When I first signed up to attend the Women’s Cornerstone Retreat sponsored by my parish this weekend, I decided it would be a warm-up to a “real” retreat later in the year. I hadn’t been on a retreat since high school, so I thought Cornerstone would be a good way to get my feet wet and maybe connect with some women at the same time. What unfolded during the 26 hours I spent at the Carondelet Hospitality Center in Latham, New York, however, was far beyond my wildest expectations, a gift and a blessing. For the first time since joining my large suburban parish seven years ago, I felt as though I had finally found the small faith community I had been searching for.
Something told me that this weekend was too important to miss. There were many reasons to cancel my retreat reservations, and I briefly considered doing just that, but something deep inside kept pushing me, making me feel as though I had to be at this particular retreat. Now, having met more than 40 other women — my new “Cornerstone Sisters” — I realize that I was, in fact, meant to be at this retreat at this moment in my life. It was amazing, powerful, inspiring, grace-filled, wonderful.
I was humbled and awe-struck by the deep faith and wisdom of the women on this retreat. Ranging in age from 30s to 80s, their obvious hunger to move deeper into their spiritual journey made me want to stand up and shout for joy. I have been struggling to find a way to move forward on my own faith journey despite the busyness and stress of everyday life, and here, right in my own backyard, were dozens of other women who wanted the very same thing.
Through powerful witness talks, honest and tear-filled conversations, prayer and song, we went from strangers to sisters in a matter of hours. As we sat at our closing Mass on Saturday night, I looked around and thought that surely this must be what is was like to be a faith community in the early days of the Church — women sharing their experiences, their joys and their sorrows, all in the context of a Christ-centered faith that serves as the foundation of their lives.
This was all set against the backdrop of a hospitality center that is based at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Provincial House, where we were assured of the prayers of the 175 sisters who live there. We said Morning Prayer with the sisters, we ate in their cafeteria with them, we held a prayer circle outside their chapel as they walked or were wheeled into Mass. Their presence, interwoven into the rhythm of our retreat, made it that much more special.
At one point, as I sat outside the chapel, an older sister walked over to me, took my hand, and reminded me that all of the sisters had been praying for us and would continue to do so. “It doesn’t end when you leave here,” she said. “You are trapped in our prayers.” That alone made the entire weekend worth the effort it took to get there.
In the end, this weekend was about community, about faith, about finding other women who want to walk together on this journey toward God. I truly believe that this is the beginning of something monumental for the women of my parish. A force that cannot be stopped. We now have 45 women filled with the Spirit, and there is no doubt in my mind that in one year’s time that number is likely to double. The Spirit is a-movin’, and to that, all I can say is Amen, sisters!