Second annual “Through the Heart” Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference coming soon


ambrose_headshotBy Sheila O’Connor-Ambrose
Sun contributing writer

What do a Food Network personality, a Vatican consultant and a former model have in common?  They are Catholic, they hunger to speak to women’s hearts and they are the scheduled speakers for the upcoming “Through the Heart” Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference.

This all-day conference will be held on Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Oncenter in Syracuse. Last year’s conference, the first ever, drew a diverse crowd of nearly 900 women from throughout the diocese for a day of prayer, speakers, music and adoration. With the stalwart support of Bishop Robert Cunningham and the assistance of the Diocesan Women’s Commission — an appointed team of women that focuses on women’s issues — the organizers hope to repeat — and exceed — last year’s extraordinary event.

“I felt a unity with all the women who were there,” one woman said about last year’s conference.  “It’s amazing to me with nearly nine hundred women in one place that this could happen. Obviously we all come from different life circumstances, but we were all there, united in our faith and love of God.”

Heartened by the success of the first conference, organizers are even more enthusiastic about this year’s speakers—and for good reason. Each exemplifies the core message of the “Through the Heart” conference, best articulated by St. Catherine of Siena: “If you are what you should be, you would set the world on fire!”

Father Leo Patalinghug, STL, is the force behind the popular “Grace Before Meals” movement. Born in the Philippines and raised in the Baltimore area, Father Leo studied at the North American College in Rome. It was there that his love of cooking caught the attention of several restaurant owners who taught him the secrets and skills a successful chef needs. Ordained a priest in 1999, Father  Leo teaches at the Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland. He is the author of Grace Before Meals: Recipes for Family Life. A popular chef, Father Leo bested the Food Network celebrity chef Bobby Flay at steak fajitas. Now developing a PBS series based on Grace Before Meals, Father  Leo draws upon his background as a singer, drama teacher and cook — not to mention former competitive break dancer and four-time Tai Kwon Do champion — to promote a deeper love of food, faith and family.

Helen Alvare is a popular and engaging speaker on women and family issues.  With a law degree from Cornell and a master’s in theology from the Catholic University of America, Professor Alvare teaches family law and property at George Mason University. She has used her expertise on a wide range of topics — women, family and marriage, feminism and life issues—to speak on behalf of the Church to a variety of audiences.  A long-time legal advisor for the National Council of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), Professor Alvare also served as the NCCB spokesperson for pro-life activities and presently serves as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Laity at the Vatican. A passionate advocate for women and children, Professor Alvare is a consultant to ABC News on Catholic issues.

Leah Darrow, a former reality TV contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” will share her conversion story. The oldest of six children, Leah grew up in Oklahoma and was an honor student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. After her elimination from the reality show after months of modeling in international locations, Leah began an independent modeling career. Despite her professional success, her heart was troubled by a life that valued her body more than anything else. Her compelling story, from successful model to inspirational Catholic speaker, is one of hope and affirmation.

Alice Hernon, a gifted singer, songwriter and a hit at last year’s conference, will again offer beautiful, uplifting music.    Registration begins at 8 a.m. at the Oncenter (800 South State St.), followed by Mass at 9 a.m. with Bishop Cunningham.  The conference ends at 5 p.m. All women are welcome — nursing infants too. Area priests will offer confession and adoration and vendors will be selling books and gifts. The cost is $55, seated lunch included. Registration at the door is $65.  The conference website has more details and online registration.  Or mail a check, payable to the “Diocese of Syracuse,” with “Catholic Women’s Conference” on the memo line, to Diocese of Syracuse, c/o Diocesan Women’s Commission, 240 East Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202. Please include your name, address, phone, email and name of home parish along with your check. Buses will be available from the Eastern and Southern regions. Please email any questions to Nina Walters
( including requests for bus information.

Come share a memorable day of prayer, inspiration, and grace with your sisters in Christ! See you there!

Sheila O’Connor-Ambrose holds a doctorate in women’s studies from Emory University and is a member of the Diocesan Commission on Women in Church and in Society. She attends Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica.

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