Blog Post

Young Mothers Reclaiming Authentic Femininity in Phoenix!

Claire Dwyer and her family.  Claire Dwyer and her family.

In 1995, I was nearing graduation as a student at the Franciscan University with a degree in theology when I learned about the tragic impact of the radical feminist movement in Beijing, China. My father was a lobbyist at the UN conference on Women in Beijing and I remember sitting on the floor of my dorm room as he told me with great concern about their move to redefine gender. I knew this was wrong, very wrong, and I wanted to find out more about what the Church, in her wisdom, had taught about authentic femininity.

This was before “Theology of the Body” was known or studied, but through my studies, I was able to delve into the writings of then Pope John Paul II on women and St. Edith Stein. I also had the opportunity to discuss the topics of gender and false femininity with Dale O’Leary, writer and lobbyist at Beijing (and also future contributor to Women of Grace). I decided to make this the topic of my senior thesis titled, “Motherhood: the Gift of God to Women,” written under the guidance of the great mariologist Mark Miravalle. Little did I know that less than a decade later, I would be working hand in hand with Women of Grace® to help “transform the world” through authentic femininity.

After graduation from Franciscan University I married my husband and we moved to his hometown of Phoenix. Immediately I found myself living the authentic feminine vocation in a very real, very busy way as our children, all six of them, came one after another! I like to say I am doing “field work” in Theology of the Body! Being a wife and mother was, and is, a joy, but it has of course stretched me in ways I couldn't have imagined before.

I grew to love the diocese of Phoenix and have encountered Christ there in many ways: in its parishes, priests, people. I found a hunger for the Holy Spirit and a love for beautiful liturgy. I came to know families living out their call and a generosity to life. I appreciated the strong leadership of the shepherds, the bishops. In many ways it was a smooth transition from the environment of Franciscan University.

Several years into raising our family I joined with a group of like-minded mothers to study the teachings of the Church as it relates to women, marriage, and family. It was a four-year program, and when it ended, life was busier than ever and my heart and life seemed full. But something was missing, perhaps more than I realized.

Last year, we happened to be at mass at a nearby parish, not our own. I noticed a flyer in the bulletin for a study program, “Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life” which was about to start. I’d never heard of the study before, but it sounded like something I needed. I signed up, not really knowing what to expect.

What I experienced was a warm community of loving women who longed to grow deeper in their faith. Praying, studying, and discussing together was an absolute joy – as discovering the richness of our Catholic faith should be! Each woman offered her own wisdom and I learned so much from their lives. One of my favorite parts of the study itself was the sections on the women saints – some were old friends to me, others new ones! Here’s what I wrote in my comment form at our last meeting:

“This study was dropped into my lap – and my life – by the Lord as a direct answer to my prayer and efforts to go deeper into his heart, the beautiful heart of his mother, and the HEART OF MY FAMILY. The fruits of which are a call to go deeper and further into the ministry of the Church and its service to the world in a mission of the New Evangelization. I feel called to bring this to my own parish now and continue the Lord’s work in healing, strengthening, encouraging, and calling women. I praise and glorify God for the way he has worked in the lives of the women of this study and feel privileged to have heard their stories over the course of these months. In fact, he has revealed himself to me as I see his actions in their lives. The sharing has been one of the greatest and most grace-filled aspects of the study.”

And take it to my parish I did. Many parishioners doubted that our pastor would be open to it, but his first words to me after reviewing the materials were, “When can we start?” I believe that, like me, he recognized a need and the potential of this study to fill that need in both the parish and the hearts of his parishioners. With the help of the Director of Religious Education, we immediately started planning our promotion of the study. We planned on announcements at mass, information tables outside the church, etc. and hoped for a good response. But the first bulletin announcement didn’t go out until Labor Day weekend, and my co-facilitators and I worried that with so many people out-of–town, the initial registrations would be sluggish. We shouldn’t have been concerned. Within just a few days we were full – with a lengthy wait-list!

Johnnette Benkovic and Phoenix area facilitators Melissa Porter,  Shannon Martin and Dawn Marie Roeder Johnnette Benkovic and Phoenix area facilitators Melissa Porter, Shannon Martin and Dawn Marie Roeder

Now I lead, with an amazing team of nine other women, a group of forty-six participants in our own study of “Women and the Abundant Life.” We meet weekly and it’s going beautifully. I pray for many good fruits from this year – and into the future. Recently our pastor asked if I had reserved the room for next year. Guess it’s time to start planning our next study!

Just in closing I need to say that I can see the hand of God in all of this. I think that in many ways the whole of my life has been a preparation for this work now, perhaps most significantly my interest, which began back in college, in an authentic feminine vocation and the universal call of women to motherhood. The Lord has filled my heart like a basin and Women of Grace has become the spout allowing it to be poured out. We must never become stagnant. As the Spirit comes in, so must He flow out!

IMG_3112 Johnnette Benkovic, Bishop Thomas Olmsted, Kathy Mathieson-Hillary and Claire Dwyer

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