New Catholic divorce ministry in River Parishes

By Christine Bordelon

Felicie “Phyl” Cornman knows well the anguish, the hurt, the confusion and the perceived shame of divorce. Two years ago, when she and her husband of 35 years divorced, Cornman looked for local support groups and resources on divorce and came up empty.

Being the pro-active person she is, she went on a “Beginning Experience” weekend designed to help those who have lost a spouse due to separation, divorce or death. She said it was life-changing.

Knowing not everyone can afford or have time to do a weekend, Cornman’s pain and passion led her to seek to find a divorce resource to help separated and divorced individuals in the river parishes where she lives.

“Where do you go down the street for help?” she asked. “I really felt like I needed something in my parish. There are others like me (who had been married for many years) but also much younger people with children who are hurting.”

Nationwide program

Her search brought her to the 12-week program “Surviving Divorce” from Ascension Press that is being used successfully in the Diocese of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“If Lake Charles is doing this, we could do it,” she thought. She contacted David Dawson Jr., head of the Family Life Apostolate of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and he suggested she tackle it at the parish level.

So, she reached out to other Catholic parishes, and they formed the River Parish Separated and Divorced Ministry.

An introductory “Come and See Evening” will be held Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at St. Joan of Arc Family Life Center, 529 West Fifth St. in LaPlace. The actual 12-week video series will begin Oct. 17 and last through Feb. 6 at St. Joan of Arc Church.

The video series features real people telling their divorce stories with “heart, human and wisdom”; advice from experts such as Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa; Father Steve Porter; Marian Father of the Immaculate Conception Donald Calloway; theologian and speaker Christopher West; and host, author, speaker and pastoral counselor Rose Sweet.

The series helps individuals work through the emotional upheaval, the deeper understanding of God’s love and addresses concerns such as court hearings, finances, etc.

“I find the videos very easy to watch,” said Deacon Richard Abbondante of St. Peter Church in Reserve, who is leading the effort in his Catholic parish.

Cover all bases

Cornman, along with Jeri Landry of St. Joan of Arc, will lead the series with the support of representatives from Catholic churches on the east and west banks of the River Parishes.

From the opening segment, the series appeals to those who are hurting.

“The first video is very impacting,” said Andree Casadaban of St. Joan of Arc Church in LaPlace’s Family Life Committee. “The first step to healing is to open up the wounds that have never been healed. Sometimes, we cover up our wounds. … I think it (first video) will touch them deeply in places where they are hurting, and they will come back to complete the series.”

The weekly topics covered in the video series include: “Getting Your Bearings”; “Finding Strength and Help”; “Getting Through Your Anger”; “Finding Perfect Peace”; “Learning to Forgive”; “Dealing with Your Family”; “Handling Money Wisely”; “Finding Perfect Power”; “Seeing God in Romance”; “Relearning How to Date”; “Loving All Church Teachings”; and “Finding Perfect Passion.”

“This is really aimed at healing the pain and reaching out to those who feeling marginalized and feeling outside of the church (due to divorce),” Casadaban said. “The goal is to bring them home.”

“You realize (through the series) that you are not suffering alone,” Deacon Abbondante said. “Other people are going through the same experience.”

You are not alone

Cornman initially felt embarrassed and hurt about her marital separation and couldn’t bear to tell even her close-knit family.

“Divorce is the cheesiest thing I have ever done,” the practicing Catholic said. “It’s your sacrament, and when you stand on the altar and say you will love and serve and obey your spouse, you are promising God. You can’t break your promise.”

She said it’s been a hard process, but her Catholic faith carried her through. That’s why she is so excited to have found the Catholic-based “Surviving Divorce.”

“The amount of people hurt by broken relationships is great,” Casadaban said. “They are suffering, and they are thirsty, and we just need to scoop them (up).”

Deadline to register for the series is Oct. 8. Cost is $25 and includes a book “The Catholics’ Divorce Survival Guide” that has pages for those attending to individually journal as the sessions progress.

The series is open to individuals of all denominations and ages. Visit  for local details or to learn more about the “Surviving Divorce” series.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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