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.”
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.”
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.
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
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.
‘Renewed by His Love’ Women’s Conference
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: catholicwomensconferencekc.com.
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.
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.
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.