Ministry counters radical secular feminism
For most of the last century, Catholic women of substance found themselves in a box. Betrayed by a secular feminism with a frantic pro-abortion agenda and unsure of their place in a supposedly male-dominated Church, they looked for a way to exercise what Pope John Paul II called “the true genius of women.”
ENDOW — Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women — is a ministry dedicated to educating women in order to transform and humanize society. It has blossomed among women in all walks of life because of its low-key approach and its promotion of “the feminine genius.”
“It’s refreshing,” said Joanie Todd, a member of both Legatus’ Denver Chapter and the ENDOW board of directors. “I fell in love with what it meant to be a Catholic woman. ENDOW has really become a passion of mine and has changed my life.”
One of those changes was to take the two Todd children out of public schools and send them to Catholic schools; another was Todd’s transformation into an advocate for authentic feminism.
Terry Polakovic, ENDOW’s executive director, was also changed by the ministry. She said her participation helped bring order to her life and gave her a clear sense of her vocation.
ENDOW provides weekly small group studies with a trained facilitator. Groups study papal encyclicals and other source documents that educate them on fundamental Catholic Church teachings and highlight women’s roles in the Church and in society. Each study guide is made up of eight sessions, each with the imprimatur of Archbishop Charles Chaput. ENDOW is active in 54 dioceses across the country.
The new feminism
John Paul II wrote extensively about motherhood and women’s unique dignity and vocation. “The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity: they are merely different,” he wrote in his 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem. “Full respect for women and their identity,” he wrote in his 1995 Letter to Women, “must first and foremost be won … beginning with a universal recognition of the dignity of women.” (Emphasis his.)
ENDOW began five years ago with a pilot program based on John Paul’s writings. It has grown to include 3,800 participants.
“ENDOW’s mission is to change the culture, from a culture of death to a culture of life,” Todd said. “It emphasizes the complementarity of men and women.”
Polakovic said ENDOW fills a void.
“Women are hungry for an alternative to what our culture is offering as far as feminism goes,” she explained. “I think they know in their hearts that it’s false, and they want to have the truth articulated by people like Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict and backed up with Scripture and scholarship. It opens a brand new world to them.”
Women in the Church
Archbishop Chaput, who vetted the initial ENDOW program, said that women need a “Catholic brand of feminism … one that is faithful to the Gospel in every way.”
ENDOW helps refute the misconception that leadership in the Catholic Church is only for men. Archbishop Chaput said the Church will be stronger with more women leaders.
“We have to overcome the feeling that so many Catholic women today have that the Church isn’t interested in them or in their leadership,” he said. “ENDOW will provide the resources to make them aware that they are loved and welcomed – and at the heart of the Church.”
Teresa Tomeo, a member of the Detroit NE Chapter of Legatus, is a writer and nationally syndicated talk show host. She was a delegate to the Vatican’s international congress for women last February and the keynote speaker at ENDOW’s 2007 annual conference. She thinks the perception of inequality in the Church persists because women don’t know the truth.
“Women are poorly catechized and unaware of all the opportunities in the Church,” Tomeo said.
Women’s perspective would change, she contends, if they knew what the Church actually teaches, instead of getting their information from the biased secular media.
“Whether they realize it or not, the secular media is indoctrinating them into an anti-Catholic approach to life,” she said.
“Radical feminism takes the position that the priesthood is no more than a career, rather than a calling, and so it represents the last glass ceiling that women can break through,” Tomeo explained. “Education is the key to correcting this misperception, and ENDOW can make a huge difference in the lives of women.”
Although the study guides are at the heart of ENDOW’s ministry, the organization also holds an annual conference and luncheons with speakers who address topics of interest to Catholic women.
The ministry has also developed an outreach to young women and girls, according to Brigid Sweeney, who heads up ENDOW’s youth development. Classes for middle and high school girls are in the early stages, and the programs are expanding quickly.
“Kids are bombarded by the media, the music, the shows they watch, the books they read,” she said. “Everything is telling them: ‘Your value is in your physical appearance and what you can do.’ But we know their value comes from their dignity, in being created in the image and likeness of God. Our goal is to deconstruct the lies and to help them see the truth.”
Paul A. Barra is a freelance journalist based in Reidville, South Carolina.
Joanie Todd, a member of the Denver Chapter of Legatus, speaks about “the feminine genius” at Legatus chapter events nationwide. Learn more about authentic feminism and the work ENDOW is doing. For more information, visit endowonline.com or write Todd at: firstname.lastname@example.org.