While many faith-based groups and activities struggled to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, one group was working away busily behind the scenes exploring ways to grow and enrich its offerings.
The Anima Women’s Network was founded almost 20 years ago, but during the pandemic-hit years of 2020 and 2021 it relaunched its adult education program and established a collaborative partnership with the Catholic Women’s League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga (CWLVWW), greatly enhancing its network and reach.
Anima Apostolate convenor Anna Krohn said the CWLVWW invited Anima to become more closely affiliated with the League in early 2020. To facilitate the alliance, Anna was elected the general president of the CWLVWW until 2024.
“The organisational structures and history of the CWL and Anima were quite different – and each organisation’s culture were very different,” she said.
“But it was a wonderful opportunity for us to collaborate with an established, widely distributed and well-known group, and to particularly develop our connections with women in Victoria and the Wagga Wagga region.
“Women from both teams patiently and carefully worked so that Anima became an apostolate within the CWLVWW by the end of 2021.”
The Anima Women’s Network provides a hub of communication and encouragement between women, from different age groups and in a variety of walks of life, involved in different Church movements and vocations.
“Anima aims to explore humble, agile and creative ways to collaborate between generations of women, with an emphasis on the nurture of the soul, the imaginative formation of the heart and mind, and opportunities for shared prayer and practical wisdom,” Anna said.
“From our earliest days, a key inspiration has been the intriguing spotlight which Pope St John Paul II shone upon the significance of women – within the Scriptures, within the history of the Church and within the life of societies both ancient and modern.”
Anima aims to enrich the lives of women by addressing the issues they face in their faith, families, relationships, workplaces and society, focusing on spiritual, pastoral, formative and relational matters.
One of its key formative elements is Anima Education, which was relaunched in May 2021 as a range of flexible courses accessible online for the first time, enabling people from around the country to participate. The 10-hour course, which ran over five weeks, was the first self-funded formation program Anima has offered in its history.
“The first of these new courses was titled ‘Introduction to Philosophy: What’s Wrong with the World?’ and was offered in both a live and online format,” Anna said.
“The course was devised with the aim of providing any interested person with an accessible introduction to philosophical thinking and the history of ideas.
“The interest and booking rate for it was excellent with about 17 live participants and over 35 online members in the class. The content and the delivery were very well-devised, accessible and of a high quality.”
After the success of the philosophy course, Anima also hosted introductory courses to Church history, theology and Scripture.
This year, utilising their collaborative partnership, Anima and CWLVWW hosted a joint project, the Brief Encounter Speaker Series, which Anna said was highly popular with women from both groups.
“The concept of this series was to create an online meeting space in which members of both organisations were welcomed and had the chance to meet an inspiring speaker involved in a key area of mission in the Church,” she explained.
The series featured guest speakers from around Australia, including Fr Nicholas Pearce, Fiona Power, Mary Ferlin, Kate Cleary, Archbishop Julian Porteous, Monica Doumit and Professor Tracey Rowland.
While the range of online offerings has been successful, the Anima team has been acutely aware of the growing need among Catholic women for interaction in person – both with women they know and in order to find new friends. As such, they are now planning a series of mini-retreats and reflections in Melbourne with the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia – the first of which was held in November, with the next one planned for February 8, 2023.
“In the ‘Lamps Alight’ mini-retreats, we’re aiming to work with the Sisters (who have prepared the concept and content of the series) to deepen participants’ understanding of the indispensable contribution of women, with a reflection on the holy women who encountered Christ in the Scriptures, those who were spouses, mothers, professionals, intellectuals or influential in political life, all at the service of Christ and the Church,” Anna explained.
“It’s our hope that these retreats will really refresh and revive Catholic women and help them to continue to live out their faith in their daily lives.”
After such a significant period of development and new initiatives, Anna said she was greatly optimistic about Anima’s future.
“It’s been tremendously encouraging to expand our network over the past couple of years and to reach more parts of Australia,” she said.
“We’re looking forward to continuing to grow in the coming years and to hopefully encourage more women in their daily faith journeys.”
Find out more about the Anima Women’s Network, its educational offerings and events at www.animanetwork.org.
Words: Matthew Biddle/Anna Krohn