You are not alone: help, peace, forgiveness

Anyone dealing with guilt and depression after an abortion may find spiritual comfort at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat.

Rachel’s Vineyard grew out of therapeutic support groups created for women dealing with post-abortion stress. The groups were started in 1986 by Dr. Theresa Karminski Burke, a family practice physician in Florida. She later helped develop a format for weekend retreats in the mid-1990s.

Through grassroots organizing, Rachel’s Vineyard retreats spread across the country and became a ministry of Priests for Life in 2003.

The program has now grown to 600 retreats annually, in 47 states and 17 countries.

Rachel’s Vineyard weekends have been held in South Carolina since 2005. Christy Brown is a coordinator for the Diocese of Charles ton.

The three-day healing process offers a chance for participants to work with trained leaders and a priest in a closed, confidential environment. A priest attends and celebrates Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation and speaks with participants  about their spiritual needs.

Many who attend are confused not only about how to go on with their lives, but about their relationship with God and the church.

“Many of the Catholic women think they’re excommunicated because of the abortion in their past,” said Kathy Schmugge, diocesan coordinator of the Office of Family Life. “A lot of them haven’t felt able to talk to a priest about their struggle.”

“It takes heroic, huge steps for some of the women to even make it to the retreat,” Brown said. “They will say ‘I was scared to come because I thought everybody was going to condemn me.’ They’re surprised when they see that’s not what goes on.”

Brown trained to work with interdenominational Rachel’s Vine yard groups in Missouri, and learned how to hold Catholic retreats after moving to the Indianland community outside Rock Hill in 2005.

She said she became interested in the retreats through her work with the pro-life community in Jefferson City, Mo., adding that she has always had a special interest in helping post-abortive women deal with emotional trauma.

The diocese offers three retreats a year in Charleston, Rock Hill, and the Greenville area.

“The word I want to use for what they seek is closure, although that seems like a harsh word when you think about abortion,” Brown said. “They seek forgiveness and peace. There’s a memorial service during the retreat that offers some closure for the participants so they’re able to function and go forward in life. A lot of these women stop functioning as a person and go into this deep grief cycle and don’t know what’s wrong with them. They figure out they need help, and that’s when we get them.”

Brown said the retreats attract women of all ages, from a wide variety of ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds.

“Some of the abortions happened up to 30 years ago, though we’ve had others that attend as soon as a year after the abortion,” Brown said. “Thirty years is a long time to be hiding and feeling guilty.”

Though the diocese uses a Catholic curriculum, the retreats are open to all. Brown said some have drawn only non-Catholic participants. The material, hymns and prayers are designed to help all participants.

Some men have attended Rachel’s Vineyard retreats, although the majority of attendees are women.

“This is a weekend for people who are post-abortive and who need help, peace, forgiveness and love,” Brown said. “This is for people who want to go on with their lives and survive. You can’t really get over it, but you remember with less pain.”

The next Rachel’s Vineyard retreat is scheduled for Feb. 6-8 at The Oratory in Rock Hill. Shuping will be the facilitator.

To learn more about Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries, visit their Web site at

For more information or to reserve space at a retreat, call (803) 554-6088 or e-mail All inquiries are anonymous.

For immediate assistance call Christy Brown at (803) 554-6088; Kathy Schmugge at (803) 546-6010; or (877) HOPE-4-ME. All calls are confidential.

See also: Psychiatrist links mental health disorders to abortion.