On Sunday, June 13, the leadership of Awake Milwaukee gathered for an in-person retreat at St. Robert of Newminster Parish in Shorewood, an event that allowed Awake members to pray together, connect, and plan the organization’s work for the next six months.
The Awake team has met regularly via Zoom throughout the pandemic, but this was the first time since February 2020 that the group assembled in person. In that time Awake’s board of directors has grown to six people, and the organization has also gained a chaplain, Cathy Dante, a spiritual director and doctoral student at Marquette University studying the relationship between theology and psychology. (Dante was interviewed last summer for this post on the Awake Blog.) This retreat offered an important opportunity for all Awake leaders to meet one another.
Seeing Awake as a Mustard Seed
The day began at the 8:30 am Mass at St. Robert. Pastor Fr. Enrique Hernandez invited Awake Executive Director Sara Larson to speak to the congregation about Awake before the entrance hymn, and Deacon Larry Normann, a member of Awake’s Survivor Advisory Panel, preached the homily.
A deacon for 37 years, Normann serves the cluster parishes of St. Joan of Arc in Nashotah, Wisconsin, and St. Catherine of Alexandria in Mapleton/Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. He spoke Sunday about the parable of the mustard seed, and how with the help of Jesus, the tiniest seeds can grow beyond expectations.
“Awake is a good example of that,” Normann said. “When it began in 2019, it was just a small group of people … meeting in somebody’s home, saying, ‘What can we do to respond in a way that can support our Church and those who have been abused?’ And it began to grow.”
Normann described how he first attended an Awake community gathering because of his own experience with sexual abuse. At age 19, while studying for the priesthood, he was abused by the priest who was his superior. “It was a terrible place to be. Who is going to listen to a 19-year-old kid when the priest is respected and admired and loved by everyone?” he said. “The only one to whom I could go was our Lord Jesus.” Praying with the Passion narrative in the Gospel of Luke was key to his healing process. He ultimately left the seminary, not because of the abuse, but because he felt called to marriage. Normann and his wife Pam have been married for 45 years, have twin daughters, and a grandchild.
Reflecting on Awake’s growth, Normann noted that this year the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission For the Protection of Minors “acknowledged and affirmed Awake Milwaukee as one of six groups in the U.S. who are doing a very pastoral job of reaching out to those who have been abused,” he said. “A tiny mustard seed in 2019, and Pope Francis’s recognition two years later, can only happen with our Lord Jesus blessing the effort.” Video of Normann’s 10-minute homily is available here.
Reflection, Commissioning, and Planning
After Mass, Awake leaders ate breakfast together and laughed through icebreaker activities; the group discovered a shared love of bad TV during the pandemic. Next came personal prayer time, with participants reflecting on how the Holy Spirit might be guiding the group to listen, learn, and lead in response to the twin crises of abuse and leadership failures.
The morning’s activities concluded with a moving service commissioning Awake’s leaders, written and led by Deacon Larry Normann on behalf of the Awake Survivor Advisory Panel.
In the afternoon, the Awake Leadership Team considered the work of the last six months and set priorities for the next six. Conversations included ways to engage volunteers, group prayer opportunities for the Awake community, and Courageous Conversation events for the rest of 2021.
The group left the meeting with renewed purpose and energy, hopeful about what the mustard seed of Awake might yield in the next six months. “It was such a gift to gather with Awake’s leaders for this focused time of prayer, community-building, and discernment,” Executive Director Sara Larson reflected. “We have been so busy recently and it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work. Sunday’s retreat gave us a much-needed opportunity to listen to one another and to the movement of the Holy Spirit. I left feeling inspired by the beautiful group of people that God has called together into this ministry and excited about where the Spirit is leading us next.”
—Erin O’Donnell, Editor, Awake Blog