success stories

A Success Story: The Power of a Retreat on Moms

Program for Catholic mothers gets big response in Nebraska

By Colleen O'Neill
Catholic News Service

Jeanette Soto admits she didn't know what to expect when she signed up for a retreat geared for mothers.

"I came hoping to get some guidance, which I did," said Soto, a church secretary for St. Mary's Parish in Wood River. But what she took home turned out to be much more. The 37-year-old mother of three said one of her favorite parts of the retreat at Holy Spirit Church in North Platte was learning the art of centering prayer.

"It's so calming. I need to take time to do that every day," said Soto, who was one of about 40 women from 11 different parishes in the Grand Island Diocese participating in the all-day retreat.

Benedictine Sister Paul Hagen from St. Paul, Minn., led the day's activities. Sister Hagen is the national director of the Ministry of Mothers Sharing, or M.O.M.S., a ministry developed in 1992 by the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Paul's Monastery in St. Paul.

Holy Spirit Church started using the national program for mothers two years ago and is about to begin its fifth session.

Traci McKeon, director of religious education at Holy Spirit, and one of the coordinators of M.O.M.S., is a mother of two who is expecting her third child.

She said nearly 50 women ranging in age from 23 to 63 have gone through the eight-week program. It was so popular in its first year, she said, that Holy Spirit had to offer back-to-back sessions.

"It gets them in touch with their spirituality and it provides them a feeling of belonging and a feeling of community," McKeon told the West Nebraska Register, diocesan newspaper of Grand Island.

Once women join M.O.M.S., McKeon said, they become more active in the church. Many get involved with music ministry or religious education, and some of their husbands have become lectors as well.

"They are just jumping into ministries all over the place," she said. "It's really sparked their involvement with the church."

Sister Hagen travels nationwide to share the M.O.M.S. program through lectures, workshops and retreats for groups of 40 to 200 participants. She said the program answers a need because mothers are "just hungry for the spiritual nourishment that comes from the support group within their own church."

"The church is in a unique position to strengthen family spirituality," she added.

Sister Hagen saw the need for a program like M.O.M.S. while she was directing a program for Catholic Charities.

"I saw with deprived children how their parents needed the affirmation and support as much as the children did," she said.

And children, she added, benefit when their mothers feel strengthened in their faith.

"The mother is like a window to the soul," Sister Hagen said.

At the retreat, women of all ages and backgrounds spent the day praying, reflecting, singing, searching and sharing.

Soto, who acknowledged that parenting was a challenge, said she particularly liked having older women at the retreat.

"We need mentoring from them," she added. "I thought that was really neat."

McKeon doesn't expect the M.O.M.S. program to let up any time soon. "It just keeps amazing me," she said, "the things that are happening and the way things are going."