Gratia Plena: The Girls’ Summer Camp that Builds Virtue

Pope Benedict XVI named contemporary feminism as one of the great civilizational threats of our age. He saw in the modern feminist movement, with its distorted view of “empowerment” and “equality,” a darkness that would attack the very heart of what it means to be a woman.

His fears were not unfounded. In 2020 a Pew Research Report found that wide swathes of women in America under the age of 30 reported having a mental health issue. As Dr. Carrie Gress aptly noted at the time, despite feminism’s alleged advances for the fairer sex, “women are not becoming happier, just more medicated.” For decades, modern feminism and the proponents of the sexual revolution swept through the culture in tandem, promising empowerment and freedom from the ties that had bound previous generations, particularly religious and familial. The mass consumption of contraception and widespread availability of abortion would lead to women flourishing, they vowed, unhindered by the burden of children. Yet somehow, instead of thriving “girl bosses,” we have scores of women suffering from mental health concerns.

The crisis is not stopping with women. Last month, the CDC released a study revealing that among teenage girls in America, 30 percent said they had seriously considered attempting suicide, up almost 60 percent from a decade ago.The data is stark and horrifying, but not necessarily shocking. Is it any wonder that this anguish is seeping into the younger generation of women and girls?

The darkness that Pope Benedict XVI predicted has indeed arrived and is threatening an entire generation of girls, over a quarter of whom have considered eliminating themselves completely.

The ideologies that have plundered our culture have robbed young women of their joy and filled them with self-loathing. However, we are blessed because we know the antidote to this deep malaise. Despite the world’s insistence that it is otherwise, the only hope of restoring our girls’ hope and acknowledgement of their own dignity lies with the Church that owes its existence to a young woman’s courageous fiat over two millennia ago.

“May it be done to me according to your word.”

We read these words, spoken by Mary and recorded by Luke, every year on the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Each time I hear them I am amazed by Our Lady’s strength in that moment. Her trust in God, and in His plan for her life, was utterly complete. Her cooperation with His will would lead to humanity’s redemption thirty-four years later.

Mary’s example has informed the Catholic vision of femininity since Christianity’s earliest days.

In his 1987 encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, Pope St. John Paul II wrote:

“In the light of Mary, the Church sees in the face of women the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement.”

Love, strength, fidelity. This is what the Church envisions for women.

For too many young girls, the only narrative they know is what they hear from the toxic feminism that permeates the world around them. They hear that men are to be distrusted, children are to be feared and avoided – perhaps even destroyed – and that everything that distinguishes them as women, their gentility, their nurturing intuition, and their ability to bear life, must be repressed in order to achieve success “in a man’s world.” To do anything else is to “betray themselves” or render themselves victims to the patriarchy.

Girls deserve far better than what the world has given them. I went to high school, college, and graduate school with the women cited in the studies above. I heard the promises that were made to all of us, promises that could never be fulfilled, and I saw the resultant pain in the hardened hearts of too many beautiful, intelligent women.

Christ never wanted His beloved daughters to suffer the anguish born from the broken promises of modern feminism. He never wanted his beautiful creations to deny their femininity, repress their fertility, hate their own bodies, and question their very worth. He gave us His mother to guide and protect us, and He left us a Church whose teachings affirm the inherent dignity of each one of us.

Armed with this knowledge, and driven by the Holy Spirit to fight back against this insidious onslaught however I could, I founded my organization, Gratia Plena Institute, three years ago to serve girls while they are still in high school, primarily through our annual overnight summer camp. Our mission is not simply to give young women a vocabulary to combat the constant barrage they face from the culture, but also to show them the true joy and beauty to be found in the Church’s vision for women. We want them to know that their strength comes from their place in creation as women, not in spite of it. Our prayer is that they will not only embrace their feminine genius, but will recognize that as women they have a large role to play in guiding the culture to virtue.

One young woman, after attending our camp two years in a row, wrote:

“I am here, on Earth, to live a life of virtue. By doing this, I have the power to lead both men and women to live a life of virtue and happiness, which will lead them to Heaven.”

We have just opened registration for our third annual camp, and as always, we have entrusted our efforts to Our Lady, confident that she will use our meager abilities to bring young women under her mantle.

In the conclusion of her recent book, Adam and Eve after the Pill Revisited, Mary Eberdstadt noted: “Our secularizing culture is not just any culture. Our secularizing culture is an inferior  culture. It is small of heart.” There is no joy, beauty, or love in a culture that has been stripped of its transcendence as ours has been, and our girls, too many of whom are on the brink of despair, are worthy of so much more than modernity has given them.

The richness and radiant joy of the Catholic faith, and the certitude of their inherent dignity as Daughters of Christ, is their true inheritance. May we never tire in striving to give it to them.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.

To learn more about Gratia Plena Institute’s mission and programs, including its annual summer camp, you can visit its website at

Photo courtesy of Gratia Plena Institute.

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Kelly Marcum studied International Politics at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and received her M.A. from the War Studies Department at King’s College London. She is the founder and President of Gratia Plena Institute, an organization dedicated to teaching high school girls about the Catholic vision of authentic femininity. Her writing has been featured in National Catholic Register, The American ConservativeThe Federalist, and The Washington Examiner. She lives with her husband and children in Virginia.

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