Retreats for young women fill a crucial need

Jane L. Hebert, Clarion Herald Guest Column

Eight years ago while attending a spiritual directors’ conference, Yvonne Hymel and I both felt strongly that we were being called to some kind of new but unknown ministry. And so we proceeded to enter into a time of prayer and discernment.

Four years later while again attending the same conference – and after reminding God that we weren’t getting any younger – the idea came in a flash: Coordinating retreats for women in their early 20s through early 40s.

We realized that this specific age group was important as it is an underserved population spiritually and, yet, it is a time when women are pulled in a myriad of directions with careers, relationships and children, leaving little time and thought for reflection and prayer. 

Further, while women are most often the emotional and spiritual centers of a family, they seldom take time to replenish their own emotional and spiritual well-being. 

From our own life experiences as young mothers and young professionals, we remembered how spiritually isolated this time could be, and we had the desire to be the mentors that we ourselves did not have.  

From the beginning, we knew that the retreats needed to be inclusive, so while they are held in Catholic centers, they are not exclusively Catholic. The majority of the retreatants have come from Catholic backgrounds, but many are not presently “regular church-goers.”

Others were raised in a Protestant faith; a few have had little faith training. These mind, body, spirit retreats ask only that the individual is a spiritual seeker.  

While we were very clear that God was calling us to work with this age group, an immediate concern was how we would “find” them.

And so began our movement into the world of Facebook and websites, newsletters and blogs. One of the young women designed flyers for us, and the retreat center designed a brochure.

Writing the retreat outline came more easily. We knew we wanted the retreats to be experiential rather than preached. We wanted the women to have an experience of God rather than to tell them about God. We wanted an element of silence as well as some group interaction. So for each retreat, we incorporate art,  music, incense, candles, nature, poetry, story and Scripture meditation as a jumping off place, and then we send them out to pray and reflect. 

The group becomes a safe place for young women to articulate their experiences. The silence is integral to encounter God.

The young women are lovely. They are searching and open and struggling and appreciative of the retreat experience. Many come very hesitant about the prospect of keeping silence for a weekend, but most come to realize how much they really desire a time of quiet and stillness away from the noise and busyness of their daily lives.  

After four years of facilitating retreats at the Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat Center (the Cenacle) and the Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau, Yvonne has recently retired from “Retreats For Young Women.” This change leaves the ministry in a time of transition, a time of opportunity and a time to trust that God will continue to lead us. Another woman is already scheduled to come on board in March 2019, and I am actively searching for a third woman as well.  

Our next retreat, “Be Still, My Soul,” is Oct. 12-14 in Metairie. The retreat fee is $200 (early registration) and partial scholarships are available. Msgr. Doug Doussan, who has helped previously with Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation, has offered to serve as an interim facilitator with me. For more information or to register for the retreat, go to www.retreatsforyoungwomen.org.  

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