Female faith leaders find solace in silence

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

Forty women, all leaders of their parishes and various women’s ministries across Sydney, were invited to take pause from the busy-ness of their everyday lives at the “Nourish You” retreat, at the invite of the Catholic Women’s Network. 

But a day spent in stillness and semi-silence, even in the interests of spiritual replenishment, was a challenge some found harder than others. 

“As leaders of their parishes, a lot of them found it challenging to just step back and to receive. They find it much easier to give and to do,” said Sally Hood from the CWN, who led the retreat in partnership with the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia.  

“That’s why it is so important for these women, who give so much to their communities, to take a day for themselves and step back and receive,” she said. 

“All of these women serve their parishes in various important ways. And every now and then they need to be nourished, so that they can nourish others. But it was tough for some of them to take time out to put into themselves.” 

That was the initial experience for 35-year-old Ania Marokowski, leader of the Woman at the Well Ministry and a sacramental co-ordinator at St Anthony of Padua parish in Austral. 

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024 

“I’m a talker and I like to process things verbally, so stillness and silence can be a challenge, but once I got into the groove of prayer and meditation, it was great to just sit and rest with God,” she said. 

Attendees were encouraged to not feel obliged to network with others or chat and mingle with other women during the day. 

“That was our intention. The reason we wanted a semi-silent retreat was because these women are doing so much,” said Sally. 

“They’re in their parishes giving talks, hosting workshops, running ministries and they’re constantly surrounded by noise.  

“The semi-silence was meant to give them space to come face-to-face with what it feels like to be truly alone with God.”  

For Ania, it was a rare faith-based event where she found herself a mere attendee, rather than a cog busy working behind the scenes.    

“It was just so beautiful that I could just be present and not printing off materials, ticking off names or writing a program,” she said. 

“I could just sit with God. It just took away so much of my mental load to just be present with him. “  

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

In one of the talks given on the day, Sr Anastacia Reeves OP asked the women to detach their identities from what they do or own and instead seek their deepest, truest identity in God’s love for them.

She invited them to “bask in God’s love” and know the true joy of seeking real retreat with him. 

It was a chance busy mother of two Melanie Dooner readily embraced.  

“I enjoyed the time just to ‘be’ in his presence, as we were asked to do—to allow his loving gaze to rest on me as I am and in who I am,” said Melanie who works in administration support with St Declan’s parish, Penshurst.    

“The invitation to step into a space of quiet to be renewed and nourished in my commitment to the Lord as expressed in my motherhood, parish work and ministry was so enriching. I was inspired by the call to meet Jesus and allow him to meet me in the truth of who I am, to experience his profound love for me beyond any ‘hat’ I wear in my family, parish or our world,” she said. 

Sally said the women left the day grateful to be seen and appreciated.  

“In the church the number of lay women running the ecclesial life of the church is huge,” she said. 

“They’re a significant part of the life of the church and I feel like we have both the privilege and duty of care to say to these women I see you, the church sees you, God sees you and he thanks you.” 

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