Catholic Herald Staff
The Council of Catholic Women Presidents for the Dioceses of Superior and Duluth are inviting women to a historical gathering May 22 to join “In Solidarity.” The College of St. Scholastica is the site for a joint convention – a first for both dioceses.
With only a narrow stretch of water separating the diocesan seats, presidents Barbara Gagliardi and Connie Andrews are bridging a gap between their respective councils and commonalities.
Both women expressed excitement for the event and gratitude for the Holy Spirit’s action in the planning. Of her collaboration with Superior’s CCW President, Andrews said, “Working with Barbara is an experience; her enthusiasm is infectious.”
Six weeks out, the initial response has been mostly positive. But, as Andrews said, “excitement doesn’t necessarily transfer to people in the seats.” Their goal for attendance is 100 women from each diocese. Both presidents are encouraging their affiliated members to attend while reaching out to new and younger women as well.
Convention keynote speakers were chosen for their ability to engage this broad spectrum of women.
Maria Johnson, a Cuban-American mother of three grown children, author and blogger, will speak on solidarity. Johnson previously spoke at a national CCW convention where Gagliardi first connected to her message. She felt fed; there was “something about her life experience as a Catholic woman in the United States of American at this time” that made Gagliardi relate to and be motivated by her. The speaker’s books, “My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live” and “Supergirls and Halos: My Companions on the Journey for Truth, Justice and Heroic Virtue,” (released in 2017) give a window into Johnson’s relatable reflections.
A lover of all things G. K. Chesterton, the Twin Cities’ own Dale Ahlquist will give the afternoon talk. A convert and father of six, Ahlquist has contributed to more than 15 books on the famed Englishman who has been called the “prince of paradox.” Chesterton, himself a convert, spoke and wrote with reasoned thought and witty humor on faith, education, love and marriage. Ahlquist is also an EWTN show host and co-founder of a top-rated Catholic high school. Gagliardi hopes that his presentation will appeal to and challenge convention participants.
There will be time for fellowship, food and silent auction shopping. The Mass, concelebrated at the campus’ Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel by Bishops James P. Powers and Paul D. Sirba with the sisters of the monastery, will be a unique experience for attendees.
The convention will also include annual traditions and awards specific to the Council of Catholic Women. Both presidents recognized the challenge of transmitting the broader vision of the CCW – which operates at a national and international level – in rural settings where information can be difficult to impart face to face and people can feel disconnected. They hope to provide brief explanations on these aspects that will help new participants feel welcome and repeat attendees to appreciate the rich history and contributions of the organization.
Gagliardi added that by definition, each Catholic woman in a parish is part of the CCW whether she is a formally affiliated member or not. Traveling around the extensive Diocese of Superior, she sees women’s need for connection. Gagliardi noted emphatically that, “by its very nature,” the Church – “and God Himself in the Trinity – is a relationship.”
For her, the CCW is “a means of providing for the women in their particular diocese a way for them to be the best Catholic woman they can be.”
Drawing in younger women to the Council of Catholic Women is a national priority. CCW members of both dioceses are predominantly women in their 60s or older. Gagliardi said younger women need to feel supported as they raise their families, and tried-and-true members have a need for the energy and initiative of the next generations.
“We need to change from the top down,” Andrews said, meaning national, province and parish levels. She shared her experience of work seminars that offered childcare to make attendance feasible and an openness to initiatives that will expand the cross-section of women – all sisters in Christ – involved in the CCW.
“We need to make (participation) accessible; make it easy for them to come – give them every opportunity and take out every excuse,” she said.
“Jesus didn’t wait for the people to come – he sought them out; he found out what they needed and gave it to them,” Andrews said.
Acknowledging the commitment it takes to attend the convention – in particular for the women of Duluth for whom the convention cost of $40 is double what has been customary – the co-organizers are committed to providing women “a day that is uplifting, that champions their faith and their dignity and gifts.”
Both presidents are passionate about providing a beautiful day to recognize and energize their CCW members — and potential members — for their service to the Church in their own dioceses, parishes and communities.
More information and registration forms are available at sdccw.me. Or for women from the Duluth diocese, contact Ann Johnston at or 218-966-3052; for the Superior diocese, contact Lynn Neeck at 715-339-3991 or . Registrations are requested by April 28.