By Sharon Leyne, Retreat participant
Photos by Chelsey Shortman
[Catholic Saskatoon News] – On Oct. 18-20, some 250 women of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of faith descended on the peaceful grounds of the St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission in Bruno, SK, for a profound experience of healing, hope, and transformation.
Over a year ago, a group of Saskatchewan women traveled to British Columbia for a similar women’s retreat, and it was there that the Holy Spirit impressed upon them the deep desire to bring such a retreat to the prairies. After much discussion and prayer as to how this was to be, one of the women “received a word in prayer” and all agreed that it was from this word that the retreat would be shaped – thus, the Arise women’s conference was conceived.
With support from Bishop Mark Hagemoen, the retreat was jointly presented by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon and alumni of Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), with support from sponsors, and organized by a group of volunteers.
Within eight hours of opening registration, the retreat was sold out, with a waiting list of about 90 women. This confirmed for the organizing team that women are thirsting for opportunities to grow deeper in their faith and that the Holy Spirit was at work.
The gracious hosts at St. Therese, after hearing of this response, bent over backwards and insisted they could make room for more women, because to them and the team God had something big planned, and they wanted to assist in permitting as many as possible to experience it. This soon involved a beautiful collaboration with the School of Faith and Mission and the town of Bruno. Many homes in the community opened their doors to billet retreat participants and team members, allowing more spots to open up, each one snapped up in a matter of minutes. Even the night before the event women were calling in hopes of gaining a spot.
One of the late-spot participants described the moment she discovered she could attend as “truly a gift – I knew I had to be here, God knew it too and He made it happen and I am so grateful because I have experienced so much healing.”
From the moment they stepped into the building, participants could sense that we were on “Holy Ground,” said team member and CCO missionary Christy Dupuis of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Martensville, SK.
The entire retreat was steeped in prayer, thoughtfulness, and the effort to make each participant feel as though they were being shown God’s love personally and intimately, down to the last detail. The team joked about what can happen when the feminine genius comes together.
The truth of that feminine genius was evident everywhere you looked. The beautifully designed décor filled and transformed each space, and thoughtful gifts presented throughout the weekend were met with surprise and joy. The beautiful, all-female music ministry provided participants an opportunity to enter deeply in worship. The organization and flow of the event ensured that everything came together purposefully and beautifully.
Heather Khym of Abbotsford, BC (founder of Life Restoration – listen to her podcast at Abiding Together), Angele Regnier of Ottawa (co-founder of Catholic Christian Outreach – CCO), and Christy Dupuis (CCO missionary and local parishioner) were the keynote speakers for the weekend, focusing on the theme “Arise my beloved” from the scripture Song of Songs 2:10-14.
At the beginning of her first talk, Heather Khym said she sensed this was not a group of women that needed to start in the shallow end, and so she dove deep. This set the tone for every speaker and breakout presenter for the next three days, as every presentation was raw, unhindered, filled with powerful testimony and truth to the nature of women, God’s profound love and intense pursuit of our hearts, and the human desire to be seen, delighted in and loved in ways that can only be fulfilled by God. Tears flowed as each speaker spoke words of pain, hope, and healing, seemingly touching on shared and related experience of the women in the room.
“We are not alone, we are beloved, we are seen, and if we are broken beyond what we think can be repaired He wants to redeem us, but only if we trust and give Him the permission.” This message was a common thread in all three keynotes and echoed in breakout sessions offered by Leah Perrault, Janelle Yasinski and Angele Regnier.
Participants had a difficult time choosing one of the three, as each session offered an wisdom, insight and moving testimony about how the speaker has come to know God’s love, whether through immense grief and personal loss, or living both the call to live a life of missionary and motherhood and often times feeling unequipped and having to rely solely on God’s strength.
However difficult it was to select a breakout, it was clear that every woman heard and received what they needed, given new ways to interpreted God’s word for significant moments in their own lives, because the hallways and meal discussions were filled with deep personal sharing and discussion of what was learned and discovered.
There were long line-ups for the sacrament of confession and prayer ministry was offered, with women praying over each other for their needs.
Many participants commented on how overwhelming and beautiful it was to be surrounded by so many faith-filled women, and how freeing it was to feel as though you could share openly with one another without the fear of judgment. Teenagers, mothers, and grandmothers were sharing with one another, allowing for a richness of life experience and perspective which provided a type of sisterhood I have never experienced or witnessed at a retreat before.
Personal experience and words of gratitude:
I had the privilege of speaking to a few women who, like me, were resistant at first. I have two kids, I’m currently pregnant, I’m tired, I’m busy, and feel like I do not have time nor the energy for God to move my mountains (I am comfortable and like them just where they are, thank you)… but, I and many women like me, were met with a very persistent God at the retreat, and could not deny that He had other plans.
It did not take long, in fact it was Heather Khym’s first talk that these mountains began to not just move, but crumble, and the Holy Spirit took over. We were fortunate to have Heather bring with her a first-class relic of St. Therese of Lisieux – from that moment, I knew this was no ordinary retreat.
Each talk that followed resonated deeper and deeper in me. I realized that what God had in store for me was greater than what I was comfortable with, that He needed me to be open to healing so that I could truly embrace His plan, not just for me as a woman, but for me as a mother raising a daughter who needs to know she is seen, and beloved. I needed to wake up. I needed to – yes I’m going to say it – ARISE. That word was truly a prophetic word spoken to the team. And I wasn’t the only one in the room who needed that scripture. In that one word – in each conversation, in each presentation, in the environment – God was stirring.
I am so grateful that the Arise team had the courage, and determination to bring this retreat to life in the prairies. I know many others are, as well. It is a difficult process to step into the deep and trust in God. The many miracles that occurred to even make this event possible is a testament to their steadfast faith to not allow barriers and obstacles to keep them from what they knew God wanted done. Their “yes” has changed the lives of not just the 250 women present that weekend, but the lives of their families and the friends that surround them.
- To the team: “Your yes has a greater impact then you have even yet to know, so from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of all the women in attendance, thank you.”
- To all the speakers thank you for diving off the deep end and sharing so intimately and personally you each touched us in profound ways.
- To Fr. Joseph Salihu of St. Augustine Parish, Humboldt who journeyed with us through the weekend and shared his own insights and weaved his experience into his personal sharing, thank you.
- To all the priests and Bishop Mark Hagemoen who provided us with the sacraments of confession and mass, as well as a beautiful time in adoration, a deep thank you for bringing us closer to Christ.
- To the Bruno community, the staff and students at St. Therese thank you for the incredible food and hospitality and for opening your doors so that we women could encounter Christ.
- To the gold sponsors – Knights of Columbus Insurance, Vitae Fertility Education, and partners CCO Alumni and the Diocese of Saskatoon – as well as other donors who all made this possible: Thank you.
- To Face to Face who donated their equipment as well as their staff to help run sound and lighting so smoothly. Thank you.
- Finally to everyone behind the scenes, who in some way contributed to this profound experience, THANK YOU