In observance of International Women’s Day (March 8), several prominent Catholic women leaders discuss their faith and how it inspires their lives, careers and families. Whether in Catholic theology, the business world, health care or philanthropy, these women strive to live their faith dynamically, providing inspiration to other women throughout the Diocese of Orange and the Orange County community.
DR. PIA DE SOLENNI
Moral theologian Dr. Pia de Solenni believes that women have a distinct role in the Catholic Church. As president of the Global Institute for Church Management, she strives to live boldly and influence young women to do likewise.
“My faith is the underpinning of my career,” said Dr. de Solenni, who was the Diocese of Orange’s former chancellor. “It gives me the confidence to try new things, get involved in new projects and serve in capacities where women haven’t served often or been known to serve.”
She sees the Church as a community of people who don’t necessarily think in the same ways or share the same views but are united in faith.
“We as Catholic men and women live our faith in different places, and the Church can be served everywhere.”
When advising young women, Dr. de Solenni said she urges them “to run toward something rather than run away,” by taking calculated risks and allowing themselves to experience what God has in mind.
“We must check our expectations to allow ourselves to experience what God is preparing us for.”
A legend in the business community, Lucy Dunn recently retired as CEO of the Orange County Business Council and is now a consultant, Orange Catholic Foundation board member and chair of the Orange County Housing Trust. Dunn assisted in the Christ Cathedral fundraising campaign, emceed the foundation’s Conference on Business and
Ethics and serves on a number of advisory boards.
“I think one of my gifts is connecting dots within the region,” she explained. “Economic success is important, and we have amazingly good ideas here.”
She believes her position as a woman leader is important, both in the Church and the community.
“We are 50 percent of the population, and we see things differently, our experiences are different,” she observed.
“My faith has taught me to act in honorable ways with integrity – I lead by example.”
An active member of Irvine’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, Dunn has traveled the world as a singer, serving as the church’s cantor and performing with community choirs.
“I love being a Catholic woman on the altar,” Dunn noted. “When you sing in front of a congregation, you have no idea who you are impacting. I’m still surprised when someone stops me in the grocery store and tells me how much my singing means to them.”
Susan Strader leads the community and the Church through stewardship and philanthropy. A longtime member of Our Lady Queen of Angels parish in Newport Beach, mother of four and grandmother of 11, Strader believes the Church needs strong women.
“It’s great for women to have a voice and to be taken seriously as leaders, responsible for sharing their unique vision and talents.”
She and her husband, Tim, chair of Starpointe Ventures, led the campaign committee to raise funds for the transformation of Christ Cathedral, founded Santa Margarita High School and brought the prestigious Legatus Foundation to Orange County. They are original sponsors of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and offer ongoing and significant philanthropic support for the arts, health care and education.
“We want to make it evident that being Catholic is a pearl of great price that motivates us,” she said. “We find ways to best share the truths that we believe in.”
Annette Walker, president of Orange County’s City of Hope and one of the country’s most influential health care leaders, says her Catholic faith guides her professional and personal life. It guided her to choose a career in the healing profession and has steered her to leadership positions in healthcare.
“My faith has always been there, impacting the way I think, my perspective and respect for others.” “I feel that we all are called to be God’s presence in the world and to do good,” Walker said. “I think we have a great opportunity as Catholics to positively influence and impact the world – if not in our career, then in our parish, the people we work with – we always have the opportunity to be a witness.”
A cradle Catholic who attended Catholic schools through college, Walker and her husband have seven children and 13 grandchildren. When she speaks with young women about their career trajectories, she often is questioned about her ability to blend a high-powered career with motherhood.”
“I don’t think we have to choose between those things,” she stated. “I emphasize that while they’re building their careers, they must not forget to build their lives.”
In her opinion, the Church can benefit from more involvement from a diverse population, including women.
“I think women have a valuable perspective to contribute to the discussion and that more of us need to speak up.
“My Catholic faith teaches that all individuals are created in the image and likeness of God, so everyone is welcome and worth listening to,” she added. “We bear witness to what we believe.”