Ten years ago, Debbie Keller didn’t know what a Council of Catholic Women was, let alone the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women.
The wife and mother of five came across an announcement in her parish bulletin about the organization’s biennial legislative day, an event that could aid her daughter’s school project. She appreciated the ACCW’s Catholic focus, and after learning about the organization’s other resources, she was eager for more. But she discovered that the council at her parish, St. Pius X in White Bear Lake, had disbanded. But gradually, with the help of fellow parishioner Joan McGrath, Keller regrouped the CCW, which she led for three years. She also became involved in the ACCW in 2008, serving as vice chair for liturgy, and the northeast deanery.
“We recognize that … there is strength in numbers,” Keller said. “When you connect with others who are like-minded, it builds strength and it gives you empowerment.”
Keller, 58, will take the helm as ACCW president at the organization’s 85th annual convention at St. Odilia in Shoreview April 21-22. She replaces Florence Schmidt.
“These women on this board [ACCW] have become my heroes, and I have seen what they have done,” said Keller, a graduate of the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. “I get very emotional about it because I see the sacrifices they’ve made, and I’ve heard their stories. It’s remarkable to witness. I think we’re a well-kept secret in the archdiocese.”
But she doesn’t want the ACCW to remain a secret.
Her vision for the organization that has a hand in everything from supporting seminarians and their families to promoting eucharistic adoration to funding foreign missions to raising awareness of domestic violence is grounded in its mission to support, educate and empower all women in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“[ACCW] women have hearts that want to serve,” said Keller, who has a degree in family and consumer science from St. Catherine University in St. Paul. “This is an organized way to address the needs in our society.”
One of her initiatives is to enhance the ACCW’s focus on the dignity and vocation of women.
“We have to understand who we are as females, who God created woman to be — why we were created male and female,” she said. “That has become so distorted in our culture, and that distortion has caused alarming things to ensue. And that’s a concern for our daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters.”
Keller, who worked at home raising her children, now adults, also noted how motherhood has changed over the years, and how new moms should be able to rely on “seasoned” women for support and guidance, which she’d like to facilitate through the ACCW.
“We have to bond through the generations,” she said. “It will make us stronger. You don’t get a degree in motherhood.”
The ACCW is also partnering with the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis on a grandparents ministry. Although Keller has been Catholic all her life, she said it wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she became a “convicted” Catholic. She has come to realize that generations before her paved the way for her faith to grow. And she wants to see the value, reverence and respect of society’s elders restored.
“We need to get back to basics. There’s an interconnectivity among generations,” she said.
Keller describes the work of the ACCW as having a field.
“We till the soil, we plant the seeds, we tend to the plants, and we harvest, and we make the meal,” she said. “It’s that whole sense of, we go to a grocery store to get the food, bring it home, cook it and eat it. But there are hidden people behind why we have food on the table.” Women, Keller continued, bring the hospitality and nurturing components.
“It’s all in that environment of welcoming in and embracing someone who comes no matter what the environment is,” she said. “It’s all about de-cluttering someone’s soul and their heart, and allowing them to put forth what they need to.”
The ACCW convention, which begins at noon April 21, accepts same-day registrations. The two-day event includes vendors, speakers, meals, prayer, reconciliation and Mass with Archbishop Bernard Hebda.
For more information about the ACCW, visit http://www.accwarchspm.org.
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