MERCER COUNTY — EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story appeared in the January/February issue of Faith magazine, published bi-monthly by the Catholic Diocese of Erie.
“We are just a group of women who want to grown in our faith.”
So says Veronica Garry, chair of the Mercer County Catholic Women’s Retreat League.
While Pope Francis is calling for greater responsibility among the laity – admittedly something that has been promoted strongly since the Second Vatican Council – the women of Mercer County always have been ahead of the game, hosting retreats since the 1950s.
The league – which was formed for the singular purpose of hosting an annual retreat for the women of Mercer County – is now a well-oiled machine. Members meet three or four times a year to plan, to evaluate and to explore what might be improved.
While the purpose remains the same, the league wants to bolster membership to ensure that its mission will continue well into the future.
Early group members were astute enough to write down a brief history of the league.
According to an interview they conducted with the late Monsignor Louis Heberlein, who served as acting director of lay persons on behalf of the bishop, there were no facilities for weekend retreats between Cleveland and Buffalo, during the 1950s.
Toward the end of the decade, a Mrs. Raymond Flynn, a Mrs. James English and a Mrs. John Schmidt were invited to visit a new retreat house in Youngstown, run by the Sacred Heart Missionary Fathers. After a tour and a full explanation of weekend retreat schedules, they persuaded league members to vote in favor of hosting annual weekend retreats in Ohio for several years.
Although the weekends were successful, by 1960 family and work obligations made it increasingly difficult for women to get away for an entire weekend. Thus the retreats became day-long events rotated among the 13 parishes in the county.
The idea was a hit from the start, with 390 women in attendance the first year. According to early programs, strict silence was required from the start of the conference until it was time for “the question box.”
Today, after the lively opening luncheon designed for fellowship, participants are asked to refrain from unnecessary talking in order to create an atmosphere of prayer, meditation, reconciliation and reverence. More than 100 women still come together each year to listen to talks present by a priest serving as spiritual director, to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation, to pray the rosary and recite the Divine Mercy chaplet. The retreat always concludes with Mass at the end of the afternoon.
Cost for participants is still just $10, including lunch. Adequate parking, storage space and accessibility have made St. Joseph parish, 79 Case Ave. in Sharon, a more permanent location for the retreats.
Volunteers who would like to join the league are invited to email Garry at email@example.com
Women in the Mercer County area are invited to attend this year’s retreat from 1 to 4 p.m. March 16. The Rev. David Foradori, pastor of St. Michael and St. Joseph parishes in Dubois, will be the retreat master. Reservations may be made by calling Pat Demas at 724-646-2662 or 724-814-2006.