By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

High school-aged girls said they were ready to confidently step into the role of womanhood as they received the message they can change the culture at a “Growing Up Gracefully” mother-daughter conference at the Catholic Life Center on May 2.

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Young women received affirming messages about what it means to be a woman during a “Growing Up Gracefully” mother-daughter program at the Catholic Life Center May 2. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator


The program, sponsored by the Diocese of Baton Rouge Office of Marriage and Family Life and Woman’s New Life Center, looked at the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of womanhood.

The youth said they saw their role as women in a new light as speakers presented comments coming from Catholic theologians and leaders. One popular remark with audience members was Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s, “To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, and goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

Sarah Denny, fertility care practitioner and speaker on authentic feminism and women’s healthcare, talked to the young women about their value as daughters of Christ.

Denny said as a freshman in college, she heard various opinions concerning relationships, sexuality and morality. This put her on a quest to discover the truth, which for her meant “freedom.”

One of the eye-opening resources she came across were writings of St. John Paul II, particularly Theology of the Body.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is freedom,’ ” said Denny.

She said through this she came to know who she was as a woman and wants young women to do the same.

Denny then shared with them a quote from Edith Stein. “The world doesn’t need what women have, it needs what they are.”

“As women, we feel that to be of value we have to give something,” said Denny.

She said from the moment of their conception God’s treasures women as his special creation and desires for them to be in relationship with him.

Discussing the painting “The Creation of Adam,” by Michaelangelo, Denny pointed out God appears to be protecting a feminine figure with his left arm and they and the surrounding angels appear to be enclosed in what appears to be a human brain. She said this shows God has always had women in mind.

Denny emphasized women are body and soul and urged the attendees to realize their bodies are good.

“You have pressure to live up to some rule. That will take away from the multi-faceted beauty of all that you here,” Denny said.

Next, Dr. Susan Caldwell, medical director of Hope Woman’s Clinic in Metairie, spoke of the physical changes that occur as girls approach womanhood. She discussed the menstrual cycle and talked about how contraceptives harm women’s health.

According to Caldwell, regular menstrual cycles are a sign of a healthy body. She said contraceptives intentionally damages the female reproductive system, treats fertility as a disease and does not heal any disease in the process.

It also terminates pregnancy, which is something “that went very well” with the reproductive system, Caldwell said.

Particularly for teens, the brain is learning how to communicate with the reproductive system during menstruation, and contraceptives disrupt that.

She urged the audience to respect their bodies as temples and vessels of God by not using contraceptives.

Next, Caitlin Brown gave her personal testimony to motivate the girls to wait until marriage to have sex.

Now married and the mom of a two-year old son, Brown said when she was a sophomore in college, she had a boyfriend in college who pressured her to have sex. He argued that sex was the way he showed her he loved her and that it would keep his interest in her.

The boyfriend also contended that Brown’s faith made her feel guilty for having sex.

“I didn’t have any answers. I thought maybe I should give in and have sex with him and the problem would go away,” said Brown.

She discussed this with her parents, who, in struggling how much guidance they should give her and how much independence she should have at 20, said, “It’s your decision.”

The boyfriend wore down her resolve, and she had sex with him. That first experience was not special she said. Nevertheless, she continued to have sex with him, and due to the fact that sex hormones affected the neurotransmitters in the brain, a bond formed in her mind.

The feeling, however, that “something wasn’t right,” welled up within her, and she broke up with her boyfriend. She said the sexual bond with her former boyfriend haunted her for a while.

Brown said the church’s message not to have sex before marriage can sound restrictive, but it makes way for something better.

“Rather than having sex at the wrong time with the wrong person you are saying ‘Yes’ to the right person at the right time. You are saying yes to something in the future,” Brown said.

The mothers and daughters separated for group discussions, then returned and asked the speakers questions.

The attendees said they valued their time together at the conference.

“It helps us see the beauty of being a woman,” said Monica Chasuk, a ninth-grade home-schooled student who was there with her mother, Patti.

Monica said the program helped her see the importance of people having respect for each other in a relationship and not having a “What’s in it for me?” attitude.

Patti said it can be challenging for mothers to talk to their daughters about issues presented at the conference because everyone is caught up in “daily” living. She said some connections and ideas for future dialogue were opened up through the event.

St. Michael High School senior Emily Casselberry took up an invitation from a theology teacher, Emily Froeba, to attend the conference with her mother, Amber.

Emily Casselberry said the conference showed her options for women rather than having sex with boyfriends who pressure them. She said many of her peers don’t realize there are such options.

“It gave me more strength and self-worth,” Emily said.

Amber said she enjoyed hearing three different viewpoints of womanhood from the speakers.

“My big thing is modesty,” she said in reference to a talk about the importance of dressing appropriately.

Those who moms and daughters looking for ways to dialogue about womanhood can email, said Caldwell.