Can you believe that Mother’s Day is just four weeks away? It is a time where we celebrate moms and all they do for us throughout the year. Mothers often are so busy taking care of everyone else they sometimes forget to take care of themselves. Each February, for the past several years, the Sisters of Providence have been offering a Retreat for Busy Catholic Moms. Sister Mary Montgomery, SP, facilitates the weekend getaway where mothers can take time to focus on themselves. They spend time praying, sharing and reflecting on the calling of motherhood. Our Lady of Providence plays a prominent role in the weekend. It is easy to forget the humanness of Mary, a mother. It can be a great source of comfort and inspiration for moms to be reminded of this. One busy mother, Carolyn McKinnis, shared how her retreat experience was providential:
“In my day to day life, I continue many of the activities and responsibilities that were introduced to me as a child: weekly Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, praying the Rosary and confession, to name a few. As a married, working woman, I was focused on taking care of the home and children with my husband. I struggled at times, feeling overwhelmed and just uncertain about the ‘big picture.’ I felt a little lost sometimes. What journey were my family and I traveling? Were we going in the right direction? Sometimes life seemed like a dense jungle without a map or clearly marked trail for me to follow.
In the fall of 2014, I went to confession at St. Tom’s in West Lafayette. After hearing my confession, Fr. Cassian encouraged me to go on a retreat. He told me that he encourages all mothers to go on a retreat, for at least a weekend, but preferably … a week!! He talked to me about the benefits of going on a retreat, for mom and her family. This advice really struck me. I was interested in a retreat, but where? I remembered retreats for Confirmation and in high school, but where would I find information about a retreat for me, a working, busy mom? Over the next few months, whenever I thought of it, I read bulletins and looked on the internet for a retreat.
In January, I opened my email to see a message from a fellow parishioner and friend, Stephanie Bosma. She was sending an invitation for the First Retreat for Busy Catholic Moms at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. I could hardly believe my eyes! I instantly forwarded the email to my husband at work. He quickly responded with his full support and encouraged me to sign up right away. The retreat looked like the perfect blend of relaxation, sacraments and reflection. While I was excited to finally find such an opportunity, I was a bit apprehensive. I had never, in nearly 11 years, left my family for two nights.
I left for the retreat with tears in my eyes and my husband’s loving encouragement. I had never been to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and knew very little about the Sisters of Providence founder, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. I had no idea that the National Shrine of Our Lady of Providence was located there as well.
Shortly after settling into our rooms, fellow mothers and I gathered in the main meeting room. In our midst was a very large, lovely portrait of the Virgin Mary with Infant Jesus. I had never seen this image. Our Lady was very beautifully focused on her Infant Son. They were gazing into each other’s eyes; Christ wrapped His little hand around His Mother’s finger. They were bonding in a way in which all of us mothers were very familiar, having experienced similarly tender moments holding our own infants. This was Our Lady of Providence, Queen of the Home! I was elated and overjoyed as having The Queen of the Home in our midst was more than fitting.
The retreat was more than I had hoped for and exceeded any preconceived ideas about what it would be like. We had very candid conversations about motherhood. We discussed the vocation, the calling from God to married life and openness to new life. Revisiting the fact that our role as wife and mother was a vocation was a very grounding moment for me. Since finishing high school, my years of formal, structured religious education had finished. I continued to read the Bible, the lives of the saints and various other topics, but in the last ten years or so, I realized that I had become a bit disconnected with the fact that the way in which I completed daily tasks was an answer to God’s calling. We all reflected on how we were living out our vocation and further discussed the realities of motherhood, the challenges and immense rewards. We discussed healthy ways to find balance and gentle reminders like, ‘it was a bad day, not a bad life.’ We focused on the strength and genius of femininity. It was beautiful and refreshing.
In addition to our discussions about motherhood, we also learned about the life of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. She endured grave tragedies both through her childhood and her adult life including, death, devastating fires and intense conflict with a Bishop who imprisoned her and ex-communicated her! What I found so remarkable is that through each of these trials and hardships, Saint Mother Theodore only grew stronger in her faith and more determined to cling to the Lord. She often referred to Providence. Learning about her life and her struggles was eye-opening and a point of connection for me. After moving from France, she lived in Indiana, just along the Wabash River, the same river I crossed to go to St. Tom’s. I was visiting the very place that she walked, prayed, served others and gardened, for example. I realized our similarities: both women, both Catholic, she a Mother of an Order, I, a mother to my family. I realized that I could learn so much from Mother’s strength, from her reliance on Providence and from her deep faith, exercised daily and lived in every moment of her life.
By the end of the weekend, I realized that I was seeing my life in a new way. Where I would have previously felt overwhelmed, a bit lost and unsure of where I was going, I now felt like I was traveling a highway. Not that suddenly my life was perfect without struggles, but I was seeing a new way to carry those burdens, challenges and uncertainties in life. And while there were still distractions and difficulties, I was passing ‘markers’ to keep me focused on the right path and heading in the right direction. I was reminded that Our Lady is always with us and our loving and merciful Father is always ready to shower us with graces. “Put yourself gently into the hands of Providence.” I was beginning to find more peace and joy and clarity.
The sisters generously gave us prints of Our Lady of Providence to take home with us. This was so special since Our Lady of Providence was the focus of our retreat and a constant presence. I couldn’t wait to introduce the Queen of the Home to our home!
My husband and I hung the framed image in our dining room, a very central location to our home. Having Our Lady in our home is a constant and continual reminder of the call to surrender one’s life to Providence. Many family discussions have begun after reading Mother Theodore’s daily calendar quote. Her message, the way she lived her life, how she relied on Providence, is truly timeless.
Our Lady of Providence has anchored our home in a way that we had not previously experienced. I have come to realize that I am not in a dense forest without a map, but rather a well-traveled road where Providence is continually pointing the way. I am so very grateful for the indescribable opportunity to relax, re-energize and refocus in my vocation as a mother and to grow in deeper love and dependence on Providence. I am also so appreciative of the opportunity to get to know all the mothers who have attended, shared their wisdom, and shared their faith. The retreat is a truly providential experience!
Our Lady of Providence, Queen of the home, pray for us!”
The next Retreat for Busy Catholic Moms will be held in February of 2019. To see a list of all of our retreats, programs, and workshops visit our event calendar.