Awake Leaders Gather to Plan, Pray, and Celebrate

On May 21, Awake Milwaukee’s leadership team, board of directors, and committed volunteers gathered for an in-person leadership gathering, providing the chance to reflect on the challenges and gifts of the work of awakening our community to the full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

The day-long event, held at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Milwaukee, allowed the Awake team to celebrate the ongoing growth of our organization. Awake recently welcomed five new members to the Board of Directors. “It’s amazing to think that only three years ago Awake was just a small circle of people talking in my living room,” says Sara Larson, executive director of Awake Milwaukee. “Now we’re a vibrant, growing nonprofit organization with a national and even international reach.”

Awake chaplain Cathy Melesky Dante led prayer and reflection based on a reading from Acts of Apostles, in which the disciples encounter the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and receive the ability to share the Good News in many languages. During the prayer, attendees also reflected on insights from abuse survivors, who gave answers to “What I Want Catholics to Understand.”

Spreading the Word About Awake

One central activity of the morning was a workshop on Awake’s mission and vision, which allowed the group to consider how we talk about this work with others. Larson led a discussion about what Awake is and does, touching on its important work in the areas of education, prayer, advocacy, and survivor support. She also shared some nuances in Awake’s work. For example, Awake does not identify as a group for laity only; our community includes deacons and priests, and we welcome their perspectives in the work toward transformation and healing. We also see Awake as serving as a bridge between fellow Catholics and survivors. 

We’ve learned that words matter to people who have lived experience of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Although Awake often uses the term “survivor,” some people who have endured abuse have good reasons to prefer “victim-survivor” or just “victim,” while others use entirely different descriptions, such as “coper” or “thriver.” Larson encouraged the group to be alert to these preferences. 

She also noted that members of the Awake community sit all over the political spectrum; the group does not identify as “conservative” or “liberal” and aims to be open to anyone who is committed to understanding the full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. 

As the activity concluded, attendees practiced talking about Awake’s work and why they personally decided to get involved in the organization.

Sharing Joy and Next Steps

After lunch, the Leadership Team gathered to review the past program year and decide on priorities for the year ahead, before concluding with 4:30 pm Mass at St. Francis.  

Earlier in the day, the group also celebrated two significant donations made to the organization in May, which will allow Awake to hire a new part-time staff member in the year ahead. Everyone was invited to jot down joys of the day on sticky notes to share with the group. During the afternoon session, Awake’s leadership team spent time reading those notes, which said things like “connections being made,” “meeting new people,” “actions that are bearing fruit,” “knowing deeply good people,” “understanding my ‘why,’” and “New Hope.”

“This leadership gathering was a wonderful opportunity to build community among many key leaders of the Awake community,” Larson says. “I left feeling deeply grateful for all the good people who have come together around this mission and energized about the next steps we will take together.”

—Erin O’Donnell, Editor, Awake Blog

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