by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Somebody has to help keep things running and, for 33 years, Susan Carroll helped three archbishops (and others) keep the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas chugging along.
Carroll began working for the archdiocese in 1975, after having worked at her home parish of the Cathedral of St. Peter Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.
“I always worked in the administrative area,” said Carroll. “I started out directing the office of Call to Share.”
After working in Call to Share for several years, she moved to assisting with property and management, and other projects as needed. She ended her career as director of administrative services and human resources.
Worker bee stuff — unheralded, but absolutely necessary.
“My head was there, but my heart has always been more in ministry,” said Carroll.
Even before she retired from the archdiocese in 2008, Carroll was already following her heart to more spiritual work, “ministry” work. It became her second career.
Today, Carroll is a sought-after retreat master for women’s retreats all over the archdiocese. And like many good things, it began with prayer and a friend.
“Jackie Corrigan, who was then director of the archdiocesan family life office, was a close, personal friend of mine,” said Carroll. “We visited a lot together those days in the chancery and prayed a lot together. She asked me to help her co-facilitate an annual retreat for women, and we called it ‘A Day of Boundless Joy.’
“That’s when I found more fulfillment in that role than I had ever experienced in those administrative positions.”
When she retired, Carroll’s greatest desire was to continue in ministry to women.
A few years later, a priest friend who led a parish near Topeka asked her to lead a day of reflection for women. Four years ago, another woman she knew asked her to be a keynote speaker for a women’s retreat at Camp Tekakwitha, near Williamsburg.
She’s been invited back annually.
“That was another powerful, life-changing experience,” said Carroll.
More invitations followed, and more women’s retreats and days of reflection at more parishes, including the Church of the Nativity in Leawood and St. Ann Parish in Prairie Village.
Carroll didn’t publicize or promote herself. It was all word of mouth. The offers kept coming. And they still do — from all over the archdiocese.
Usually, Catholic retreats and other such events are led or headlined by so-called “experts”: clerics, religious, academics, authors or even celebrities. Carroll’s great gift — and calling — is her ordinariness.
“One of the most sacred institutions in Catholic life is the family,” she said. “My husband, and myself, and my four children lived within a good, solid, Catholic family. I believe that the reason I can speak to women is because I believe so completely that God comes to us in the ordinary moments of our lives.
“I don’t consider myself to have any extraordinary gifts other than my gift of faith. And for some reason, God gave me the ability to connect that with other women.
“We don’t have to be highly educated or credentialed or the most articulate, passionate speaker,” she continued. “But if we open up our hearts to God and the message he wants us to share with one another, it resonates with women.”
Carroll’s presentations and activities at retreats, with small groups and at days of reflection, certainly resonate with Kimberly Zubillaga, consultant with the archdiocesan office of evangelization. She’s also Carroll’s neighbor and has been in Bible studies and prayer groups with her.
“Susan is about as down-to-earth as they come,” said Zubillaga. “She also is very deep and has rich life experiences. Just about any story she tells reaches almost everyone in the room on a universal level in some way. She has a way of touching the heart of the youngest girl in the room to the most mature woman.”
It seems like when Carroll talks, “you feel like you’ve found a friend just listening to her,” said Zubillaga. “You feel like she knows who you are.”
Carroll draws women of all ages and all kinds of life experiences. It’s obvious that she is a woman of prayer, wise and insightful, who knows the Lord well.
Every retreat that Carroll leads or speaks at has a theme. Sometimes, the theme is provided by the group sponsoring the event, and sometimes it’s determined by the season of the liturgical year.
Every retreat is different because Carroll is different each time, and the participants are different — even annual events held at the same place.
Carroll mixes it up. Usually, her talks don’t exceed 20 minutes, because “after that I lose them,” she said. She structures “quiet time” at “prayer stations” (places to pray), and small groups so women can exchange their ideas of faith, their struggles, burdens and blessings. Often, there are opportunities for eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation.
“Women . . . are very hungry for a deeper experience of prayer and connection and peace outside of the noise of their everyday lives,” said Carroll. “They’re seeking ways to pray, avenues to understand their faith in a deeper and more personal way.
“Their hearts are hungry for a more personal relationship with and understanding of God, their personal God.”
Susan Carroll can be reached by email at: email@example.com.