Behold retreat focuses on young women’s engagement in homes, parishes and public square

| May 3, 2017 | 0 Comments

From left, Sister Eileen Leon, Justina Kopp, Bridget Busacker, Dia Boyle and Crystal Crocker, interim director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, take questions at Behold April 29 at St. Olaf in Minneapolis. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

In the late 1300s, St. Catherine of Siena wrote to her friend Stefano Maconi, urging him not to be lukewarm in his work for God and the Church.

She told him, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”

The famous quote points to the reason more than 40 young women gathered for a day retreat at St. Olaf in Minneapolis on St. Catherine’s feast day, April 29: to explore authentic womanhood and its implications for their spheres of influence, and to aspire to holiness.

The women were in their 20s or early 30s. From 9 a.m.-4 p.m., they heard from seven speakers on topics ranging from authentic freedom to the importance of beauty and hospitality.

Called “Behold” in reference to Mary’s fiat, spoken to the Archangel Gabriel — “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” — the retreat was organized by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

It was the brainchild of one of the office’s evangelization managers, Susanna Bolle, who last year attended the GIVEN Forum, a conference on similar themes, in Washington, D.C. There she and other attendees were challenged to create an action plan for sharing one’s gifts in their home dioceses.

“The purpose of the Behold retreat was to bring young women together for a day of beauty, prayer, leadership training and networking which would encourage them to be confident and bold while offering their unique gifts to the world, especially within their own parish,” said Bolle, 26, a parishioner of St. Mark in St. Paul.

Among the speakers was Justina Kopp, a parishioner of Holy Family in St. Louis Park, and a mother to infant quadruplets. She spoke alongside Sister Eileen Leon, a member of Pro Ecclesia Sancta, on the importance of beauty, and its role in the vocations of marriage and religious life.

Kopp explained that beauty is a transcendental — along with goodness and truth — and exhorted the women to seek beauty, create it in their homes and families, and acknowledge it in themselves. True beauty leads others to think of the creator, she said.

“Ask God for grace to accept and love who you are,” she said, referring to women’s propensity to criticize their physical appearance. “God made you the way he did for a reason, and if we don’t love ourselves well, how can we love others well?”

Sister Eileen, a confirmation coordinator and middle school youth minister at Our Lady of Grace in Edina, described encountering PES priests and sisters while preparing for confirmation in her home country of Peru. She was attracted to their joy, she said, which she realized came from their relationship with Christ. The perfection of beauty, she said, is the “shining out of Christ within us.”

Likewise, a beautiful home also attracts, allowing women to practice hospitality, deepen friendships, and through those friendships, lead others to holiness, said Dia Boyle, a parishioner of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul.

“The home is a secret weapon — a very powerful secret weapon in the project of making, fostering and deepening friendships, which we need to do for our own human happiness … but also so we can be women of influence,” she said.

Boyle emphasized the importance of making friendship a priority. It often comes naturally for women while at college when they often live with their friends, but creating and fostering friendships once other responsibilities vie for their time can be challenging, she said.

Friendship “can’t be the last thing after everything else, or those friendships won’t flourish,” she said.

In the day’s closing talk, Bridget Busacker extended that call of friendship to one’s relationships with the saints, telling the women to “build up your spiritual tribe.”

Speaking on the topic of parish leadership, she advised the women to pray daily, go to adoration, frequent the sacraments, get to know Mary and the saints, and read about the faith. God “desires you, he loves you and he wants that time with you,” she said of prayer.

Busacker, a newlywed and parishioner of St. Mark in St. Paul, said young adults can struggle with feeling like they have little to offer their parish, or they feel like they’d prefer not to take on parish responsibilities.

“I’m recognizing that it’s really not about what I want, but what I can give, and how the Lord is working through us and with us to be able to share our faith, to build community, to build relationships, so that we’re not just on our phones all the time, we’re not hopping around from parish to parish, we’re really investing in one place,” she said.

She gave advice on proposing new ideas to pastors, having realistic and flexible expectations, and organizing one’s projects so that if she handed off leadership, the next leader could easily pick up where things left off.

Marylovelyn Ejiofor, a 25-year-old social worker, said that the day motivated her to want to start a youth group at her parish, St. Peter Claver in St. Paul.

She said she’s been questioning what God wants her to do with her life and what her spirituality should look like. “I find that going to these things [retreats] are great, because they’ve spearheaded ideas I have for my life,” she said.

Abby Kowitz, 27, said the retreat renewed her sense of her femininity and “how that gift of my womanhood, my femininity, it’s needed in the world,” she said. “While that’s lived in my being, I need to be intentional and active in living that out and be more bold.”

She said she was struck by something shared by Deborah Savage, a professor at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul and the day’s first speaker.

“When Eve was created, her first view of the world always included ‘the other,’” which differs from the view of Adam, who knew life alone, said Kowitz, a St. Mark parishioner pursing a graduate degree in counseling. “We’re oriented toward ‘the other.’ It’s such a beautiful way to understand myself and to understand all women.”

Bolle hopes attendees left with a “happy challenge.”

“I want each woman to walk away from the retreat with an excitement to pray about whatever it is the Lord placed upon her heart that day and to share what she has learned with others — with her friends, family and pastor,” she said. “I hope that each woman courageously steps out of her comfort zone and says ‘yes’ to God’s plan for her, and that she will pursue opportunities to exemplify leadership in her community and parish life and ‘set the world on fire’ by being who she is meant to be.”

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