United in Prayer • Participants at the Catholic Women of Zion rally Aug. 2 attended a day of uplifting prayer, praise and presentations at the Holy Family Parish, Lakewood, site. Jeff Metzner photos.
United in Prayer • Participants at the Catholic Women of Zion rally Aug. 2 attended a day of uplifting prayer, praise and presentations at the Holy Family Parish, Lakewood, site. Jeff Metzner photos.

By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent

In a culture where individuals spend much of their time pursuing the things that they want, hundreds of Catholic women across the Diocese of Trenton have dedicated themselves to the question of what they need, especially in terms of their spiritual lives and their relationships with God.

Young adult women, great-grandmothers and women of every age in between are finding that their participation in parish groups or broader-based programs offers them connection with and support from their peers; breaks from the fast-forward demands of family and career, and growth in their knowledge and understanding of their faith.  Whether the focus is retreat, prayer life, Scripture study or putting faith into action, these groups and activities continue to serve an important role in the lives of their participants. 

Under the direction of Mary Ann Collett, Catholic Women of Zion offers fellowship and support for personal and spiritual growth, encouraged by their motto: “May the Lord bless you from Zion; May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life” (Psalm 128).

Dedicated to the Holy Eucharist and to deepening the members’ commitments to Jesus, CWOZ received approval of the Bishops of the Diocese of Trenton and an Apostolic Blessing from Pope John Paul II to begin Chapter I in 1989.

Today, two chapters of CWOZ exist; Chapter 1 in Holy Family Parish, Lakewood, and Chapter II in St. Pius X Parish, Forked River, meeting four times a year on Saturday mornings. Each year the chapters combine for a women’s rally (see side bar).

“We spend time with the Lord and other women,” said Eileen Lombardo, director of Chapter II of Catholic Women of Zion.  “The information we receive from each other is so enriching.”

For those who prefer a retreat experience, Cornerstone Retreats offer an opportunity to deepen a relationship with God.  The heart of the retreat is found in the words of Matthew 21:42, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Brant Beach, and St. James Parish, Pennington, are offering women this 26-hour weekend retreat designed as an opportunity to reflect, renew and strengthen faith.     

Teams of laypeople spend a year building faith-centered personal relationships in preparation for the weekend. While laity also host and present the weekend retreat, priests are on hand to provide guidance and to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation and Mass.

In 2011, five women of Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, met intending to found a group to foster friendship and support among parish women.  With the support of their pastor, Father Andrew Jamieson, Actively Caring Through Sharing was born. 

Co-facilitator Barbara Dunn underscored the benefit of spending time with other women for camaraderie and support. 

Not all of the 100 members, ranging in age from 29 through 70, can attend meetings “so we have embraced technology,” said Dunn. Members can call in on a cell phone and hear the proceedings via speaker phone. Meeting minutes go out to members and the pastor via email.

“We want everyone in the group involved,” said Pulaski.  “We facilitate, not lead.”          

“We try to keep joy,” said Dunn.  “There is no ministry without it.  We want to be better disciples.”

In Holy Innocents Parish, Neptune, the Women’s Fellowship draws 40 women “who are building knowledge of their Catholic faith,” says leader Anne Gerard.  “Every other Wednesday evening we meet for prayer, song, and support.  We are fortunate in getting speakers.” 

The group views and discusses films relating to faith issues and Catholic history, which is causing the group to evolve.    

A large contingent of women –125 of them – gather as Women of Joy in Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, on the second Saturday of each month “to give glory to the Lord,” says Ann Connolly, who founded the group 15 years ago.  “Our vision is to bring women closer to God.  Our mission is to live joyfully and nurture each other,” she said.

“We bring in the Word, and send the women home with Words for meditation,” said Connolly.  “We have had guest speakers, such as Divine Word Father Martin Padovani.”              

Mariann Janus, who coordinates Women of Joy with Betty Kenworthy, said, “The first time I attended, I said, ‘Wow! I want to be part of this!’”

“The group reflects the ethnic diversity of the parish, and ages span from 40 through 75,” said Janus.

Lives, expectation and journeys are shared in St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel, by 20 women between the ages of 30 and 75 who meet monthly to share a continental breakfast and fellowship, said Valerie Neiss, coordinator of St. Anne Women’s Group.  The mornings include prayer, speakers, or book discussions. “We’re a close-knit group … When women face crises in their lives, the group rallies around them in support,” Neiss said.

Beginning its second year in St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, Totus Tuus bears the motto of St. John Paul II’s Papacy, meaning “Totally yours,” with Mary as its model for growing closer to Christ.

Carrie Colonno, coordinator, said. “We meet to pray and to empower women of all ages with the knowledge of their faith and the Church’s view of the dignity of women based on St. John Paul II’s theology of the body.”

Some 40 women whose ages span the 20s through 60s attend the meetings.

“We have a neat generational cross-section.  We are excited and praying that we will grow,” said Colonno.

Named for the quintessential model of the prayerful Catholic mother, Monica’s Daughters meets every other Tuesday morning in St. Mary Parish, Barnegat.  For eight years 20 women have joined the circle to intercede for families, especially children and grandchildren, friends, the Church and the world. 

Founders Irene Kutner and Jean Esposito envisioned a group of prayerful support for women in their time of need.  “We are small,” said Esposito, “but the prayers are powerful. We keep a journal in which we record all the answers to our prayers, and some are amazing.”

For many women, parish Bible studies satisfy hunger for the Word and the desire to know it better.      

For more than 13 years retired women have met weekly to study in the Women’s Bible Study in St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, having completed Little Rock Scripture study and now moving on to study St. Paul and the Sacraments in a Scott Hahn series, said facilitator Janet Peterson.        

At St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, Koinonia, meaning fellowship or communion, meets on the first Monday of the month to study the Readings and the Gospel for the following Sunday Mass.  Under the guidance of Sister of St. Joseph Helen Clifton, 20 women read, analyze and share their perspectives of the Scriptures. 

“There is a sense of intimacy and confidentiality,” said Sister Helen.  “We have found ourselves trustworthy and that makes sharing possible.”

Based in Maryland, Walking with Purpose is a Bible study for Catholic women which has been adopted by more than 50 parishes in 19 states.  St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, implemented the program last year with 51 women between the ages of 30 and 80. St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Cinnaminson, also offers the program for women.

Angela Kinlin, St. Mary Parish co-coordinator, with Molly Aiello, learned of Walking with Purpose when she visited a meeting in her sister’s parish in Pennsylvania.

“The room was full of young women who told their stories...about how Walking with Purpose changed their lives, their thoughts about faith, and their role as wives and mothers,” she said.

The program offers six courses to be done sequentially over a six-year period.

“The study applies the Bible to everyday life,” explained Aiello.  “Everyone enjoys it and gives a lot to it.