|Catholic blogger, author, and speaker Judy Klein talks about a time in her life frrom 2008 to 2009, after losing her brother and sister-in-law to a murder-suicide, going through a major family financial crisis, and having a son battling drug addiction, and her late husband Bernie had a massive heart attack that led to a profound conversion in his faith. Photos by Marianne Reeves|
The 12th annual Catholic Women of Faith Conference, held at St. Philip Church in Franklin on Saturday, April 1, drew approximately 500 women together to celebrate their faith through uplifting story-telling, fellowship, music, and Mass.
“It’s always wonderful to see women’s lives impacted for Christ,” said Sheri Isham, director of the conference since its inception.
Throughout the day, the women attending had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Penance and participate in Eucharistic adoration, recited the Rosary together, ate lunch together, and shopped from booths set up by local Catholic businesses. Keynote presenters included Joy Pinto, Susan Conroy, Judy Landrieu Klein, and Catholic musical trio His Own.
After opening the day with Mass celebrated by Father Ed Steiner, pastor of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, Joy Pinto gave a humorous talk leavened with tidbits of wisdom that helped her grow in holiness as an adult convert to Catholicism.
Pinto, who, with her husband Jim, co-hosts the Eternal Word Television Network series “At Home with Jim and Joy” and directs the pro-life pregnancy resource center Her Choice Women’s Center in Birmingham, Alabama, described her journey of becoming a Christian at 17, marrying an Episcopal priest, and both of them converting to Catholicism with three of their four children after discovering the truth of the Catholic faith.
Converting to Catholicism and enduring personal and family trials helped Pinto to develop a strong relationship with the Blessed Mother. Going through a daughter’s unplanned pregnancy and her own cancer diagnosis prompted her to lean on Mary for support.
“You know, it’s funny being Protestant. We have an attitude against Mary, and she never did anything to us!” Pinto laughed. “As an Episcopalian, you could talk to me about any other woman in Scripture: Ruth, Naomi, Sarah, Rachel, and I’d be OK with all of them. But Mary set me on edge!”
Eventually, she experienced Mary’s motherhood in her own life, and it changed everything. “As I was fighting cancer, before converting to Catholicism, I would pray the Rosary, and fall asleep holding it, and it brought me so much comfort. Mary really became a mother to me during that time.”
But ultimately, her conversion helped her learn to serve God in a deeper way. “I have no business co-hosting a TV show with my husband. I have no business directing a pregnancy resource center,” she said. “Every day I wake up wanting to be an obedient daughter to our heavenly Father, and the temptation to sin is always there. I’m an ordinary woman, but serving an extraordinary God in the day-to-day tasks of living makes my life special.”
Internationally known speaker and author Susan Conroy gave a touching account of her 11-year friendship with St. Teresa of Calcutta. Conroy spoke of Mother Teresa drawing inspiration from St. Therese of Lisieux, who emphasized doing small things with great love as a means of growing in holiness.
“Love is a universal language,” Conroy said. “During my time in Calcutta, I was a native English speaker surrounded by people who spoke Hindi. But everyone understood a warm smile, laughter, gentleness and cheerfulness.”
That love and cheerfulness came in handy as Conroy spent numerous summers alongside Mother Teresa serving the poor and sick at an orphanage and a home for the dying. While at the orphanage, Conroy came across a baby girl crying. But when she picked the child up and held her, the baby immediately relaxed. “A few minutes later, a little boy started crying too,” Conroy said. “And I was unable to hold two babies at once since I already had my hands full. But these kids were so starved for love that a simple human touch could soothe them.”
Conroy strongly emphasized the importance of love in action. “Even though Mother Teresa constantly spoke of Jesus, she didn’t have to tell you what she believed in,” she said. “You knew she was a Christ follower just by the way she lived. And I think she’d want all of us to do likewise.”
Perhaps the most powerful presentation of the day came from Catholic blogger, author, and speaker Judy Klein. From 2008 to 2009, after losing her brother and sister-in-law to a murder-suicide, going through a major family financial crisis, and having a son battling drug addiction, her late husband Bernie had a massive heart attack that led to a profound conversion in his faith.
“Before this, Bernie believed in God, but didn’t really have a relationship with Him,” she said. But after having many of his vital organs shut down following a heart operation and his family rushing to the hospital to say goodbye to him, Bernie had a vision of the afterlife, in which God denied him entrance through the gates of heaven.
During that vision, God told Bernie that he would remain on Earth a little while longer, as a time for growing in his relationship with the Lord. And he did exactly that until he died. “Bernie spent his last days on Earth talking to everyone about God’s love,” Klein said. And that deeply affected her.
“During that difficult year, I felt like Job from the Old Testament, where many things I clung to for security were taken away from me,” she explained. “But eventually, Job comes to find that God is the source of our security and our hope. And just like him, and like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, I had to learn how to surrender to God, and say, ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’ There really is no other hope but holy hope, which comes from trusting in God’s providence, no matter what circumstances we’re in,” she said.
The day wrapped up with music from Catholic trio His Own, made up of Judy Klein’s daughter Kara, and Kara’s friends Maria Spears and Christine Simpson. In between singing their own original songs, the threesome shared stories about how they came from varying backgrounds to pursue music and ministry together.
Kara Klein, essentially the group’s founder, had been friends with Spears and Simpson for a while, and had been involved in ministry and music when she felt called that the three of them should form their own musical group. Spears, a musician herself, immediately agreed. Simpson, a kindergarten teacher with a deep love for music, hesitated at first but eventually joined in.
Overall, the day was a joyful and uplifting one for all. “I felt blessed by so many things of the day,” Isham said. “Mass and hearing the strong (almost loud) participation of the ladies (as they sang, responded, received from the various parts of the Mass, being personally impacted by each of the talks this time more than any other conference, looking out over the crowd of ladies as we prayed the Rosary together was powerful. Every part of the conference went so well!”