BY BROOKSI HUDSON
MOUNT PLEASANT — As the national divorce rate rises, Catholics are finding that they are not immune to the epidemic.
To meet the needs of those wrestling with the idea or reality of divorce, Christ Our King Church offers much-needed support.
Following a painful divorce in 1998, Mary Svendsen, a clinical psychologist and Christ Our King parishioner, was approached about starting a group in the church.
“When the idea was first presented to me I had only been separated for one week,” she said. “Needless to say, I wasn’t ready yet.”
But in 2000, after experiencing a time of healing, Svendsen decided it was time to offer some assistance to divorced people.
In its fifth year, Svendsen estimates that 200 people have come through the 10-week program. The group meets every other week making the 10 meetings stretch over 20 weeks. The book that they use to provide structure to the program is “Healing the Wounds of Divorce: A Spiritual Guide to Recovery” by Barbara Leahy Schlemon.
“The book is excellent for our needs because it isn’t too long or hard to comprehend,” said Svendsen. “Many people come to us in crisis and don’t have the energy to read anything too lengthy or too difficult.”
Svendsen emphasized that the book is used to guide the group, but that the needs of the individuals always come before the curriculum.
“We are here to support one another — to vent our frustrations and let out a lot of pain and anger,” she said. “This is place where you can come and talk about your faith. It is very informal and not like a class.”
Unlike other divorce groups, Svendsen discourages dating until at least two years post divorce. This is the amount of time that it takes for healing to take place. “You do heal if you have God and support,” said Svendsen. “But without this time you end up making more mistakes.”
The church’s message to divorcing Catholics is to remain in the Church and find healing.
“Attend Mass every Sunday because the Mass is an extension of God’s love and goodness,” said Father Ed Fitzgerald, canon lawyer. “I also encourage divorced people to go through annulment. It can be a stressful and trying process, but is also very healing. It has the power to heal old wounds.”
Father Fitzgerald emphasized that remarriage without annulment limits a person’s participation in sacramental life.
“A divorced person must be in a state of grace in order to be absolved of their sins in confession,” he said. “To return to an irregular union doesn’t allow for absolution or receiving the Eucharist.”
But he still encourages couples to seek God and truth in their remarriage.
“We rely on God’s mercy, and if you are divorced and remarried but trying your best, God will see that,” said Father Fitzgerald.
Svendsen said that the remarriage issue is one that is most difficult for divorced Catholics to swallow.
“The part that no one wants to hear is that to truly be a Christian you can’t conform to the present times and trends,” said Svendsen. “It’s not easy being Catholic. But singlehood can be a fine state. You will learn new meanings of what it means to be Catholic after having spent years as one half of a couple.”
For Sharon Willi, director of religious education and group alum, the church became her support during divorce.
“I found that the church is going to love you no matter what,” said Willi. “I never felt alone or like I was out of the church.”
Svendsen said that for some older Catholics the stigma being divorced carries is at times overwhelming. Their social life changes dramatically, and they are staring into a future alone that they had never imagined for themselves. It can be truly devastating. Which is why many members view the group as family.
The regularly scheduled meeting times aren’t the only times they meet.
“I love this group,” said Connie Douglass, Christ Our King bookkeeper, and graduate of the program. “I have been through the class already, but this has become my extended family. We celebrate birthdays, go to dinner, and have ice cream socials. I really felt a part of something for the first time in a long time.”
Get in touch
The class takes place twice a year. For more information call Mary Svendsen at (843) 881-1802 or (843) 569-2904.