Daughters of Isabella look to share experiences with younger members

by Marc and Julie Anderson
Special to The Leaven

TOPEKA — Most Catholics have heard of the Knights of Columbus.

But the Daughters of Isabella? Not so much.

Janet Huss, the state circle’s newly elected regent, is hoping to change all that, especially among younger women.

Although the group is no longer formally linked to the Knights of Columbus, the first circle of the Daughters of Isabella was founded in 1897 as a ladies’ auxiliary of the Rev. John Russell Council of the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Conn.

Now, nearly 115 years later, it is one of the largest Catholic women’s organizations with a membership of more than 60,000 women from the United States and Canada.

Huss, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish and the St. Jude Circle, both in Lawrence, joined the Daughters of Isabella in 1996 to get more involved with her parish and charitable work.

The friendships she has made, as well as the spiritual and charitable activities she has participated in over those 15 years, have strengthened her, she said.

And Huss wants to share that with others, especially younger women.

“I think all women need a balance in their lives,” she said.

Younger women, in particular, she believes, have a need for at least one night in which they can concentrate on their own spirituality and extend their circle of friends.

Huss, along with more than 150 members from the 33 different circles of the Daughters of Isabella within the state, gathered April 8-10 at the Ramada Inn in downtown Topeka for their 10th biennial convention. Members participated in a living rosary, a games night, a business meeting (during which new statewide officers were elected), a Saturday evening awards banquet featuring a keynote address by Archbishop Joseph Naumann, and a Sunday morning Mass celebrated by Father James Weldon of the Diocese of Wichita and the chaplain to the state circle of the Daughters of Isabella.

In his address, the archbishop discussed the meaning of authentic feminism and how members of the Daughters of Isabella can live out their dignity as Christian women.

“I really do admire the motto of the Daughters of Isabella — Unity, Friendship and Charity — your love for Jesus, his church and her teachings, and your commitment to strive for the development of what is best and truest in womanhood,” he said.

Archbishop Naumann went on to discuss the idea of a “false feminism” which aims to have women become more like men and views fertility as a disease, devaluing “the most important vocation in the world — motherhood.”

“Mothers are truly the heart of the family,” said the archbishop, citing his own life, in which his mother had a great influence on his priestly vocation.

Although she attended Mass at school with her students almost every day, the archbishop’s mother, a Catholic schoolteacher, used to attend 5:30 a.m. Mass every day before school.

“That commitment to receive the Eucharist every day spoke volumes to me about its importance in my own life, the power of faith, and the power of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist to give one strength for whatever challenges life may propose,” he said.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the archbishop discussed the “new feminism” proposed by the late Pope John Paul II, which, according to the archbishop, is a recovery of the true meaning of feminism.

This new feminism “sees in women a unique gift of caring and compassion, a unique disposition to prayer and to faith, and a unique power to influence family life. And it is this feminism that I think those in this room tonight embrace,” said the archbishop.

He thanked the Daughters of Isabella for their work and encouraged them to continue the organization’s traditions.

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