A new ministry for expecting mothers will provide support to those facing unexpected pregnancies of any kind.
Gabriel’s Retreat Ministries was founded in late 2021 with the goal of bringing hope and peace in a time of unexpectedness. While many organizations already exist to support women in crisis pregnancies, these retreats are open to a wider range of women, said founder Shawna DuBois.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a 20-year-old, unmarried woman who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant for whatever reason, or a 45-year-old, faithful Catholic woman who found out she’s pregnant but it wasn’t her timing or she wasn’t expecting to be,” DuBois said. “Her life is going to change, and what does that mean, in saying ‘yes’ to God’s plan?”
The weekend retreats will focus on the truth that no matter the circumstances, each participant is a beloved child of God, worthy of His love. The retreat team will also give talks on subjects like connecting with Jesus as a friend and relating Mary’s “fiat,” or “yes,” to one’s own experience of motherhood.
While the retreats are Catholic in nature and will include opportunities for Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation, they are open to any woman wishing to attend, and retreatants are invited to participate in the faith aspects as much as they are comfortable. There is no cost for women to attend the retreats.
In addition to the retreat team of volunteers, each retreat will include a spiritual advisor, a mental health counselor and a nurse to help address specific needs or questions of the women and connect them with resources going forward.
The idea for this specific retreat ministry had been coming up in prayer since DuBois stepped back from full-time work in 2019, she said, and was partially inspired by DuBois’ own experience as a mother. She and her now-husband, Peter, found out that she was unexpectedly pregnant with their oldest child as a senior in college, and their fourth and youngest child came unexpectedly while DuBois was in the middle of nursing school several years later. Now on the other side of those pregnancies — her oldest, J.D., is discerning the priesthood at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and was one of the first people she told about her new ministry idea — DuBois has a special place in her heart for any mothers in similar situations.
“I think we can all struggle with trusting God’s plan and trusting His timing,” DuBois said. “His timing is not our timing.”
As DuBois, a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Valley Park, prayed more about starting the ministry, she found that many other women she encountered had also struggled with uncertainty, fear or loneliness because of the timing or circumstances of a pregnancy.
“There were women that said they wished something like this had existed for them when they were going through their pregnancy,” DuBois said. “And (I found) a lot of different kinds of unexpectedness.”
The name of the ministry comes from a set of surprise pregnancies found in the Gospel. The archangel Gabriel announced the news of a child to both the Blessed Mother, a young, betrothed girl, and Zachariah, the husband of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, an older woman who thought she could not have children. Although the pregnancies were very different, the women were able to rejoice and support one another through the unexpected timing.
“As you keep reading that Gospel, Mary goes and stays with Elizabeth for three months,” DuBois said. “(That support) is the vision of this ministry.”
Like Mary and Elizabeth, DuBois hopes to foster community among the retreat participants and volunteers that will last beyond the weekend.
“We can have this great retreat, but if we’re not equipping them and following with them on the journey after the retreat, it’s not going to be as fruitful,” DuBois said.
In the coming years, DuBois also hopes to expand the ministry to include retreats for fathers involved in unexpected pregnancies — and however else God might be calling her to serve.
“We have lots of ideas long term, but we have to start with one thing,” DuBois said. “I’ll keep praying on it and see where God leads me.”
>> Upcoming retreats
• June 10-12, LaSalle Retreat Center
• Sept. 30-Oct. 2, LaSalle Retreat Center
• Dec. 27-29, Marianist Retreat Center
>> How you can help
Volunteer to help lead an upcoming retreat. Table leaders, nurses, spiritual directors and counselors are needed.
Volunteer behind the scenes to help with pre-retreat preparation and other ministry needs.
Sign up to be a prayer angel. Prayer angels are volunteers who devote one hour of prayer during the retreat weekend (from anywhere) to pray for the women attending.
Donate. Donations help keep the retreats free for the women attending.
To register for a retreat, donate, volunteer or learn more, visit gabrielsretreat.org.