“I wanted women to be heard, to contribute to the Body of Christ.” Leah Darrow, former fashion model and founder of LUX University, an online Catholic formation program designed specifically for women, is explaining why she felt compelled to organize an online conference for women during the pandemic quarantine. “So many women’s conferences have been canceled or postponed until next year. It just left a gaping hole.”

The LUX Summit, the world’s largest virtual conference for Catholic women, will fill that hole this weekend. The Summit will offer live keynotes from strong Catholic women, followed by Q&A sessions that will permit the registered participants to interact directly with the speakers. In addition, there are recorded breakout sessions, a digital workbook, and music provided by worship leader and songwriter Sarah Kroger. And just as at live conferences, participants of the LUX Summit will receive giveaways and LUX “swag.”

Leah’s goal for the conference, she explained to the Register, was to be a light in a time of crisis. “It seemed,” Leah said,” that every week, the world was experiencing another suffering: the coronavirus crisis, murder hornets, racism, the death of George Floyd, police brutality.” In an era when the family faces unique challenges, when society is in unrest, women have an important role to play in healing our Church and our world.

 

A Diverse Message – But Always, Christ is the Answer

With that in mind, Leah invited strong women from various walks of life to speak. Each of the speakers will offer her own perspective, encouraging women to bring the light of Christ into their own particular situations. Leah was careful not to be too restrictive in narrowing speakers’ topics. She believed that God was calling her to help orchestrate the format, but that the Holy Spirit should be permitted to work within each individual’s soul. Some – including Jen Settle (Theology of the Body Institute), Sam Kelley, and Sister Helena Burns (Daughters of St. Paul) – will focus on St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body; others, on encountering Christ in the world. “Every speaker understands our theme, ‘Let There Be Light,’” Leah explained. “Each speaker is aware of our need to encounter Jesus, and to be a light for the world.” But within the framework of that noble goal, each speaker will offer her own ideas for how women can best bring light to their personal lives, their homes, their communities.

Some of the speakers will focus on personal challenges. Cameron Fradd, mother of four and wife of Catholic author, podcaster and apologist Matt Fradd, will talk about true sisterhood – and what it means to say that you are a true sister in Christ. Mary Lenaburg, author of Be Brave in the Scared, will show how to embrace the joy of Christ, even in the face of great suffering. Blogger Maria Abbe, author of the workout journal The Imperishable Crown, has recovered from an eating disorder and learned to manage her anxiety and depression, and she’ll share her journey, offering insights on recovery and the Catholic faith. Author and speaker Lisa Canning is a mother to eight and author of The Possibility Mom, and Lisa will talk about how women can be great moms while pursuing their dreams and loving Jesus. International pro-life and chastity speaker Patricia Sandoval, a friend of Leah’s, will offer her personal testimony as described in her book Transformed. Sandoval worked at Planned Parenthood and had three abortions herself, before coming into the faith; now a devout Catholic, she works for EWTN at their Spanish channel.

There will be discussions on being “light” in the creative arts: Artist and iconographer Elizabeth Zelasko will talk about the beauty of art, and how it carries the gospel message into the public square. Producer Megan Harrington, who produced such well-regarded films as “Unplanned” and the upcoming release “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton,” will talk about how Hollywood can shine Christ’s light in the world.

Some talks will center on societal issues. Gia Chacon humanitarian and founder of the nonprofit organization For The Martyrs, will discuss the plight of Christian martyrs in the current era and the need for religious freedom around the world.

One topic which is of particular importance, in light of the social unrest that is rampant in America’s cities, is the issue of racial tensions and the sin of racism. For that, Leah invited international speaker Chika Anyanwu to present a keynote talk and take questions from the audience. Biracial Catholic podcaster Shannon Schmidt and Gloria Purvis, co-host of EWTN’s “Morning Glory” show, will lead breakout sessions on racial healing and reconciliation.

 

Leah’s Personal Journey Back to God

Leah described the roots of “LUX” – the name she’s given to her online courses and to the virtual conference. The word “lux” is derived from Latin and means “light”; and we are all called to be light, to shine the light of Christ in the world. The early Greek church, Leah explained, gave a name to the Samaritan woman at the well; she is called St. Photina, which is Greek for “light.” Like Photina, we are all called to be light, and so it’s the underlying theme in all of Leah’s enterprises.

Leah’s own journey is one of transformation. After losing her virginity as a teenager, she felt unworthy to be part of God’s church, felt that she had no future with Christ. “I believed that God existed,” Leah told the Register.

I believed that he was good. But I thought that I’d screwed up so bad, and I began to walk away from the Lord at that point. I believed the lie of the devil for 10 years, believed that I needed to find another way to live.

After graduation, Leah moved to New York City and became involved in the fashion industry. She was a featured model on the reality television series “America’s Next Top Model.” Modeling for several major magazines, Leah was in the middle of a fashion shoot for a large fashion magazine when she heard God say to her, “I made you for more.” It shook her to her core, she confessed. “I didn’t want to believe it,” Leah admitted,

...but I knew it was true. How I was living was so dry and empty! It was his message: “I made you for more.” At that moment, I decided to give God the chance. I walked out of the photo shoot and, not knowing where to turn, I called my dad.

Leah’s story about a father’s love still brings tears to my eyes. Her father, hearing her plea, dropped what he was doing and drove 2,000 miles to pick her up. His first stop, before beginning the long trek home, was at a church where he encouraged her to go to confession. Leah was home.

Asked about what the modeling industry means to her now that she’s returned to her faith, Leah answered quickly: “I love being a woman,” she said.

I love finding a great lipstick and a cute and comfortable pair of shoes. I love that stuff, but those are accessories of my life. Before, I was making those superficial things the epitome of my life. I had begun to make the really important things not important any more.

Leah explained that God’s message wasn’t that from now on, she shouldn’t love beauty and clothing. She can still love those things – but she must love God first. The modeling profession is harmful when it uses women, with no regard for their intrinsic worth in God’s eyes. But beauty, makeup, clothing – those things are not sinful in themselves; it depends on how you use them. “Beauty is not the enemy,” said Leah. “Beauty is an attribute of God. Our desire and our draw toward beauty is actually a passion and love for God himself.”

 

Register Today for the LUX Summit

The virtual LUX Summit will air live June 19-21, and Leah encourages Catholic women to “grab your mom, your sisters, your grandma, your soul sisters – and watch these talks together!” Women of all ages and backgrounds, Leah explains, have so much to learn from one another. Learn more about the LUX Summit, see the full schedule, and register to reserve your spot at the website, theluxsummit.com.