familiar with, but it helped us get a little closer because we were eager to grow more in our faith, especially as young women living in this generation. Probably the neatest thing about the program was the fact that inserted in the book were stories of real female saints that overcame incredible hardships. Personally this is striking because it shows how powerful women can be especially with the help of God."
Brenda Dooley, our indefatigable Regional Coordinator in Louisiana, spearheaded the program for the parish. She served under the guidance and direction of Father Michael Russo, pastor, and Stephanie Supple, the parish administrator. Four women from the school, all of whom facilitated Women of Grace studies in the past at the parish, generously volunteered to facilitate the girl's study. It was coordinated throughout the 2017-2018 school year and culminated with a graduation event and reception on May 18, 2018.
It was two years ago at a Women of Grace® retreat when Michelle Espinosa and Christine Adelizzi first heard about the Young Women of Grace® program and decided the Holy Spirit was calling them to start a group. They had no idea how to facilitate a class, but they acted in faith, bought a Facilitators Kit and left the rest up to God.
Michelle and Christine are now facilitating a group of seven girls at St. Thomas More parish in Allentown, Pennsylvania who are expected to complete the course in early June.
“It’s been a great first year,” said co-facilitator Michelle. “The girls are really special. I am amazed that they willingly give up their Saturday mornings to come together to strengthen their Catholic faith and to fellowship with one another. I pray that the valuable lessons of this program will carry them through high school and college.”
Judging from the comments the girls made about the class, this hope may be on its way to fulfillment.
“I’ve grown strong in my faith and learned how to respect myself,” said Sarah, 14, one of a set of triplets whose sister, Riley, is also in the class.
“I’ve learned how important it is to be a woman and to listen to God and try to be close to Him and do His will,” said Riley, 14. “I also learned the importance of prayer, and how important it is to come together in this community and listen to what other girls have to say.”
Kae, 16, said the program taught her how important it is to come together in a small group with other girls who share the faith. “The group encourages us in our role as women. In sharing our experiences and building each other up, we can learn to live as Catholic women in the world in spite of what the world is trying to tell us," she said.
For co-facilitator Christine, who is a grandmother of two and has no experience teaching, she wanted to take on this loving labor after seeing the kind of world her granddaughters would be facing in the years ahead.
“I see the ways of the world and they are not good, especially toward women and family life,” Christine said.
Seven years ago, it was a Women of Grace® course that emboldened her with the truth of what it meant to be created female. The course introduced her to the writings of the Church on femininity, and when she read St. John Paul II’s Letter to Women, she felt something stir in her soul.
“Women of Grace changed my life,” she said, and her innate sense of spiritual motherhood naturally makes her want to share this gift with others.
“One year later, I’m enjoying facilitating Young Women of Grace®. I feel as though I am doing something to educate the girls in the truth of the Catholic Church and life. I couldn’t let this generation of girls go into Junior/Senior High and beyond unarmed about the ways of the world and the ‘culture of death’ we live in.”
Her and Michelle are planting the seeds, but letting God do the watering and the “Son-ing” to let the growth take place.
“One of my hopes for the girls is that they are learning discernment skills, by using the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, thought and prayer before acting," Christine said. "I am impressed at how the seed has taken root, and in time who knows what our Lord has in store for these Young Women of Grace!”
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