By Barb Arland-Fye
Catholics from the Davenport Diocese were among more than 20 people who traveled to Colorado last month to share a program of spiritual renewal called Christian Experience Weekend.
Commonly known as “CEW,” the “experience brings God into the heart of the individual through witness talks, time together, prayer, sacraments, and the action of the Holy Spirit,” says Deacon Bob Beehner in an online History of Christian Experience Weekends. “These key elements support not only the strength of the CEW experience, but also the life-changing impact of experiencing the divine.”
Ann Marie Bramer, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, gave her sister, Susan Beaston, the gift of a CEW for her birthday in 1999. “It was not really what she wanted for a birthday present,” Ann Marie said. But the experience inspired Susan who is now married and lives in Colorado.
Ann Marie surprised her husband, Paul, for Valentine’s Day a few years ago by sending him back to the Quad-Cities to make the men’s CEW at Our Lady of Lourdes. “Once again, not really the gift he wanted for Valentine’s Day,” Ann Marie said. “He thought he was getting Laker tickets!” After the weekend, “Paul was so moved he vowed to bring CEW to their community in Montrose, Colo.,” Ann Marie added.
In April 2009, Susan started the process of scheduling a CEW in their Colorado parish, St. Mary’s. Father George Karnik and Sister Carole Freking, co-founders of the CEW — which began in 1974 in the Archdiocese of Dubuque — trekked to Montrose to address the parish and help drum up excitement for CEW. Response was positive, so Fr. Karnik visited Our Lady of Lourdes to encourage CEW members there to be part of a team that would travel to Montrose to put on the CEW.
“Six or seven signed up on the spot,” said Fr. Karnik. The spiritual renewal that CEW provides was much needed in Colorado, which became the eighth state to offer the program, he noted. Besides Iowa and Colorado, CEW is offered in Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida and Arizona.
Fr. Karnik especially appreciated the sacrifices that team members made to bring CEW to Colorado. “It was worth the sacrifice,” he added. Team members were: Ann Marie and Susan; Fr. Karnik; Father Marty Goetz, the Davenport Diocese’s vocation director; Deacon John and Dotty Weber, Sheila Cromien, Ellen Corsiglia, Kathy Laird, Cindy and Steve Cripe, Kelly and Mike Rashid, Angie Rodenburg, Linda Casas and Betsy Polaschek, all of Our Lady of Lourdes; Marilyn Riley and Taffy Brown of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport; Pat and Jerry Hatch from Holy Family Parish in Davenport; Cathy Robertson and Becky Seymour of Wisconsin; Deacon Mike Rovella and Paul Beaston, St. Mary’s, Montrose; Carol McDevitt, Fairplay, Colo.; Steve and Gina Allard and Barb Gravert, Grand Junction, Colo.
“We needed a team, finances and supplies and God provided it all,” Susan said. “We weren’t sure how it would all unfold, but we put our trust in God and let him pave the path and he sent the most gifted and generous 28 people from Iowa, Wisconsin and Colorado to help us get CEW started.”
Thirteen women made their first CEW retreat that weekend. Because the Montrose parish couldn’t house people overnight, nearby St. Paul Episcopal Church graciously made room, Fr. Karnik said.
“The women of St. Mary’s in Montrose were so in awe and appreciative of the commitment, enthusiasm and dedication to this movement,” Ann Marie said.
“Their church is so hungry for community like CEW that the women were on fire from the retreat. At the end of the weekend, one woman said ‘OK, I want to move to the Quad-Cities. I want what all of you have!’”
Susan said the greatest benefit was “the feeling of an immense love, belonging, building community and a closer relationship with God, all gifts which are given by the grace of the Holy Spirit.” The new CEW community hopes to keep the momentum going with monthly renewals and is planning the first Men’s CEW for next April along with the second Women’s CEW, Susan said.
“Those of us bringing CEW to St. Mary’s didn’t realize, initially, the impact we would all have from this experience as well,” Ann Marie said. “In many respects, this experience was just as important for us as it was for the parishioners of St. Mary’s. It was yet another opportunity for all of us to grow spiritually, personally and to form a stronger CEW community here and in Montrose, Colo. It was truly a blessing for all involved!”