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Retreats encourage women to step back from the busyness of their everyday lives to reflect and recharge

Women gather around the altar for eucharistic adoration at Church of the Nativity in Leawood for the “Journey to Joy” women’s retreat. A good retreat provides space and time for speakers, fellowship, food and, perhaps most important of all, silent prayer and reflection. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

LEAWOOD  — “Pray first,” said St. Agnes, Roeland Park, parishioner Teresa Elder when asked about planning a retreat.

“Stay flexible,” she added. “And have a sense of humor.

“I don’t care how much planning you do, you’re going to have to shift not once, but a number of times.”

Susan Carroll, a member of St. Joseph Parish, Shawnee, couldn’t agree more.

Carroll and Elder, along with Susan Vogliardo from Church of the Nativity Parish in Leawood, have worked together for years planning and presenting retreats specifically for women.

They have it down to a science, with two caveats at the forefront of the formula — teamwork and prayer.

“Create a team that will join you in praying,” said Carroll. “Pray for the Spirit to guide you in bringing women together for that common purpose of coming closer to their faith and their love of Jesus.

“If that’s not your reason, there’s no reason to have a retreat.”

Women pray before the Eucharist during the “Journey to Joy” women’s retreat at Church of the Nativity in Leawood on Jan. 28. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

When planning a retreat, Elder always keeps in mind the true meaning of the word.

“I think ‘retreat’ gets thrown around with terms like ‘seminar’ or ‘workshop,’” she said. “But ‘retreat’ means ‘to withdraw or move back.’

“In military terms, you’re moving back from an enemy.”

Sometimes for Catholic women, that enemy is all the demands of daily life clamoring for their attention.

“In this day and age, we are all so busy,” said Vogliardo. “We’re torn in so many different directions.

“I think retreats are a wonderful way to get away, to not look at the clock or our phones; to really be honed in on our Lord, to be there for each other.”

‘They come a little empty’

Women are givers by nature and that can be draining. A good retreat will allow them to step back, slow down and be nurtured themselves for a change.

“They come a little empty,” said Carroll of retreat participants. “I think they come always, in my experience, seeking a deeper relationship with Jesus; to form new habits of prayer and of intimacy fitting into the ordinary daily routines of their life.

“They come for rest and peace.”

Prayer and reflection are important parts of any retreat. But women, in particular, can need a moment to step back from their daily lives and — in the presence of the Lord — just breathe. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Ideally, retreats accommodate women of all ages, personalities and levels of catholicity.

The annual Tekakwitha Women’s Retreat coming up in April (see below) has  been attended in the past by women from college-age through retirement. And the “Renewed by His Love” Women’s Conference (see below) is, likewise, open to all.

And they all found common ground as children of God.

“It’s important to know we’re not the only ones going through things,” said Vogliardo. “I think sisterhood and friendship is so important, especially in this day and age.

“We need to be together; we need to know how much Jesus loves us and that we’re his daughters. We’re all in this together.”

Whatever their age or place in life, women are hungry to grow in their faith and friendship with others.

Women share an embrace during the “Journey to Joy” women’s retreat held at Nativity. Women of all ages and stages of life can benefit from a retreat. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

The work of planning and presenting a retreat can be daunting. But according to these veterans of the ministry, it’s well worth it.

“We had no idea what we were doing when we started ‘Journey to Joy’ (an annual retreat held at Church of the Nativity),” said Vogliardo. “We prayed about it, and we talked to friends about what they wanted in a retreat.

“And we learned — this year was our sixth ‘Journey to Joy.’”

It’s a gratifying endeavor, according to Elder, if you keep one goal in mind.

“If you can touch just one person,” she said, “it’s worth it. It’s worth all the planning and everything.

“Because you never know what one person is going to do. That one person could go out and touch so many.”

Upcoming women’s retreats

Tekakwitha Women’s Retreat
April 28-30

Come enjoy the beauty of God’s creation at Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg.

This women’s retreat offers large group and breakout sessions, individ- ual reflection, Mass, eucharistic ado- ration, reconciliation, free time, friend- ship, laughter and joy. Find the space to relax, rejuvenate and reconnect.

For more information or to reg- ister for the retreat, go online to: or send an email to:

‘Renewed by His Love’ Women’s Conference
May 4-6

Join others for an event designed to help women understand that the damage, hard knocks and brokenness in life are repaired by the golden grace of Christ’s healing love.

This three-day women’s conference at Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa includes inspirational guest speakers, a candlelight exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, opportunities to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, a wine and cheese social event, and Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. For more information or to register for the conference, go online to:

Steps to planning a women’s retreat

Gather your planning team and begin praying

When organizing a team, keep in mind the expertise needed in areas of decorating, food, audio/visual support and publicity. Once your team is in place, begin praying daily for guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Identify your potential audience

Determine if your retreat will be limited to single women, mothers, seniors or open to everyone. This will help you focus on other elements.

Determine time and location

Choose a date that gives your team at least four months to plan, and a time frame that allows at least a half day for an effective retreat experience. The location will depend on the size and length of the retreat.

Pick a theme

While praying for guidance, always focus on a key Scripture passage — maybe one from the weekend of the retreat. Often, the theme is born out of that passage.

Set goals

The main purpose is always to help women create new habits in prayer, to enter a deeper relationship with God and to come together in fellowship. Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in setting goals to accomplish this purpose.

Structure your retreat time

Determine elements you want to include in your retreat and set up a timeline. Keep in mind different learning styles and include opportunities for hearing, seeing and experiencing the retreat messages. In addition to a speaker and food, elements might include Mass, eucharistic adoration, music, reading materials, small-group sharing and prayer stations.

Come up with a budget

Money is an unavoidable consideration, so have a discussion about how much you’ll need, where it will come from and how much you will need to charge participants to meet your budget.

Arrange for speaker(s), music and food

Most retreats are dependent on these essentials, and your options are dependent on your budget. But even a small budget can provide for great local speakers, pleasing snacks and good music.

Speakers – You can go to trusted Catholic sites on the internet to look for speakers or ask for suggestions from priests and parishioners. Contact the relevant office of the archdiocese if you get stuck or have  any doubt. If the retreat is held at a church, be sure to get the pastor’s approval also. Make sure you have a team member who can handle any audio/visual equipment required.

• Food — Ideally, the retreat will begin with Mass and then a light brunch for a daytime event or perhaps wine and light hors d’oeuvres for an evening occasion. Food should be simple and quick so as not to take time away from the main purpose. You can make socializing comfortable by placing questions on the tables to prompt conversation.

• Music – Live music may be best but do what your budget allows. Any way music is provided, participants always appreciate lyrics they can read along.

Get the word out

About a month before your retreat date, use social media, church bulletins, The Leaven newspaper and Sunday Mass announcements to invite participants to your retreat.

Order materials

Make a list of supplies such as decorations, handouts, name tags, special gifts or mementos. Be sure they’re ordered to arrive at least a week before the event.

Create the perfect atmosphere

Wherever your retreat is being held, women appreciate an atmosphere that feels peaceful and welcoming. Get creative within your budget and keep in mind a space that is easily converted for socializing, small group discussion or prayer stations.

Finish with a bang

Plan to end your retreat with something concrete that will help participants continue the experience. For example, this year’s “Journey to Joy” participants were given the Surrender Novena to be said at home.

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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