Rachel's Vineyard retreats Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Vicky Franchino, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Mar. 01, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

MADISON -- After her abortion, all Janine* felt was relief. She was unmarried and the pregnancy was unplanned and unwelcome. Janine didn’t want to let her family down, and, after all, wasn’t it just a mass of cells?

Next Rachel's Vineyard retreat
The next Rachel’s Vineyard retreat will be held Friday, March 23, through Sunday, March 25.
For questions about the Madison program, call 608-821-3177, or send an e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it The facilitator, Mary, can be reached at 608-221-9593 or meadmt@sbc
To learn more about the Rachel’s Vineyard retreats, visit or

MADISON -- After her abortion, all Janine* felt was relief. She was unmarried and the pregnancy was unplanned and unwelcome. Janine didn’t want to let her family down, and, after all, wasn’t it just a mass of cells?

Susan* was a sophomore in college. Naïve about sex, she thought she was in love. But when she learned she was pregnant, there was no talk of a future together. Instead, her boyfriend coerced her into having an abortion.

Karen* was only 15 when she had her abortion. Overcome by the anxiety over her pregnancy, she shut down emotionally and let her family and doctor make decisions for her. She vaguely remembered waking from a nightmare and screaming about her baby the night of the abortion, but largely locked the door to her heart and tried to go on with her life.

Martha* was “a good Catholic girl” who had spent three years in a convent and knew almost nothing about boys and relationships. “I was introverted and shy. The first man who paid attention to me became the man of my dreams.” Little did she know that he was already married. When Martha became pregnant, he disappeared, and having no one to confide in she ended up having an abortion in a lonely hotel room.

Years of pain and shame

As time passed, all four women tried to move past the trauma of their abortions.

Janine had an unsuccessful marriage followed by a series of painful relationships. She never felt herself worthy of any kind of success and continued to be haunted by a deep and lingering sense of shame and unworthiness. Susan distracted herself from her pain, first with alcohol and later through denial. “The pain was so deep that I did not allow it to surface for many years.”

Karen married young and lost her first child at 25 weeks gestation. “I spent my first year of marriage grieving and was depressed throughout my marriage.”

Martha spent 43 years “lying, denying, and doing anything to push the abortion out of my life.”

Luckily, each of these women discovered something that would help set their lives back on a path to God and peace.

A glimmer of hope

“I began to realize that the abortion was a recurring issue that surfaced often as a source of grief in my life,” Janine said. “I found a book (Forbidden Grief by Theresa Burke) and there was a reference to Rachel’s Vineyard retreats.”

Martha learned about Rachel’s Vineyard through a parish bulletin. Karen heard about the retreat from friends and acquaintances who were not connected with each other. “I took that as a sign from God that I should look into it.”

Susan first heard about the retreats on Relevant Radio. “I tuned it out at first because it hit such a painful nerve. But after hearing about Rachel’s Vineyard so many times, I finally realized that I had to learn more.”

First offered in 1995, Rachel’s Vineyard gives those struggling with the emotional and spiritual pain of abortion the opportunity to uncover and address their feelings of anger, shame, guilt, and grief. The retreat was started by Theresa Burke, PhD, and Kevin Burke, LSW — both of whom have extensive backgrounds in counseling — and has helped thousands of women and men to heal from the pain of abortion. The Rachel’s Vineyard retreat model has been used in 48 states, 35 countries, and offered in 15 languages.

Nothing to fear

Taking the first step toward healing is difficult and most retreatants felt reluctant and anxious about coming to Rachel’s Vineyard.

“It was frightening to go to the retreat, but I know now that I was being led by the Holy Spirit,” Susan said. “God was there to gently lead me into healing and it was at Rachel’s Vineyard that some sunlight began to shine on my hidden pain.”

“I was full of fear,” Janine remembered. “What if it was a trap to condemn me instead of a place for healing? What I found instead were people who supported me and made me feel safe — a place of healing and forgiveness where people could identify with my sorrow and pain.”

“Fear does not come from God,” Karen said. “Only God in His infinite mercy and love can take what we have done and truly bring it to a new light. There is no longer death, sorry, and shame, but light, healing, and joy.”

Healing and hope

For each of these women, Rachel’s Vineyard was a critical step in a continuing the journey of forgiveness and love.

“Rachel’s Vineyard took my healing to a whole new level,” Karen said. “I had confessed my abortion, but the retreat provided the healing and time to forgive myself. It also helped me to see that my child’s presence and intercession have played a key part in my life and that of my family.

“Since the retreat, I have noticed I have joy and peace. I can laugh, which I wasn’t really able to do before. I feel connected to my baby and ask daily for his intercession for my family and for his siblings.”

“I am still allowing myself to grieve when I need to and understanding that forgiveness is a process and a journey, not a one-time event of reconciliation,” Janine said. “I am trying to understand more what it means to be Catholic, study Scripture, and what is God’s will for me. My focus is on love.”

“The retreat freed me,” Susan said. “Please don’t be afraid to come and join the sunlight. Our time on this earth must be used to heal and help others.”

“The retreat saved my spiritual life and my sanity,” Martha said. “I thank God every day for leading me to Rachel’s Vineyard.”

*Participants’ names have been changed for confidentiality.

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