Blessed Is She retreat speakers: Go wild

| August 16, 2018 | 0 Comments

Rachel Carrell of Chicago, left, talks with Julia Baier of Nativity of Mary in Bloomington Aug. 11 at the Blessed Is She retreat at St. Mark in St. Paul. The two were working on art projects together, which women did during a break between talks. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?”

That was emcee Laura Kelly Fanucci’s question to speakers as she introduced them during a Blessed is She retreat in St. Paul. Their answers ranged: A religious sister said joining religious life was her wild decision, one she had never expected to make; another said it hiking Croagh Patrick in Ireland and lugging back an 11-pound rock as a souvenir; another said online dating.

The theme of the retreat was “Wild,” but the leaders were clear that they didn’t mean hedonistic. Rather, the “wild” they described was the “wildness” of God, and the wildness of a woman’s complete surrender to his love and will for her life.

The Aug. 10-11 retreat was the first one Blessed Is She has held in St. Paul. It was one of seven regional retreats the Arizona-based, international Catholic women’s ministry is holding this year in the United States and Ireland. Held at St. Mark in St. Paul, it drew about 315 women from at least 13 states and Australia.

The retreat began Friday evening with a speaker, praise-and-worship music and eucharistic adoration, and continued Saturday with other speakers, confession, prayer, music, adoration and Mass celebrated by Bishop Andrew Cozzens.

It featured local and national speakers. Fanucci — a Catholic author, Blessed Is She contributor and parishioner of St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove — shared her testimony Friday evening. St. Paul-native Sister Laura Holupchinski of Pro Ecclesia Sancta, a Peru-based religious order that serves St. Mark’s parish and school, also shared her story of learning to pray, coming to know God’s will for her life and the beauty of the sacrament of reconciliation.

“God wants us to be unashamed in front of him,” she said. “Jesus gives us opportunities to be healed of our own sin and be free of that shame, to reassure us that he doesn’t hold on to our sins, he forgives us.”

Other speakers included Beth Davis, Blessed Is She’s director of ministry advancement, and Patty Breen, a lay minister from Michigan. Several speakers reflected on the idea of “wilderness” in Scripture, and an untamed garden as mankind’s first home. Speakers tied their talks to the “wild” theme and the retreat’s central Scripture verse, John 3:8: “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” They encouraged attendees to pray and reflect on where God is asking them to be “wild” — to throw off constraints in order to better love God and follow his will. 

That resonated with Annette Lay, 25, who flew from New Orleans, Louisiana, to St. Paul for the retreat. She said the retreat has given her the courage to consider moving from her hometown, where she’s been living with her parents, to someplace new for the right job. That courage also stems from being part of the Blessed Is She community, she said, because the friendships she’s made through its online forums have convinced her that she’ll be able to connect with like-minded Catholic women no matter where she lands. In the meantime, she wants to use Blessed Is She to bring together women in New Orleans.

“Through Blessed Is She, I’ve met so many amazing women that I know I have a place to go to no matter where I am in the world,” said Lay, who stayed with two of those friends in the Twin Cities during the retreat. She had befriended them through Blessed Is She’s regional Facebook groups, but they hadn’t met in person until the retreat weekend. She said the friendships in-person have been as rich as she hoped.

On Saturday morning, Lay sat at a picnic table across from another new acquaintance, Anna Craine, as the two watercolored in St. Mark School’s courtyard during a break in the speaker schedule. Nearby, other attendees were also making art, journaling or going to confession.

As she painted a band of squiggly yellow and orange lines across white paper, Craine said that the retreat was confirming something she had suspected: It was time for her tight-knit reading group to split in two, so they would be able to let more women join them. The group had grown too large for its members to be vulnerable in the way they once were, Craine said, and other women were asking to join.

“We can’t just stay comfortable here,” said Craine, 27, who works at a nonprofit in Duluth, speaking of her small group. “But sometimes you have to move outside of your comfortable. … I totally hear the call. The Spirit is moving.”

Blessed Is She began in 2014 and provides online reflections written by women on the Church’s daily Scripture readings. It’s grown to include in-person small-group studies, brunch events and the retreats.

Nell O’Leary Alt, Blessed Is She’s managing editor, organized the St. Paul retreat and was busy behind the scenes coordinating volunteers and overseeing the day’s schedule. She was pleased with how it went.

“I was blown away … watching how profoundly the Holy Spirit was working,” said Alt, a parishioner of St. Agnes in St. Paul. “Women were reaching out and connecting with women from totally different walks of life, and they’re prayer partners now. And those relationships are going to move forward beyond this retreat.”

On Saturday afternoon, attendees paired up and took turns listening to each other’s prayer needs, and then prayed together. Fanucci said during that time she sneaked behind the stage to take in the scene.

“It was the most beautiful part of the retreat for me,” she said. “All these women with their heads bowed, or their hand on someone’s shoulder, there was so much beautiful prayer in that moment, and I thought, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.’ I just wanted to look out over it and think, ‘What a holy moment.’”

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