Forum equips young women to pursue their unique callings

Young Catholic women face a lot of pressure today as they try to discern their vocations in life amid a secularized and polarized culture.

Jun 10, 2024

Women react at a GIVEN forum in this undated photo. Organizers say the upcoming GIVEN Forum, set for June 8-12 in Washington, is designed to help young adult Catholic women "with a heart for mission and an aptitude for leadership" identify their particular gifts and find practical pathways "to put them in the service of the Gospel." (OSV News photo/courtesy of The GIVEN Institute)

By Lauretta Brown
Young Catholic women face a lot of pressure today as they try to discern their vocations in life amid a secularized and polarized culture.

One group, originally founded by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious in 2018 after a successful 2016 event, is helping women find affirmation and guidance through a unique mentorship program that encourages them to discover and embrace their God-given gifts.

Over 300 Catholic women from all walks of life will gather in Washington from June 8 to 12 to participate in the GIVEN Art of Accompaniment Mentoring Program and the Catholic Women's Leadership Forum. It will be the fifth GIVEN forum since the group's founding; the previous forums were held in 2019, 2020 (online), 2021 and 2022.

"Our mission is to help activate the gifts of young Catholic women for the church and the world," GIVEN Executive Director Michelle Hillaert told OSV News just ahead of the gathering. "We do that by leadership development, faith formation, one-on-one mentoring with our art of accompaniment mentoring year."

The young women participating are ages 21 to 35 and come in with an action plan. For some women, that means a plan to be a more organized homemaker, and for others, it means a plan to found a nonprofit organization. "It just depends on what God's calling you to and the vocation and the area of life," Hillaert said.

Mentors are 36 and older with eight years of experience or more in their fields. They are stay-at-home moms, doctors, lawyers, philanthropists and more.

At the leadership forum, the young women embark on a nine-month journey with their mentors as they try to put into practice the action plan they formed.

Hillaert is excited to see where God is calling the women who are gathering this year, including one woman traveling from Singapore whose action plan is to start a new congregation of sisters. She already has the backing of her local bishop.

While GIVEN is now run by laywomen, its board has five religious sisters from five different communities, including the chair of the board, Sister Mary Gabriel with the Sisters of Life.

Hillaert, who is herself a working mom, is inspired by all the work the religious sisters are doing with young women through the forum, but emphasized that the forum is not about recruiting for the vocation of religious life or marriage, but rather about giving each woman the space to ask, "What is God calling me to right now? How is he leading the desires of my heart?"

"Every single one of us is called to leadership," she added. "We are all called to serve others."

She said that many of the women who participate in the forum are single and desire the vocation of marriage and these women come in asking, "Lord what are you calling me to do during this time when I'm not really feeling fulfilled? How are you calling me to live at this point? And how can you bring fulfillment?"

"God doesn't necessarily call us at 21, 22 years old to immediately get married, to immediately join a religious order, to immediately be consecrated or choose to be single," she emphasized. "God called us to serve others. … If we can just expand upon that, I think that takes the pressure away."

GIVEN's pillars are "receive the gift you are, realize the gifts you've been given and respond with the gift only you can give."

"If you don't know who you are, then how can you really even understand what you might be called to truly?" Hillaert asked, "if you don't have an identity in who you are, then how can you think that maybe you have special gifts and unique gifts that God's given you, that he's given to no one else? And if you don't understand that you have unique gifts that God's given you then how will you understand that you need to respond with those gifts?"

Fruits of the GIVEN forum helping women discover and respond to their unique gifts abound in the group's alumnae stories.

GIVEN alumnae Anna Carter and Shannon Ochoa are co-founders of Eden Invitation, "a movement celebrating personal integration and promoting solidarity beyond the LGBT+ paradigm for young adults, Christian and Catholic, seeking to pursue a life of discipleship."

Alumna Samantha Kelley founded FIERCE Athlete, which promotes "true and authentic femininity within female athletics based on the teachings of the Catholic Church."

"It's really beautiful to see what happens when we surrender and trust," Hillaert said, "when we allow God to take control."--OSV News

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