In 2008, a desire to start Women’s Circles led me to Catherine Place in Tacoma. During our first meeting, the two women who accompanied me and I sat with Associate Director Judy Mladineo at the kitchen table in Catherine Place’s beautiful, historic home.
Eight years and many circles later what stands out to me is the wisdom, frankness and openness of our conversation. As a result of that time together, we wrote and received a grant for seven circles that would spiral out to transform the lives of many women.
Even though I now live more than 2,000 miles away, I come back every year to feel the power of being affirmed as a woman, as me. Catherine Place serves more than 1,500 women each year and stands apart in a world full of structures created by men. Unapologetically feminist, the encouragement and support I found at Catherine Place was energizing. Grounded in spirituality, healing, leadership, advocacy and “enoughness,” I became what I can best describe as a “stronger version of myself.”
One moment stands out particularly clearly in my memory. I was feeling a pull to return to India for an extended period of time. Earlier that year, I had met Maher founder Sr. Lucy Kurien and Board Chair Hirabegum Mulla at the Seattle book signing for Women Healing Women: A Model of Hope for Oppressed Women Everywhere. Because I had relocated to Tacoma from the Midwest fairly recently, heading to India for 5 ½ months was certain to disrupt my process of settling in. Some people in my life were concerned. Feeling torn, I bounded up the Catherine Place stairs and shared my unconventional vision about a service learning journey to India with Judy. In a way that only Judy can, she looked me in the eye and said, “that feels exactly right.” My heart and courage soared.
I might have gone to India in 2010 even if Judy and I hadn’t had that conversation. But what I do know is that it would have been harder. Her seemingly simple, and yet often uncommon, act of holding space for a dream that felt big and wild and a little bit crazy eased my mind and heartened me on and throughout my journey.
Catherine Place exists today because the Tacoma Dominican Community and the Catherine Place Dreamers were inspired by Catherine of Siena, a 14th century woman who affected change in the society of her day. I wish there was a Catherine Place in every community . . . a space where women are encouraged to explore and live into their full potential . . . a place where rather than being coached to fit into structures and systems not of their making, they are encouraged to bring the full gift and power of their leadership to our world. Perhaps, one day in the not-too-distant future there will be.