Participants in the first diocesan-sponsored women’s retreat enjoy snowshoeing at CrossWoods camp in Mason. (Photo by Elise Burns)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

“The only way that renewal will take place in the Church is going to come through individual men and women making the decision to follow Christ in a more radical and complete way.”

With that comment, Chris Hurtubise of the diocese’s Office of Catholic Formation, echoed reflections shared by Fr. Timothy Ekaitis at the diocesan men’s retreat.

The Office of Catholic Formation hosted two retreats at CrossWoods Camp in Mason – Feb. 15-16 for women and March 22-24 for men. The target ages were 25 to 55, with a focus on the challenges of balancing family life, careers and lives of committed discipleship.

Hurtubise’s sense was that renewal was taking place at both retreats, “through the men strengthening each other as brothers and the women strengthening each other as sisters.”

While numbers for the men’s retreat were down a bit from last year’s two dozen, organizers believe holding it one month later than in 2018 may have been a factor.
Forty-two women attended the February gathering. They came from Ashland, Catawba, Hayward, Hudson, New Richmond, Osceola, Rice Lake, Sanborn, Somerset, Spooner, Superior and Woodruff.

The schedule for both retreats included Mass, adoration, confession, spiritual talks, times of shared and personal reflection and free time for recreation and fellowship.
Kris Kranenburg, Adult Formation and RCIA director in the Diocese of Madison, followed the overarching theme of “Balancing Acts” for the women. Fr. Rich Rhinehart and Fr. Gerard Willger ministered the sacraments.

Fr. Ekaitis, a priest for the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, took the men “Into the Deep.” Talks covered stages in the spiritual life and introduced multiple forms of prayer. Fr. Ekaitis presented St. Ignatius’ rules for the discernment of spirits and included a relatable “Reader’s Digest version.”

This mapped out the cycling between consolation and desolation experienced as a soul detaches from sin and responds to God’s grace. Men were encouraged to apply the Eagle Scout’s motto “be prepared” to their spiritual life – when in consolation, “humble yourself in preparation for desolation;” when in desolation, “take strength, consolation will come.”

In conclusion, he offered five steps for discerning God’s will.

1. Does it fit with God’s will as expressed through the teachings of the Church and my state in life?

2. Does it lead me to a sense of conversion and closer to God?

3. Is it consistent with the way God has spoken to me in the past?

4. Who or what can confirm this call?

5. Does my heart yearn for this and want to say ‘yes’?

Hurtubise commented that he is mindful of ensuring diocesan-sponsored events are directed at living the faith in homes and parishes.

“It’s easy to be an on-fire solid Catholic when you’re on retreat, but the whole focus of both retreats was building you up so that you can go home and live this out in the long-game where it matters most – in your families, at work, raising your children, in your parishes,” he said. “That’s where the world actually gets changed.”

He hoped that “coming out into the woods” on retreat participants were “inspired to go home and do the much harder work” of living a life of prayer and sacraments in the busyness of the world.

The Office of Formation’s goal with these retreats is to build a more and more solid foundation for the diocesan church by building up its domestic church leaders and connecting them with each other.

“Both of the retreats talked a lot about how we can’t do this alone in an increasingly secular culture. The pull of society is very much away from a life of intentional discipleship. We can’t do it alone, and so both retreats focused a lot on the need for building intentional relationships with peers so that we can walk a road of discipleship together,” he concluded.

Information about men’s and women’s retreats for 2020 will be released when available.


Husband and wife Sean and Rachel McGurran of Somerset attended the men’s and women’s retreats, respectively. Sean shared reflections in response to two questions and Rachel McGurran, a CRE at their home parish of St. Anne’s, chronicled her experience.

Rachel McGurran
“At last … as a mom of five, I am so looking forward to a tiny escape to re-center myself with Christ and in my role as wife and mother! I just cannot wait to get up north to enjoy the beauty of CrossWoods, too!”

Her mind swirled with everyone’s needs – her husband and three of their sons heading to a basketball tournament in Wisconsin Dells; their oldest who was going to go, but then realized he had confirmation class on Sunday. Their “dear little 1-year-old” was going to stay with relatives for the weekend.

“How is our little guy going to do the first time away from home? Do they have their basketball uniforms? Did they pack enough fresh underwear?” These were her last thoughts before joining several “dear sisters in Christ” to caravan from Somerset to CrossWoods Camp in Mason.

The two-and-half-hour drive was full of “excitement in the air and great conversations!”

It was dark when they arrived, “but the sound of joy in the women’s voices, the crunching of the snow as we head to our lodging, and the stillness of the night are all great signs that this is going to be a glorious weekend!”

This was not McGurran’s first trip to the retreat site. She had experienced “amazing peace, serenity and beauty” there during the summer with students at Extreme Faith Camp. Witnessing the wintertime’s pure white snow that glistened and “covered the ground and the beautiful forest of trees” did not disappoint. “CrossWoods is hard to put into words, other than I imagine it to be a slice of what Heaven is going to be like.”

“As I headed out for a morning walk about 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, large beautiful snowflakes were falling ever so gently and delicately on the snow. There was such an incredible silence in the air; I truly felt God was just leading my walk.”

Working with the theme “Balancing Acts: How the 1st-Century Church can Inspire 21st-Century Women” retreat leader Kris Kranenburg brought “truth, joy, and humor to each one of her talks.”

The Friday evening presentation left several questions for the women to ponder until the next day.

“What does God want us to do? How do we work more faith into our lives? How do we make time to read and learn about our faith? How do we live it every day?”

Talks were divided into three segments – learn, live and love – and summarized as follows: the learn piece was “about Christ,” the live piece was “in Christ,” and the love piece was “like Christ.”

During the “learn” portion, Kranenburg reminded retreatants that you can’t love what you don’t know and recounted the conversion story of St. Paul found in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 9. The women were challenged to reflect “on who are we and how we spend our time.”

They were encouraged to spend 15 minutes daily in spiritual reading, beginning with Scripture; the kind of commitment that produces “real growth in our ability to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, to intentionally begin to change our perspectives in the way that we see Scripture, and how we see our circumstances in life.”

Sharing “many incredible tools” for learning the Catholic faith and “many incredible ways” to go deeper in a relationship with Christ, Kranenburg encouraged the use of various resources: the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, reading the lives of the saints, Lectio Divine, small group and Bible studies, parish and diocesan offerings as well as technologies like the Laudete app and

“There are endless tools, no matter what type of learner you are, to learn about Christ. You just have to settle on the one that is right for you. Kris taught me the importance of seeing things with a new set of eyes and how that can really awaken our inner beings in the way that Christ wants to work through us.”

The “live” segment started with the statement that you can’t give what you don’t have and focused on Jesus’ Agony in Gethsemane from chapter 26 in Matthew’s Gospel.

“Could you not watch with me one hour? … It was our reminder about the importance of prayer in our life. Kris really focused on the importance of knowing ourselves better and making time for self-reflection. With this we are better prepared for successful prayer commitments in our daily life.

“There are so many hurdles and distractions that are so easy to give into but we have to remember that prayer is an act of the will, we have to choose it.”

To help be successful in prayer, Kranenburg recommended a definite place and time for prayer at home. She said, “But we cannot pray ‘at all times’ if we do not pray at specific times,” referencing paragraph 2697 of the catechism.

She suggested including daily prayer on one’s personal calendar and/or to-do list, as well as finding accountability by having a “prayer buddy” or starting a prayer or Bible study group.

She encouraged “honest self-reflection, repentance and resolution to amend the areas of our life where we’ve done wrong.”

“I loved how she called this God grief, not Catholic guilt! It was inspiring to hear that Pope Francis goes to confession every two or three weeks and reminded me that we should probably seek the graces from this sacrament more often than we probably do.”

She also discussed participation in Mass, “making ourselves more available … outside of just Sundays and holy days.” Kranenburg talked about a “three-part Mass plan” which includes going more, being ready (by reviewing the readings in advance) and staying focused (working to fight distractions).

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith, and clearly the more we receive Jesus, the deeper we can grow in our relationship with Him.”

For the final segment on “love,” Kranenburg referenced Acts, chapter 26 and summarized “you can’t keep the Good News to yourself.” She reminded the women that “we are all called to serve and evangelize … To imitate Christ in everything we do to carry on His mission.”

She focused on the importance of being persistent, “whether it’s convenient or inconvenient.”

“She reminded us that evangelization is planting the seeds and that it was God who multiplied the Christians.” She noted that evangelization is most effective when it is personal and encouraged the women during the month to invite one person to celebrate the sacraments or join in a spiritual experience at their parishes.

“The talks from Kris were powerful, thought-provoking, and really helped see my faith from the scripture readings in Acts,” McGurran said. “It was a great new way to get a different perspective.”

“It was so beautiful to have time in front of the Blessed Sacrament to ponder and reflect on the talks, to journal my thoughts, and to be so united to Christ in this special way.

“I also experienced confession in a different way as spiritual direction was provided as well … I still find it challenging to go to confession to face my wrongdoings, but I know it must be done in order to grow deeper with Christ.

“Fr. Rhinehart did such an amazing job guiding me through my challenges, leading me more to our Blessed Mother, and providing that assurance of God’s abundant love and mercy through my sinfulness.”

“Incredibly grateful for all that went into organizing a successful and meaningful retreat,” she added. “It was a packed 24-hour period, “but having an opportunity to socialize with women of faith and enjoy the great outdoors at CrossWoods were also amazing perks to the retreat!

“I hope and pray this become a new tradition for our diocese.”

Sean McGurran

Why was it important to find time in a busy family and work schedule to attend a weekend Catholic men’s retreat?

“I thought it was important to take time and make a purposeful effort to attend the retreat to slow down my life for a weekend and contemplate God’s continued presence in my life, how He is central to my role as both a husband to my wife and a father to each of our five wonderful boys.

Men sometimes shy away from being open about their faith as well their feelings. Sharing our communal Catholic faith and our stories with one another at the retreat help us men grow together in a community of God.

Learning about new avenues of prayer, experiencing the sacrament of reconciliation and the experience of adoration were beautiful. Going a bit deeper in our faith life for a weekend is beneficial to whom God is calling us to be as men. My relationship with God brings me great joy and happiness that I can share, after the retreat experience, with my wife and my children.

What are the benefits for a marriage in which both spouses seek spiritual growth?

The benefits of both spouses attending a weekend retreat allow for us to share that spiritual bond and our individual growth experiences openly with one another.
After sharing our experiences from our individual retreats, it was evident that we both had very powerful deepening of our faith life. That increase in faith and love of God that we share openly and honestly with one another strengthens the bond of love we share one with the other and with God.