Monday, September 13, 2010


I have been to St. Louis, Missouri/Belleville, Illinois. I saw East St. Louis (urban blight on its way up, felt right at home), The Hill (linguine with white clam and shrimp sauce), and the green patinaed, copper-sheathed spires of many churches I wished I could stay longer and visit. I at last saw the St. Louis Arch, which is apparently some kind of national landmark (perhaps especially known to sports fans?), and over which my little brother Joe came very close several years ago to disowning me when I confessed that I had never heard of it. I sampled a local delicacy known as Gooey Butter Cake. Jim Cavataio, husband of event/retreat organizer Rosalee, very kindly went to some special bakery and bought me a whole cake, which I shared with the receptionist at my hotel and who is now my friend for life.

I was hosted by a Catholic order called 
the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.  O.M.I. priests live and work among the poor in 71 countries, including Sri Lanka, Zambia, the Philippines, Haiti, India and Brazil, and I was thrilled to learn from presenter Fr. John Madigan that founder St. Eugene De Mazenod, came from a "dysfunctional" family and felt guilty his whole life for not having been good, kind, and effective enough to prevent his parents from divorcing. Fr. Tom Hayes provided homiletic depth and dry humor, and Fr. Jim Bropst contributed sanity, more laughs, and really beautiful and well thought-out music, liturgy and prayer. Co-organizer Diane Green brought four sisters, her mother, and her efficient, hard-working, understated and delightful self.

I was called upon to talk a lot--that's why I was there--and I was humbled, honored and grateful and I am also drained. I am an extreme introvert, which doesn't mean I don't love being around people--nor, surprisingly, that I apparently can't give a halfway decent talk--does mean I am somewhat drained, not energized (at least superficially), by the experience. I would ALWAYS "rather" be in solitude and not just because I, too, am the type who worries even now that I couldn't have made my parents happier. Solitude is where I feel "most myself" and every chance I could I took off and walked the lovely grounds of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, marveling at the wild grapes, crabapples, chokecherries (?), and goldenrod; praying that I would say something that at least one of the wonderful women who turned out at the retreat could relate to or be comforted by or use.

My life has turned out differently than many of the women there. I did not go the husband-and-children route, or rather that was not the route that found me, and I prayed, too, that we could all look for the similarities and not the differences. I talk about things that are easy to glamorize or sensationalize or politicize, and I try very hard to steer clear of self-pity on the one hand, and confessionalism and shock value on the other. I speak and write at all because the very fact that I am still standing is all glory to God and none to me. That is a sacred honor and I am always astonished at the grace that helped me get through the talk at all, and also always left with the knowledge that I could have done so much better.

This is the tension the Christian consents to hold: praying you are doing the right thing, but never quite knowing. Am I "made" for solitude, or is it "God's will" that I participate in ways that are often difficult for me? Is it good to be a mother and wife, or good to carve out a more solitary path? Do we "help" by being ourselves, or do we help by trying to stretch ourselves? Is gooey butter cake "good" or "bad?" I'm pretty sure both.

And so many many thanks to all for a beautiful weekend. And special thanks to the women who showed up and gave so much to me.



  1. Come back sometime and see the wonderful Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis on Lindell Blvd and the "Cathedral of the South Side," St. Francis de Sales Church, at Ohio and Gravois.

    Jim Cole

  2. oh, I bet they are beautiful. Thank you and I do hope to be back...

  3. "Am I "made" for solitude, or is it "God's will" that I participate in ways that are often difficult for me? Do we "help" by being ourselves, or do we help by trying to stretch ourselves?"
    That is the beauty of it - the both/and! We are made a certain way for a reason, and within that we are asked to stretch. Of course all states of life carry the possibility for holiness, or God wouldn't even allow them! We are better, and the world and the Church is better for both our given uniqueness and our growth within that~! :)


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