First Franciscan student-run conference highlights contribution of women to culture, church


Franciscan University’s first student-facilitated conference, “Women: Gift in Culture and Church,” will take place in the Finnegan Fieldhouse on April 15-16.

Seniors Haley Ketschke, Toni Brown and Marykate Heim make up the team of women who have been working on this conference for their Capstone Portfolio project for the Center for Leadership program. Ketschke and Brown drafted their vision statement back in spring 2015 when they were studying abroad in Gaming, Austria. Heim joined the team in summer 2015.

The Center for Leadership program by Student Life is a scholarship-based, four-year program at the university. There are roughly 40-50 students per class that take part in this program. Three of the four years of this program are spent in seminar as the fourth year is used for planning a Capstone Portfolio project with a team.

Ketschke said, “The head of the Women’s Ministry my sophomore year invited me to the Edith Stein conference at Notre Dame. After this, she told me we should start something like it at Franciscan. It kept popping up in my prayer. I sought out guidance of faculty members and was told to go for it, so I did.”

The guidelines for the project require affecting a minimum of 30 people, collaborating with one’s team and interdepartmental collaboration. With this, Ketschke drafted a board of 12 directors made up of faculty, students, clergy and community members.

They have utilized the help of professor Robert McNamara in Gaming, Austria, and well-known author and public speaker, Katrina Zeno as well.

It took eight drafts in order to have a completed mission statement, which was needed for funding.

After this, Ketschke contacted Janet Smith of “Our Sunday Visitor,” a Catholic publishing company in Indiana. Although Smith could not come and speak at the conference, she encouraged the women to apply for a grant from the publishing company. They applied and received a $9,000 grant, as well as funding from five departments of the university.

Brown said, “The first source of funding gave us a boost of confidence to keep our momentum up.”

The next step was to arrange the speakers for the conference. The speaking committee consists of Dr. Deborah Savage, Dr. William Newton, Dr. Michael Waldstein and Dr. Pia de Solenni. All will be touching on a variety of topics but will include Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and the significance of femininity and masculinity.

Heim said, “I hope this conference helps women realize that they are a unique part of Christ’s body. They need not be other than a woman, created to have a unique role, to own their femininity and to bring enrichment to the culture – not for uniformity but for unity. Our project is not just an academic one but has sacramental elements too. We will be having Mass and a holy hour, making this conference a unique one.”

Brown added, “We want this conference to empower not only women but men, too. They must not only be authentic to their true identity, but be passionately engaged in today’s culture that is so ‘against women.’”

Ketschke said that EWTN will be televising the four keynote talks, although it will not be a live recording. The team has also been advertising to the local churches and social media sites and has sent 100 personal invites to the Cardinal Newman Society as well.

The conference offers free admission to students, faculty and staff at Franciscan, but both men and women are encouraged to register at