Heidi Schlumpf
Telling Stories of Change in the Church

Heidi Schlumpf is the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and a former NCR vice president and executive editor. Heidi has more than three decades of experience covering religion, spirituality, social justice, and women’s issues and has authored or edited three books: Elizabeth A. Johnson: Questing for GodThe Notre Dame Book of Prayer; and While We Wait: Spiritual & Practical Advice for Those Trying to Adopt. At NCR, Heidi has carried out in-depth coverage on the influence of money in the church as well as on politics, sex abuse, women’s issues, racism, young people in the church, and on women religious. Before coming to NCR, she served as managing editor of U.S. Catholic magazine and as a reporter at Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper and at secular newspapers in California and Wisconsin.

Storytelling is always important, but narrative is especially essential during times of change because it can not only reflect the present but shape the future. In “Telling Stories of Change in the Church,” Heidi will address vital questions including: What are the stories we are telling during this time of immense change? How are women religious’ stories being told? How can women religious’ voices contribute to these crucial conversations today? With her 35 years of journalistic experience, Heidi will share the stories shaping the conversations today in the church, our country, and world.

Plenary Speakers

Joseph Vukov
Artificial Intelligence: Uses and Limitations

Joe Vukov is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Associate Director of the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage at Loyola University Chicago. He is also Affiliate Faculty in Psychology and Catholic Studies at Loyola. Vukov’s research explores questions at the intersection of ethics, neuroscience, technology, and philosophy of mind, and at the intersection of science and religion. He is a member of the AI Research Group for the Centre for Digital Culture in the Dicastery for Culture and Education of the Holy See. Vukov is the author of several books, including Staying Human in an Era of Artificial Intelligence (2024) and The Perils of Perfection (2023). Beyond Loyola, Vukov regularly contributes to a variety of media venues and podcasts and serves as the Vice President of Philosophers in Jesuit Education.

Artificial intelligence has taken the world by storm. This session will offer an overview of what artificial intelligence is and an opportunity to reflect on how artificial intelligence has the potential to undermine and support successful communication. Participants will leave the presentation with an increased understanding of artificial intelligence, as well as an appreciation of its uses and limitations in practical applications.

Maureen Gainer Reilly
Quieting the Inner Critic in Times of Change and Uncertainty

Maureen Gainer Reilly is an Executive Coach working with industry leaders across the globe. Leading GO Consulting & Coaching for over 10 years, she has seen incredible results spring from forming trusted thought partnerships with executives, staff, and boards of directors. She leverages the simple, yet critical, skill of asking powerful questions to evoke real and lasting change. Clients cross the business sector from Fortune 500 companies to non-profits to small start-ups. All of Maureen’s entrepreneurial endeavors feed her desire to give people a sense of peace, clarity, and a life that reflects their values. Mercy values instilled at Mother McAuley High School and a year serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps started Maureen on the path of working for a vibrant, inclusive Catholic Church. She serves on the Leader Council of Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, the Board of the newly formed Catherine’s Caring Cause, holds lay leadership roles at St. Barnabas parish, and works with Discerning Deacons, a group advocating a greater role and acknowledgement of women in the Catholic Church. Maureen lives on the South Side of Chicago with her husband, four children and too many cousins to count.

That ever present, negative voice thrives in periods of transition. Learning how to quiet, dismiss, and even use the saboteur voice as transformational. You will leave with simple concepts and tools to create positive personal and professional change.

Sheila King
Are You Facing a Crossroad or a Crisis?

In 1974, Sheila King established her firm in Chicago. Sheila King Marketing + Public Relations serves a wide variety of clients including those with a nationwide and international reach. SKPR’s clients are regarded as leaders because their annual revenues place them among the top in their industries. The firm also represents start-ups and smaller enterprises poised for significant growth and expansion. During the last 50 years, SKPR has successfully collaborated with leading financial institutions, hospitals and medical practices, hotels, law firms, religious orders, restaurants, retailers, and schools, among others, to develop and implement strategic plans using a suite of communication channels and tools. Of particular interest to CWR members may be that Lilly Endowment selected SKPR for a two-year campaign to create awareness of the findings of The Future of Religious Orders in the United States. Widespread media attention prompted an invitation to a private audience at the request of Pope John Paul II.

Clients rely on Sheila King and her team of senior communicators to provide hands-on guidance when a client is confronted with a crisis, an unanticipated or life-altering situation, or a civil or criminal case. Over time, Sheila King Marketing + Public Relations has created an adaptable system for defining lines of communication, as well as fact-finding, analyzing and evaluating available information, and working with decision-makers to chart and manage a course of action. Sheila King demonstrates how to prepare before and during a crisis with four key tactics to fortify your communication strategy. When you confront an unanticipated or an anticipated situation, how might it affect the reputation and image of your organization? She brings these guidelines to life by sharing a wide variety of case studies when her firm has provided crisis communication services.

Sister Beth Murphy, OP
Spirituality of Communications: For the Life of the World

Sister Beth Murphy is a Dominican Sister of Springfield, Ill., and a communicator since BC–that is–before convent. First, her undergraduate degree in journalism propelled her into the textbook design business. When she opted for life in the Order of Preachers, she briefly ministered in a junior high classroom before embarking on a life-long journey through various communications ministries, beginning with opening a brand new communications office for the Diocese of Springfield-in-Illinois. After completing a master’s in the ethics and theology of communication at New College Divinity Faculty, University of Edinburgh, she helped train vocation directors in the use of communications technologies and media for their ministry. In that role she oversaw the production of English and Spanish-language vocations resources for the U.S., Canada, and other English language cultures, under the auspices of the National Coalition for Church Vocations, a Hilton-funded collaborative project of several vocations-related organizations that included the National Religious Vocations Office. She was instrumental in helping congregations of Dominican sisters and the leaders of the Dominican friars in the U.S. learn the basics of establishing communications departments as a founding member of the Dominican Leadership Conference’s Communicators’ Network. Since 1999, with the exception of a 7-year interlude, during which she worked resettling Iraqi refugees in the Archdiocese of Detroit and providing communications and development support for a large, active Spanish-speaking parish in Chicago, Sister Beth has been the communications director for her religious community. She is a columnist for the local daily paper, produces a podcast called F.L.O.W.cast, and lives at Cor Unum House in Springfield, Illinois, where her sisters have a ministry for young adult women.

Professional communicators for Catholic sisters organizations are the bridge builders in a world aching for, hungering for, connections. Our art and craft are vital to today’s proclamation of the Gospel and a catalyst for the transformation so urgently needed in our world today. Does your role as a communicator for women religious matter in the grand scheme of things? How do you know? And how can you make a difference in our hurting world?


Adrienne Alexander
Communicating in Polarized Times

Adrienne Alexander serves as the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for AFSCME in Illinois, where she has worked since 2010. In that capacity, she leads on both policy and politics for City of Chicago and Cook County and serves as a member of AFSCME’s State of Illinois lobbying team, particularly focusing on criminal justice issues. In 2023, she was named in the Crain’s Chicago Business 40 under 40 class. Adrienne lives in Chicago with her husband and three daughters. She is a graduate of Agnes Scott College, a small women’s college in Georgia, and earned her Master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Minnesota. Adrienne is on the board of the Catholic Labor Network.

In this session we will learn how to craft values-driven messages to influence policymakers and elected officials in particularly polarizing times.

Clarissa Aljentera
Assessing Your Toolbelt

Clarissa V. Aljentera has worked in various communications roles for over 20 years. She has led media and communications workshops for parishes and ministry professionals across the country. She has spoken and taught internationally on using social media in ministry settings. Her first book, A Parish Guide to Social Media: How Social Networking Can Recharge Your Ministry, was published by Twenty-Third Publications in 2013. Clarissa earned an MA in pastoral ministry from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and a BS in newspaper reporting from San Jose State University. She spent ten years working in daily newspapers before she discerned a pathway into pastoral ministry. She is the Director of Education for Justice with Ignatian Solidarity Network. Clarissa lives in Chicago with her husband and son. She currently enjoys performing improv comedy, woodworking, and playing make-believe with her son.

Learn to use your communication tools to help share your message and mission. Shrinking budgets often means going without tools or resources in an ever-changing environment. Let’s walk through some tools and resources for any budget to help you communicate with your audience. We walk through e-newsletters, online design and visual platforms, and more resources to assist you and your ministry of communication.

Spalding Hurst
CWR Film School (Advanced)

Spalding Hurst leads the Office of Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, overseeing development, communications, and a volunteer program. With a background in filmmaking and video production, he often employs media to spotlight the Sisters’ work with oppressed individuals, especially women and children. In the ever-changing media landscape, Spalding recognizes that some elements remain unchanged: compelling storytelling and the power of visual imagery. These foundational aspects of filmmaking have helped to create content that not only informs but also emotionally connects with audiences.

In this talk, we’ll explore using cinema for storytelling in religious communities, focusing on capturing authentic, spontaneous moments to create compelling narratives. We’ll discuss blending “on-the-ground” techniques and traditional cinematic methods—narrative pacing, music, and visual storytelling—to enhance these stories. Through discussing and analyzing the philosophy of filmmaking, we hope to learn how to craft impactful, meaningful media that resonates with audiences celebrating faith and community life.

Sheila King
Crisis Communications: Plan ▪ Authenticate ▪ Respond ▪ Report (Advanced)

During a roll-up-your-sleeves workshop, collaborate with Sheila King and other participants to complete a crisis communication action plan for real-life case studies. Then, compare your plan with what her firm recommended and its outcome.

This session covers how to:


  • Draft one-page sample action plans based on what may occur to use as a model to create a plan when one occurs
  • Meet with key decision-makers and advisors to advocate for advance warning when possible, to outline lines of communication, to agree on how decisions are made, and to agree upon how inward and outward-facing communication is implemented
  • Understand the authority and roles a Board and legal counsel play when a crisis occurs
  • Conduct a day-long media training session with spokespeople to identify several ways to respond to questions, to communicate your organization’s response to an occurrence and to ensure audiences recognize the integrity of your organization
  • Write a succinct statement of your organization’s values
  • Update databases of decision-makers, advisors, key influencers and journalists as changes occur, as well as internal audiences

When a situation occurs


  • Confirm source of information and details about an accident, actions or statements made by a member of your organization, a challenge by an authority, closing or selling an existing entity, a court case, a death or injury, an emergency, a financial loss, a natural disaster, an incident of abuse or violence in or affecting a workplace, among other situations
  • Identify and schedule an initial meeting with decision-makers and advisors to share recommendations for crisis communication within the group and possible restrictions on what to be communicated and to rank all key internal and external audiences and a timeline communicating with each


  • Draft a brief statement for each audience for spokesperson and identify channel of communication and timing for contacting each cohort
  • Reach out to journalists and social media influencers to learn what they know and what they want to know about a situation
  • Prepare spokesperson for each meeting and schedule to meet deadlines


  • Start an informal log to record each step in the process and timeline
  • Gather responses in traditional and social media, through other lines of uncontrolled communication
  • Ask decision-makers to review draft to ensure this confidential document so it can be made available for future use
  • Determine who and when to share additional information with all or certain audiences


Elizabeth Powers
Beyond the First Episode: Planning, Producing, and Promoting Your Podcast (Advanced)

Elizabeth Powers is the Communications Manager for the Congregation of St. Joseph. A creative, critical thinker who is committed to sharing content through stories, Elizabeth helped create and produces the congregation’s podcast, Beyond the Habit, a podcast which aims to move beyond everyday assumptions of what it means to be Catholic and is hosted by two Catholic sisters. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

Trying to start a podcast but have questions about the production process? Already have a podcast but looking for ways to grow your audience? Searching for tools that may make podcasting easier? In this session, Elizabeth will offer tips and ideas for planning, producing, and promoting a podcast.

Marcia Wallander
Mastering Effective Fundraising Campaigns Through Direct Mail

Marcia Wallander is chief mission advancement officer of The Felician Sisters of North America. Ms. Wallander has more than 25 years of development experience at Carlow University, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Family House, Carnegie Mellon University, and The Western Pennsylvania Hospital (part of Allegheny Health Network). She has extensive experience in creating and managing direct mail programs with significant success in building projections, donor databases, increasing renewal rates, and raising unrestricted dollars. Ms. Wallander has managed direct mail and online giving programs ranging from $25,000 to more than $2 million annually and believes that detailed and strategic planning is the key for a successful direct mail program.

Amidst the constant buzz of smartphones and the ever-expanding reach of social media, one might wonder: does direct mail still hold relevance in our digital age? The resounding answer is YES! Direct mail remains a potent tool for engagement and fundraising. Join us to discover the enduring power of direct mail and unlock the secrets to crafting a comprehensive direct mail plan. From best practices to projections and strategies, delve into the essential elements that make direct mail campaigns not just relevant, but indispensable in today’s landscape.

In this session, you will:

• determine the role of direct mail throughout your development plan;
• discuss the key strategies of a direct mail letter;
• review the differences between acquisition and renewal;
• create the metrics for benchmarking your results; and
• receive information about postal regulations and the importance of mail house partners.

Bring along your direct mail piece, armed with insights into its performance metrics (response rate, cost, total raised, etc.), or come ready to learn how to integrate these vital statistics into your strategy. This session promises to equip you with the tools and tactics needed to construct a winning direct mail strategic plan. Gain invaluable insights as we dissect direct mail letters, unraveling the nuanced strategies embedded within each section. Don’t miss this opportunity to elevate your fundraising game and unleash the full potential of your campaigns!

Workshop Panel | Liberative Spokesperson Training: Telling Grassroots Stories Through an Empowering Lens

As communicators of faith, it is deeply important to tell stories from our communities through an empowering lens that generates hope, inspiration, and power. In this workshop, we will go through how to form and train community members as principal spokespersons for transformational change.

Joanna Arellano-Gonzalez

Joanna Arellano-Gonzalez is the Director of Training and Formation at the Coalition for Spiritual & Public Leadership (CSPL). She is a co-founder and founding board member of CSPL, as well as a founding board member and Board President of The Co-Op Ed Center. She formerly worked at the Archdiocese of Chicago in the Office for Peace & Justice as Associate Director, and later in the labor movement for five years leading communications and press strategy at a local and national level. Joanna received her Masters in Christian Spirituality at Fordham University, with a concentration in Spiritual Direction.

Sister Leslie Dao, SP

Sister Leslie Dao is the community organizer for CSPL. Her previous work experience with refugees and immigrants focused on disseminating information on community resources to empower recipients to become self-sufficient and to acclimate to American society. She possesses a BA in Sociology and a BS in Social Work. She is in the process of becoming a member of the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Sister Leslie was born and raised in Southern Vietnam.

Susan Hurley

Susan Hurley is the deputy director for CSPL and has been a community organizer for more than thirty years. During a decades-long career in the labor movement, Susan has served as a national organizer and trainer, primarily working on NLRA campaigns and organizing healthcare workers. She served for 13 years as executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice, a faith-based coalition of labor unions and organizations. In that role, she led campaigns for workers’ rights across Chicago.

Workshop Panel | Coming to Completion: It’s the Beginning, Not the End!

Your Congregation has decided or is deciding to follow a path to completion—what does that mean? Understanding that the financial needs of a religious community do not diminish when the decision has been made not to accept new members, nor does the need to communicate with donors, this presentation will explore fundraising and communication strategies for communities that are moving towards completion. In this session Anne Marie Gardiner will share her experience as the Executive Director of Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Charity of New York, a congregation that recently made the difficult decision to come to completion. Leslie Biggins Mollsen, Owner/President of American City Bureau, will share her development experience in working with women religious and their donors over the last thirty years. Together they will discuss best practices for collaboration to ensure clear and consistent messaging. Audience participation welcomed!

Anne Marie Gardiner

Anne Marie is the Executive Director of Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Charity of New York. She has been in the ministry of fundraising for 30+ years and has vast experience of raising funds for communities of women and men religious. Anne Marie has been a mentor to those beginning a career in fundraising and has served on several nonprofit boards. She is also an Associate of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth. Anne Marie will also co-present the conference workshop “Trends in Development Communication.”

Leslie Mollsen

Leslie B. Mollsen is the owner and President of American City Bureau, Inc., the nation’s original fundraising consulting firm to nonprofit organizations. ACB is collaborating with several congregations coming to completion as they work to preserve their legacies. One such project is a capital campaign to build a heritage center for the Women Religious Archive Collaborative in Cleveland, Ohio. The collaborative includes 24 congregations in addition to a host of partners and supporters participating in this groundbreaking project. ACB is a 110-year-old family business dedicated to building a culture of philanthropy for every client it serves. Leslie’s career with ACB began as Director of Communications and over the next 32 years, she worked her way up the company ladder, becoming its leader and co-owner. Leslie specializes in major donor development and has served hundreds of nonprofit organizations. Her niche audience within the company is faith-based institutions, particularly women religious.

Leslie is also a volunteer leader/Secretary of The Nonprofit Alliance’s (TNPA) Catholic Development Council (CDC), the voice of nonprofits to promote, protect, and strengthen the philanthropic sector. In 2022, Leslie received Pursuant’s “40 Over Forty Award,” which celebrates the dedicated nonprofit professionals who consistently set a high bar for excellence in the nonprofit sector–elevating their organization, the people around them, and the lives of the people who are making a difference in the world. She recently completed six years of Board service on the National Catholic Community Foundation (NCCF) and is past Board Member of the Edmundite Missions of Selma, Alabama, an organization dedicated to feeding, clothing, and providing shelter to the poor and marginalized, and fighting systemic poverty in the Deep South. In that role, she served as the first Chair of the Advancement Committee.

Leslie was honored to write a chapter in the book: Ask for the World, Catholic Sisters and the Spirituality of Fundraising. She ranked as the No. 3 most effective fundraising consultant in the nation in an independent survey by Michael Chatman, the Ambassador of Giving and creator of #WhyiGive, one of Twitter’s most popular social media chats in philanthropy. Leslie was a devout volunteer for the National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC) for twenty-five years and served on its Board of Directors. Prior to this, she was honored with NCDC’s Distinguished Service Award, given annually to a member who had made an unusually significant contribution to the cause of religious and charitable fundraising. Moreover, she was named Alumni-of-the-Year by her high school, St. Edward Catholic Central High School of Elgin, Illinois. She served on the Giving USA Foundation Board for nine years. The Giving USA Foundation is the publisher of the renowned publication Giving USA, the standard on annual giving trends in the United States.

Leslie is a published author and speaks at many conferences and seminars nation-wide on the topic of major donor development, volunteerism, leadership, capital campaigns and campaign preparedness. She was most recently a featured speaker at the Resource Center for Religious Institutes in 2021, 2022 and 2023. Leslie is a graduate of Marquette University and resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She and her husband, Daniel, have two sons, 20 and 25 years old.

Workshop Panel | Trends in Development Communication

They say that the key to communication success is getting the right message, to the right person, through the right channel, at the right time. How does your congregation integrate your messages across all multimedia channels to maximize your fundraising efforts? Do communications and development work together or is there trouble in River City? Seasoned development practitioners Anne Marie Gardiner and Laura Lang will share best practices for reaching that all-important donor, and strategies for fostering collaboration between communications and developments teams so congregations can maximize their fundraising efforts and effectively engage with donors.

Anne Marie Gardiner

Anne Marie will also co-present the conference workshop “Coming to Completion: It’s the Beginning, Not the End!” Read more about Anne Marie above.



Laura Lang

Laura has served as the Director of Development for the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Atlantic Midwest Province for five years. Prior to that Laura served in Catholic school development and communications for twenty-five years. A graduate of Loyola University, she also earned her Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising from the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at Indiana University.