FORT SMITH -- Parishioners from six River Valley parishes have gathered to form a regional organization for younger Catholic women.
Women ages 21-45 from Immaculate Conception, Christ the King and St. Boniface in Fort Smith, Sacred Heart of Mary in Barling, Sts. Sabina and Mary in Jenny Lind, and St. Michael in Van Buren are invited to join.
Michelle Schmitz, 24, a math and science teacher at Trinity Junior High School in Fort Smith, began the group this year before the pandemic hit.
“Last fall, Jacqueline Burkpile and I wanted to form a group for younger Catholic women, but when her husband was transferred to Texas, I decided to do it myself,” Schmitz said. “Father John (Antony, Immaculate Conception pastor) gave us his blessing. We sent out invitations to all six local churches because we wanted it to be available to everyone and be large enough to let us eventually offer different activities.”
Schmitz set up a Facebook page, River Valley Catholic Women, which now has 60 members, and the first meeting, a “potluck with a healthy twist,” was held Jan. 30. The group decided to discuss a devotional at each meeting to give them a spiritual focus, and the first book they chose was “When Women Pray,” by Kathleen Beckman. Every chapter ended with reflection questions to ponder, practice and pray, along with wisdom from women saints.
Meeting every other Thursday from 6:30-8:30 p.m., the group had gathered only four times in person when the pandemic hit, but the half-dozen women who formed the core group had already begun bonding as they shared faith, recipes and parenting tips.
“We continued to meet every two weeks online, using Google Meet,” Schmitz said.
As each of them dealt with the challenges raised by COVID-19, including virtual schooling, social isolation and being unable to attend Masses, they encouraged and prayed for one another. “When Women Pray” became a daily shared communal prayer.
Group members include married and single women, most about 30 years old, some with young children. A few are newcomers to Fort Smith.
The new group addresses needs of those who are too old for campus ministry and might not feel comfortable joining the Ladies Auxiliary or other groups. Although there was a River Valley Catholic Singles Group, a Catholic Young Adults Group and parents’ groups for school-aged children, they all felt a need to share fellowship with other younger women.
“The ladies in this group have become some of my best friends,” Patricia Lopez, 29, of St. Michael Church in Van Buren, said.
In July, the group decided to begin meeting again in one another’s homes, wearing masks and socially distancing and continuing to welcome members who could not meet physically through Google Meet. On July 30, they met at Lisa Schwartz’s home in Fort Smith for prayer and homemade cookies, with Schwartz’s two young children playing nearby. Schmitz joined virtually, visible on a tablet computer and smartphone, as they discussed “The Better Part” by John Bartunek.
“The book is based on the Gospels,” Schwartz said, “and each section has a theme such as Christ the Teacher, Christ the Friend and Christ in My Life. It has become my daily prayer.”
Schmitz hopes when the pandemic is over, the group can do some of the things they planned.
“I’d love to see us go out into the community more and do some volunteer work, take field trips to nearby cathedrals or to St. Joseph’s in Tontitown to attend a Latin Mass. We’d like to have some fun social activities like picnics or even getting our nails done,” she said.
To learn more about joining River Valley Catholic Women, visit their Facebook page or contact Schmitz at .
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