Program #0047 for Friday, May 13, 2011: Catholic WINGS

May 13, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell

Today’s guest(s): Jennifer Schiller and Najat Whalen from Women in God’s Spirit (WINGS) ministry

Today’s topics: Women in God’s Spirit (WINGS), Sunday Mass readings

A summary of today’s show: Scot and Fr. Mark talk to Jen Schiller and Najat Whalen about Women in God’s Spirit (WINGS), a parish-based ministry for Catholic women of all ages that helps them deepen their faith and become more connected to their community. Also, considering the Gospel for Good Shepherd Sunday.

1st segment: Scot welcomed Fr. Mark to the program. Scot said he was the lector at the noon Mass at the Pastoral Center. Today is also the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt on Bl. John Paul II, on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. Twenty-nine years ago today, Pope John Paul went to Fatima to have the bullets removed from his chest placed in the crown of the statue of our Lady of Fatima because he credited her with saving his life. Cardinal Seán has been celebrating the Mass and leading the international pilgrimage in Fatima at the request of the Holy Father. Back at the Pastoral Center, after Mass, there was the May crowning of the statue of Mary. Also, today is the last day for a colleague of Scot’s, Patrick Gispon, the Catholic Appeal manager, who is returning to Chicago, where his family is from. Fr. Mark said he was impressed to see the number of people who turned out to say goodbye to Patrick and the spirit of the people Scot affected. The “Why Catholic?” program, discussed on The Good Catholic Life earlier this week, also had one of its informational sessions.

2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Mark welcome Jennifer Schiller and Najat Whalen. Scot asked Jen about WINGS. She said she participated in WINGS when she lived in Southern California as a young mom. She’d been invited to attend in her parish and found about 75 to 100 women who gathered weekly to learn about and grown in their faith. It was a ministry for all ages. They had childcare. It was an opportunity to learn more about her faith.

When they relocated to Massachusetts, she was looking for something like WINGS so she approached her pastor who encouraged her to start it, about 11 years ago. There are now 11 groups in the Archdiocese. She started at her parish of St. Mary in Holliston. The other groups grew organically from women who came to their group and then wanted to do the same at their parish.

Fr. Mark said he sees a pattern of people who have a great idea or experience and who don’t wait for others to do something, but take initiative. Jen said she had lots of help. She had good encouragement from the pastor and after a couple of months they had about 8 to 10 women who were committed. They are all volunteers who want to help other women and grow in their faith.

Najat said she became involed in 2005 when she was a CCD teacher and had a 5-year-old son entering school. She saw bulletin announcements and was attracted to the idea of deepening her faith and learning more. Eventually she became more involved because she was asked to become childcare coordinator and then program coordinator.

Scot asked Jen if it’s truly women of all ages or is it primarily one age group. She said it’s truly all of them. When she started in 1995, she found herself in small groups with grandmothers and others. She found that meeting with women of all different perspectives helps them all in whatever place in their faith journey they find themselves.

Jen said WINGS is not a national organization, but it is growing as women move from Southern California to other places. Each group is independent. They are made up women from the parish, but they have a spiritual adviser in the parish that helps them keep the ministry focused and on track. The suggested program is three seasons of six weeks each during the school year. They focus on areas of spiritual growth. In the fall, they focus on some area of the Catholic they want to learn about. In the winter, they focus on learning more about Scripture. In the spring, they have a series of speakers who come in to tell them how they are living out their faith. The whole year falls under a theme that the coordinating group puts together with the spiritual adviser.

Najat said they begin the fall season in September and go through November. They have 7 speakers. The winter season starts after the holidays and the spring season ends in May.

The typical meeting starts with a social time and coffee, followed by opening prayer and a song, then a speaker. After that they break into small groups to discuss three questions provided by the speaker. They end about 11:15 with a closing prayer.

Fr. Mark said every parish has a core group of women who do everything in the parish. Does this attract those women or does it bring in women who aren’t involved in many things? Jen said she does find it brings in both kinds of women. Consistency is the key. Women are welcome to attend one or all sessions. They are inviting women whenever they are ready and once they come, they come back because they find something that fulfills them. Women who are very involved in the church and always giving find in WINGS that they are receiving a lot from it.

3rd segment: Scot asked Jen how WINGS has helped her to grow in her faith. She said it helped her to appreciate the gift of her faith. Many of the talks and presentations in the years since 1995 have opened her eyes and heart. Especially receiving a fuller understanding of the Real PResence and the gift that is Adoration. She didn’t really understand that prior to experiencing it one of the WINGS talks. Also, the great saints of the church, stories of whom she now shares with her children.

Scot asked the same of Najat. She said that she knows she’s not alone in her faith. Being with a community of 60 women on a weekly basis helps her to know they are together, as they share their joys and sufferings. It’s a safe, warm, and welcoming environment where you feel surrounded by friends. Being asked to speak at an event helped her to learn how to bring her faith out to the world.

Fr. Mark asked what is the benefit in being only women. Jen said as a community of women, it is women coming together with different life experiences where you can feel you can share and grown and be who you are. There are good things that come from women gathering as women. He asked if other women have inspired Najat in her journey. She said everyone has inspired her, including the older women who are so wise while younger women share the same struggles and joys.

Scot said the Gallup organization has surveyed religious groups and they have found that the most engaged people in religious communities are those who can say they have a best friend in the same group. Jen said she thinks WINGS has strengthened her parish. It nourishes women in their faith and builds them up. When the women leave those meetings, they bring that back to their families, other friends, to their work. And many find after participating in WINGS that they are inspired to get more involved in the parishes. Parish life is built up because women come together in their faith.

Fr. Mark asked the experience of a new woman coming to an established group. Jen said it is absolutely not a clique. WINGS is a group that is constantly changing as women come and go, depending on their life situations. There is no prerequisite to joining. They can be a woman who is confident in her faith or someone who has many questions. Najat said that a big component of the ministry os the prayerful atmosphere so someone who is looking to experience prayer and to hear an inspiring prayer, then WINGS would fit them.

Najat said they recently had three wonderful speakers on three saints. They had a series of speakers on the women doctors of the Church. In the winter Bible study, they looked at relating to others as Jesus would: relating to families, to seekers, to sinners, to people he met along the way, to people who rejected Him, to his friends. They had outside speakers as well as women-members who spoke on their own reflections on the Scripture.

4th segment: Scot asked how many groups are in the Archdiocese. Najat said there are 11:

  • Amesbury MA, Holy Family Parish
    (meets Sunday evenings at 7:15 pm in lower hall of Sacred Heart Church)

  • Holliston MA, St. Mary’s Parish
    (meets Wednesday mornings at 9:30 am in the church hall)

  • Hopkinton MA, St. John the Evangelist Parish
    (meets Tuesday mornings in the parish hall)

  • Lexington MA, St. Brigid Parish
    (meets Thursday mornings at 9:30 am)

  • Marshfield MA, Our Lady of the Assumption Parish
    (meets Tuesday mornings at 9:15 am)

  • Middleborough MA, Sacred Heart Parish
    Rochester MA, St. Rose of Lima
    Lakeville MA, Saint Martha and Mary
    (meets Tuesday mornings at Fr. Shea Center, Sacred Heart Parish)

  • Milton/Quincy MA, St. Agatha Parish
    (meets Wednesday evenings at 7:00 pm in the school hall)

  • Natick MA, St. Patrick Parish
    (meets Wednesday mornings at 9:30 am)

  • Needham MA, St. Joseph Parish
    (meets Wednesday mornings at 9:45 am in the Linse room , lower church)

  • North Andover MA, St. Michael Parish
    (meets Sunday evenings at 7 pm in church hall)

  • Wellesley MA, St.Paul Parish
    (meets Monday evenings in the church hall)

Scot asked Jen what’s involved in starting a WINGS ministry. She said the first step is prayer, to pray about whether you are called to start. Then talk to friends who might also be interested in starting the group. Then get in touch ( with the main group at to help plan and put a proposal together for the pastor. Ideally it should be 8-10 women who start it and then planning for 6 months up to 1 year. They will also come out to the parish to provide training as well as resources for finding speakers that have spoken at other groups. She said they have an archive of 10 years of seasons and speakers that new groups can use to build on.

The women will want to choose a time that works for the parish, whether a day or evening. Ideally they would have a parish hall available, plus another room for childcare. At night, it’s usually the same minus the babysitting. Most evening groups don’t use babysitting, but that’s not a rule.

Fr. Mark asked about expenses. Jen said there are suggested annual membership dues, about $40. Those dues pay for the speakers who come in from outside the parish community.

Jen said the relationship with the parish is getting the pastor’s approval obviously and then a staff member who would be a spiritual adviser, like a DRE or pastoral associate who could meet with them a couple of times per year to give advice on topics, resources, and speakers.

5th segment: As we do every week, Scot and Fr. Mark will consider this Sunday’s Mass readings along with our guests to prepare for Sunday.

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Jen said she found herself drawn to the line where it says a shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them. Many of us might not know that God is calling us in our lives and we have to take time to listen in our busy lives to hear Him. Where it says “they will not follow a stranger,” it says to her that we have to build a relationship with Jesus to know Him and recognize His voice when He calls us. We need to find time every day to listen to His voice.

Najat said she is reminded that the door is always open and Jesus is always there. Jesus always walks before us and we always know who to follow.

Fr. Mark said it brings back an image from his first assignment. A previous pastor came back for the 40th anniversary of the parish. When he began to speak during the Eucharistic Prayer, the people started to smile because they recognized his voice from so many Masses said in that parish.

Scot said at the end of the Gospel, Jesus says, “I came…” Jesus wants us to be happy in this life and the next which comes by following Him through that gate into heaven. He’s always calling us. He doesn’t call just once, but every day. We need to hear Him despite the noise of our everyday life.

Jen said the thieves and robbers are the obstacles and false promises that come to us every day and the distractions that can lead us away from Christ. Don’t get discouraged. When life gets difficult, Christ is even closer to us.

Fr. Mark said we know the authentic voice in our heart of Christ despite all the other voices in the world. The voice of our conscience is the voice of Christ with us.

This Sunday is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which is tied to this Sunday as Good Shepherd Sunday. Scot encourages all to thank their priests this Sunday for being a shepherd.

That will conclude today’s presentation of The Good Catholic Life. For recordings and photos of today’s show and all previous shows, please visit our website: You can also download the app for your iPhone or Android device at to listen to the show wherever you may be. We thank our guests, Jennifer Schiller and Najat Whalen. For our co-host, Father Mark O’Connell, our Production team of Rick Heil, Anna Johnson, Justin Bell, Dom Bettinelli, and George Martell, this is Scot Landry saying thank YOU for listening, God bless you and have a wonderful weekend!

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