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Fort Smith area women bond over service and spirituality

Eight River Valley churches join to form the diocese’s first Council of Catholic Women

Published: November 18, 2022   
Maryanne Meyerriecks
Father Cassian Elkins, OSB, gives a presentation on Advent preparation at the West River Valley Deanery Council of Catholic Women at Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith Nov. 8.

Women of eight River Valley churches have joined together to form the diocese’s first Council of Catholic Women.

The West River Valley Deanery churches include Immaculate Conception, St. Boniface and Christ the King in Fort Smith, Sacred Heart of Mary in Barling, Sts. Sabina and Mary in Jenny Lind, St. Michael in Van Buren, St. Leo in Hartford and St. Jude in Waldron.

“Several of us attended the 2022 Oklahoma Women’s Conference in Oklahoma City last February, and shortly afterward, we were contacted by Becky Van Pool, province director for the archdiocese, about forming a Council of Catholic Women,” said Jacqueline Phillips, council president and member of Sacred Heart of Mary Church. “When Julie Anderson (parish secretary of Sacred Heart of Mary Church) told me what the council was, I thought, ‘that’s just what we need.’”

Phillips hosted a Bible study group beginning to outgrow her home location, and she knew many women from different parishes wanted to share their faith with the wider Catholic community. In July, she gathered a group of women from four local parishes to set up an organizational structure for the council and scheduled the first four quarterly meetings at Sacred Heart of Mary, Immaculate Conception and St. Boniface churches.

The National Council of Catholic Women was established in 1920 to give Catholic women a common voice, promote Catholic values and provide service opportunities. It continues to receive the support and encouragement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor has given written authorization to the new group in the West River Valley Deanery.

“We decided on four meetings a year focusing on spirituality, education and community outreach. We begin each meeting with Mass or the rosary, followed by dinner and a presentation by a guest speaker,” Phillips said. “We chose four community organizations to support this year — Heart to Heart, St. Anne’s Society, Crisis Intervention Center for Women and Hope Campus.”

The group promotes its events through its Facebook page and church bulletins. It would like its Facebook page to become a hub for local parishes to promote events of interest to women and families and occasionally add activities, such as movie nights to its activity roster.

Almost 70 women attended their first meeting in September to hear Deacon Tom Jakobs of Christ the King Church talk on “Loving Your Neighbor.” Jakobs is a popular speaker who leads Advent and Lenten mini-retreats between Sunday Masses at his home parish.

Father Cassian Elkins, OSB, of Subiaco Abbey, celebrated Mass with the group Nov. 8 in historic St. Anne’s Chapel at Immaculate Conception Church. His presentation on how “Jesus helps us prepare for Advent” was filled with faith formation and humor. In a threefold approach, he showed members how to get more out of prayer, Mass and confession, all centered around one truth: “Jesus loves you…He gives you all the tools you need to be with him for eternity in paradise.”

Julie Herrell, spirituality director for the council and member of Immaculate Conception Church, gave each guest an Epiphany house blessing kit containing a house blessing prayer and a piece of chalk blessed by senior priest Father Henry Mischkowiuski of Barling. According to tradition, Catholics mark the new year with the initials of the three Magi, C, B and M, above their outside doorways, leaving the markings up all year to signify a Christian home.

“We hope this tradition will encourage our members to continue to celebrate Christmas into the new year,” Phillips said. “We hope to continue to grow in 2023 as we celebrate at St. Boniface in March and Immaculate Conception in May. I would like to see 200 women at each meeting in 2023.”

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