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My prayers for sisters: answered!

By Kristina Dean
Staff Writer

When I was eight, my fourth brother came into this world. I was extremely disappointed. Why couldn’t God make him a girl? I prayed for a sister, and He knew how much I desperately wanted one. Why couldn’t He give me what I wanted?

An only girl with four younger brothers, I felt misunderstood. My eight-year-old self didn’t want to be around loud, obnoxious boys. Growing up in an all-boy family is tough when it comes to girl matters. I wished for someone who understood how I felt, who would love me and support me no matter what.

Sometimes it was lonely, especially because my family was greatly involved in the Boy Scouts of America – where there were other boy-heavy families as well.

As the years passed, I continued to long for sisters. Sisters who would give advice, bring me up when I was down, and appreciate my sensitivity. Sisters who would understand my heart. Well, I found them. I found sisters who gave me the most beautiful compliments, who encouraged me when I was feeling down, and who held my hand during a moment of tears. I found sisters who celebrated with me, who were excited with me, and who lifted me up to heights I could never achieve on my own. I found these sisters of my heart at the Women of Grace retreat held April 20 – 22 at Wadhams Hall in Ogdensburg. Beautiful sisters.

I found reflections of Mary. One essential part of my life is the Women of Grace foundational study, created by Johnette Benkovic, the featured speaker at the retreat. Since I started two years ago, I have been transformed, not only in my relationship with God, but my relationship with the other ladies in the group. I have watched them learn, struggle, grow and blossom. Co facilitators Mary Dillenback and Meg Ringer have led us to a new understanding of what it means to be women of God. And during the retreat, I encountered more shining examples of women filled with the Holy Spirit. If each woman was a flower, we were in Mary’s garden - a gathering of women at their best.

During Friday, the first day of the retreat, Bishop Terry LaValley was the main celebrant for Mass, concelebrated with Father Mark Reilly, the retreat chaplain. During the Homily, Bishop LaValley spoke of his recent trip to Rome and meeting the Pope. Upon being questioned by the Holy Father about what the Diocese was doing for families, he thought about a previous meeting with Mrs. Dillenback regarding the Women of Grace program.
He spoke with the Pope about the women in the North Country involved in the program. In the church, I watched as heads turned and reacted to his words. Catholic women are coming into their own. We are finding ourselves and our role within the church.And - wow- we were mentioned to the Holy Father! How much better can that be?
I will hold some very special moments from the retreat in my heart.

As my fellow Evans Mills Women of Grace were sitting at a round table after a meal, Gail Patrick, of St. Teresa, began to thank all of us. She stopped and tears filled her eyes. She didn’t need to continue because we knew what she was saying. Thank you for being part of my journey, thank you for being part of this amazing transformation, thank you for your love. Thank you for being my sisters in Christ. Several others around the table began to chime in their thanks and within two minutes all of us became emotional. We didn’t need words. I looked into their eyes and saw something holy. Mary was with us. We all understood.

A truly special moment was when Johnette shared two painfully tragic but beautiful moments - her son’s death in a car accident and her husband’s passing. As her husband lay on his deathbed, she described gently telling him that he was about to meet his Lord, and her joy and excitement for him. Instead of focusing on her grief, she was able to see around the corner, to the joy waiting for him.

Another special time for me was when Johnette prayed over Father Mark. Recently, the pastor of St. Bernard’s in Saranac Lake was notified the Navy was mobilizing him to a base in Djibouti, Africa for a year. Johnette asked all facilitators to come to the front of the church to pray. I thought it was beautiful that she included Father Mark’s mother who sat beside him for the prayers. Holding one hand over his head and one up to the heavens, Johnette called upon the Holy Spirit to protect and guard him. It was a powerful moment.

Although I am one of the three self-acknowledged “criers” in my WOG group, I hate to cry in public. I fight against it – and my sisters know this. As we sat in the pews listening to the prayer over Father, I scooted over next to Gail and grabbed her hand. Rose Perkins of St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, reached over and squeezed my fingers on the same hand as well. The three of us sat linked together. I knew they could feel my hand shaking as I fought to contain emotions. I knew they understood.

The retreat gave the women of the diocese a place to connect, to feel the Holy Spirit’s presence, to see Mary in one another. So many women approached me, took my hand, talked with me. It was amazing to see, to experience. Such a circle of love.

So many times the secular world gives us its version of what women should be, should look like, of how we should act. The retreat was a refreshing reminder that we all contain Mary within us, that in order to come to our fullest realization of ourselves, to realize our “feminine genius” we need only to give our “fiat” or yes to God.

During her talks, Johnette reminded us that we share in the creation of life with our Lord. Our bodies are God’s masterpiece - designed to give life and nurture. And our souls are inherently feminine as well. We are created to bring spiritual life to others. When we are at our best, we are vessels of the Holy Spirit, designed to house and carry that grace to others. This is something I never tire of hearing.

There were many other special moments during the three days, working with my ladies to sing the Women of Grace theme song for Johnette, the special Rosary led by Fr. Mark that included his beautiful reflections and prayers, the healing Rosary led by Johnette the following day, and simply getting a chance to meet so many holy women. In His time, God granted my prayer for sisters just when I was supposed to have them. I am so blessed.

Kristina Dean

Kristina Dean of Antwerp served as leader of song for the Woman of Grace retreat held in April at Wadhams Hall in Ogdensburg.

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