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Women of Grace series ♦ Participants discover their unique gifts are planned by God, not accidental

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

St. Elizabeth of Portugal (


By Steve Euvino

Northwest Indiana Catholic


     VALPARAISO – What do a death camp victim, a Sudanese ex-slave, a Portuguese queen, and a woman in the printing business have in common? They are all Catholic women who made a difference – women of grace – featured in a weekly discussion series of the same name at St. Paul Parish.

     Through Nov. 21 the parish hosted Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life. The Women of Grace study series is designed to affirm women in their dignity and vocation as daughters of God; to provide women a spiritual path conforming with Scripture and Church teachings; to engender in women a devotion to the Blessed Mother; and to affirm women in their essential nature and spirit; and to enable women to identify and accept the divine mission God has entrusted to them.

     “It is for us to identify our femininity, according to God’s plan, and discover how we can use that to save the world,” said Joann Epple, a co-facilitator of the series. “We each have a unique set of gifts that are not accidental; they are planned by God, to be used in a special way to save the world.”

     Each week the St. Paul group focused on a different theme that forms a spiritual path “which leads us into a deeper faith experience and relationship with Jesus Christ,” explained Mary Kane Mauer, the parish’s director of adult formation.

     These themes include prayer, obedience, wisdom, Eucharist, renewal, and apostolic courage. Accompanying each theme is a specific grace to which participants pray to receive to help them live their faith more deeply.

     The series, part of a national program, also highlights two saintly Catholic women from different eras each week. Examples include St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Elizabeth of Portugal, and Venerable Thecla Merlo.

     Highlighted on Nov. 7, St. Elizabeth was a 14th-century queen who was considerably more honorable than her husband, King Denis. In addition to her devotion to the poor and sick, she served as a conciliator in border negotiations and an intermediary in a civil war. According to legend, St. Elizabeth positioned herself on a donkey between two armies to prevent fighting.

     Under the theme of Eucharist, the group that Friday afternoon examined Eucharistic Prayer IV. Mauer described the prayer as “salvation history – who we are in a nutshell.”

     The prayer, Mauer explained, offers an outline of the image of God as father and creator of the universe; of Jesus’ role in rising from the dead to destroy death and restore life; of Jesus being present to the faithful through the Holy Spirit; and of the message that salvation is not limited to Christians alone, but to “all who seek [the Lord] with a sincere heart.”

     Through this prayer, Mauer said, the faithful, through the prayers of the priest, are reminded of their past, present, and future.

     Each series also included a video featuring Johnnette Benkovic, founder of Women of Grace. On Nov. 7, Benkovic addressed forgiveness, including the obstacles to healing.

     “We must forgive. It is non-negotiable,” Benkovic said, defining forgiveness as “a free-will action, prompted by grace, which sets us free from the consequences of sin.”

     Forgiveness, Benkovic added, is a process and can take time. Women, she said, need to pray for the desire to forgive and to pray for their persecutors as well. Benkovic encouraged prayer and the reception of the sacraments to speed along the process of forgiveness.

     Terri Collins, a co-facilitator of the St. Paul series, got involved after participating in Christ Renews His Parish and is now enrolled in the Diocesan Lay Ecclesial Ministry Program. She said those experiences made her want to learn more about her faith.

     “It makes me feel so special to be a woman,” Collins said. “It’s not an accident I’m a woman; God created me a woman, with certain responsibilities.”

     Collins said women may not appear in the foreground of Church news, but, “in so many ways, what I do is part of God’s plan.”


     Note: For more information on Women of Grace visit



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