By Robin Hebert, Contributing writer, Clarion Herald
More than 250 women met in New Orleans Nov. 2-4 for the biannual National Gathering of the Southern Region of Theresians International.
I remember my mother gathering with Theresians in the St. Dominic School cafeteria during the early 1960s.
Those gatherings must have planted a seed because I have been active in Theresians for 35 years, serving as president in the mid-1990s.
I was a planning team member for the last gathering, themed “A Radical Adventure: St. Thérèse’s Little Way.”
Our main presenter, Heather King – a self-described blogger, speaker and author of the memoir “Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Thérèse of Lisieux”– regaled us with her childhood on the New Hampshire coast, being a recovering alcoholic who sobered in 1987, quitting her job as an attorney and converting to Catholicism in 1996.
Her appeal to Theresians was her Catholicity and the creative way she weaved her story with that of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, patroness of Theresians International, showing us how to weave Therese’s little ways in our lives.
For Thérèse, conversion took place on a staircase where she received the grace of leaving childhood (and extreme oversensitivity) forever. King’s setting was the treatment center’s outdoors in rural Minnesota, where she spent 30 days in the sobriety program.
Describing the grace of her conversion, King told us, “One morning I crept out for a walk just past dawn. Not another soul stirred. I came upon a pond and, through the mist, saw a blue heron, standing stock still, noble head erect. I saw the heron, and the heron saw me.
“It was a moment from the Song of Songs, a moment of liminal space and time, an instant of such heart-stopping beauty that in my memory it has attained the level of myth. All those years, while I’d been in bars, this heron, or one like him, had been coming to the pond. All those years while I’d been drinking morning Sea Breezes at Boston’s Sullivan’s Tap, another parallel world had been breathing, suffering, praising God.
“Many years passed before I discovered Christ, and more years after, before I came into the church. But, in a way, I can mark my conversion from that moment. In a way, that heron was Christ, saying, ‘Heather, Heather, why are you persecuting me?’”
In another presentation, King described the progression of Thérèse’s spirituality as the movement from what we’d today call codependence – defined by King as a tendency to over-attach, over-bond, over-love and carrying this message: “Heal me, fix me, pay attention to me” disguised as “Let me take care of you.”
“Heather King touched our hearts deeply through her heart-breaking stories and the amazing lens through which she understands the writings of Thérèse of Lisieux,” said Victoria Schmidt, executive director of Theresians International.
To the gathered women called to service yet so prone to people-pleasing and enabling, King summoned us to the true self-giving to which we are invited by Christ.
We left the gathering with this pledge on our hearts: “Just for today, I will not try to improve or regulate anyone else.” We are touched deeply by the sharing that consistently occurs at our national gatherings.
Theresians International is a Catholic organization, founded in the early 1960s by Msgr. Elwood Voss, a vocation director in Pueblo, Colorado, who thought women needed to support each other through small faith communities. Theresians commit to growing spiritually through five dimensions: spiritual, education, vocation, community and ministry, steeped in the spirituality of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. It was brought to New Orleans by Father Ignatius Roppolo. The international organization has about 2,000 members worldwide. For details, visit NLTReps@louisianatheresians.com.
Robin Hebert is a pastoral counselor, spiritual director, retreat leader and co-author of “When Women Pray”and “When Wisdom Speaks.” She serves Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Church Student Center in Lafayette as marriage ministry coordinator and is an Open Heart member for 34 years.