Young women from all grade levels at IHA spent three days listening to remarkable speakers, bonding with each other, and enjoying the beautiful beach. They came home full of joy and grace, ready to further impact the greater community and world.
The BELIEVE. Conference was newly created this year due to a predicament that arose with IHA’s usual conference plan. Typically, Immaculate heart has a rotation for summer programming; every other year IHA hosts our Mission@theheart summer service immersion trip. In off years, students usually attend a well-known local Catholic Youth Conference; this year was a conference year. “When we received the lineup, we realized that on a team of five speakers, there was only one woman,” Mrs. Sarah Shutrop, IHA director of formation, recalled. “We found it difficult to justify taking our young women to a Catholic conference where they wouldn’t hear voices similar to their own.” Mrs. Shutrop considered this dilemma and eventually came to the conclusion that constructing a new, women-centered conference, tailored to Gospel-focused personal development, would be the most beneficial solution.
Starting from scratch to create this conference required planning far in advance. After finding the perfect venue for the event, Mrs. Shutrop and her team of student leaders reached out to a series of dream speakers for the girls—and they all said yes! The conference kicked off with a formal Sisterhood Dinner that took place under a tent on the beach. That evening, the students heard from keynote speaker, Katie Prejean McGrady, U.S. delegate to the Synod on Youth and Catholic author of Follow and Room 24. After her poignant and thought-provoking presentation, the girls roasted marshmallows and made s’mores over beach bonfires. Friday contributed even more incredible opportunities. The morning kicked off with keynote speaker, Lisa Cotter, founder of Made to Magnify and author of Dating Detox. Lisa touched on the various types of friendship, the importance of not competing with or comparing ourselves to one another, and how to pray both for and with each other. After spending some quality free time at the beach and pool, the group gathered together again for lunch and an inspirational talk by Isabella Somera, IHA Class of 2017. Issa spoke about how blessed Immaculate Heart Academy girls are to have the IHA experience and how they can continue to be 'daughters of light' after graduating. Lisa then returned for a talk on discernment and prepared the girls for Eucharistic Adoration and an opportunity for confession. Mrs. Shutrop concluded the conference on Saturday by sharing her thoughts on cheering on one’s fellow sisters in all aspects of life. She introduced the "IHA Love Your Sisters" Challenge, which will be brought to every single student at IHA through the end of the 2019-20 school year. Mass was then celebrated by Fr. Mathais Kumar before our students headed back to IHA, ready to enhance their lives and put into practice all they learned.
The organizers did not know exactly what to expect when it came to interest in the newly launched conference. “I never expected this conference to be as popular as it was, but the fact that we sold out in the first forty-eight hours and needed to add more spaces should’ve tipped me off,” Mrs. Shutrop said. “The energy of the girls was incredible, and it was such a gift to witness one hundred IHA students come forward as women who want to dive deeper into becoming the best versions of themselves.”
Victoria Bertussi'19 said she was excited to attend BELIEVE., especially as it was her last opportunity to attend an IHA conference as a student. “The fact that this was my first and last BELIEVE. Conference definitely influenced my desire to attend because I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I just couldn’t miss,” she said. “During the conference, the fact that I was heading to college so soon was dangling over my head. But I continued to refocus myself and realized that there is no better way to spend my last weekend home than with my sisters, reestablishing the fundamental values of sisterhood, faith, and empowerment that are the essence of who I am that I am taking to college with me.”
Overall, the students in attendance agreed that the BELIEVE. Conference was an extraordinary success. Victoria loved the opportunity she had to hear from very influential women and discuss faith and female empowerment with her IHA sisters, especially those younger than her. “When the underclassmen got wholeheartedly engaged in our conversations, it made me so excited and hopeful for their future and the future of the IHA community,” Victoria said. "It demonstrated that they truly understand what it means to be, as Issa said in her motivational speech, a ‘daughter of light,’ which they can then pass on to those who come after them.”