Retreat helps older adults reconnect and find purpose

Ginny Schaeffer, director of Angela Merici Center for Spirituality, presented during the retreat “The Gift of Aging: Moving from Role to Soul,” in St. John Paul II Church’s Parish Life Center, July 27. (Photo Special to The Record)

Close to 100 older adults gathered July 27 at St. John Paul II Church to talk about the difficulties and challenges as well as the gifts that come with aging.

“The Gift of Aging: Moving from Role to Soul,” a spiritual retreat, was planned to coincide with World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, a July 24 celebration decreed by Pope Francis.

“Getting old is hard work,” said retreat leader Ginny Schaeffer, director of the Angela Merici Center for Spirituality. “I invited them to name and call out the difficulties and hardships they were facing” and to “look at the other side of the coin for the gifts that come with aging.”

Drawing from Scripture and poetry, among other things, Schaeffer said she aimed at helping the group understand how getting older presents an opportunity to reconnect to who they are.

In the middle years of an individual’s life, raising and providing for children and dealing with family issues are priorities, she said.

Schaeffer shared with the group — whom she said was “very engaged” — that when individuals get older, they start letting go of some things. That opens up time and energy for deep reflection and for asking such questions as, “ ‘Who am I and what’s my purpose?’ Those (questions) bubble up when we go through times of transition and crisis,” she said.

To answer those questions, she drew the group’s attention to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, in which God creates mankind in his image and likeness, said Schaeffer.

“It’s the image we’re created in and the nature we’re asked to manifest. We do that from that deep place we call soul,” she said.

It’s not that people don’t ask those questions earlier in life, she noted, it’s that life responsibilities get in the way of deep reflection. Aging presents an opportunity for deeper reflection, she said.

Schaeffer encouraged the group to find ways to reflect, including:

  • Taking time each day for quiet reflection.
  • Spending time in nature.
  • Journaling — “paying attention to what’s going on inside of us.”
  • Spending time with people who are “life-giving.”

A group of older adults took part in a discussion during the retreat “The Gift of Aging: Moving from Role to Soul,” in St. John Paul II Church’s Parish Life Center, July 27. (Photo Special to The Record)

“My desire and prayer are that each (retreatant) would receive something they need and something helpful,” said Schaeffer.

Jeff Merman attended the retreat with his wife, Peggy.

Merman, who attends St. Bernadette Church, said he likes retreats because they “cause me to hit the pause button on my life and reflect and better improve my relationship with God.” He needed this retreat as he transitions to another stage in life, he noted. He is retired and recently sold his business. The experience was “reassuring and informative. … It was helpful to talk to others who are in the same place in life,” he said.

Merman said the materials Schaeffer used, such as poetry, were “good for reflection to see the purpose and the opportunities for the next stage” of life.

Gina Buendia-Cruz, a member of the Cathedral of the Assumption, called the retreat inspiring.

“Overall I learned we’re on a path throughout our entire life in search of purpose,” she said. The retreat “confirmed that living, and living in the moment itself, is our purpose,” she said.

Schaeffer’s reflection on aging as a time of letting go and seeing new opportunities resonated with her, said Buendia-Cruz.

“My life has been full of expectations from family and work. …. All the social expectations become an obstacle to truly knowing your soul,” she said. “When we come to the time when those expectations aren’t there, then it’s the time to learn to sit and contemplate life. … These kinds of retreats are very important and I’m grateful it was created and offered.”

The retreat has been held once before, in 2019, and drew 70 individuals, said Denise Puckett, who serves as family services project coordinator for the Archdiocese of Louisville Family Ministries Office and Catholic Charities. She helped organize this year’s retreat and said the goal is for it to become an annual event.

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