ONLINE MAGAZINE EXCLUSIVE
As the 2021 Advent season approached, a desire was building within Katie Erickson ’14 to draw closer to Jesus and to go deeper within her Catholic community, which includes former classmates and roommates from her days as a Catholic studies major, as well as her coworkers.
While the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic had passed, many parishes had not yet resumed all communal activities, including retreats. This was the start of the small and intimate retreats she now hosts at her home each Advent and Lenten season.
Planned specifically for women, the morning begins with Mass at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood followed by brunch in her St. Paul home. After plenty of cups of French press coffee have been poured, the women pray Morning Prayer, which is followed by a reflection and short discussion. Everything is wrapped up by noon.
“I love the liturgical seasons of the Church and wanted to have an intentional time set apart with friends for prayer and formation,” Erickson said. “I started searching for Advent reflections online, and spent hours listening to talks. I am amazed that when you bring people together who love the Lord, you can play a simple video and have a really fruitful discussion afterward. Where two or three are gathered, the Lord is there.”
The first retreat Katie hosted took place during a snowstorm, but the women still came. One commented that she was motivated to come even after a long night with her baby because she knew she could show up in sweatpants. The fact that she was going to a friend’s house to be with familiar faces was all the encouragement she needed to bundle up and get out the door.
While Erickson wasn’t surprised by the support she saw from her friends participating in the first retreat, she was caught off guard when they started asking when the next one would be. “I was definitely insecure about the idea of a homemade retreat,” she recalled, “but it was really joyful and encouraging to be asked about the next one.”
The group has grown from 10 to 20. While her home has not doubled in size during that span, Katie doesn’t let this get in the way of hospitality.
“My parents had a simple home, but they never let that be an excuse,” Erickson said. “It didn’t matter if they had enough chairs or if they used paper plates.”
Erickson loves the unexpected, organic discussion during these retreats. “I am reminded not to put limits on God. He can use a YouTube video played on my laptop in my small living room.”
One participant commented that while many of the women did activities together – Mass, camping trips, game nights – they never intentionally prayed together. She felt blessed by the prayerful opportunity, in addition to brunch and conversation with friends.
This year’s Lenten retreat included its first in-person speaker, Nell Alt, a friend and neighbor of Erickson’s and formerly the managing editor of Blessed Is She. Alt’s talk, titled “Never Suffering Alone,” began with the words from St. Francis de Sales: “Lent is the autumn of the spiritual life during which we gather fruit to keep us going for the rest of the year.”
For anyone who might be inspired to start their own homemade retreat, Erickson would remind them, “Jesus is the God of loaves and fishes. He took something very small and multiplied it. After each retreat I am left with so much joy and encouragement to be generous with God and give him the little that I do have. He will take it and multiply it.”
Katie Erickson is working on her master’s degree in Catholic studies and is a Middle School English Language Arts teacher at Saint Joseph’s Catholic School in West Saint Paul.