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Renewing spiritually at the Woods


Ruth Wardein, above, is a wife, mother and owner of Epiphany Gluten Free Bakery in Naples, Florida. Her extended retreat at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods gave her the peace and strength she needed to return renewed to her busy life.

Ruth Wardein wanted to hike up a mountain on her first extended spiritual retreat. But the Holy Spirit had other plans, she said.

Ruth isn’t exactly sure what made her choose Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for her week-long retreat. She only knows “God wanted me there.”

Sister Paula Damiano, retreat director for Providence Spirituality and Conference Center, says, “People are drawn to the silence and solitude here at Saint Mary-of-the Woods. There are places where you can walk, rest and pray. Some come to center themselves and refocus. Others because they are dealing with issues in their lives and want to explore them in the context of prayer. We even had an author stay for a month so she could write her book without interruptions and distractions.”

Ruth and her husband, Nicholas, have partaken in spiritual direction since they were first married more than ten years ago. Ruth has been on short retreats in the past.

“My spiritual director advised me that in order to dive in you need more than three days.”

Originally intended to be a retreat for her husband, Ruth felt compelled to take the time for herself. Ruth made the journey from Florida to Indiana to spend a week in one of the private hermitages. She left the care of their three children, all under the age of ten, with her husband.

God calling

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Ruth said she listened to “God calling.” She knew that “life was getting ready to change dramatically.” At that time, the self-described ballerina turned baker was working on a plan to move her gluten free bakery to a location where it could sell directly to customers.

Although the timing was challenging, Ruth feels like the retreat away from her hectic life gave her energy and strength to sustain her. She spent her time at the Woods praying and finding her “center.” She was also able to spend time in discussion with her spiritual director who was here on retreat, as well.

During her stay, Ruth attended “Praying with the Mystics” facilitated by Sister Cathy Campbell. This day-long retreat explored the lives of three women who fell deeply in love with God — St. Claire of Assisi, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Mother Theodore Guerin — three of her favorite saints. Ruth admits that she didn’t know much about Saint Mother Theodore Guerin before arriving at Saint Mary-of-the Woods. That all changed when she visited her shrine.

“When I left (the shrine) I was jumping up and down!”

It was during that visit that Ruth had her epiphany as to why God had directed her to come to the Woods and not the mountain. Seeing the confidence and perseverance of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin at this particular time in Ruth’s life really inspired her, she said.
“You have to stop and pray and ask God to give you wisdom.”

She knew that when she returned home life would go back to being chaotic. Taking this time to deepen her relationship with God helped her discover a great sense of peace.

“God gives you peace as a gift — hold on to it.”

Ruth says she practiced this so that when she did return to her busy life she would be able to not let the world shake it.

Special time and place

ruth-bakery-webShe describes her time at Saint Mary-of the-Woods as “definitely special.” Someday she hopes to return with her husband so that they can experience the Woods together.

Sister Paula understands the extraordinary feeling people get the moment they enter the gates. When she asks retreat participants to describe their experience at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the most common answer is, “There’s a spirit that I feel when I come here.” One person said they enjoy walking through the cemetery because they feel an “energy being around those who lived their whole lives in a relationship with God.” Sister Paula believes a retreat is as a way for people to respond to a need deep inside themselves.

Ruth has returned to her busy life. She continues to work at her business, which she feels is more of a ministry. She prays that the food she bakes will help people feel the love of Christ. When the world gets crazy, she reflects back on her time at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and her own personal journey.

“The retreat armed me with everything I need.” She refers to her experience as a never ending gift.

With all that happened during her time at the Woods, it is fitting that the name of her business is Epiphany.

(Originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Mary Riley

Mary Riley

Mary Riley is director of operations for White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Prior to her current role, she served as the marketing manager for some ministries of the Sisters of Providence including White Violet Center for Eco-Justice and the Volunteer Services.

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