August 15, 2014

SPRED summer retreat: ‘It’s a pure, honest joy’

The SPRED retreat participants, catechists and helpers pose after the Mass that was held during the “Hallelujah Luau” retreat held at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove on Aug. 2-3. (Submitted photo by Erin Jeffries)

The SPRED retreat participants, catechists and helpers pose after the Mass that was held during the “Hallelujah Luau” retreat held at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove on Aug. 2-3. (Submitted photo by Erin Jeffries)

By Natalie Hoefer

BEECH GROVE—The room was quiet. Thirteen easels with blank canvases stood on the tables.

The stillness was broken as the participants strolled in, talkative and chatty after lunch.

The painting instructor, Katie Sahm, greeted them.

“Some of you may remember me from last year,” she began, followed by a chorus of “Oh, yes!” and “I do!” and “I was here last year!”

“Did you know that every flower has a meaning?” Sahm asked, receiving responses of amazement and wonder.

“Well, today we’re going to paint a hibiscus flower. The hibiscus means either ‘delicate beauty’ or ‘one with God.’ So when you take this [painting] home, whenever you look at this big flower, you’re going to think of God, because God is who brings us joy.”

“Joy” was the theme of the adult Special Religious Development (SPRED) “Hallelujah Luau” retreat, where the blank canvases soon blossomed with cheery yellow and red flowers.

(Related: See a photo gallery from the retreat)

With hugs, giggles, laughs and joking in abundance, that joy was especially present in those attending the retreat. The participants were members (referred to as “friends”) of SPRED programs for those ages 18 and older with special needs in several parishes of the archdiocese.

“Their unfiltered honesty comes right out,” said Benedictine Sister Pamela Kay Doyle, director of religious education at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis and a lead catechist on the retreat. “It’s like gazing at someone’s soul. They don’t bring barriers. It’s a pure, honest joy.”

Sister Pamela came up with the title of the retreat during the cold, gray grip of the past winter.

“We talked about the theme back in January,” she recalled. “This winter was just so rough on so many people and in so many different ways. The word that kept coming to me was ‘joy.’ We needed something to lift us up from the winter. One of the words that kept coming to me was ‘Hallelujah,’ and ‘luau’ just kind of went right with it.”

All donning leis and even some in Hawaiian shirts, the 25 participants seemed to feel the theme of the retreat, which was held at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove on August 2-3.

“I’m having fun,” said Steve Mailloux, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, as he painted his hibiscus. “These are great friends to be with.”

Dylan Woods, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis, paused from his painting to agree.

“It’s nice because you get to be with friends. They’re good people, caring people.”

Erin Jeffries, assistant director for SPRED of the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education, said companionship plays a large role in the annual retreat, now in its 15th year.

“It’s an opportunity for them to meet a wider group of friends [outside of their parish SPRED group],” she explained. “This is one of the few times a year that they get to see that wider group.”

Although there are SPRED groups in parishes throughout central and southern Indiana, special needs can make the distance to Beech Grove difficult to travel.

Judy Colby, a member of St. Meinrad Parish in St. Meinrad, holds a SPRED retreat at Anderson Woods, the special needs camp she runs with her husband, Dave, in Bristow not far from St. Meinrad.

But attending retreats is rare for those with special needs no matter where they live, said Jeffries.

“For a lot of them, it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity. There are some friends who, just getting here is definitely a challenge. One has to have a lift to get out of her chair, which in and of itself makes it amazing that she’s able to be here. Another has special food and other needs. Really for each one to be here, you have to see God’s purpose in it.

“And it’s really amazing to me how much everyone gives to be here. The [16] catechists for the most part pay their own way. But they’re here because they love it. They’ll tell you it’s such a mutual relationship and friendship.”

Several catechists shared that sentiment.

“They’re so faith-filled,” said Mary Roesinger, a SPRED catechist at St. Pius X Parish, who helped with the retreat. “There’s a love you feel in seeing God in all of these special people that we welcome each year. You don’t get this anywhere else.”

Nicole McConnell has been involved in SPRED since its inception at St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg 15 years ago.

“We are all a family together sharing the faith. It’s so joyous, I can’t even tell you.”

That joy shone from the eyes of participant John Lorton, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, as he spoke of his experience on this, his 10th SPRED retreat.

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “I love the camaraderie. These are nice people who are all here for one reason—God.

“My favorite part so far has been the sand cross,” Lorton said of one of the crafts offered during the retreat. “At the cross part, it has a heart, and I did the heart part in purple sand because I know purple is the color of Easter.”

In addition to the cross craft and the flower painting to symbolize God as the source of joy, the participants enjoyed one more project that revolved around faith—making a “handmade” cloth.

“It’s got all their handprints on it,” Roesinger explained of the white cotton sheet. They will incorporate the cloth in future SPRED events.

When all is said and done, Jeffries hopes the participants “walk away feeling a little bit of that joy and hope, and feel more able to spread that joy.”

That hope seemed to be coming to fruition in Lorton.

“My heart is just full,” he said.

(For more information on Special Religious Development, log on to then click on “Catechesis for Persons with Special Needs” on the left, or contact Erin Jeffries at, or by phone at 317-236-1448 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1448. Keep up with SPRED news on their Facebook page, “Archdiocese of Indianapolis Special Needs.”)

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