Speaker, mother and author Gina Loehr presents her last talk at the Feb. 19-20 diocesan Women’s Retreat, organized by the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship. The event was held at Heartwood Resort and Conference Center in Trego and attended by 117 women, more than double the attendance at the last women’s retreat, held in 2020. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

“The Holy Spirit is moving in our diocese.”

This assertion came from the assistant director of the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, Loree Nauertz, at the conclusion of the 2022 women’s retreat.

With 120 women registering – 117 in attendance – Nauertz commented that the huge response to participate was due to the resonance of the topic, “Feminine Genius: Living Lives as Women of God.”

“We know that God created us with a certain, very unique genius,” Nauertz said, “and in this culture that is very confused by what it means to be a man or woman, it is helpful to come together as women and celebrate the gift God has given us.”

While groups of women came together from Rice Lake, Spooner, Hayward and Somerset, some attendants even hailed from outside the diocese. Other diocesan communities represented were Ashland, Superior, Cable, Mellen, Minong, Webster, Grantsburg, Bruce and from as far as Merrill, Medford, Woodruff and Hudson.

The need for fellowship and community was also a key factor in the retreat’s success, Nauertz believes, especially after two years of hunger for it with pandemic-induced cancelations.

A relational dynamic was also present in talks and topics addressed by speaker and author Gina Loehr, who holds a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. The mother of six, farmer and wife taught theology at Marian University for five years and is an alumna of NET Ministries.

Nauertz stated, “Gina Loehr did a fantastic job helping us to come to understand our true dignity as women and what a gift we are to all of society when we embrace our feminine genius and live our lives centered on Christ.

“She made a very strong point that our gift of femininity is not enough; it must be given to Christ to be fruitful. We are a gift when we live our lives the way God calls us to live it, not the way the world calls us to live it which is for us to become more like men. Men have their own very important role to play, and we do not need to become more like them in order to be important and make a difference in the world.”

The retreat began Saturday morning, Feb. 19, with Mass at 9 a.m. and ended after Mass on Sunday at noon.
Presentation topics included identity in Christ, vocation in Christ, transformation in Christ and community in Christ.

Summarizing the talk’s content, Nauertz said, “Our identity as women, like men, is found in our being created in the image and likeness of God. He knows us, he calls us, he heals us, and he accompanies us. Gina walked us through each of these topics, showing us through key Scripture passages how each of these apply to our lives. We don’t have to be perfect; we just have to be willing to let God work through us.”

Nauertz noted that Loehr’s testimony included being a self-proclaimed feminist who was challenged by her brother – now a Dominican priest – to delve into the church’s teachings and beliefs about women.

Loehr was not the only one to share her personal testimony; Nauertz invited four women from the diocese to share brief testimonies in line with each talk’s theme.

Nauertz summarized, “One woman shared how God knew her so well and he revealed to her that her chaos of family life was beautiful if she let God in it. Another shared humorously how God had called her to stop using contraception, something she was very angry about, but she came to understand that the church was her mother and she needed to be obedient, in a very good way to her. As a result, she was blessed with another daughter.

“Still another shared of how God had healed her not only physically, but prior to the physical healing, he healed her spiritually. Finally, a woman shared of her experience with infertility and how God accompanied her through other holy women in her life.”

That final testimony, given by Aleisha Janssen of Rice Lake, drew attention to God’s action of accompanying in personal ways and through the actions of strangers. Janssen, who was joined on the retreat by her mother and infant daughter, spoke about her and husband Chris’ long struggle with infertility.

“We’ve all had an experience of an aching longing – something that you feel is going to complete you, going to make you whole,” Janssen said, describing her ache for motherhood.

It wasn’t until early into her pregnancy that she felt confused by her experiences.

“I should feel complete and whole now,” she said. She reminisced about the co-existent feelings of peace and joy while still have some restlessness about her identity, and then giving herself a hard time for not “feeling how I thought I would feel.”

“Jesus reminded me that he is the one who makes you whole,” she concluded. “Being his daughter is what makes me whole.”

The transition from Janssen’s testimony to Loehr’s presentation was made with the help of Rice Lake native, musician and worship leader Aly Aleigha.

With a guitar melody underlying the last few minutes of the testimony, she began, “Lord, you give us the desires of our heart in the perfect time,” interjecting affirmations between verses of song. She invited the crowd of women to join in with the refrain “I will adore you.”

Loehr praised the musician and applauded the women for joining in the music throughout the weekend. “God speaks to us through each other – literally other human voices,” she said.

She said how evidently she sensed among the group the experience of women being accompanied by God through each other.

Referring to her own challenging “burden” of having a number of children when it hadn’t been what she imagined her life would look like, Loehr encouraged, “We can’t change each other’s stories, but we can help each other appreciate the blessings.”

Loehr commented on how enlightening and encouraging women can be for each other – anyone, for that matter, because no one experience or perspective is right or wrong.

However, “If we don’t have the vulnerability and willingness to share and open up,” she added, “then we can’t bless each other.”

Reflecting on the Scripture story of the three apostles at the Transfiguration, Loehr acknowledged the importance of particular moments for shared mountaintop experiences, as well as seeing Jesus, “always, always, always Jesus” even in his “distressing disguises.”

Jesus’ distressing disguises include the poorest of the poor and an angry 2-year-old.

Her realistic and relatable style of speaking was apparent in the nods and laughter rippling throughout the women seated at round tables – noting that they were at round tables as naturally as the men had been seated at rectangular tables just two weeks before.

That sisterhood – human, spiritual and supernatural – Loehr said is needed by the church.

With the goal of these retreats being an opportunity for an encounter with Christ and others, Nauertz said, “We hope that they will have the desire to share that love with those around them when they return to their families and their communities, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus called his disciples to ‘come away’ with him on several occasions. We, too, need regular opportunities of retreating from the busyness and noise of everyday life to be able to more deeply and vulnerably draw near to the heart of the Lord.

Nauertz called the event “fruitful” and used the word “amazing” a number of times.

“We more than doubled the number of women in attendance,” she said, “which was incredible; but more importantly, the women encountered Christ, built up holy friendships and authentic Catholic community, and received inspiration and equipping for another year of fruitful discipleship.”

Nauertz gave credit for their parts to Gina Loehr, Aly Aleigha and the women who gave testimonies, as well as Danielle Hendricks, who emceed the retreat.

“All these women live out the feminine genius with such passion, allowing the Holy Spirit to work through them,” she said.

Among the 120 registered women, Nauertz estimated 10 were single young adults, with a number of others wanting to come but unable to.

“It’s so good to see the young people coming back as young adults,” she exclaimed.

This expansion across ages and life stages shows the relevance of the events being provided for adults, she said, and women in particular. Men’s retreats have been offered since 2018 and increased in number to about 50.

The first women’s retreat was offered in 2019 and approximately 35 attended. Participants increased to 50 for 2020, with Covid-19 canceling the 2021 event.