By Nancy Huffaker

Such a blessing to finally gather together again!” was the overwhelming response of the attendees at the Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference on Oct. 15. Over 450 women from across the diocese and beyond traveled to the Oncenter in Syracuse for a day of spiritual renewal and communion with fellow sisters in Christ. 

The day began with recitation of the rosary followed by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated by Bishop Douglas J. Lucia with concelebrants Bishop Terry R. LaValley of the Ogdensburg Diocese, Father Thomas Ward and Father Brendan Foley, and assisted by Father Zachary Miller and seminarian John Brusa III.

Speakers Bishop LaValley, Sonja Corbitt and Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, O.P. addressed the conference’s theme, “For Such a Time as This: Maintaining a Eucharistic Heart in a Broken World.” 

Following Mass, Bishop LaValley kicked off the speaking segment. A longtime friend of Bishop Lucia’s, he spoke about our need to take time and pay attention to the poor, the hurting and the unnoticed, as well as to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our daily routines. “It is precisely in those interruptions to our plans that we can discover another face of Christ, another opportunity for spiritual stretching exercises for my Eucharistic heart to mend a broken world,” Bishop LaValley said.

Reflecting on the darkness present in society, Bishop LaValley continued, “The Eucharist is not merely an expression of communion in the Church’s life. It is also a project of solidarity for all of humanity. It is bread from heaven which gives eternal life and opens the human heart to a great hope and, yes, particularly right in the midst of a broken world.”

Bishop LaValley used the analogy of a thermometer and a thermostat to demonstrate how to transform complacent hearts into Eucharistic hearts. A thermometer always passively reflects its current environment, he said, while a thermostat actively adjusts its surroundings. He challenged the women “to change, to allow God’s Spirit to transform me as I live as a Catholic Christian thermostat.” We must risk “going into the deep,” like a scuba diver. We “cannot live out our call to holiness by snorkeling, just barely getting our discipleship feet wet.”

He urged the women to participate in the sacraments for the fortitude necessary to change ourselves and our world. “My friends, sacramental Communion renews and consolidates the baptized believers’ incorporation into Christ. There comes a mutual abiding, we in Christ and Christ in us. By union with Christ, the people of the new covenant are sent out as a sacrament for humanity, a light to the world, salt of the earth.”

Corbitt, aka the Bible Study Evangelista, titled her talk, “How to Become a Monstrance.” She explained that the word “monstrance” means “to show,” and Mary was the first monstrance. “She showed forth the Word of God in her womb and through her life.”

As a convert who was raised Southern Baptist, Corbitt felt that devotion to Mary stole attention from Jesus. When her confessor (her bishop) told her that “the measure of your Catholicism is the measure of your relationship to Mary,” she asked Mary to teach her. Through Scripture, Sonja learned that “the Word of God is a person. Mary wants us to know the Word as she does. Mary loves the Word and wants us to love the Word … in a way that we incarnate the Word so it becomes part of who we are, so we can share it with the people in our broken world.”

Corbitt challenged the women to study the daily readings of the Church for 40 days, while petitioning the Holy Spirit to speak to them through the Word. “Love the Word like Mary loves the Word. Incarnate the Word and show it forth to the world.”

Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, a Dominican Sister from Nashville, concluded the speaking program. “A Eucharistic heart. That is what the broken world needs,” Sister stated, encouraging the women to meditate on it. “A Eucharistic heart is a heart filled with gratitude … a heart united to Jesus by faith … a heart striving for holiness with the Lord’s help … a heart that remembers … a heart that is willing to suffer.”

Sister emphasized the significance of suffering and continued, “Jesus takes us, sets us apart, blesses us, and then he breaks us through trials, struggles, difficult situations, difficult relationships. … For each of us God has a dream. That dream is sanctity. But we must let ourselves be broken so that we can be given.”

The sacrament of reconciliation was available throughout the day thanks to the generosity of many priests from around the diocese. The conference also offered enrollment in the Brown Scapular by Father James Schultz, as well as exhibits of more than 30 Catholic vendors. Singer-songwriter Jeremy Bobak provided music for the daylong event.

After the speaker Q&A session, the event concluded with Eucharistic Adoration led by Father Ward and the Divine Mercy Chaplet led by seminarian Joseph Ryan.

An audio recording of the speakers’ talks and Bishop Lucia’s homily is available at

Nancy Huffaker is a member of the Commission on Women in Church and in Society.

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