Great leaders are supposed to be great learners.

So you can understand why anyone running a company would jump at the chance to hear her role model, mentor, or favorite teacher give a talk--or observe the way he comports himself in public. Founders savor every second they can spend with leaders like Richard Branson and Daymond John. They also pay hefty fees to attend massive marketing conferences to hear speakers like Chelsea Clinton.

For Lisa Hendey, the Fresno, California-based founder of CatholicMom.com and author of several Catholic-themed books, the learning chance of a lifetime is coming next week. That's when Pope Francis will visit the United States for the first time from Sept. 22 to 27, with stops in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. 

A once-in-a-lifetime chance.

Hendey's first stop is Philadelphia on Sept. 22, to attend the World Meeting of Families, the world's largest Catholic gathering of families, held every three years. Pope Francis will appear at the World Meeting's closing ceremonies Sept. 26 and will celebrate Mass the following day. More than 1 million people are expected to visit Philadelphia for the occasion, according to local reports, which estimate a $420 million economic impact (including 100,000 short-term jobs).

For the most part, Hendey will stay in Philadelphia, stopping for 20 hours in Washington, D.C., on the morning of Sept. 24 to hear Pope Francis address the United States Congress. "I am looking forward to hearing what Pope Francis will have to say to the leaders of our country with respect to service to the poor, care for the environment, and support of families," she says. As the founder and editor of a website devoted to Catholic mothers, Hendey has a window to the world of what mothers worldwide want Pope Francis to address.

Pope Francis made news in May for his encyclical letter, which addressed the perils of climate change and a world in which unbridled profit motives come first. While the mothers in Hendey's loop are concerned about those topics, Hendey says they're also eager to hear what Pope Francis has to say about three subjects for which the line from policy to family life is a bit more direct: marriage-equality rights for the LGBT community; making the annulment process less lengthy and expensive; and the impact of technology on families in an era when toddlers play with smartphones.

Attending events in Philadelphia and Washington will give Hendey the chance to meet many members of her network face-to-face. That's something she can't usually do, running her business out of her home "on a shoestring." This trip is worth the cost for her, not only because of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Pope Francis, but also because she'll have personal interactions with many of the writers for CatholicMom.com. What's more, she'll meet many of her readers in person, getting their perspectives on what for them, too, is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Previously in her career, she's found traveling--and viewing something in person--has yielded keen insights about her faith and the way she is leading her life. Two years ago, she visited Rwanda. It was the 20th anniversary of the genocide. Hendey saw firsthand a nation still reeling from the aftereffects. "I was a young mom [at the time of the genocide], and frankly, I wasn't even aware that it was happening," she adds. "I felt terrible, just experiencing the scope of that. One hundred days, at least 500,000 people killed. And I was watching Barney videos."

Hendey is hard on herself. But the feeling has informed her sense of mission with CatholicMom.com, which she says gets 100,000 unique visitors a month from 147 different countries. Mothers have only so much time for current events; as essential as the work of raising their young children is, Hendey's business can help them stay aware of global crises requiring love, sensitivity, and generosity.

One reason she admires Pope Francis so much is what she calls his encouragement "to truly live the message of the gospels: to love more deeply, to serve more profoundly, and to worship more authentically," she says. "It is not enough simply to attend Mass or even to pray. Being a follower of Christ means being Christ's hands and feet in a world very greatly in need of love and compassion." 

Published on: Sep 19, 2015