By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Some 70 women from the Iowa City/Coralville area focused on their faith and their relationship with God and with one another during a mini retreat last month, inspired by the heartfelt testimonies of three Catholic women.
“Each of the speakers shared how fundamental their lives of prayer are to strengthening their relationship with God as well as to nurturing their relationships with family, friends and strangers alike,” said Mila Grady, one of the event’s organizers. The mini retreat, “Lamp to My Feet,” took place Oct. 16 at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City.
Father John Paul Otanwa, a graduate student at the University of Iowa, celebrated Mass in the absence of Father Joseph Sia, St. Patrick’s pastor, who was out of town. In his homily, Father Otanwa explored the importance of sharing one’s faith with others. “Jesus encourages us today not to shy away from the reality of a personal faith that is not private, of a faith that influences every aspect of our lives, such that it influences our relationships, our being with one another in this world.”
Sandy Kaloupek, a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, opened the speaker portion of the mini retreat. The recently retired vice president of World Class Industries and wife and mother of two shared how an unexpected crisis with her adult son strengthened her family’s relationship with God. “Our faith carried us through a very dark valley of our family’s life,” she said. Kaloupek encouraged anyone who might be struggling with something to remember that they are not alone. “You have sisters sitting beside you today who might be struggling with some of the same things.”
Freyja Stoltz, a lay Carmelite and member of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, spoke about praying with Scripture. Having grown up Protestant, she knew “all sorts of extemporaneous prayer,” but after converting to Catholicism as an adult grew to appreciate “the written and recited prayers we have at our disposal. These prayers say beautifully what’s in our hearts and their familiarity is a comfort. They’re always there for us.” She enjoys praying Lectio Divina, a traditional monastic practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s word. “It seems like a simple process, but it has been pivotal in my life… I feel like God is speaking directly to me. … It brings Scripture to life.”
Sue Lehmann, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City, served as the event’s final speaker. She shared how the COVID-19 pandemic increased her appreciation for friendship and companionship. They are “gifts from God,” she said. “There’s all sorts of Scripture that validate this in both the Old and New Testament. … deep friendship where there is a spiritual connection and a sharing of deep-in-the-heart yearnings and hopes with someone who is on a similar journey to God.”
She described the isolation at the beginning of the ongoing pandemic as a stark reality check that seemed to drag on. Social media and virtual conversations don’t offer the same level of intimacy as face-to-face communication. She is grateful that people are increasingly able to meet in person again.
She offered advice for finding the deep, spiritual friendships depicted in the Bible.
“Chances are, God has put many people in our lives and maybe he wants us to share our faith with them,” Lehmann said. “In your prayer time, ask God for his help in finding them. God wants to invite people to come to him and to know him and to be comforted by him. Maybe God is calling you to be the catalyst to bring Jesus to another person! Plant the seeds and ask for God’s grace and blessing. You never know where it might take you.”
At the event’s conclusion, participant Katherine Weiner of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City said it was “refreshing to gather with women from our faith community and to spend a few hours focused on our Catholic faith and how we can deepen our relationship with God and with each other.”
Sharon Hude of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City said she appreciated the honesty of the speakers. “It is always so refreshing when members of the body of Christ share their interior life, the life-giving force of their faith in God. Whether a moment of crisis, a new way of praying, or discovery of valuable friendships, revealing their connection with the Lord helps us walk more joyfully and cheerfully in our own lives.”