Healing Souls | Our Sorrowful Mother’s Ministry offers a spiritual refuge for the weary heart
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VANDALIA, Ill. – In the heart of Baptist country in Fayette County, Ill., a hidden Catholic treasure awaits those who are in search of healing.
Just minutes off one of two exits for Vandalia, about an hour's drive from Downtown St. Louis off I-70, is Our Sorrowful Mother's Ministry, a Catholic retreat ministry founded 14 years ago by two friends as a way to bring others closer to their faith.
Today, the ministry provides monthly retreats, primarily with a focus on healing and reconciliation — and drawing numerous people who have been consumed with various forms of grief and loss. Over time, it has drawn thousands participants from all over the United States, including many from the St. Louis area.
Foundresses Debbie Pryor and Vanessa Keck met through a mutual friend, and in 1997, they attended a Catholic conference in Chicago. The two said they were interested in re-energizing their own Catholic faith.
"We were on fire for our faith like never before," Pryor said after attending the conference. "We wanted to share that and get other people excited for their faith, too. That was our jumping off point."
Eventually, the two came to know Father Peter Mary Rookey, a Servite priest from Chicago well-known around the world for his healing ministry. Keck and Pryor would often travel to St. Louis to attend healing Masses that the priest celebrated. They eventually were asked to accompany the priest when he came into town, assisting him with visits to hospitals and people's homes. Today, the priest, now 95, primarily ministers by phone from his home in Chicago.
When the two started Our Sorrowful Mother's Ministry in Vandalia, they made sure to include a healing service as part of each event. About six years ago, the ministry changed course and began focusing on healing and reconciliation as a major part of the retreats.
What they witnessed were droves of individuals seeking healing from their own personal grief, whether it be from a loss, such as a death or abortion or miscarriage, or through personal struggles such as addictions, suicide, family problems and more.
The two stressed that the ministry does not provide professional counseling, but instead links retreatants to professional help resources, when needed. The focus, they noted, is on helping them achieve spiritual healing.
"When people come here, lives are completely changed," said Keck. "They say, 'I found a place that fills what I need.' They keep coming back and dragging people along with them."
Two parents, who shared their testimonial on the ministry's website, osmm.org, scheduled a retreat after they suffered a miscarriage. In their story, the two shared they "did feel a healing and protection upon us. Prayer makes such a difference!"
The ministry is coordinated by a team of volunteers, called Servants. They also rely on the spiritual support of a team of volunteers from all over who offer their intercessory prayers, said Pryor. Msgr. Stuart Swetland, a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., serves as the ministry's chaplain.
Pryor said the ministry lives only off of individual donations and takes a lot of hard work. But the two wouldn't have it any other way.
"We would not dream of doing anything else," said Keck. "To whom else would we go? I can't imagine saying, 'I'm tired of all of this.'"
Pryor said, "It's an 85-hour a week job. But our friendship is the rock on which is was all built on. It's tied to our hearts, our souls, our minds."
Growing the Ministry
Our Sorrowful Mother's Ministry has launched an effort to raise funding for a new retreat center, which will be built on the campus.To be called Refuge of the Remnant, the building will serve as the primary location for all retreats. Ministry foundresses Debbie Pryor and Vanessa Keck said the goal is to reach $7,000 in monthly donations. The total cost of the building will be $350,000.
Keck and Pryor said the ministry thus far has been made possible solely by individual donations, and the group receives no outside funding.
"We live on Divine Providence," said Pryor. "We beg for our bread."
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