COLORADO SPRINGS. Orchestrating 22 major conferences on Catholic education has given Therese Lorentz and the St. Thomas Aquinas Society an abiding faith in the providence of the Holy Spirit and a profound appreciation for his sense of humor. Preparing for the July 31- Aug. 4 “Christ the King of Mercy,” Conference at the Pikes Peak Center, the society faced adversity, overcame it and arranged five days of continuous spiritual education by nationally and internationally known speakers, including Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, Father Piotr Prusakiewicz, H. Anthony Chan, Father Stephen Imbarrato, Tony Melendez, Patricia Sandoval and Kelly Nieto.
Bishop Michael Sheridan will celebrate the Friday evening Mass at 7 p.m. on Aug. 2. Daily Mass, recitation of the rosary, and the sacrament of reconciliation will be available at times during the conference. This year it is organized along three tracks: spiritual growth, mercy and respect life.
Lorentz realizes that she is not really the architect of the conference — God is. A former violinist for the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra, she is familiar with the hard work associated with bringing a work of music to life. Similarly, she and her ensemble of society members work through the year to bring the Aquinas Conference to life. When people ask her how she gets such well-known speakers for the conference, she always replies, “We call them up and we ask them.” Lately, people have been calling her to speak at the conference, notably Anthony Chan.
“Anthony Chan, he’s an interesting fellow,” Lorentz said. “He called me and emailed me, probably a year-and-a-half ago or so. He was in Dallas and had spoken at several conferences. He’s really into eucharistic adoration. There was a point in his life where it wasn’t as important as it is now, and that’s what he speaks about.”
Chan is a scientist who witnessed God’s gifts in science and technology. His talks will be “Eucharistic Adoration: Dating with God;” “Eucharistic Adoration: World in Desperate Need;” and “Eucharistic Adoration: Busy Scientist’s Witness.
“I had saved a spot when I was lining up speakers, for another speaker who wasn’t able to come after all,” she said, “(Chan) had contacted me again about three months ago, and so I thought, maybe God would like him to come and speak on eucharistic adoration. I told him I had two talks available, and there ended up being a third one.” When they finally spoke on the phone, she learned that he lived in Hong Kong, a 14-hour time difference, so Chan is one of the farthest travelers to the conference.
Patricia Sandoval was a keynote speaker for the March for Life in San Francisco in January. As a young woman, she had three abortions, later taking a job with Planned Parenthood. She realized she had to leave that job, but she ended up a homeless drug addict, living on the streets for three years, until she experienced the miracle of God’s love and forgiveness. Now she is a speaker on pro-life issues and chastity.
“We invited Father Philip Scott,” said Lorentz. “He had a really heavy schedule and the Holy Spirit was leading him to pull back, so he contacted me and said, “I really need to pull back. But don’t worry, I’ve got a replacement — my twin brother, Martin.” They were both born in Peru and minister there, but they grew up in the States from the time when they were five years old. Father Martin is based in Maryland, and Father Philip is based out of St. Petersburg, Florida.
Father Stephen Imbarrato was one of the first to witness for the “Silent No More” awareness campaign. Father Imbarrato’s ministry has focused on pro-life issues.
One speaker who promises to be entertaining is Kelly Nieto, who is a musician in addition to being a Catholic speaker.
“Kelly Nieto was Miss Michigan in 1986,” said Lorentz. “When she was in the competition for Miss America, she was first runner-up and won the talent competition with ‘Orange Blossom Special’ on her violin.” Nieto is a convert to the Catholic faith and will share her conversion story.
When he was first ordained, Father Piotr Prusakiewicz’ assignment was to the convent where St. Faustina had lived. Some of the sisters at the convent had known her and shared stories with the young priest. St. Faustina was a visionary during the 1930s in Poland who saw and spoke with Jesus. She received the Divine Mercy image, which is popularly portrayed in homes and churches. Father Prusakiewicz is a member of the Congregation of St. Michael the Archangel and is an expert in angels and Divine Mercy.
Tony Melendez was born without arms in Nicaragua. His father wanted him to be self-sufficient, which led him to learn to play guitar with his toes. He played for Pope St. John Paul II in 1987. Since then he’s traveled to all 50 states and 44 countries. “His concerts are very upbeat and enthusiastic, and they’ve got rhythm,” said Lorentz. His concert will be at 7 p.m. on Aug. 1.
Conference organizers were thrown a curveball when it was announced in March that The Clarion Hotel had closed, leaving them to scramble for a block of rooms for speakers and travelers to the conference. Space was found at the Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs.
“I never anticipated we’d be up to 22 major conferences,” said Lorentz. “I’m as surprised as anybody. But it’s God’s work. It wouldn’t survive if it wasn’t.”
A variety of vendors will be at the conference. Books written by the speakers will be available at tables in the lobby of the Pikes Peak Center, as well as religious articles, gifts, audio recordings and educational materials relevant to the topics of the conference. Further information about the conference can be found at www.stthomasaquinassociety.org. The conference is free, but participants are urged to register for it online at the website. Donations are gratefully accepted.