Great Family of the Sacred Heart Retreat
Surrounded by the deep peace of stained glass and quiet stillness, six families were held together in the heart of the Blessed Sacrament, a fitting conclusion to the spiritual communion that marked the Sacred Heart Family Retreat held at Pallottine Renewal Center on June 21-22.
The families were brought together by Sr. Bridget Smith, ASCJ, teacher at Sacred Heart Villa School in St. Louis’s “Hill” neighborhood, who leads the Great Family of the Sacred Heart (GFASC) program there. GFASC is an international program created by the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that calls to families to consecrate themselves to the Sacred Heart, rebuilding society and the family through devotion, prayer and faith-filled loving service.
“Initially we invited seven families connected to the Villa who shared the charism and respect for the ASCJ community,” Sr. Bridget says. “We asked them each to invite another family and it grew from there.” Today the program has 17 families that meet once a month.
Sister Bridget’s Inspiration
It was a visit to Italy that inspired Sr. Bridget to bring the family retreat program home to St. Louis. The seed that was planted there grew when she was at Pallotttine Renewal Center in 2013, assisting with the Mater Dei Vocations Camp for middle schoolers.
“When I was [at Pallottine], I had the inspiration that this would be the perfect place for a family retreat. It would provide us with a place that is not far away—the beautiful grounds, the indoor pool, the gymnasium, the beautiful chapel, the hospitality—and I thought this would be ideal.”
After prayer and consultation with the two women who assist with GFASC – Sr. Maria Battaglia and Gerry Puricelli, as well as with the seven original GFASC families, they all agreed that the family retreat would be a unique and meaningful way to grow and deepen their spirituality and devotion to the Sacred Heart.
“The first families wanted to experience this together and the moms appreciated the indoor lodging versus staying at a campsite!” Sister Bridget laughs.
The Pallottine Experience
Sr. Bridget brought the idea to Pallottine Director Cindy Costello, who was happy to make the accommodations for the families and children—a first at the center. “”We created a program that suited their needs including rooms, meals based on age and designated family lounges,” Costello says. “The participants and volunteers, ranging in age from three to 80, had all their unique needs met.”
Parents and children alike enjoyed the recreational pool and the gym time, but the spiritual aspects of the weekend were foundational for these families. “Pallottine was a comfortable and safe place for our children—a spiritual place that puts you in a peaceful space,” says Liam Heffernan, father of four from St. Gabriel’s Parish.
Family Time in the Sacred Heart
Craig Miller, father of four and parishioner of St. Joseph’s Cottleville says, “It was a Christ-centered getaway where the adults and the kids had enough time to be separate and to be together as family. It was a reminder of the importance of family and being together and not trying to be an individual. We all need each other.”
A wide array of age-appropriate and group activities all centered around the Eucharist including prayer, interactive rosary, Gospel skits and re-enactments, art projects, readings and reflections.
Mom Kathryn Miller, says the reflection “gave us a chance to see what words spoke to our heart from the scripture and Sr. Bridget encouraged us to ask what Jesus was saying to us.” Their son, 14-year-old Craig Jr., appreciated the Gospel activities as well, reading scriptures twice over and then engaging in individual and collective reflection and sharing.
Exposition and Benediction: Watch the Video Slideshow
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, the weekend closed with Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction in Pallottine’s circular chapel. Led by Deacon John Heithaus of Sacred Heart Parish in Florissant, the families had the opportunity to participate in adoration, each member from young to old holding the solemnity of the moment in sacred silence.
The families also read the gratitude lists they created together, expressing holy thanks for everything from friends and family to role models of faith and courage to everyday graces and, of course, the Great Family of the Sacred Heart.
Mission and Future
The family retreat may have been a first for both the St. Louis GFASC and Pallottine, but the weekend was an ongoing expression of both organizations’ missions.
“The retreat served the ASCJ mission by bringing families to the Sacred Heart, deepening devotion and seeing how it is intimately tied to the Eucharist. And it also helped the families bond as a GFASC community,” Sr. Bridget reflects.
Costello speaks to how the retreat fulfilled Pallottine’s mission: “St. Vincent Pallotti said that we are all called forth to share our gifts and grow in faith, regardless of ages, roles or positions.”
For Kathryn Miller, this merging of missions was an integral part of this extraordinary experience. “I appreciate that there was a saint in St. Vincent that devoted his life to carry on so that we can grow in our spiritual lives.”
The retreat was such a success, Sister Bridget and Pallottine have it marked on their calendars for next year, as do some of the families.
“We’ll do it again,” Kathryn Miller says. “I like that everybody was together, growing closer to the Sacred Heart.”