Our Mother, Our Compass
Letter from Katherine Meeks
I recently returned from a special Mother’s Day weekend with my husband’s family. As we were sitting around the candlelit dinner last night, they asked for more stories from my life. They wanted to know all the adventures I had let slide into my past, the childhood memories I cherished and the others I struggled to share. As I went to bed that night, tears filled my eyes with gratitude because, honestly, without faith, I don’t know how I would’ve ended up here. I have been so naïve and selfish in my life! Yet, somehow, I was guided and by a miracle I ended up here today. The only way it makes sense is through the recognition of having one heck of a mother, Our Blessed Mother!
To flash forward, I run a Catholic women’s apostolate called Endow. When I first came to this organization I looked around at my team, our board, and the women who have led before me and thought, “I don’t fit in here.” I didn’t get my undergraduate at a fabulous Catholic school, nor do I have my master’s in theology, even though I am working for a ministry that’s sole focus is forming women in their faith. Rather, I got my undergraduate in biology and conflict studies from a liberal arts school with no faith orientation. I went to public high school, had a blessed childhood and two older brothers I adored, but I was rather wild with friends and made it to church on Sundays only because that’s what we had always done. However, my life changed as my mother’s life changed.
My mom had a re-conversion back to the faith when I was a teenager and developed a deep devotion to our Blessed Mother. She remembers being on her knees one morning at our local parish asking Mary for a challenge, a way to know her son as she did. Weeks later, on September 8th, Mary’s birthday, my brother Bill died in a tragic accident while on a rock-climbing trip. It was then that my mother’s heart was united with hers in the most profound, sorrowful way that changed the course of my family’s life forever.
My mom says as soon as this happened, she consecrated me to her Our Blessed Mother asking her to protect and guide me despite any circumstances and Mary has done nothing but that ever since. However, as with so many things, I can only now see that from reflecting back.
I could give you so many of the details in between, but in short, after that, college was a time of self-discovery for me. I joined a sorority and left, I had a mentor I would spend hours with, diving into the faith and trying to understand its meaning for suffering, love, and freedom. I developed rapidly, but somewhat as a hermit, not interested in the normal college things. I spent months in the Andes in Peru and my senior year in South Africa studying women’s health and the connection between apartheid and eugenics as a devout Catholic – quite the adventure! I then went to LA for a dream job with Tom’s shoes, left to co-found a water nonprofit which led me to working with women in communities ranging from Cameroon, to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, to serving women in South Sudan. Along the way I was diving deeper into understanding the richness of our faith and seeing it through women and families across the globe.
As I dove into my relationship with Mary, she exposed me to many realities where I ultimately realized that the women who knew the Lord were the greatest lights in our world. Whether it was in an affluent British family in South Africa, a tribal community on the verge of civil war bordering Central Africa Republic, or a city in the Andes dealing with the aftershocks of a terrorist regime, it was clear that the state and moral of the women determined the future for the children, the families, and the communities. With Mary as my guide, she showed me the true feminine genius at work through so many, starting with my own mother here at home years before.
I had so much uncertainty during this period of my life. I would say so many prayers to Mary that I thought remained unanswered. Prayers about not knowing why I was carried into the line of work I was, asking for ways out or easier paths, and others about boyfriends. I remember saying the undoer of knots novena after my boyfriend broke up with me, so frustrated with her as I thought that was clearly my path! In typical fashion, I ended up begrudgingly walking into a work dinner a week later to sit next to my husband - in retrospect, not a coincidence!
Only a few years later as I was preparing to get married, I came to a professional crossroads. It was this decision looking back that defined where I am now and how Our Mother played such a pivotal role in the years before. I had two jobs presented to me and I had to make a decision in a short amount of time. One was at a major university’s school of public health and the other was Endow. Endow didn’t seem like the right trajectory or make any sense at the time to me, but I couldn’t get it off my heart.
However, the university job seemed like the logical next step. I prayed furiously, as I had a week to make a decision. I walked into my final interview and thought this was it. I had done my due diligence. No reproductive projects, just basic nutrition in the inner city. However, at this final interview they shared with me that they just signed a major grant for their largest project to date on reproductive health. They focused on “solutions” that my past research had been defeating (contraception, sterilization, abortion), but they thought they were doing this for the benefit of helping women and truly believed it. But in fact, limiting a woman’s ability to bear life and co-create with God is one of the greatest gifts given to women and the women I worked with valued it deeply when supported despite their circumstances. As St. Pope John Paul II coined the term, feminine genius, he defined it as the innate ability to “have capacity for others” both biologically and spiritually. We compromise our feminine genius by denying ourselves the openness to carry another soul into life. As I was sitting there, I had flashbacks of all the faces of the women I grew to love and work with and remembered these “solutions” couldn’t be further from the truth! I was given such incredible inside experiences where I learned and witnessed women’s true wealth in the most thriving of poor communities. Their wealth was their children and their freedom was in their faith – and no day passed where they didn’t share it! How could these women offering me this job think so differently?
It was the first time in my career I came to a crossroads where my faith couldn’t blend with my work.
I walked out of that meeting in shock of my response and the interior clarity I had just experienced. With such a sense of bewilderment and peace, I pushed my chair back and said: “No, thank you.” If the women in leadership at that table only knew the truth of their faith, the impact would be a game changer. However, the reality was, they didn’t know and this project was going to happen anyways.
It was as if a film was playing through my heart and mind. All the prayers to Mary, the places she led me and the people she placed in my path made perfect sense. It was to understand in this profound moment of what the fulfillment of womanhood truly looked like and how every woman should have the opportunity to experience it to their fullest potential.
We can be a pencil in Our Creators hand or choose to draw our own path. I would have drawn my own if left to my own devices, but with that prayer of my mother and Mary by my side, she showed me the light.
As women, now more than ever, we are called to our fullest potential utilizing the gifts God has given us in order to restore the brokenness our Church is experiencing today. Whether we are in a professional setting, home with kids, or, often times, both – the intuitive, restorative strength of a faithful woman is the antidote to so much pain and a witness to hope. In seeing how we are being called to be conduits of grace, to be lights in the darkness, and to bring joy amongst suffering, what better example do we have to look at than the woman who bore our savior, surrendered to God, knelt at the cross, mothered the apostles, and guided the saints? As Catholic women in our modern world, she is our compass, and how lucky we are to have her.
One of the greatest treasures we have in our Catholic family is that each and every one of us shares a mother. One who protects us, guides us, chisels us, and most of all, loves us so much that she carries us right to her son. No matter how lost, convicted, dry, or restless you are at this point, you are and forever will be a daughter of God and have a mother to guide you – and that is one of the greatest treasures of being a Catholic woman. Mary is our compass as we navigate the waves of our modern world. As I look back there were no unanswered prayers, I just was too blind to see!
About the Writer: Katherine Meeks
Katherine Meeks serves as Executive Director of Endow, a Catholic organization helping bring the faith to life for modern Catholic woman worldwide. Prior to Endow, Katherine co-founded DIGDEEP, a water non-profit focusing on providing sustainable clean water access to communities around the globe. In that role, Katherine quickly realized that the best way to ensure an effective and long-lasting transition to clean water was through empowering women in each community. Prior to DIGDEEP, she worked for TOMs shoes in Santa Monica, CA working in their giving department supporting a non-profit at the center of one of the fastest growing social enterprise businesses. A graduate of Depauw University with a degree in Biology and Conflict Studies, Katherine spent time in Peru and South Africa conducting public health research with faithful women who were members of impoverished populations. She has volunteered in women's prisons and clinics in the developing world, working with communities in Cameroon, South Sudan, South Africa, Peru and the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. A Native of Lake Forest, IL she now resides in Denver, CO with her husband Matt and three year old son Ralph.