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Women's network runs paper, program simply.

"When I read your publication, I feel I have found a soul mate," a woman from West Virginia wrote recently to Catholic Women's Network in Santa Clara County, Calif.

"I have been a sister all my life, and this is the first time I let myself play," said one of 500 women who attended a full-day CWN-sponsored gathering in San Jose, Calif., on creativity and play.

"Can you help me find a place to stay9" whispered a shaky voice on the phone. "I need to get away from my husband." "Our daughter can't find a Catholic church to be married in. Can you help us find a priest?" two mothers inquired in one week.

"I don't usually like papers from the Catholics, but this paper is really good. Why aren't more Catholics living this thoughtful, dedicated life of spiritual values?" asked a woman in prison.

"Your paper should not be called Catholic. The programs are all New Age," said an anonymous caller.

These are just a few of the letters and calls that come in (nearly two thousand a year). They come in response to our bimonthly newspaper, Catholic Women's Network, whose 10,000 copies per issue are distributed mostly free in churches, libraries, bookstores and retreat houses in the San Jose, Calif., area Subscriptions carry the paper to every state and some foreign countries. Hundreds of bundles are mailed to individuals and organizations around the country who pay only postage.

The comments to CWN also come in response to the programs we hold in the San Jose area: prayer programs, women's rituals, personal growth workshops and an annual gathering attracting 400 to 600 women.

Our publication and programs began in 1987 when several women, including myself, were struggling with our place in the church. I was developing my writing and desktop publishing business after having served four years as the director of communication for the San Jose diocese. Several of us decided to hold a dinner and breakfast with local women to speak on the empowerment of women. When 100 women attended, we agreed to publish a newsprint paper about our meetings, similar to what I was producing in several local parishes.

This was an unexpected pregnancy that birthed Catholic Women's Network a year later. I incorporated a nonprofit educational organization and organized a board of directors of local Catholic women to set policy. CWN became a grassroots ministry and tax-exempt charity.

Our philosophy is simple. We publish our paper, funded by ads and subscriptions. We hire local women spiritual directors, university professors and therapists to conduct programs on spirituality and personal growth. Each event and each issue of the paper is set up to pay for itself.

For eight years this approach has succeeded. We operate simply and in the black. We have no employees, pay no rent and do hot have our own phone line, yet we pay a fee to those who write or conduct programs for us. We do not ask women to volunteer their professional skills but believe we must honor their work with remuneration.

CWN operates out of the former family room in my six-bedroom home in view of a serene neighborhood park in Sunnyvale, some 40 miles south of San Francisco and eight miles north of San Jose. Here, where my husband, Earl, and I nudged our seven children toward maturity, Catholic Women's Network now reaches out to women (and men) with open arms. Because of my computer-savvy husband, CWN has competence in desktop publishing.

The themes of our publication and programs focus on what is common to all of us rather than on what separates us. We write about our stages of faith and how women know things. We develop the spirituality of work and beauty, of freedom, prayer and simplicity, of humor, healing and friendship. We review books and cover lectures, and our columnists and readers share their wisdom and insights as we struggle along the path toward knowing our divine creator.

We keep our sense of humor with our cartoon "Wholly Mother Church," illustrated by artist JoAnne Arnold. The cartoon antics are viewed from the eyes of a fictional woman priest.

Much of what we write about originated in my graduate courses in spirituality at Santa Clara University during the past several years, so our content is quality reading in a short, insightful format. We have found an audience of readers hungry for our menu of spiritual nourishment.

But we don't please everyone. Conservative-minded Catholics regularly complain to the bishop about our use of the word Catholic in our title. A few pastors have requested that we not distribute in their parishes. The local right-wing newsletter regularly characterizes us as radical feminists holding pagan rituals, and its publisher has admitted that he and his associates remove our papers from churches wherever they find them.

Last year a streak of mother wisdom hit me with the realization that CWN is actually an office for women in the church. Here women share their spiritual concerns and their wisdom. Here we build on what draws us together rather than what separates us.

Some women have called to say they are taking a second look at the Catholic church after finding our paper. Our annual June gathering draws an attendance of which 15 to 20 percent are women from other faiths. These elements make us a ministry of evangelization and ecumenism. In addition, we serve the educational needs of high school teachers, college professors and at least two male seminary professors who say they have used our publication in their classes.

Because women in prison cannot come to our programs, we have funded a series of 15 programs for women in county jail. Two of our columnists are women serving life sentences in prison.

Some dioceses and parishes send checks for subscriptions for their staff. A retired Maryknoll priest sends a donation and takes copies to a recovery center. CWN has no five-year or three-year plan. I never planned to start a publication or network for women, but as with so many unplanned pregnancies, the birth of this baby fills my life and the lives of our dedicated board of directors with surprise and awe.

To women, CWN says: Create your own ministry in your own dioceses. Seek out women spiritual directors, hold programs and rituals and form small prayer/sharing groups. Advertise in parish bulletins or newspapers or through women's groups. Focus on developing your imagination and dreams, your feminine feelings and emotions. Broaden your images of God beyond the limits of gender. Step above the political, stalemated issues of the hierarchical church, yet actively support the reform organizations struggling for an end to sexism in the church.

You do not have to ask anyone's permission to begin. Ministry is a calling for us all.
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Title Annotation:Ministries; Catholic Women's Network, based in Santa Clara, CA
Author:Goetze, Arlene
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jan 24, 1997
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