Barbara Prasad is eager to hand on what she’s been given.
She wants all Catholic women to have the kind of fellowship and support she’s been able to count on through the best and the worst times of her adult life.
“There are a million ways my faith life has been moved forward by women in my parish,” said Mrs. Prasad, coordinator of women’s ministry for the Jefferson City diocese.
“It doesn’t have to be complicated — book groups, prayer groups, getting together to volunteer,” she said. “The thing is simply to surround yourself with faithful women, and they help move you around.”
Mrs. Prasad, a member of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish in Jefferson City, came to work for the diocese last fall.
She succeeds LeAnn Korsmeyer, who retired from women’s ministry last summer after helping to get it established at the diocesan level.
Mrs. Prasad has been working to provide resources to parishes for promoting the spiritual and social wellbeing of women, who are often the foundation and mortar of their families, parishes and communities.
“I know that as a woman, there are times in your life when you feel there is no time that belongs to you,” she said. “I think making sure that you’re connected to other women who understand that and who can be your prayer warriors and if nothing else can just be there with you when you’ve run out of energy — that’s something every woman needs.”
Such relationships historically developed organically through families, neighborhoods, parishes and communities. But many women today just don’t have time to forge those bonds.
“We’re a very busy society,” said Mrs. Prasad. “We have to be intentional about taking time to build ourselves and each other up. You’ve got to fill your own cup before you can fill someone else’s.”
Sometimes, just being together, sharing stories, listening and laughing out loud can make all the difference.
“There are so many things the world tells you is wrong,” said Mrs. Prasad. “Women’s ministry should be showing you what’s right, and doing it joyfully.”
Elevating and mobilizing these relationships is more than any parish or any office in the Chancery can do on its own.
“My philosophy for women’s ministry is that many hands make for light work,” said Mrs. Prasad. “We want to tap into the women who are stepping up in their communities.”
By helping develop regional coalitions of women throughout the diocese, she hopes to give parishes the tools they need to build up women’s ministries that are strong, holy and fruitful.
“The No. 1 thing they’re asking us for is faith formation,” she noted. “They want to see us have some events and bring in some speakers to help keep the fire going.
“Gathering together to grow in faith and be more deeply formed in it is a universal priority, whatever stage of life we’re in — single, married, widowed, houses full of kids or empty nests,” she said.
Mrs. Prasad is adamant that women’s ministry is happening every day, all over the diocese.
“Women are automatically involved in women’s ministry whenever they minister to people in their lives — it’s just part of what we do,” she said.
“I’m hoping this office can be a means of putting a spotlight on that,” she stated, “telling the story of what’s already going on, and encouraging people who want to be a part of it.”
Based on what had been set into motion before her arrival, her own experience and the results of an online survey conducted last spring, Mrs. Prasad put together mission and vision statements for women’s ministry.
“It’s a starting place,” she noted. “I wanted it to be very fluid, so that in every parish, in every group, in every coalition, women can tell me what they need my role to be for them.”
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight approved the statements she submitted.
The mission of women’s ministry in this diocese is: “Supporting women in their journey to sainthood by providing opportunities for growth in prayer, fellowship, service and faith formation/education.”
The resulting vision is: “A community of women who look to the Church as the center of their lives and who actively seek to share the joys of their faith with others by participation in the life and mission of their parish.”
How does that work in each community?
“I find that out by listening,” said Mrs. Prasad. “It’s not about anything being my idea. It needs to be our idea as a community.”
“Be it done”
A helpful abbreviation Mrs. Prasad uses for women’s ministry is “faith in action, together,” which spells out “fiat.”
That happens to be the Latin word for “Be it done,” which the Blessed Mother said to the angel in consenting to be the mother of the Savior.
“My inspiration is from Mary,” said Mrs. Prasad. “I dedicate my ministry to her, so that through her, we will point all women in our community to Jesus.”
Mrs. Prasad has always been drawn to volunteering and helping out at church.
She believes the Holy Spirit guided her to this role, beginning with several friends encouraging her to apply for the position when it opened.
The process culminated with her praying the Novena of St. Therese of Lisieux and then unwittingly visiting a church that had been elaborately decorated with roses.
In many ways, this is something she’s been preparing for all her life.
Having grown up in a parish that gave focus to her family’s existence, “I feel that’s the best vision for women’s ministry: for the women of our diocese to look to the parish as the center of their human interactions,” she said.
A group of women she came to know through volunteering at the Cathedral Parish gradually coalesced into a spiritual support group.
Several years ago, she and six friends started meeting weekly in order to pray a Consecration to Mary together.
“The Consecration to Mary is basically giving everything that you do — all your payers, all your works, all your petitions — over to Mary to give to Jesus,” she said. “You just turn it over to her and ask her to use it in the best way possible.”
The group still gathers each Thursday.
“I can’t imagine not having that group of woman in my life,” she said. “We’ve helped each other through illnesses in our families and the deaths of some of our parents.
“Always having them there, praying for me and getting together is really life-changing,” she said.
Something to build on
In addition to working with local pastors to convene regional women’s ministry coalitions, Mrs. Prasad is organizing two large diocesan events: a spring pilgrimage and a fall retreat.
“I hope these events help women get recharged and then take that with them back to their community and their parish,” she said.
This year’s women’s pilgrimage will be held on Saturday, June 10, in the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
She’s also working on cultivating a speaker’s bureau, a book and movie club, a trove of online resources, and a robust presence on social media.
She sees all of this as a way to help the women of each parish use their God-given talents to assist each other in becoming better disciples.
She’s grateful to Mrs. Korsmeyer for laying the groundwork for fruitful women’s ministry in the diocese.
“I’m especially thankful for all the work LeAnn put into forming the coalitions,” said Mrs. Prasad. “It’s really nice to be able to come in and take off running because of the groundwork she laid.”
Having lively coalitions means no parish will have to “reinvent the wheel,” she said.
Stop and listen
Mrs. Prasad suggested that women who feel drawn to some aspect of parish life should pay close attention — it may be an invitation from the Holy Spirit.
“If there are things you want to see happen in your parish and your community, try reaching out and seeing how you can start making it happen,” she said. “If you don’t know how to do that, my office can be a resource for you.
“Get in touch with me, and we can explore together how to make it happen,” she said.
Men can assist by being supportive and encouraging the women in their lives to get involved in their parishes and do what God is calling them to do.
“There are things we can all do to stay connected and make sure we’re growing in faith,” said Mrs. Prasad.
She asked for prayers for humility and openness to what God has in mind for her and for women’s ministry in this diocese.
“Pray for us to keep his Church and his way as our guide,” she suggested. “And we also need to pray for the capacity to do whatever we do with joy.
“Because if we approach this ministry with joy, that’s what will make other people want to join in with us,” she said.