Story by Lois Rogers, Correspondent
“Love.” “Faith.” “Prayer.” “Trust.” “Strength.” “God.”
Those were just some of the words written on Legos by the 40 adults who used the building blocks to build sturdy structures during “Finding Hope and Healing After Divorce: From De-Construction to Reconstruction with God’s Help,” a daylong retreat for divorced and separated Catholics held Oct. 21 in Donovan Catholic High School, Toms River.
The event, sponsored by the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care, was facilitated by Lillian Corrigan, a member of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, and author of “The Bricks and Sticks of Life.” Corrigan, who was divorced and has since gone through the annulment process, remarried and had her second marriage convalidated, shared her own personal story of endings and beginnings during the retreat.
“It is a retreat that I believed in my heart could help others,” Corrigan said.
During the day, which included prayer, music, reflection and Mass, participants took the title of the program to heart by taking part in a symbolic demolition and rebuilding process using building blocks and crafts. The exercise explored in a very tangible way how marriages built with flawed materials – in this case symbolized by popsicle sticks – can collapse under the weight of pressures such as mistrust, abuse, abandonment and despair.
The second kind of structure – this one composed with the Legos embellished with key, positive words – represented what could help restore the person to wholeness after a divorce.
Drawing on her own experiences, Corrigan, who is studying to become a spiritual director, encouraged retreat-goers to keep strong as they strive to overcome doubts and uneasiness and realize that rebuilding after a divorce is not easy to accomplish. She also urged them to focus on reconstructing their lives in positive ways.
Father Scott Shaffer, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, home to Donovan Catholic, who celebrated Mass at the end of the day, said a number of retreat-goers were enthusiastic about the rebuilding exercises, sharing that it filled the need for observances that recognize the “brokenness they felt and that it was able to be repaired.”
The houses they built “mirrored that construction,” he said.
Vicky Hoffman of Epiphany Parish, Brick, and member of the retreat committee, said this year’s retreat took metaphors about relationship issues and turned them into visual aids that helped keep participants actively involved.
“If you have visual aides to work on, it helps you keep focus, it enhances attention,” she said. “People relaxed and enjoyed it.”
Among those who built a structure was Tim Fekete of St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills. Fekete, who divorced after 29 years of marriage, has attended the retreat all three years and makes it a point to tell newcomers that the journey toward healing takes time.
“I see at these retreats that for the newly divorced, things are raw and if there is any way I can show them that through faith and time, things do get better, I want to be there for them,” he said.
“I’ve enjoyed all of the retreats,” he said. “Each was different … and it looks like [the Pastoral Care Department] is trying various ways to reach people. That is good. … Having somebody who is presenting that has gone through what we’ve experienced speaks volumes.”
Deanna Sass, diocesan director of pastoral care, said the retreat is also a way to inspire more interest in divorce ministry in parishes around the Diocese.
“It’s a way to convey to these brothers and sisters that they are loved and that we know it is vital to reach them,” she said. “We open our arms wide, and the hope is that through these encounters, they will find peace and healing and take away the deep realization that our connection to them never ends.”