Keynote Address

From Strings to Yeast: How is the Pandemic Challenging Us?

Mary Pellegrino, CSJ

A transformation of religious life throughout the world has been underway for decades. At times, the changes have left many anxious and concerned about mission and purpose and whether women religious are or have “enough.” In this keynote Sr. Mary will explore how the Covid-19 pandemic and the global racial justice movement have both accelerated those questions and illuminated a path forward marked by renewed opportunities and understandings of abundance and abundant opportunity for women religious.

From 2008 to 2018 Sister Mary Pellegrino served as Congregational Moderator of her community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pa. From 2015 to 2018 Mary also served in the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in the United States. In both of those roles Mary worked to support, encourage and promote the ongoing renewal of religious life in the face of unprecedented challenges and changes in the church, American society and the global community. Currently, Mary assists religious communities in planning for the future through the lens of mission in her role with the Religious Institutes Service Group of Plante Moran, PLLC. Prior to serving in congregational leadership, Mary served in vocation/formation ministries for her congregation as well as parish and campus ministries. Over the years Mary has written and presented extensively on topics related to vocation/formation and religious life. She holds a Master’s degree in Christian Spirituality and a certificate in Spiritual and Retreat Direction from Creighton University, along with a Master’s degree in Religious Education from Fordham University.


Plenary Speakers

Reframing with Truth and Self Examination

Ogechi Akalegbere

The framing and messaging of racial inequity in the Catholic Church and this country has been at the forefront of minds and hearts over the past year. As the country grappled with the COVID 19 pandemic, we also grappled with the consequences of racial injustice brought to to the forefront of the minds of parishioners. The result of this was a series of statements and messaging from major institutions. These session will dive deep into the history of anti racism in the Catholic Church and how the people of the church have played both active and passive roles in perpetuating racism in this country and the after affects of these actions. Later Ogechi will share practical ways women religious can better recognize implicit bias to provide justice focused messaging in their communities. Hands on activities will give attendees tools to move messaging around racial, socioeconomic and other injustices with grace.

Ogechi Akalegbere is a Nigerian-American who is a Christian Service Coordinator, public speaker, competitive powerlifter, and fitness instructor. Ogechi grew up in and lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland and when she is not at work or creating digital content she is either enjoying quality time with her husband of three years or at the gym lifting weights. She has a passion for social justice, empowering women to find their inner and outer strength and service to those in the margins. She serves as a catechist, lector, and pastoral council co-chair at her parish and is involved as a community organizer and diversity practitioner in her community. Ogechi uses her training as an equity facilitator and co-practitioner to help parishes, organizations, and small groups digest what equity means to them and those they encounter.


Discerning Our Emerging Future

Annmarie Sanders, IHM

This initiative was created by LCWR to support institutes of women religious as they explore together how collectively to organize for mission at a time of dramatic change. The initiative provides a path into the future marked by collaboration and creativity, as well as support and solidarity. The accelerated pace of change in religious institutes points to an urgent need to work across religious institutes to create new sustainable structures that assure a future for religious life.

Annmarie Sanders, IHM, will provide vital insight for the work of advancing the mission of Catholic sisters in this period of transition and uncertainty. Sr. Annmarie is the Director of Communications for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and a longtime CWR member.


Vessels of Grace

Jessica Hernandez

In this session, Jessica Hernandez helps us unfold the gift that is given to us without any merit of our own, and how following the example of our Blessed Mother, we can also become vessels of grace in our everyday lives, and invite others to receive this gift as well.

Jessica currently serves as the Coordinator of Hispanic Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Des Moines. She also has served as a consultant and advisor to various sub-committees and groups at the national level on how to form strong integrated communities of faith among youth and young adults of different cultures, as well as showcasing our universal faith in the context of different faith practices and traditions. She is currently finishing M.A. in Theology and Pastoral Ministry at Boston College.




Bringing Mission, Justice and Stewardship to Your Website

Christina Blust – Jessica Yaeger
Blustery Day Design

Ensure that your congregation’s website reflects its mission, embodies its views on justice, and practices good stewardship. Your website can be a valuable tool that both presents an authentic picture of who you are and supports you in active ministry. Pulling from our knowledge of the website industry and our work designing and developing websites for women religious congregations, we’ll give you examples, actionable tips and resources about: current website best practices, sound content strategy, ecological considerations, accessible and inclusive design, and more. With intentional choices that consider both your organization’s goals (including fundraising and vocations) and the goals of your visitors, your website will be easier to administer, more effective, and truly welcoming to all.

Christina Blust is a graphic designer, content strategist and web developer. She is the co-founder of Blustery Day Design, a women-owned design & development agency that works with creators, non-profits, and businesses.

Christina graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a degree in Graphic Design with minors in Peace Studies and Spanish. After an AmeriCorps volunteer year on an alpaca farm, she spent a decade in the non-profit sector doing graphic design, photography, writing, and web development. A supporter of open knowledge and open source communities, she is an active contributor to Wikipedia, Wikidata, and other Wikimedia projects. Christina has also been involved in the WordPress community as a WordCamp organizer, notably as design lead for WordCamp US 2017 & 2018.

Christina is also a singer-songwriter who has recorded albums as a solo performer and with various musical projects. With her indie folk band Yearbook Committee, she performed as an official showcasing artist at festivals including South by Southwest (Austin, Texas) and MidPoint Music Festival (Cincinnati, Ohio). She lives with her husband and daughter in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jessica Yaeger is a programmer, project manager, writer and designer. She is the co-founder of Blustery Day Design, a women-owned design & development agency that works with creators, non-profits, and businesses.

Jessica has degrees in Computer Information Systems and Graphic Design from Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Kentucky. She previously worked for an S&P 500 company for 15 years. There, she was a desktop software and web developer covering the full application lifecycle, as well as a project manager in support of multi-million dollar business initiatives. Jessica has led multicultural teams and excels at facilitating communication between different teams and project stakeholders. She specializes in efficient processes, data organization, and user-focused, well-designed interfaces.

Jessica is also a writer, focusing on topics including empathy, grief, and compassionate responses to injustice. An avid hobby photographer, genealogist, and gardener, she lives with her husband and three sons in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, where she is involved in local community campaigns and initiatives.


Rethinking Analytics: Responsibly and Ethically Gathering Useful Data

Christina Blust – Jessica Yaeger
Blustery Day Design

Website analytics can feel overwhelming, over-technical, and too complicated. Additionally, many current website analytics strategies can intrude on your visitors’ privacy, require significant ecological resources, and don’t even produce understandable, actionable insights. There is another way! We’ll share a philosophy for thinking about your website analytics that doesn’t require you to be a tech genius or a data scientist or cause unintentional harm to your visitors or the earth. Then we’ll share tips and tools for putting this philosophy into practice. By looking at the whole picture and asking the right questions first, you can use purposeful choices and some creative approaches to find useful, ethical, data-based answers that you can act on.

BIOS: Christina Blust – Jessica Yaeger


Everyone Is a Book: How to Write and Self-Publish Your Own

Kelly Peach

How many journals have you filled with your thoughts and ideas, whether they’re rooted in reality or the stuff of dreams? Have you ever started what you hope will one day be your story? Join Kelly Peach for a discussion on writing and self-publishing your own book. You can do it! Hear about guiding principles, getting started, making it to the finish line and lessons learned along the way. Kelly is author of two historical fiction novels about Elvis Presley plus a new children’s book and two more on the way.

Kelly is a St. Louis native and no stranger to women religious. She was educated and formed in Catholic school by the SSND of Our Lady of Sorrows and the ASCJ of Cor Jesu Academy. Kelly’s writing career began in radio and evolved to include advertising, public relations, corporate communications, TV and nonprofit. She is in her first year as a communications director for Mercy. Prior to that, she spent nearly 15 years at St. Patrick Center, managing communications for the mission to end homelessness. Kelly is honored to participate in this conference—fittingly at Graceland, where she has spent many hours researching and writing her two novels.


Pitching the Story of Women Religious

Kelly Peach

Have you been asked to get media coverage for your congregation? Are you responsible for selling your mission to the media? Join Kelly Peach for a discussion on pitching stories to TV, radio and print/online outlets. Hear about best practices for pitching, helpful tips for media relationships and what makes your stories and planning ideal. Kelly has worked on both sides of the microphone—as a radio reporter, news director and TV producer as well as a long-time nonprofit communications director.

BIO: Kelly Peach




Communicating Across Cultures

Jessica Hernandez

In this interactive session, we will learn how to develop ways of communicating efficiently with the people we serve through our ministries and jobs, while taking into consideration the different subcultures that exist in our world today (subcultures refers to groups of different categories that are influenced by age, ethnicity, geography, etc.).

BIO: Jessica Hernandez




Next Generation of Donors: Motivating Millennials to Give Now

Chessie Hayes – Nick Kulik

How prepared is your fundraising program to engage the next generation of donors? Millennials are currently the nation’s largest living adult generation. With immigration adding more numbers to this group than any other, the Millennial population is projected to peak in 2036 at 76.2 million. In this session, you will learn Millennials’ impact on giving and actionable ways to engage the next generation of donors in your fundraising efforts.

Chessie (Biggam) Hayes, MPA, CFRE, Development Director for Meritan, has been an active member of the fundraising community and creates thoughtful, strategic plans to enhance donor engagement. She received the award for AFP International Outstanding Young Professionals, Memphis’ Top 20 Under 30, and Greater Memphis Chamber’s Young Memphis Class of 2020 award. She serves as the Membership Chair for AFP Memphis and on the Emerging Leaders Initiative, Membership Division, and Editorial Committee for AFP Global. She also serves as the Vice-President for the Grant Professional Association of the Mid-South. Chessie enjoys focusing on fundraising trends for young professionals working the fundraising sector as well as millennial giving.

Nick Kulik, MLW, CFRE is the Chief Donor Engagement Officer for the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation. He is an active member of the fundraising community serving on a variety of local and global Association of Fundraising Professional (AFP) committees, including the AFP Global Board. He is a recipient of the AFP International Outstanding Young Professional Award and Pi Kappa Phi National Fraternity’s Thirty Under 30 award.


Fundraising in the Context of Diversity

Beverly Taketa Sakauye – Neki Catron
National Civil Rights Museum

This session will be presented by Beverly Taketa Sakauye, the Chief Development Officer for the National Civil Rights Museum, and Neki Catron, former Senior Development Officer for Individual Philanthropy for the National Civil Rights Museum. Noted as one of the nation’s premier heritage and cultural museums, the National Civil Rights Museum is steadfast in its mission to share the culture and lessons from the American Civil Rights Movement and explore how this significant era continues to shape equality and freedom globally. Established in 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum is located at the former Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Through interactive exhibits, historic collections, dynamic speakers and special events, the museum offers visitors a chance to walk through history and learn more about a tumultuous and inspiring period of change.

Beverly Sakauye has been Chief Development Officer at the National Civil Rights Museum since July 2009. A member of the senior management team, she is responsible for overall resource development strategies, which include annual operating revenue, capital and endowment campaigns, planned giving, volunteers and stewardship. She was responsible for the Museum’s Comprehensive Campaign raising $27.5M for the major renovation and established its first-ever endowment fund, made possible by a successful challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Her 30 plus year career has been dedicated to nonprofits concentrating on development and management in Chicago IL, New Orleans LA and Memphis, TN. She has led development efforts at diverse organizations incuding Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, Easter Seals of DuPage County, New Orleans Ballet Association, and Ogden Museum of Southern Art. She also served as an adjunct instructor on Development Strategies for the Arts Administration graduate program at the University of New Orleans, and recently wrote a chapter in Rowman & Littlefield’s Guide for Sustainable Revenue for Museums.

She holds a B.A. from Roosevelt University, Chicago IL in Sociology, is a member of the Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP), and has chaired and served on national and state grant review panels.


7 Deadly Sins of Fundraising and Other Ethical Dilemmas

Chessie Hayes – Jennifer Strain

In the context of ethical fundraising, how can religious and other nonprofit organizations encourage support without undermining those they serve? This presentation will discuss the ethical commandments of receiving gifts and avoiding the 7 deadly sins. We will investigate multiple case studies and scenarios to help you determine gifts that are appropriate to accept versus politely decline.

BIO: Chessie Hayes

Jennifer Strain, MBA, CFRE, is a development officer at Campbell Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee. She earned an undergraduate degree in social work and a Master in Business Administration and has over 20 years of nonprofit fundraising and communications experience. Prior to joining the Campbell Foundation in 2002, Jennifer served in various roles for Catholic Charities Refugee Services in Memphis, Ecumenical Refugee Services in Denver, and Art for Life’s Sake in Memphis. Jennifer currently serves as the Association of Fundraising Professionals Memphis Chapter President, and she earned the Certified Fundraising Executive designation in March 2017.


The Process-Driven Annual Fund

Ron Rescigno – Sue Rescigno

If you are looking for a blueprint for annual fund success, this presentation is for you. Join Ron and Sue Rescigno as they guide you through the necessary steps it takes to create a comprehensive annual fund program that provides its donors and prospects with a continuous flow of communication throughout any given year. They will provide you with the tools you need to implement a revenue-generating machine for your annual fund. You will learn how the process the Rescignos have developed, when followed, results in a thriving annual fund that includes more new donors, better donor retention and more major gift prospects than ever before.

Ron and Sue Rescigno have spent close to 30 years working with nonprofits nationwide ronhelping them to create and improve their annual fund programs. They believe the annual fund is the foundation of any comprehensive development program and they have created a process to strategically build the annual fund so that it runs like a well-oiled machine.

In February of 2021, Ron’s new book, The Process-Driven Annual Fund, was published. The book explains how the process he and Sue have developed, when followed, results in a thriving annual fund that includes more new donors, better donor retention and more major gift prospects than ever before.



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