Diocese finds success with first all-female retreat

CHAPIN — Karla Hoppmann, a college student who has been active in diocesan youth ministry for years, put her education to good use. She used her developing skills in public relations and advertising to convince Jerry White, director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Charleston, to have an all-female retreat for high school students.

On the weekend of Nov. 13-14, after months of preparation, the diocese blazed a new trail with its first all-female retreat at Our Lady of the Lake Church. Within weeks of its announcement, the retreat was filled.

“The weekend was an opportunity for our young women to form friendships with other faith-filled women and to be able to share with one another the unique experience of being a holy woman of God,” Hoppmann said.

The focus of the retreat was to challenge the girls to see themselves as God sees them. The topics covered were self-worth, self-image, chastity, relationships, and identity as Catholic young women.

Judi Nicks from St. Andrew Church in Clemson was a chaperone, and felt the retreat was a great idea.

“It is like a slumber party with close friends,” Nicks said. “The girls could be honest and not wear the mask they sometimes wear around the boys.”

Laura Linkowski, a participant and active member of the Youth Evangelization Team, said that she could express more of her feelings without having boys around, and others agreed.

To reinforce the weekend’s theme — “Tiaras and Tool belts” — participants made personalized tiaras as symbols that they are God’s princesses.

“It is from God that we get our self-worth and self-image,” said Hoppmann, who also led a talk on the negative influence of the media.

She showed a television segment about a person who had an “extreme makeover” that resulted in instant popularity. Hoppmann said that such programs are destructive because they do not show young women how to develop their inner beauty and appreciate their uniqueness, but instead emphasize a temporary and superficial beauty.

The girls also had opportunities to break out into small groups to discuss ideas from the general sessions and to work on group projects.

The ladies left with a “tool belt” filled with symbols for virtues such as courage, modesty, chastity and patience. They were also reminded that they had the Bible and the sacraments as tools to help them stay committed and faithful Christians.

Joan White from St. James Church in Conway agreed to chaperone the event after being asked by her 20-year-old daughter, Meagan, one of the organizers. Although she did not have a youth participating this time, she was glad to help.

“These events have been an integral part of my children’s lives and have allowed them to make lasting friendships and molded them into the people they are today,” said White.

The St. Joseph Women’s Prayer Group from Columbia also assisted by preparing all of the meals for the weekend. One of the members present for the retreat was Hoppmann’s mother, Anne, who was proud of her daughter’s efforts.

Lisa Militello, a youth speaker from St. Joseph Church, gave a talk on healing the past.

“We hold on to past hurts and do not accept new life in Christ,” Militello said. “Holding on to pain can cripple your personality and make you isolate yourself.”

She gave four steps to healing:

Face your pain with people who support you. “If one falls down, his friend can help him up” (Ecc. 4:9-10).
Forgive people who hurt you — forgiveness is not a feeling, it’s a choice.
Find someone who needs you — help others.
Focus on the person who can fix you — Jesus.
Father Robbie Robinson, from St. Joseph Church, celebrated Mass the final day. During his homily, he told the young women to be strong because “by your perseverance your life will be preserved.”

“The world is a hard place to be a Christian. Sometimes your faith is all you have, and it’s all that holds you together,” the priest said. “Remember to hold onto Christ and be proud of your faith.”