Five times over the past 10 years, the Atlantic-Midwest Province has offered a three-day retreat, Claiming the Fire Within, to make the SSND founding and evolving stories available to lay staff, associates and sisters serving at SSND facilities and SSND sponsored and co-sponsored ministries. The retreat introduced participants to Mother Theresa’s call and discernment to the ministry of education of poor girls and religious life, the risks she took in faith, and the connection to the retreatant’s own faith journey. Furthermore, people learned about and reflected on the founding of the congregation in North America and Mother Caroline’s work of unity. Also included in the schedule was the evolution of SSND after Vatican II.
As the Atlantic-Midwest Province seeks to strengthen the growth and advancement of the SSND charism, a second retreat, Sustaining the Fire Within, was offered to people who participated in the previous retreat between 2009 and 2015. The purpose was to build on their retreat experience and deepen their journey with God and with one another in ministry through prayer. Sister Mary Kerber, Director of Campus Ministry and Service at Notre Dame of Maryland University and the main presenter for this retreat, shared about the spirituality of Mother Theresa and Mother Caroline, and their devotion to prayer. Prayers by Mother Theresa inspired participants’ own prayer life. Writings on Mother Caroline highlighted the concept of being a contemplative-in-action. Sister Mary introduced those attending to Lectio Divina, a contemplative way of prayer and a practical approach to engaging Scripture; she also led people in a guided meditation on the grain of wheat that dies in order to produce much fruit. During private prayer time, people enjoyed the Malvern, PA, retreat house and the beautiful grounds, and experimented with a guided ‘mindful hike.’ Yvonne DeBruin, Director of Ministry Services, also introduced participants to journaling as a way to pray.
Two participants in particular shared in their evaluations that:
• I am most grateful for the gift of “time” here in this sacred space. I have been enriched by the wisdom shared by the presenters and the retreatants.
• Being in touch with Theresa and Caroline on a deeper level – seeing them as our mentors – Sister Mary’s presentation was exceptional. This fantastic place opened me to all that God has in store for me.
In addition, many commented on their resolve to take more time for prayer.
The retreat was supported by morning and evening prayers led by Sister Mary Beth Buettner, as well as opening and closing rituals by Associate Valerie Smitheman-Brown. Sister Judy Schaum, Associate Director of Ministry Services organized and facilitated the entire experience. Last, but not least, participants’ sharing among themselves offered support and affirmation, and strengthened the connection among SSND ministries.
The hope was that participants discovered or re-discovered the joy of prayer, the importance of going on retreat, and being intentional about spending time with God to renew oneself and to gain a fresh perspective on one’s ministry. Perhaps, also, participants will make going on retreat a regular practice for themselves.