INFLUENTIAL TEACHERS: Richard Rohr, Henri Nouwen, Cynthia Bourgeault, Father Thomas Keating, Brother David Steindl-Rast, Rose Mary Dougherty, Joyce Rupp, John O'Donohue, David Whyte
I was raised Catholic and educated in Catholic schools from first grade through senior year of high school. Like many young Catholics, I put aside my inherited faith as a teenager to focus on college, career, and more secular pursuits.
In my mid-40s I retired early from a career as a corporate human resources executive and relocated from Pennsylvania to Maryland in search of a purpose for the next phase of my life.
My living pilgrimage began in earnest as I began practicing yoga, exploring other Eastern spiritual practices, and studying holistic health. By that time Christianity had become more alien to me than Hindu chanting and Buddhist sutras. I still went to Mass with my mother on holidays and found comfort at a Catholic retreat center where I went to unplug.
My first traveling pilgrimage took me to Scotland with five other women in 2000. We met for a year before we traveled. Each month we discussed the logistics of flights, lodging, and itineraries. We also read and discussed books about Celtic spirituality and set our intentions for how we would travel as pilgrims instead of tourists. The two books that shaped our travels were Crossing to Avalon by Jean Shinoda Bolen and The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau.
During our 10-day journey in a triangular path across Scotland we visited sacred sites, created rituals, sang, laughed, cried, and deepened our sisterhood.
Bringing Back the Boon
After that trip I returned to work as a freelance writer then as a communications and marketing specialist for a health system and a hospice provider. While still working I went to graduate school. I earned a masters of arts and a graduate certificate in wellness coaching from Tai Sophia (now the Maryland University of Integrative Health) in Laurel, Maryland.
As a wellness coach I offered private consulting and retreat leadership. With fellow coach Anna Harding I co-authored the book Petite Retreats: Renewing Body, Mind, and Spirit without Leaving Home.
The Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, one of my favorite places for private and group retreats, invited me to join their retreat faculty. The more time I spent at Bon Secours, the more I came to appreciate the mission of the Sisters of Bon Secours – to be of good help through healing, compassion, and liberation.
At the Bon Secours Retreat Center I experienced a gentle, welcoming faith that encouraged curiosity about today's Catholic Church and a new way of being in relationship with God.
In 2008, after living on Maryland's Eastern Shore for 10 years I decided to go to Mass at my hometown parish church. Lent was about to begin. It seemed like an appropriate time for the prodigal daughter to head home.
I followed the Lenten rituals for 40 days. No one in the pews called me out for being an impostor. My friends were curious but not critical. Joining others in faithful prayer was one of the most rewarding experiences of participating in weekly Mass, Stations of the Cross, and the Triduum services .
By Easter Sunday I had faced many of the complaints about the institution of the Catholic Church that had kept me away for decades. Yes, I still had issues to resolve. Yet the beauty of the faith and its familiarity kept me coming back.
Walking the pilgrim’s path
As my spiritual life see-sawed between deepening faith and persistent doubts, I turned to spiritual guides for help. Some of these relationships lasted for a week while I was on silent retreat. Other guides have been my compass for years. In all cases, the spiritual guides I turned to brought me closer and closer to a reality that I am now beginning to accept – I am a beloved child of God, loved and accepted for who I am, no matter what.
For several years I considered if I should become a spiritual guide. Everything I had done professionally and personally seemed to be leading me in this direction. I researched programs, got close to making application, then put aside the idea. “Not now,” was always the answer.
The Bon Secours Retreat Center program catalogue that arrived in January that year announced that the center was offering a spiritual direction training program. “Not now,” I said once again. This time, though, the idea wouldn’t go away. The program catalogue kept falling out of piles where I had it stored. I’d read the description, calculate the cost, and refile the catalogue.
Finally, I sought counsel from a friend who is a rabbi. “This sounds perfect!” she said. She reminded me that I respected the Bon Secours Retreat Center, I was at home there, and that it was only a yearlong program.
In 2018 I graduated with the first class of the spiritual directors trained at the Bon Secours Retreat Center. Since then I have been a companion for others who are curious about God and how the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives.
Living pilgrimage in community
Today I am a parishioner and liturgical minister at Saints Peter & Paul Parish in Easton, Maryland. I am also a committed member of the Bon Secours Associates, lay men and women who follow the lead of the Sisters of Bon Secours and their call to be channels of good help through actions and attitudes that promote healing, compassion, and liberation.
I am a member of the spiritual direction team at the Retreat House at Hillsboro, where I facilitate individual and group spiritual direction, women's retreats, and prayerful quiet days. With my Retreat House colleagues I have designed Wisdom Circles on a variety of topics that promote spiritual inquiry in a community setting.
In the Holy Land, 2018